rec.aviation.military FAQ, Part 2


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Last updated 1998 Jan 12

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Subject:  B.15.  Yakovlev Yak-41/141 "Freestyle"

Design of the Yak-41 (or possibly Yak-141; see below) began in 1975; the
first prototype flew in March 1987, followed by a second in April 1989.
Tests were conducted on the aircraft carrier _Admiral Gorshkov_.  In April
1991, one of the prototypes set several records for VTOL aircraft; it was
displayed at the Paris Air Show shortly afterwards.  One prototype was lost
in a crash (attributed to pilot error) on the carrier in November 1991,
after which development was suspended (due to lack of funds rather than any
problems with the aircraft); the surviving aircraft was mothballed.

Yakovlev have recently announced their intention to restart development of
the Yak-41, apparently as a result of renewed interest from the Russian
Ministry of Defence (a similar revival of the twin-turboprop Yak-44 AEW
aircraft is also being considered).

A more advanced version, the Yak-41M (Yak-141M?), has also been designed,
with the emphasis now on Air Force rather than Navy service.  This version
has an extensively modified airframe, with a strong emphasis on stealth
(there is a distinct resemblance to the F-22), a much more powerful engine,
and more fuel and payload.

The "Freestyle" has been referred to as both Yak-41 and Yak-141; it appears
that one designation refers to the standard fighter and one to the single
prototype modified for record attempts, but there seems to be some
uncertainty as to which is which.

Vital statistics (Yak-41/141?):  length 18.36 m, span 10.11 m, empty weight
11650 kg, max weight 19500 kg, max speed 1800 km/h (Mach 1.7), range 2100
km; power plant:  one 152.00 kN Soyuz R-97V-30 augmented turbofan, two
RD-41 lift jets; armament:  30mm cannon, 5 hardpoints, max external load
2600 kg.


Subject:  B.16.  FLA - Future Large Aircraft
updated 1996-04-26

Airbus Industrie's proposal for a Hercules class replacement. Supposedly
offering more capability, especially larger cargo hold than the C-130J, 
but no protoype built yet (the one at airshows is a steel tubing and 
fabric mock up). In fact, as of 1996 not even the type of engines, turboprop
or turbofan is decided upon, nor exact size and performance.
HMG has said that they will buy these for the RAF, but the project now 
looks in doubt since (i) the RAF needs to replace Hercules now; and 
(ii) the French can't afford them.


Subject:  C.1.  Why is the "stealth fighter" called F-117 instead of F-19?

Nobody really knows for sure.  It's been suggested, and sounds plausible
(but there's no real evidence), that it was called F-19 to start with, but
the number was changed as a security measure after the open press started
using that designation in the early 1980s (the aircraft first flew in 1981,
but wasn't revealed to the public until 1988).  Why they picked F-117 as
the new number is a mystery; there are three main theories, any of them
fairly plausible.

The first theory has it that the "stealth fighter" (actually it's a bomber;
see below) was flying from the same bases as the small fleet of captured
Russian aircraft that the USAF flies; these are believed to use the
nonexistent designations "F-112", "F-113" and so on as a cover, and the
F-117 just happened to be the next number in sequence.

The second theory claims that the aircraft was using the call sign "117"
(possibly for reasons connected with the above, or possibly just an
arbitrarily assigned number) on some of its early test flights, and the
number just happened to stick (presumably for lack of any other
designation); when Lockheed got around to printing pilot's manuals for the
aircraft, they were labelled "F-117", and from then on it became official.

The third theory is that there isn't any reason; the Pentagon just picked a
number at random.

The mythical "F-19" may have been part of a "leak identification" project;
it's common practice in many "black" projects to create several false
stories and track down leaks by watching to see which one gets out.

There's also the separate question of why it was given an F-series
(fighter) designation at all, when it's clearly a light bomber with
essentially zero air-to-air capability; it should have an A-series (attack)
or B-series (bomber) number.  Again, the Pentagon isn't telling, but a
favourite theory here on the Net is that the USAF, being dominated by
former fighter pilots, couldn't bear the idea of its most glamorous plane
having anything but a fighter designation...

The F-117 has been popularly known as "Nighthawk" for some time; the Air
Force made the name official on 24 June 1994.


