Paris Perception

A personal view of the 1993 Paris Air Show from our veteran Le Bourget pounder – Mike Spick.

THE HARDEST PART of any Le Bourget Salon is the homecoming, although to anyone who has never attended in a professional capacity, the reason is perhaps less than obvious. It is not that the aeroplanes were less interesting this year, although let’s face it; they were. Nor was it that the personalities have changed for the worse. Neither was it that the technology had become so complex as to totally defy human understanding. And while the weather this year was such as to make any sane and reasonable person long for California, this was not the reason either. It is just that on my return, I am invariably greeted by people who assume that I have been on my hols, or even worse, on some exotic jolly.

Of course, the fault lies with some of my colleagues (on other publications, naturally); who talk far too freely and too often about the number and quality of the free lunches they are offered; the evening functions in swish hotels; how they advised the head of some international corporation on profitability, or an air general on the needs of his service, for which one and all were duly grateful. WELL, IT AIN’T LIKE THAT!

I can hardly do better than to start by quoting Vietnam ace Randy Cunningham. «Have a plan», he advises. «Have a second plan» he adds. Finally, «Have a third plan in case the first two don’t work.» For the record, he was pretty good at staff work too.

The first plan is to arrive at Le Bourget before 09.00 every morning, which is no mean feat when you have to contend with Parisian traffic.

The second plan is to assume that you will always arrive late, and that you will therefore need to be selective in whom you visit. Without wearying you with numbers, suffice to say that visiting every exhibitor in the allotted time is completely impossible. But how can one be selective if one does not know the ropes? The process is a bit like ram raiding. On Day One begin by ignoring the ’by invitation only’ signs, storm the nearest chalet, demanding «un dossier de presse s’il vous plait! » Hopefully a charming young lady will then hand you a package. This process is repeated until you can carry no more. When laden like the proverbial camel, you stagger back to the press car park to dump it. A dual warning at this point. Firstly, refuse all offers of alcoholic refreshment at this stage if you want to end the day (a) upright, and (b) coherent. Secondly, beware of Farnborough, as there is no press car park and this will probably involve a two-mile walk.

At the end of the day, stagger back to your hotel room with an enormous pile of bumph. You will then be up all night sorting it, and planning what you need to follow up next day.

By now, decision time is fast approaching. You are on the spot, in possession of a huge pile of paper. So what are you going to write about? For the military aviation specialist, Paris and Farnborough usually sort this out for you. All shows have highlights, and these provide something on which to focus. For example, Farnborough ’88 had Fulcrum; Le Bourget ’89 had Flanker, etc; right up to Farnborough ’92 with Freestyle and Backfire.

So, what did Le Bourget ’93 have to offer? Frankly, not a lot! The main theme of the Salon appeared to be updates and variations on a theme, with virtually nothing truly new on the military side. Perhaps the most important of these was the Sukhoi Su-30MK. Almost indistinguishable externally from the two-seater Su-27UB conversion trainer, -30MK, which is the latest version of Flanker to be seen in the West, is a dedicated attack variant.

One of the more interesting facets of this aircraft is that it is fitted with an avionics suite which allows it to operate as an airborne command post; a role first indicated to the writer by Vladimir Ilyushin at Farnborough ’90. The idea is that an airborne commander is to co-ordinate attack and strike sorties.

This is a tactical concept which has often been tried in the past, and almost without exception, found wanting. One of the few occasions on which it worked properly was Operation Chastise, the Dams raid of 1943. Historically, the main problems have been lack of situational awareness by the strike commander, inadequate communications between aircraft, and a high pucker factor. The concept is more within Russian (formerly Soviet) doctrine than that of the West and the Russians now feel they can make it work.

The Su-30MK, which is the Russian equivalent of the F-15E, has a maximum take-off weight of 72,753lb (33 tonnes) of which weapons load accounts for eight tonnes. Flanker’s internal fuel capacity always was quite exceptional, in order to eliminate the need for drag producing and weapons-pylon sterilising external jugs. With a full fuel load, the Su-30MK has a reach of 1,619nm (3,000km), which more than doubles with flight refuelling, increasing endurance to about ten hours.

Like the F-15E, the Su-30MK retains a full air- to-air capability, with a standard weapons fit of up to six R-27(AA-10 Alamo); R-73E(AA-11 Archer) or the latest RW-AE AAMs, which use active radar homing. Weapons for air-to-surface missions include the Kh-31 R high speed anti-radiation missile known in the West as AS-17 Krypton; the large Kh-59M (AS-18) cruise missile; Kedge and Karen, and the GBU-500T glide bomb.

As the MiG-29 has only been on the international scene for five years, it is easy to overlook that the basic aircraft is approaching middle age. Mikoyan is offering what amounts to a midlife update to -29S standard which, although it includes uprated RD-33K turbofans, gives no real performance increment. Improvements include a dorsal bulge housing more internal fuel; a doubled weapons load (to four tonnes); the ability to carry the latest anti-ship missile, and an improved flight control system which allows alpha to be increased to about 30°.

