When you were in high school…what did you draw on the Acme-bag covers of your text books? Doodles, cartoons, naked women, or airplanes? Question two: Did you ever make paper jets? Did you also modify the hell out of them? Yeah, me, too. This article is an extrapolation of what can happen to your brain, if you keep doing this sort of thing.
If you’re NOT into jet fighter aircraft, and you’re NOT into state-of-the-art technology, and you really couldn’t care less about the USA kicking the ass of the USSR…well…I suppose you’re excused. Hey, wait a minute, put that “delete” finger away for thirty seconds and see what happens. This is also a story about Yankee audacity, Yankee ingenuity, and good ole Yankee arrogance. They’re alive and well in this essay.
Up till the past 10 or 20 years, it’s what’s kept us Numero Uno as a world power…till now. But just chanting “We’re Number One” doesn’t really do very much, soooo…. you’re going to be immersed in a teeny-tiny bit of Physics 101 as well as a bit of Modern Jet Fighter Design 505…and maybe a bit more.
Without being disloyal to my country, the new F-35, which will soon be America’s first trillion dollar boondoggle/extravaganza, is having very serious growing pains. It’s not fast, it’s HUGELY complicated, it’s not particularly athletic, and it’s really finicky on some serious aspects…as in what kind and temperature of JP-4 jet fuel is it willing to guzzle. Are fuel trucks using only chilled JP-4 in our future? That’s what the F-35 prefers. On another day, we can arm-wrestle that one.
Today, I want to show you an alternative to the F-35. It’s doable. There is no “Insert Miracle Here” disclaimer necessary to make any of these ideas work. It’s even designed to keep costs down out of the nose-bleed zone, and we even address a factor that virtually no civilians ever hear about. …You’re gonna hear about it today.
My creds for addressing this? I’ll try to keep it clipped and short. I grew up next to an airport, learned to fly as a kid, flew aerobatics a bit later, and flew jet fighters in the Air Force. More importantly, I grew up in an aviation-focused household. Aviation Week was on the coffee table next to Time. Dad was an aviation writer, and famous aircraft designers came to the house to shoot the breeze: Bert Rutan, Igor Bensen, Kelly Johnson… (He designed the SR-71 essentially by his lonesome in a place he called the Skunk Works.) Think of that concept.
It couldn’t happen today. Today it’s all corporate and it’s all about big-buck government contracts, with not a helluva lot of feedback from pilots given consideration. Back to the creds. I have a physics background and have a number of US patents, most of which have come into major use, not because of any genius, just from that outside-the-box thinking that I sometimes talk about. As a young teenager, I designed and built a working movable spoiler on the back of my fuggly ’51 Chevy, granny-mobile. It worked. I sent letters and pix to John DeLorean, then head of PMD (Pontiac Motor Division) and oddly enough, we began a dialogue. Ultimately, he deferred, because a movable flip-up spoiler wasn’t necessary on passenger cars back then. A few years later, Ferrari engineers invented one....too. Sonofagun, it has value! Virtually all race cars have spoilers now…some are even movable. So, I at least have creds for audacity.
And this is as audacious as it gets: Me, attempting to channel Kelly Johnson with my contribution of the very best that my Yankee ingenuity can muster: Could it be built? Yes. Do the concepts work? Yup. Would it cost a trillion? No, much, much less. Would it beat our main competition, the Mig 35? …..yeah, it would. You’ll soon see why.
I’m calling it the F-44 Jack Knife, and if I had my druthers, McDonnell Douglas would be the manufacturer.
Think of it as the newest Z07 Corvette Stingray which is beating Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, and Vipers…often at a quarter of the cost. Yaay!!! How did they do it? Nothing magical, just Yankee Ingenuity. The technique can be used with a jet fighter as well.
Like most of the modern day fast automobiles, almost all of the modern jet fighters look a whole lot alike. Aerodynamics dictates this in cars. It really dictates it in fighter aircraft.