Subject:  C.2.  Does the USAF have a hypersonic spyplane called "Aurora"?

Maybe.  Here's the evidence.

In 1985, a censor's error let an item labelled "Aurora", with no further
explanation, appear in that year's Pentagon budget request, with a
reference to "production funding" for 1987.  It was located next to the
operating budgets for the SR-71 and U-2.  The Pentagon refused to comment
on the item, and it has never been mentioned since.

In 1986, the US government sealed off large areas of land around the top
secret Groom Lake base in Nevada.  Many new buildings have been built at
Groom Lake during the 1980s, and intense activity continues.  The
government is currently (mid 1994) in the process of taking over more large
areas of land around the base, in order to make it impossible to observe
the base from publicly accessible land.  The extensive security measures
imply that some very important and very secret activity is going on there.
Officially, the USAF won't even admit that the base exists.

In February 1988, the _New York Times_ reported that the USAF was working
on a stealthy reconnaissance aircraft capable of Mach 6.  The story was
attributed to "Pentagon sources".

In August 1989, Chris Gibson, an oil exploration engineer and former member
of the Royal Observer Corps, was working on an oil rig in the North Sea
when he saw an unusual formation of aircraft pass overhead.  It consisted
of a KC-135 tanker, two F-111s, and a fourth aircraft of a type that Gibson
(an expert on aircraft recognition) had never seen before.  Seen from
below, it appeared to be a perfect triangle, slightly larger than the
escorting F-111s, with a leading edge sweep angle of about 75 degrees.  It
was completely black, with no visible details (unlike the F-111s), and
appeared to be taking on fuel from the KC-135.

In early 1990 the USAF retired its fleet of SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft;
the official reason given was that satellites could now perform all
strategic reconnaissance missions required by the Pentagon.  Many observers
consider this explanation to be suspicious, for several reasons.  First,
satellites exist in limited numbers and fixed, predictable orbits; surely
there will always be a requirement for high-speed reconnaissance missions
at short notice, which could only be performed by an aircraft like the
SR-71.  Second, the cost of running the SR-71 fleet was only about 7 per
cent of what the Pentagon spends on satellites; it would still be a good
investment even if only as an emergency backup.  Third, the USAF never
raised the slightest objection to the plan to replace manned aircraft with
unmanned satellites, which is highly unusual behaviour for an organisation
composed almost entirely of pilots.

At about the same time, _Aviation Week_ carried reports from witnesses who
had heard an incredibly loud aircraft taking off from Edwards Air Force
Base in California late at night.  Some of them referred to a pulsing sound
with a period of about one second.

On several occasions from June 1991 to June 1992, sonic booms were heard
over southern California.  They were not produced by any officially
acknowledged military flight (which are always careful to remain subsonic
over urban areas).  The booms were powerful enough to show up on the
seismographs operated by the US Geological Service, and the times of
arrival of the sound at various points allowed fairly accurate calculation
of the course and speed of the aircraft responsible; the USGS had already
demonstrated this by tracking incoming space shuttles.  The aircraft were
headed northeast, over Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, towards either
the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada or the nearby Groom Lake base.  The
speeds involved ranged from Mach 3 to Mach 4.

In February 1992, _The Scotsman_ reported that an RAF air traffic
controller, in November 1991, had seen a radar blip emerge from the base at
Machrihanish, Scotland, and quickly accelerate to Mach 3.  When he called
Machrihanish to ask what had happened, he was told to forget it.

In May 1992, a photographer snapped some strange contrails over Amarillo,
Texas; the trails appeared to have been produced by a high-speed aircraft,
and resembled "doughnuts on a rope".  A few days later, similar trails were
reported over Machrihanish.

