All-Weather Warriors

The search for the Ultimate Fighter Aircraft by Mike Spick, Arms and Armour, 175pp, illustrated, £16.99

AS FIRST SIGHT it might well be considered that the story of the night fighter was a bit of a side-show in the development of air combat, but Mike Spick’s book puts it in rather a different context, that of it being the ideal fighter aircraft — the forerunner of the EF2000 or F-22 — but unable to compete on equal terms with the day fighters until the advent of the F-4 Phantom. This parity was achieved through the capabilities of high-power radar and beyond visual range (BVR) missiles, linked to the rugged airframes with plenty of installed thrust.

The story however, starts with the first Zeppelin raids on the UK and the somewhat crude attempts to defeat them. Those attacks, along with the Gotha raids, were countered by a combination of ground control and improved fighter performance.

This was continued in the 1930s, but only after the start of World War Two was airborne interception radar developed and the real story of the night fighter began. During these war years a succession of famous aircraft — including the Beaufighter, the Mosquito, the Heinkel He 219A, the P-61 Black Widow and the F6F-2 Hellcat — fought for supremacy in the night skies over Europe and the Pacific.

The major problem, post-war, was the matching of weapons to aircraft performance, this led to developments such as folding fin aircraft rockets (FFAR) and the incredible Genie nuclear rocket in the US, as well as the Firestreak and Red Top missiles in the UK. The culmination of these efforts is today’s crop of all-weather fighters such as the FT 4, FT 5, Mirage 2000 and Tornado F.3.

I found the book an immensely enjoyable read with just the right balance between telling a very interesting story and providing sufficient technical details.

It is well illustrated with a large number of black and white photographs and some useful line drawings. The only disappointing aspect was the front cover which shows a Tornado GR.1 armed with JP233, an all-weather air-to- ground strike combination not dealt with in the book.

Tony King

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