Helicopters in combat

THIS VIDEO WAS PRODUCED within days of the airshow itself and is an entertaining and informative overview for those of us who did not go, ond, perhaps, for those who did but want a permanent record of the event.

Ed Mitchell, the presenter, gives an excellent run-down on the participants and the atmosphere, without an overly biased personal view. He is helped by the official commentators and expert opinions where required. The presentation is usefully subdivided into sections to provide some cohesiveness to the whole production.

The military presence is large and important, as usual, and the Russians dominate with some 500 officials and 20 aircraft, some never seen in the West before. It is a pity that they never flew the Ka-50 Hokum due to ‘technical’ problems with the UK immigration authorities! The troubled EFA was due to fly in prototype form at the show but all we can see is computer simulations (quite impressive for that) and the project and its future are discussed at some length.

Contenders for the German Air Force are seen in the form of the Saab Gripen and French Rafale, both flying at the show. The Swedish commitment is demonstrated by the presence of their King, Prime Minister and Defence Minister — would that the British government support our own industry to this extent!

Russian officials are interviewed for their ideas on the future and some insight into the new order is gained when we discover that a non-English speaking official can still manage to ask for £5 to allow viewing of a cockpit! The whole gamut of Russian aircraft is on view with the usual spectacular displays by the MiG-29, Su-27, MiG-31 Foxhound and others. We see the two VSTOL aircraft but apparently lose out on the enormous noise and vibration they generated.

The outstanding performance must have been that of the aerobatic Su-29T flown by the World Aerobatics champion — the whole four minute display is seen in staggering detail ond, even on video, this was truly ostonishing in the range of manoeuvres and the rapidity with which they changed and merged. At one point the aircraft flew as a helicopter, stationary in the air and rotating for six full revolutions! Even the landing was impressive.

The commercial side was covered with the A340 Airbus with the longest range of any airliner and some revolutionary features such as a side-stick (incidentally allowing a table for the pilot, considered highly desirable!) The plane is billed as a potential best seller, but others, in the regional market particularly, may not do so well. The new Saab 2000 turboprop, Canadair Regional Jet, BAe RJ family, ATP and Jetstream 41 all demonstrated and will hopefully do well.

In about one hour this video covers much of importance and maintains the viewer’s interest by excellent camera work and commendable commentary. Periodic breaks to show the entertainments on offer (or at least some of them!) and the show newspaper in the making serve only to maintain the pace. An excellent production.

HELICOPTERS HAVE IN recent years become an indispensable part of warfare, whether it be large scale conventional or antiguerrilla operations. As the author states in the preface, very few writers have examined how helicopters have fared in combat, and this book goes a long way towards filling the gap.

The book is written in sections and subsections; it is difficult to call them chapters. The first is titled ‘The Helicopter as a Combat Vehicle», and traces its use from the autogyro to the Gulf War of 1991, taking in such minor conflicts (in terms of helicopter usage) as Indo-China, Borneo and the Ogaden on the way. The more important conflicts are treated as separate sections; «Algeria

(1954-62)»; Vietnam (1961-73)», and Afghanistan (1979-89)», followed by «General War (1950-2000)», which traces events right through to the future, including helo and anti-helo weaponry. At times I felt that some repetition had crept in here. There are also copious appendixes.

The research is very thorough, as one would expect from this writer, but the style is that encountered in military papers, which in places does not make for easy reading. On p23, quoting General James M Gavin, we read «Only by exploiting to the utmost the great potential of flight can we combine complete dispersion in the defence with the facility of rapidly massing for the counterattack, which today’s and tomorrow’s army must possess». Dispersion in defence was of course written in the context of the nuclear battlefield, where dispersion was to be used to minimise casualties from these weapons. On pi23 we read that «mountain flying skills, so vital for the Hindu Kush, were generally at a low level». Whoops! While on pi63 «Some tanks now carry explosive reactive armour in vulnerable areas. This has the effect of increasing the thickness of the armour». I think the reader is owed a slightly better explanation than this. And for the record, the cannon on Hind F is a 23mm twin barrel GSh-23, not 30mm.

There are of course plenty of interesting bits, such as the Tarhe in Vietnam dropping special blast bombs to create instant landing zones, and Russians parachuting from stricken helicopters over Afghanistan, which I always thought was impossible. I would also have liked to have seen more about the potential of the Djinn, a French lightweight helo which used compressed air rotor tip propulsion. With no torque to worry about, this was a very easy bird to fly, and it could also be rigged for towing from place to place behind a jeep.

Basically I found this book a bit top-heavy on background material, with not enough actual tactics and combat usage. A total absence of naval helicopter usage seems a more serious omission, and Land-based Helicopters in Combat might have been a more accurate title. The more expert reader will find plenty of interest; a newcomer to helicopter warfare may find it hard going.

WORLD’S AIR FORCES is an attempt, tried several times before by various authors, to give a rundown on each and every air arm throughout the world, a feat which has never been really successfully achieved although for sheer detail Militair ’82 was the best of the bunch, listing as it did not only units and bases but serials, losses etc in a compact volume which is sadly now ten years out of date.

Since then we have all been waiting for either a revised edition or a new publication along the same lines but with each new book we have been let down and are still waiting to find something with the same detail.

World’s Air Forces lists each country alphabetically and gives o brief rundown which concentrates on current organisation and equipment rather than any historical background.

Details inevitably vary as the amount of information available on some of the more obscure air forces can still be difficult to get hold of although one is still left with the feeling that the book is very lightweight with most of the information being from well known sources with little background research being carried out. This theory is borne out by the photo credits where it is apparent that 99% are standard manufacturers photos with little attempt being made to acquire different or unusual photos.

The arbitrary way in which the amount of information on units is presented is perhaps best emphasised by taking specific examples.

Peruvian Air Force units for instance are detailed in full, although the number of readers interested in that country must be a much lower percentage than those interested in the USAF, for which unit details are easily available but which the author does not consider are worth listing, instead just rambling on with a generally overview.

Overall, the average reader will probably find the book a useful quick reference source, but

Eersonally I found it generally uneven in its coverage and lacking in the amount of attention to detail which is needed to make a really good reference book on what is inevitably a very difficult and wide ranging area to cover. However, all these moans aside, until something better comes along, it is probably still a very handy book to keep on the shelves.

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