All this appears to add up to a hypersonic aircraft, with a cruising speed
around Mach 6, being operated by the USAF from Groom Lake, Nevada, Edwards
AFB, California, and Machrihanish, Scotland, since about 1988
(Machrihanish, by the way, is due to be closed in 1995).  The aircraft
described by Chris Gibson matches several design studies of hypersonic
aircraft in the 1970s and 80s, which came up with a triangular planform
with a sweep angle of 75 degrees.  The engines appear to be rocket based
combined cycle (RBCC) engines, an advanced hybrid of turbojet, ramjet, and
rocket.  Unclassified studies from the US, Japan, and Russia have
investigated RBCC engines for hypersonic propulsion; such engines would be
extremely loud on take-off, would produce a pulsing sound with a frequency
on the order of one second, would leave contrails resembling "doughnuts on
a rope", and should theoretically have a maximum speed not far above Mach
6.  The most likely fuel for an RBCC engine would be methane; given the
assumptions of methane-fuelled RBCC engines, Mach 6 cruising speed, and
intercontinental range, the resulting aircraft would indeed be about the
size of an F-111.

Does this aircraft exist?  We don't know for certain, but the
circumstantial evidence is certainly persuasive.

Incidentally, the aircraft (if it exists) is almost certainly not called
Aurora.  Even if the mystery item in the 1985 budget did refer to this
project, the name would probably have been changed after the security leak.
But Aurora is the only name anyone has, so we continue to use it as a
convenient label.

Recently (mid 1994) there are moves afoot in the US Senate to reactivate
three SR-71 aircraft (possibly in connection with the Korean situation).
It was reported (from what sources is unclear) that the Blackbird successor
programme had collapsed "after consuming several hundred million dollars".
This has been interpreted by some to suggest that the "Aurora" was a

Ben Rich, who replaced Kelly Johnson as the head of Lockheed's "Skunk
Works" and was responsible for the F-117) recently wrote a book
    Skunk Works             
    Ben Rich and Leo Janos  
    Little, Brown and Co.   
in which he stated that "Aurora" was the codename for Lockheed's entry
in the ATB contest, lost to Northrop's B-2 (see section B.11).  I'm
told that the book is careful to make no mention of any SR-71
successor, either to support or refute the idea.

The best we can say at the moment is that the mystery remains open...

[Most of this information comes from Bill Sweetman's book _Aurora_]


Subject:  C.3.  What's a TR-3?

A report in _Aviation Week and Space Technology_ in mid 1991 described a
"triangular flying wing" reconnaissance aircraft, developed by Northrop
(now Northrop Grumman) from 1982, designated TR-3A and nicknamed "Black
Manta".  According to the report, the aircraft had a length of about 13
metres, wingspan of about 19 metres, and a range of 5600 kilometres; it had
been deployed for trials to Alaska, Okinawa, Panama, and the UK, and a few
had been employed in Desert Storm in the reconnaissance role.  The aircraft
was apparently developed from a Northrop technology demonstrator known as
THAP (Tactical High Altitude Penetrator), which first flew in 1981 and was
similar in design, but slightly smaller.  After this report, however,
nothing more was heard of the TR-3 for two years.

In 1993, Steve Douglass, an amateur "stealth watcher" who keeps an eye on
the USAF's "black" programmes for a hobby, took a videotape of an aircraft
landing at White Sands Missile Range.  Enhancement of the image revealed a
formerly unknown aircraft, almost certainly the TR-3.  Apart from having a
curved trailing edge, it resembled a scaled-down B-2 (or a Horten IX; see
section E.1).  It appears to be a single-seat, twin-engine, approximately
triangular flying wing, which fits the description given in the earlier
report.  You can find more details, including an artist's impression based
on the video images, in the February 1994 issue of _Wired_.

Of the various "black" aircraft supposed to be flown by the USAF (see also
section C.2), more solid evidence exists for the TR-3 than any other, and
its existence seems virtually certain.  Although it's difficult to judge
the exact size of the aircraft from Douglass's image, the dimensions quoted
in the original report are plausible.


Subject:  C.4.  Why wasn't the B-1 or B-2 used in Desert Storm?

The B-1s weren't used for several reasons.  First, their primary mission is
(or was at the time) strategic nuclear strike; Pentagon policy was to keep
them in the United States as part of the strategic triad.  Second, at the
time (January 1991) the B-1s had not yet been fully cleared for tactical
operations with conventional weapons.  Third, there was no need for them --
the aircraft already available, notably B-52s and F-117s, were perfectly
capable of the required missions, and sending B-1s over wouldn't have added
enough capability to be worth the extra maintenance involved.  Fourth, in
late 1990 most of the B-1 fleet was grounded anyway, due to engine

No B-2s were in service at the time; only a single prototype was flying.