Several Western avionics systems have been adopted, while the weapons control system incorporates the latest, and most ingenious, cost-saving measure. By artificially creating radar and other indications, practice interceptions can be flown without the need for a second aircraft to act as a target.

Israel has for many years been noted for downgrading MiG-21 s, usually to scrap. They have now done a neat 180° reversal, and Israel Aircraft Industries exhibited the MiG-21 -2000 at Le Bourget this year. IAI, working closely with Romanian company Aerostar, is offering a graduated package aimed at the many nations operating the type, with the obvious exceptions of Syria and Iraq.

This starts with the Elta EL/M 2032 radar; a multi-mode pulse Doppler set developed for Lavi, but with a planar array scanner sized to fit the shock-cone of the MiG-21. This is combined with a modernised cockpit with a wrap-around windshield, a wide angle HUD, colour multi-function displays and HOTAS. The miniaturised avionics taxe up far less space than formerly, and the voids have been used to increase internal fuel capacity. Re-engining is a further option, as is a Martin Baker zero/zero ejection seat. Of rather more doubtful utility are strengthening the hardpoints to carry greater loads, and a structural life extension.

That IAI has done a good job can hardly be doubted. Mikoyan test pilot Roman Taske’ev, at Le Bourget to demonstrate the MiG-29, is reported to have tried the MiG-21-2000 simulator. From all accounts he approved of it so much that he had to be prised out after some 35 apparently very enjoyable minutes.

The greatest of all the MiG-21 improvements is of course the Chinese Chengdu Super Seven. Like the A-5 variant of the MiG-19, the Super Seven is undergoing a rhinoplasty job, with a ‘solid’ radar nose and side engine inlets, as shown in our Paris report of 1991. The prototype now seems unlikely to fly before 1995. Given that it is an update of a design needy 40 years old, this sort of delay seems unpromising for the future, and whether it will find any takers in the future is doubtful. Only a model was shown at Le Bourgel this year, perhaps significantly carrying two PL-4 SARH AAMs, which are Sparrow lookalikes.

It is impossible to avoid the Israelis in the upgrade field this year. Yet another venture was a Grumman S-2E Tracker re-engined with Garrett TPE-331-15 turboprops, and with many new avionics systems, while back in the fighter field, they had a Northrop F-5 Plus in the static display, showing modifications similar to those of the MiG-21 -2000. The former for the Argentine Navy and the latter for the Chilean Air Force.

The other major update on view was the Dassault Mirage 5 MirSIP, and is the direct result of recent cuts in defence spending. The Mirage 5 MirSIP started life some years ago as an upgrade for the Belgian Air Force, which was then reduced to become a Safety Improvement Programme (SIP), which was little more than a structural and essential systems overhaul, although it allowed the initial acronym to be kept. Then on the dissolution of the USSR, the decision was taken to phase out the Mirage 5.

The Belgian Mirage 5 fleet is now to be sold off, and the example in the static display, modified to considerably higher standards than originally intended, with nose strokes, canards, and a laser ranger among other goodies, has also had the acronym upgraded to become the Mirage System Improvement Programme.

Visible on one day only was lAI’s Phalcon, a new AEW system mounted on a Boeing 707 airframe. Unlike Sentry and its ilk, Phalcon does not have the traditional dorsal mushroom antenna housing. The aircraft attending Le Bourget carried a huge droopy-nosed radome supplemented with two conformal phased array antennas along the sides of the fuselage ahead of the wing, in a similar manner to those carried by some RC-135s. Phalcon operates in L-band, and is stated to be the first AEW system to employ solid state phased array technology.

Pnalcon’s maximum configuration consists of four conformal antennas on the fuselage sides, and a rear-facing antenna under the tail. It is entirely digital, which leaves the whole cabin area free for operator stations; six to 12 according to the customer’s requirements. Phalcon can be adapted to many other platforms, ranging from Boeing 747s down to C-130s and even smaller aircraft.

Staying with the Boeing 707 airframe, Grumman is moving fast on the E-8 Joint- STARS. Better programmes, faster processing and improved data presentation all combine to give greater capability than was available during the Gulf War. One of the more important advances is in the field of real time information dissemination at low command levels; lack of which enabled many a mobile Scud launcher to evade destruction. Instant reaction is the new buzzword, followed by minimal kill times. The new systems are even reported to be able to detect Scud launchers hiding beneath bridges by using a combination of synthetic aperture radar and other techniques.

Grumman was extremely helpful in all unclassified areas, and even offered to schedule events at my convenience. Unfortunately my convenience was not only too small, but was several hundred miles away.

