Air International 1996-06
R.Whitford - Fundamentals of Fighter Design (1)
Flight tested in France, where it made a forced landing in November 1939, and in England, Messerschmitt Bf109E-3 W Nr 1304/AE479 was found to have a high roll rate at medium speeds. However, at speeds above 260kts aileron control was termed ‘solid’ by RAF test pilots.
Far more RFC aircraft were lost in accidents during the War than were shot down. In spite of the simple mechanical flying controls fitted to contemporary fighters, Sopwith F.1 Camel B5402 of 66 Sqn came to grief, in October 1917, when the controls jammed during take-off.
In comparison with the Bf109’s heavy control forces at high speed, the Focke Wulf Fw 190A’s combination of high speed and harmonised controls made it one of the most successful fighters of World War Two. Its most impressive feature was its excellent aileron control at high speed; peak roll rate occurred at around 220kts, being roughly 160°/sec. Fw 190A WNr 313/MP499 was landed in South Wales, due to a navigation error, in June 1942 and flight tested by the RAF’s Air Fighting Development Unit.
A notable feature of many biplanes was stagger (the position forward of the upper wing in relation to the lower). This was usually dictated by structural considerations or field of view for the pilot. Aerodynamic effects were of secondary importance though not negligible. The influence on stability and especially spinning characteristics were much more serious. At high AoA the upper wing was shielded (negative stagger increased shielding and vice versa). The Nieuport 17 was an outstanding fighter and featured pronounced stagger with a larger area upper wing than the lower.
The Fokker Triplane’s best rate of climb at 65mph was 1,000fpm. Both it and the Sopwith Camel had maximum speeds of 120mph with 130hp. The Camel had a slight edge in manoeuvrability, though the Triplane could fly more slowly.
The P-38 Lightning originated from a 1936 requirement for a high-altitude interceptor. Lockheed, with previous experience only in high-performance light transports, submitted an extremely radical twin-boom design. It was rarely used as an interceptor but proved itself as a fighter and fighter-bomber, especially in the war against Japan where its long range and twin-engine reliability were great advantages.
Aircraft design is, almost without exception, a compromise. By changing the CG position and making slight modifications to the tail surfaces, the unstable BE2A was transformed into the stable BE2C (seen here). However, improvements in its flying characteristics reduced its manoeuvrability, rendering it unsuitable as a fighting machine.
National Cemetery on September 3,1908. It was near to this spot that the Wright Flyer crashed on September 17, 1908, killing its passenger Lt Thomas E Selfridge and injuring its pilot Orville Wright Selfridge was the world’s first fatality in a heavier than air flying machine.
The P-47 Thunderbolt, with its thick wings, was one of the first fighters to run into compressibility problems. During flight tests in 1941, high-speed dives to Mach 0.86 led to the nose of the aircraft going beyond the vertical due to ‘Mach tuck’.