Subject:  C.5.  Is fighter X better than fighter Y?

This is the kind of question that gets discussed all the time, but doesn't
really have an answer.

First, best for what?  Every fighter is designed with a particular set of
requirements in mind.  "Fighter" is a fairly general term that covers a
multitude of missions.  A Tornado F.3 or a MiG-31 is an excellent
long-range interceptor, but you wouldn't want to send one of them up
against an F-16 or an Su-27 in a dogfight.

Second, the aircraft itself isn't the only factor involved, or even the
most important one.  Put two aircraft of similar (or even somewhat
different) capabilities up against each other, and by far the most
important factor is the relative skills of the two pilots.  It's widely
believed that superior pilot training was the main reason why American F-86
Sabres consistently gained air superiority over technically superior
Russian MiG-15s in the Korean War.

Third, even apparently identical fighters can differ enormously in their
electronics fit; and in modern fighters, the electronics is at least as
important (not to mention expensive) as the airframe.  Export versions of
fighters are normally much less capable in the electronic sphere than the
equivalent models for the home air force, even when the aircraft have the
same designation; does anyone expect the F-16Cs exported to, say, Egypt to
be anywhere near the capability of the F-16Cs in USAF service?  Older
aircraft can be upgraded to modern electronic standards at a fraction of
the cost of new fighters, an option increasingly popular in these days of
tightened defence budgets (for example, the RNZAF recently upgraded its
Skyhawk fleet with a radar and avionics suite equivalent to that of the

Most of the modern generation of fighters are fairly similar in
performance.  Leaving out specialised interceptors such as the Tornado and
MiG-31 mentioned above, if almost any two modern fighters came up against
each other in a dogfight, pilot skill would certainly be the main deciding
factor.  We can (and certainly will) argue endlessly about the relative
merits of, say, F-16 vs Sea Harrier, or F-22 vs Su-35 (both the subject of
recent discussion on this newsgroup; Harriers versus conventional fighters
is a particularly hardy perennial), and there are real differences there;
but such technical details are not the most important thing in combat.


Subject:  C.6.  Why was the YF-22 chosen over the YF-23?

When the Lockheed YF-22 and Northrop YF-23 were unveiled in 1990, it was
generally believed that the two companies had made different trade-offs
among the various design requirements.  The YF-23 appeared to be optimised
for stealth, with its trapezoidal wings, butterfly tail, and generally
futuristic appearance (the distinct resemblance to the fictional "Firefox"
attracted a lot of comments).  The YF-22, on the other hand, had a more
conventional appearance; although it was obviously designed with stealth in
mind, there was a definite resemblance to the F-15 it was intended to
replace, and the impression was of an aircraft designed for manoeuvrability
first and stealth second.  The YF-22 had thrust-vectoring jet nozzles,
while those of the YF-23 were designed to hide the engines' infrared
signature from below.

In April 1991, the YF-22 was selected for production.  According to the
USAF, neither aircraft showed any clear advantage in either manoeuvrability
or stealth.  The reasons given for the choice were that the Lockheed
aircraft was better designed for maintainability, had more potential for
future development, and was slightly cheaper.

An unconfirmed report has it that one factor was the fact that the YF-23
had its internal AAMs "stacked" in its bays, while the YF-22's missiles
each had a bay to themselves; this meant that, on the YF-23, a malfunction
in one launcher might prevent the launch of another missile in the same
bay. In YF-23's favour can be said that it was built with production
tooling for the composite airframe, whereas the YF-22 was from the 
beginning different from the planned F-22.

There remains a popular opinion that the reasons given were bogus, and that
a preference for manoeuvrability over stealth was the real reason for the
choice.  However, there is no obvious reason why the USAF should want to
lie about its reasons, and it seems likely that the external appearance of
the two aircraft wasn't as good a guide to their capabilities as many
people thought.

[From Mike Spick & Barry Wheeler, _Modern American Fighters and Attack
Aircraft_, and magazine reports]


Subject:  C.7.  Did someone buy Grumman?

