Arctic to Addis Ababa Page 16 Reaching for the sky Page 24
Comet across French skies Page 30
See page 56 for a great subscription offer to o BELOW Hawker Hurricane XII P2970/C-FDNL and Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4 WNr 3579/CF-EML of the Russell Aviation Group over Michigan in 2008. How did they compare with each other in 1940? See pages 36–49. Photo by MICHAEL O’LEARY
September 2010 Vol 38 No 9 Issue No 449 (on sale July 30)
Features 16 Sweden’s African Air Force In this month’s Hidden History Jan Forsgren tells the story of Sweden’s major contribution to the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force during 1946–65
Top u n : 1 9 40
In the first part of amajor new Aeroplane series, in which we compare five aircraft from specific points in aviation history to establish a clear winner,
DONALDNIJBOER analyses five fighters on the front line in mid-1940
SINCE THE END of the Second World War the process of assessing and measuring which weapon system was “the best” has been an ongoing theairboththeAliedan process, with varied results. To say this aircraft or tank or ship was the best often overlooks a series of variables that had a direct effect on the performance of each individual weapon system. Much depends on how and where the weapon was used and how well-trained the people using it were. It is also important to determine whether the weapon in question was being employed in the role for which it was originally designed.
Comparing how World War
Two-era fighters matched up against each other is not a simple numbers game. While speed, rate of climb, diving speed, armament and manœuvrability were vital factors, they do not tell the whole story. In order to gain victory in the air both the Allied and Axis dAxis powers had to use an intelligent combination of design, produc-
tion, doctrine, training and support. The aircraft without these other factors could not win a war — it was the combination of men and machines that made the difference.
In the two decades between the
First and Second World Wars aircraft design and technology had developed rapidly from fabric, wire and wood to metal,
glass and a lot more horsepower.
By 1940 the latest generation of all-metal aircraft of monocoque construction was capable of very high speeds, and most were fitted with innovations such as hydraulically-operated flaps,
efficient radio equipment and heavy armament. Pilots could now fly in a fully enclosed cockpit and had the ability to operate at previously undreamed-of altitudes — 20,000ft and higher.
The technology had changed radica llbt theru leso f the cay but radically but the rules of the game remained much the same.
All the tactics learned and employed in the First World War were brought to bear again in the early days of World War Two.
Height was king; seeing the enemy first was vital and diving out of the sun on an unsuspect-
ing enemy often resulted in victory. The surprise “bounce”
became the single most effective method of downing an enemy fighter throughout the conflict.
Even fighters with modest performance were used to excellent effect provided they stayed within the proven rules of fighter combat.
Over the decades hundreds of books and thousands of articles have stoked the fire of debate over the relative merits of the iconic fighters of World War Two,
the first conflict in history in which airpower proved decisive for victory. In the dark early days of the war fighter aircraft and tactics were new and untested.
To learn quickly meant survival,
and to ignore the reality often meant death.
Although it is very difficult to
Althoughi t isver ydiffi cu ltt o determine which fighter was the determ inew hichfi ghterwast he
“best” , or determ ineana ll-roun d
“best”, or determine an all-round
“winner”, we will strive to make
“winner” , wew illstr ivetoma ke the following comparison as the following com parisona s meaningful as possible. These mean ingful as poss ibl e.T hese g p fightera ircra ft didnoto perate in fighter aircraft did not operate in a vacuum —each had their individual strengths and weak-
nesses —but in the end what made a fighter a true champion was a combination of technology,
tactics, leadership, pilot training,
industrial prowess, serviceability and sound doctrine. Using these variables we hope to present a new perspective on the fighter-
The year 1940 would prove to be one of great defeats — and one inspiring victory — for the Allies.
It was also a year in which fighter aircraft from many different nations would meet in combat for the first time. All had roughly the same performance regarding speed, range and armament, but a closer examination of actual combat results shows that, while in some cases one type was dominant, much depended on the tactics employed and the individual pilot’s level of experi-
ence when it came to victory or defeat. This comparison will match five types in front-line service in the late summer of
1940 — they are the following:
¬ Hawker Hurricane Mk I;
¬ Messerschmitt Bf 109E;
¬ Curtiss P-36/Hawk 75;
¬ Macchi MC.200 Saetta;
¬ Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero.
By 1940 most of the major powers were equipped with single-seat monoplane fighters with engines of
1,000 h.p. or more (Italy and Japan being the exceptions). Many, like the Bf 109E, were of all-metal construction,
while the Hurricane combined steel, alumin-
ium, wood and fabric. The
Americans were building and exporting the P-36/
Hawk 75 in large num-
bers. The Imperial Japa-
nese Navy Air Force’s
A6M2 represented a revolution in carrierborne fighter design,
while Italy had fewer than 150
open-cockpit Macchi MC.200s in service when it entered the war on June 10, 1940. All these aircraft represented a design philosophy influenced by various national and political forces that would affect their overall effectiveness.
This will certainly not end the debate and you, the reader, may not necessarily agree with our conclusions —your thoughts and observations are more than welcome. Check your six! th welcome. Check your six!
Curt iss P-36/Hawk 75 C
Mese rschm itt Bf 109E
AEROPLANE SEPTEMBER 2010
AEROPLANE SEPTEMBER 2010
24 Lewis Gilbert —Douglas Bader’s filmbiographer 55 years after the making of Reach for the Sky, the film’s 90-year-old director, Lewis Gilbert, talks to Nicholas Jones about his most enduring piece of work
30 La Comète en France — The Burden of Proof The second part of Philippe Ricco’s in-depth look at France’s use of the sleek de Havilland D.H.88 Comet racer as a high-speed mailplane in the 1930s
59 Westland-Hill Pterodactyls Derek James describes the genesis and development of genius designer Geoffrey Hill’s decidedly odd series of inter-war tailless aircraft d
DATE: The late summer of 1940 — with war raging in Europe and China, the fighting aircraft of the world take centre stage in a battle to the death — but which is “Top Gun”? Donald Nijboer analyses the following five 1940 front-line fighters to determine which was the best of the best:
Hawker Hurricane I Messerschmitt Bf 109E Curtiss P-36/ Hawk 75 Macchi MC.200 Saetta
Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero
T E C H N
Macchi MC.200 Saetta
I C A L
D A T A
Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero
T E C H NICA
2 Z e ro
LD A T A
T E C H NI C A L
D A T A
74 Trophies on Show In 1945 the RAE put on a large display of captured enemy aircraft; we preview a superb new photographic exhibition at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust o t
Seafire XV flies
Polikarpov at Duxford Page 9
6 News All the latest preservation news, compiled by Tony Harmsworth
22 Aircrew This month’s crew spotlight falls on the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet pilot — with illustration by Ian Bott
53 Picture of the Month A Hawker P.1127 at Farnborough
54 Q&A Your questions asked, and answered, with Mike Hooks
79 Book Reviews e WIN!
82 Competition We have ten Airfix Messerschmitt Bf 109E models to give away
85 Flying Visit Melvyn Hiscock talks to owner and restorer Alan House about his career
87 Moving On . . . Registration updates with Mike Hooks
89 Services, Next Month
92 Readers’ Album A fascinating collection of pictures taken by Maurice Cooper at RAF Tengah
94 Skywriters A selection of readers’ letters
98 Hairy Moment Our regular spot for your historic-aviation close calls
e t established 1911
Aeroplane traces its lineage back to the weekly The Aeroplane, founded by the legendary C.G. Grey in 1911 and published until 1968. It was relaunched as a monthly magazine in 1973 by Richard T. Riding (Editor for 25 years until 1998)