The baseline for the F-44 Jack Knife is the generic twin-tail swept wing. The best of these, in my opinion, is the newest Russian MIG-35. I use a stripped generic fuselage of the MIG as my starting point and then add what needs to be added. There are six major modifications that go into the Jack Knife.
Let’s start with a very easy one: Steerable forward canard: The Typhoon Euro Fighter (pictured left) has one and that’s one helluva plane. Unfortunately, other aspects of the Typhoon are not as exemplary. I am essentially lifting the canard from the Typhoon and placing it on a MIG-35. So far, rather basic stuff. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the Soviets’ newest jet, most likely named the MIG-39 or 40, will have a movable canard. I’ll explain why in a minute, but basically it comes down to the ability to perform sudden and violent changes in attitude, necessary in SAM (surface-to-air missile) evasion as well as dog-fighting.
As of today, all fighter aircraft have one of two engine configurations: Single engine and twin engine. Sounds a bit basic. Let’s take a quick jump outside the box, however, and look to the world of high-tech cars and race cars. In racing, you need to be able to have the smallest number of pit stops (time lost and minimal fuel consumed).
In war and dog-fighting, you need to be able to have the longest TOT, Time Over Target. Here’s the fact I alluded to earlier. Jet fighters consume fuel like ravenous wild pigs. They gulp it down in huge pail-fulls and that’s just getting airborne. This was a big problem in WWII as well. Had the Messerschmitts not had to cross the English Channel before entering combat, things probably would have turned out differently. So…how do you get better jet fuel mileage in a jet? Easy: smaller engine. But smaller engine means less power.
Racing cars solve it by adding…a second engine, usually electric, to use only when they need it. In short, it works. In jet aircraft, electric motors aren’t an option, so what do we do? The illogical. We add a small third jet engine, capable of getting the aircraft off the ground for take-off and capable of maintaining a slow cruise, while the two big monster engines, throttle back to near idle…or anywhere above idle, depending. Truth be known, 90% of the time, even fighters don’t need to be going on the mach or doing violent (gas-guzzling) maneuvers. This can double or even triple your TOT (time over target), and save you fuel to get home…or engage the enemy for extended periods. And for real dog-fighting, all three engines can engage simultaneously for blistering acceleration. If you look closely at the Jack Knife, that slender pod between the main engines below isn’t a bomb, it is the engine that allows interesting things to happen.
SPLIT-RING Exhaust Nozzles: This is an ultra-simple way to vector (change the angle of) the thrust of the two main jets. Each of the two rings per engine nozzle, swivels independently of each other, but in coordination with the rings of the other engine. Vectored main thrusters for brutal, but effective change of airplane attitude. These, in conjunction with V-RAM below provide never before attainable near-instantaneous turns, dives, climbs as well as bogie out-maneuvering.
V-RAM: Vectored (steerable) Rocket Assist Module. Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. Nobody has, though it’s existed in NASA for decades. Most of the cost overruns for the F-35 were either directly or indirectly connected to its ability to take off vertically (like a Harrier). But this technology is also what makes it something other than a racehorse in the air. It’s heavy and very expensive and it’s very maintenance-intensive. V-RAM stands for Vectored Rocket Assist Module. If you’re old-guarde and know about JATO, Jet-Assist-Takeoff, this is similar but a whole lot more controllable.
Think of them as big mutha skyrockets strapped on the bottom of, say a C-130 Hercules for an ultra short take off. The Air Force Thunderbirds, whom I liased around Davis Monthan a lot, used to strap ’em on their tricked-up C-130 support plane…to spectacular effect. Anyway, if you look at the top view of the F-44 Jack Knife, the V-RAMs are small, steerable solid-fuel rockets which can be ignited and extinguished on command.