Yes.  Northrop took it over in May 1994, and is now known as Northrop


Subject:  C.8.  Why do recent articles refer to the "Lockheed F-16"?

General Dynamics sold its military aircraft division to Lockheed in
December 1992.  Although readers of this newsgroup probably associate GD
with aircraft like the F-16 and F-111, the company has always been
primarily a shipbuilder, and has now decided to concentrate exclusively on
this area.

Lockheed, in turn, is about to merge with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed


Subject:  C.9.  Whatever happened to the F/A-16?

At one time the USAF had a plan to replace its A-10s with F-16s fitted with
a version of the Avenger cannon.  This was tested during Desert Storm, when
F-16As of the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing were fitted with GPU-5 pods on
their centreline pylons, and given the new designation F/A-16A.  The GPU-5
contains the GAU-13 cannon (a four-barrelled version of the seven-barrelled
GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon fitted to the A-10) and 353 rounds of ammunition.
If the tests were successful, there were plans for a fleet of F/A-16Cs with
the same armament.

The tests were a disaster.  Precision aiming was impossible for several
reasons:  the pylon mount isn't as steady as the A-10's rigid mounting; the
F-16 flies much faster than an A-10, giving the pilots too little time
approaching the target; the tremendous recoil from the gun shook the plane
around badly; and some essential CCIP (continuously computed impact point)
software was unavailable.  They ended up using it as an area weapon,
spraying multiple targets with ammunition, producing an effect rather like
a cluster bomb.  It took only a couple of days of this before they gave up,
unbolted the gun pods, and went back to dropping real cluster bombs.

The F/A-16C plan was quietly forgotten.  The USAF still has plans to
replace the A-10 with F-16s, but they no longer involve 30mm gun pods (or,
apparently, a designation with an "A" in it).

[Thanks to Kevin Au for posting most of this information]


Subject:  C.10.  Why do some aircraft have gold-tinted canopies?

Gold-tinted canopies have been noticed on the EA-6B and the F-16C/D.  On
the EA-6B, the coating is a shield against electromagnetic radiation from
the Prowler's powerful jamming pods.  On the F-16C/D, officially the
purpose of this treatment is classified, but discussion on the newsgroup
has brought general agreement (based on unclassified sources and hints
dropped by pilots) that the gold coating reduces the aircraft's radar
signature, by reducing reflections off the complex interior shape of the
cockpit.  In both cases the coating is a very thin layer of actual gold
metal, not a gold-tinted paint.

Other aircraft, such as the F-15E and F/A-18C/D, have a distinct greenish
tinge to their canopies.  This is a different coating (on the inside of the
canopy rather than the outside) that reduces internal reflections to help
visibility.  Several newsgroup readers report having similar coatings on
their glasses, so it's not exactly a secret.


Subject:  C.11.  Why do USAF aircraft have tailhooks?

To help stop the aircraft in the event of brake failure, or some similar
accident leading to a runway overrun.  Just past the end of many military
runways, you'll find an arrester cable strung across the field.  The cable
(unlike those on aircraft carriers) isn't attached to anything firm;
instead, each end is linked to a long chain, which just drags on the
ground.  The idea is to slow the aircraft down in a reasonable distance;
the tailhooks on Air Force fighters are smaller and weaker than the
superficially similar hooks on Navy planes.

The hook is also used during a hot jet-cal (at least it is/was on F-4's), 
in which the Exhaust Gas Temperature instrument has been repaired/replaced.
The aircraft is taken to a remote corner of the base, hooked up, and fired 
up to verify that the instrument is working correctly. This includes 
going to full military power.

The inevitable next question, "Does this mean Air Force planes could land
on a carrier in an emergency?", has been discussed at length in this
newsgroup.  It has been conclusively established that, no, an Air Force
fighter could never land on a carrier because, first, its landing gear is
likely to break in the much heavier touchdown required for carrier landings
(sink-rate figures quoted in the newsgroup give an F-15's main gear roughly
a fifty-fifty chance of taking a carrier landing without breaking); second,
even if it could get on the deck in one piece, the weaker AF tailhook would
break when it caught the Navy arrester cable; and third, even if the
aircraft was physically capable of it, Air Force pilots aren't trained in
the highly specialised and difficult art of carrier landings.