AWACS, J-STARS, and Elint aircraft, are designed to operate well back over defended territory, in order to secure their own survival; the obvious reason being that if they are shot down, they are not a lot of good. According to Aerospatiale, they are now vulnerable to a new missile which has a range of 162nm (300km). Ramjet powered, it is apparently based on the Air-Sol Moyenne Portee medium-range nuclear missile. The greatest weakness of AWACS and J-STARS is that they are necessarily emitters, thus giving a missile something to home on. On the other hand, clobbering a thing like an AWACS is just not that simple. Long range is just one factor in the equation, and hardly the most important. Stand by for a war of words between the missileers and the ECMers!

This year saw the return to Le Bourget of the Mil Mi-28 two-seater battlefield helicopter, which is being offered for export; and the debut of Kamov’s Ka-50 Werewolf single sealer. Contrary to previous information, the latter flew this year, giving a convincing demonstration of the ease of handling conferred by its co-axial rotor layout. American Special Forces are reported to be showing interest.

One of the two Werewolves present carried a Black Shark logo, indicating that it had been used in an adventure film due for general release in August. Co-starring with a Russian general and the 15th Spetsnaz Brigade, Werewolf helps to flatten the drug smugglers. Don’t miss it!

With humanitarian aid to unstable regions an increasingly frequent requirement, American company Derco, which specialises in logistics support for C-130 operators, has brought out a protection package said to be effective against 12.7mm armour piercing rounds at 3,281ft (1,000m) range. This consists of composite armour panels to cockpit floors, seats, and windows, which are said to be easy and quick to install and dismantle. Derco also win Mike’s prize for the best lapel pin; a Here on which the lights actually blink on and off!

Returning to my earlier theme, there was nothing at Le Bourget this year that was really new in military hardware terms. Yet the civil field cannot be entirely overlooked. The new airliner may well be the military transport of the future. And it was in this field that some radically new shapes emerged.

Two of these were displayed in the Russian pavilion, in the form of models. Tupolev had the Tu-404, a huge 700-750 seater, in the shape of a huge lifting body with supercritical swept wings; a V-tail, and six advanced pusher turboprops. The interior was projected to look like a theatre auditorium, with vertical columns as braces. Both liquefied natural gas or liquid hydrogen are being examined as fuel. For military applications, a roll-on, roll-off layout could conceivably be adopted, with both ramps at the front, or even centrally. Projected range of this strange monster is 7,015nm (13,000km), and maximum take-off weight in the region of 450 tonnes.

Ekranoplan (WIGE- wing in ground effect) vehicles are also under consideration. Somewhere between the true Ekranoplan and the Tu-404 comes the ECIP L-3. Called on ‘air vehicle’ in the brochure, the L-3 is designed to take-off from and land on any suitable surface including water, thus freeing it from the need for a developed airfield. The configuration is rather similar to that of the Tu-404, giving high aerodynamic efficiency, low specific fuel consumption, and lightweight construction. Trials with radio-controlled models are currently in progress.

Projected performance figures for the L-3 are; maximum speed 378kts (700km/hr); operating ceiling 36,091ft (11,000m); range 4,425nm (8,200km). Operating weight is stated as 120 tonnes, and it will be powered by two unspecified turbojet engines. The sheer versatility of the L-3 may make it of interest to many services, especially those with large and sparsely inhabited areas to cover.

Way back when, a company called Ixec exhibited a flying machine called Veillon at Le Bourget. Theoretically a one-man helicopter, I commented at the time that it looked like a black plastic floor polisher.

I have never seen it fly. I have never even seen a report that it has flown. On seeing that it was once again to be shown at Le Bourget this year, I made several efforts to find it. To no avail. If it was ever there, it must have been moved on Friday to avoid strong winds.

Why am I so interested? Good question! My friend General Alain Kerrand, formerly of ALAT, has always said that while the helicopter has fulfilled its early promise in almost all fields, as a one-man battlefield transport it has failed lamentably. For various reasons I should like to see this omission made good. Can any French reader inform me further?

Updates aside, the other main themes of the ’93 Salon were (a) the hordes of friendly Russians all swarming around with beaming grins, trying to be helpful, in marked contrast to Farnborough ’92; (b) trying to remember that General Dynamics is now called Lockheed and (c) the atrocious weather which severely curtailed the flying displays.

What there was though was of high quality, even though the fuel and noise brigade aircraft had all been seen before. Patrick Experton of Dassault is always a delight to watch in the Mirage 2000; Victor Pugachev in Flanker with the Cobra, and Steve Barter with a very polished performance in the Block 50 F-16 got my vote. Perhaps it should be recorded that Vladimir Ilyushin of Sukhoi rates Steve very highly indeed, so maybe we should all watch him more closely.

This is probably the time to put the record straight. In my Farnborough report last year, I mentioned Bland Smith pulling the F-16 off the ground, vanishing straight into the soup and reappearing only to land after an instrument circuit. I am now informed that this was intentional, and the instrument circuit was done by request.

I commenced this piece by saying that one always needs three plans. So far I have only mentioned two. The third is to be flexible, but never forget that flexibility is just another form of crisis management!

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