What do they do???? Glad you asked. They brutally jam the nose of the F-44, up, down, right or left. Yeah, no big deal unless a MIG or SAM (surface-to-air missile) is on your ass. Then it’s a really big deal. What’s best of all? There is ZERO sophisticated ducting and plumbing on the main engines like in a Harrier or F-35. The solid fuel rocket canisters are cheap and replaceable upon landing. I’m guessing you’d only use two minutes of burn-time max per canister (two canisters), but they are ass-savers…and multi billion dollar jet savers as well.
SPOOL-UP: A boring unsexy but cool little addition: It’ll save weight and save your tires, and increase time between “pit stops.” The way it stands right now, when you come in for a landing on any plane, your tires must accelerate from ZERO rpm to 120-150 KIAS equivalent airspeed in approx. one-tenth of a second.
Ever watch the blue smoke as plane tires hit the ground? If a fighter jet blows a tire coming down, it’s VERY serious business, unlike that of say a 737 with many multiple tires. The solution? Dead simple and cheap: A small ducted conduit from the exhaust of one engine to a tiny turbine (think of the one in your turbo) encased in the landing gear module. Five seconds before landing, the conduit opens. The tiny turbine spools-up…and those tires are already doing 130 KIAS computed. The result? Great increase in safety and security. The secondary result? Upon take-offs on short fields, it provides an extra 3 to 4 percent boost in take-off energy. Not huge, but much appreciated by the pilot.
If you look at F-1 race cars or even Indy racers, the drivers (land pilots) live inside a lightweight but monstrously strong “tub” that can withstand almost anything. Pilots have a poorer version of this…. it needs bolstering using GRAPHENE and Nano Tube technology. This is where we can really use this stuff. More importantly, however, and here’s where it gets cool, that tub is suspended on shock absorbers. In other words, when the pilot jams the stick in one detent with all this new technology, his eyes don’t explode or leave his eye sockets, nor does he black out. In addition to his state-of-the-art G-suit, his “tub” or living environment can soak up 6-8 inches worth of G-loading before it stops. It’s the difference between getting nailed by a MIG and out-turning him.
Weak Link: Want to know what the weakest link is in a modern fighter? Care to guess? It starts with M. Man is the weakest link by far, yet many, many times he is absolutely necessary because the concept of humanity ultimately trumps cold logic. Drones can only do so much. Impasse? No. The Jack Knife has the capability of turning and maneuvering so abruptly that, because of its enhanced capabilities, it could put a man in the hospital or worse. Consequently, all systems are on a governor to protect the pilot when he is on board.
The F-44 Jack Knife, however, is fully capable of flying unmanned, if necessary. Let’s say the crew is wounded or disabled. The Jack Knife can still fight, still maneuver, and still return to base. Or, if the men are in imminent danger of a SAM strike, they can eject to safety while the plane can go into its ultra-maneuverability mode…and then return to base. It protects man and in a rare moment of Zen, protects the equipment as well.
Yeah, I probably bored or exhausted a bunch of you. Sorry, I’ve tried to keep it as interesting as possible But, this is important stuff and if you’re a gal who’s never given five minutes thought to fighters or fighter pilots, you may have learned a lot in a very brief amount of time. I learned all about knitting and felting and fibre art because Pam was interested. It pays to know unusual stuff. Surprise your spouse!
That Corvette z07 is kicking the world’s asses and for quarters-on-the-dollar. Surprise Lamborghini! Surprise, McClaren! Surprise Porsche! The “Vette” can out-do a Lambo at one-fifth the price. Dem’s braggin’ rights. The Jack Knife has a whole lot of new and a whole lot of outside-the-aviation-box technology. Yeah, I named it. The 44 goes back to the Colt .44 Magnum Revolver…a somewhat potent device. Jack Knife? It’s AMERICAN, it’s simple, and it’s appropriate. It’s what you keep in your back pocket, just in case.
P.S. I have tried my very best to make an acronym and physics-heavy topic, as readable as possible. No equations were used. I think it’s important, and I’d really like to see a usable fighter in our inventory. The V-22 was a bugger from the beginning. The F-35 promises more of the same.
P.P.S. I gotta add this…can’t help myself. Remember when the Ayatollah had 60+ hostages in Tehran? One team worked on a C-130 Hercules set up with forward-facing JATO.
Think of big rockets pointing..FORWARD so you can stop on a dime. They made one prototype, tested it and hit the rockets way too soon. There’s footage of it pancaking onto the runway, due to no airspeed.
However, there was another back-up plan, thanks in part to a whacky idea by yours truly and a couple of generals out at Davis Monthan. We had six Harrier Jump Jets designated to be modified to skirt along the mountain range which goes right up to Tehran, land on the top of the building, use knock-out gas for the surrounding area, and load up the (now sleeping) civilian hostages into special low-profile people pods, six to a Harrier. In….Out….no one gets killed. No one gets hurt on either side. We just extricate 60 civilians. We just ran out of time.
Regarding your F-44 proposal, I am – yes – practically speechless, aside from the following rant:
1. Some great ideas in there, esp. the disposable rocket packs, and the third engine. But what war would it be designed for? And:
2. Whichever contractors get the job, it will be a mistake to allow them to design, manufacture, QA and approve their own project. Meanwhile, the military brass in charge of procurement will continue with their “we’re number one” sexual fantasies about sticking to those beastly Russians or possibly Chinese.
3. Who, of course, have their own procurement programs – shaped by a near-enough engineering philosophy, which delivers functional (very fast, lethally armed) airplanes at ONE FIFTH the cost of ours. They operate on the statistical model, which says that if you have five times as many units in the air, more will actually get through. And they don’t go in for our hand wringing about the sanctity of human life, for instance, the luckless pilot’s.
4. Like you, I spent enough years in the air force, even if it wasn’t the same air force, to realize that bureaucracies do what they do, leading their own hierarchy-bound everyday lives, largely unconnected with “mission”. And I spent even more years with contractors like LM, observing that they were more cost-unconscious, more bogged down in process than the military.
And if the F-35 isn’t a gross enough example of toys for the boys, what about the V-22? I do realize, though, that without such government benefit programs “industry” would take another huge hit.
The most astute and pressing question you make is: “What war is this designed for?” Though that’s sort of a sidebar question, it’s actually a good one. In today’s arsenal one of the most popular and effective war ships around is the A-10 Warthog. I think I may be the only person on the planet that thinks it’s attractive. The fact that it’s a rather large cannon with a plane designed around it…makes me smile and think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Like the V-22 the F-35 attempts to be two things at once, and in doing so, is competent in neither. First time I glimpsed the V-22 I shook my head and groaned.
Read it, liked it and you kept it readable. Mission accomplished. But you are talking to a limited choir. Good article for Popular Science….truth or party line answer?
Good idea! I may run it by Pop Sci.
OMG Henry! I read the whole thing and I have to say I didn’t understand one thing you talked about. Where the hell do you get this stuff? Does an idea just pop into your head. My brain would be exhausted if I did that much thinking, Whew! I look forward to next week’s blog. A little lighter fare would be great. Talk to you soon.
It gives me a headache, too. But there’s that little “muse” inside of me that pokes me in the ribs and wakes me up at 2:45 am whispering, “Hey, I have an idea!!!” I’m going to really try to return to normalcy this week. But thanks for hangin’ in there and reading the whole thing!
Excellent article. As an aerospace engineer (retired) I can appreciate the design of the F44 Jack Knife. I believe the Canadians designed a similar plane but the US talked them into buying our F14’s. The F35 is an example of a plane designed by a committee. The F111 was similar.
Thanks for your comments. I’d sure like to hear about the Canadian version of the “F-44” Regarding the F111, I always wondered why they called it the Aardvaark. I think the original nickname, Switchblade, was a whole lot sexier and more ominous.