It has been pointed out that, if the USAF thought there was even the
slightest chance of ever being able to save one of its planes by landing it
on a carrier, it would have been tested on the mock carrier deck at
Patuxent River; the fact that this has never been tried is pretty solid
evidence that the Air Force engineers (who would presumably know) are
certain it can't be done.

The F-16Ns used by the US Navy as adversaries in training have the standard
Air Force tailhooks and undercarriage, and are definitely not carrier

The RAF pilots who learned to operate from carriers in a few weeks on the
way to the Falklands are a different matter entirely; they were flying
Harriers, and of course most of the above is irrelevant to VTOL aircraft.
Some training was still required, of course, but the requirements are very
different, both for the aircraft and the pilots.  (As one Harrier pilot put
it:  "It's much easier to stop and then land, than to land and then try to

A few land-based aircraft have been flown from carriers with minimal
modification, notably the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and U-2.  Both of these
were fairly special cases involving aircraft designed for very low speeds
(and, in the case of the Hercules, rough landings) from the start.

On 30 October 1963, a USMC KC-130F made several carrier landings and
take-offs on the flight deck of USS _Forrestal_, in a series of tests
intended to determine whether it would make a good COD (carrier on-board
delivery) aircraft.  The only modification was an anti-skid braking system.
The aircraft made several landings and take-offs, with no use of arrester
gear or catapults, and performed well (the pilot, Lieutenant James H
Flatley III, was awarded the DFC for his part in the tests).  However, it
turned out that the Hercules would have been unable to fit in a carrier's
hangar deck, so the smaller Grumman C-2 Greyhound was developed instead.

Modifications to the U-2 involved the addition of an arrester hook and a
strengthened landing gear (the U-2 already had folding wings).  In 1964 two
modified U-2As, designated U-2G, were flown from USS _Ranger_; the tests
were successful, and several modified aircraft were apparently flown from
carriers by the CIA during the 1960s (the service version may have been
designated U-2J).  In 1969, a similarly modified U-2R was flown from USS
_America_, but this does not seem to have led to any service use.

Land-based aircraft have been successfully modified to be carrier-based;
the modifications involved, when the aircraft is a fast jet, are extensive.
It isn't just a matter of adding a tailhook and new landing gear; most of
the airframe needs to be redesigned.  The best known example in the West is
the BAe/MD T-45 Goshawk, the US Navy's new trainer, based on BAe's Hawk.
The Russians have had some success in adapting several fighters and attack
aircraft for carrier service.  Carrier tests were made by modified MiG-29
and Su-27 fighters, and by trainer versions of the Su-25; the naval MiG-29K
was cancelled, but the Su-33 (based on the Su-27K) and Su-25UTG have
entered service.  A report of an early MiG-29K being torn in half on its
first attempt at a tailhook arrest gives a hint of the difficulties


Subject:  C.12.  What's the composition of an aircraft carrier's air wing?
Updated 1996-04-26

Most of the questions along this line refer to the US Navy's carriers, so
I'll discuss them first, then cover other countries.

* United States:  The US Navy's force level plans call for 11 active
aircraft carriers plus one training/reserve carrier; at any given time two
of the carriers are in refit.  The training/reserve carrier is scheduled
to operate as a regular active carrier at least through 1997, and it may
be "promoted" to full-time active service, bringing the force to 12 ships.
As this is written (April 1996) there is a 13th carrier in service.  This
ship has been replaced in the active fleet and is due to decommission in a
few months.  (Note: all displacements listed are estimates of the ship's
current displacement, which may differ considerably from the original

The oldest carrier in service is _Independence_ (CV 62), the surviving
member of the 81,500 ton Forrestal class.  This ship, commissioned in
1959, is the oldest US Navy vessel in commission, except the relic
_Constitution_.  _Ranger_ (CV 61) of the same class was decommissioned and
laid up in reserve at Bremerton, Washington in 1993.  _Forrestal_ and
_Saratoga_ were decommissioned in 1992 and 1993 respectively, they will be
sold for scrapping in the near future.  _Forrestal_ had briefly served as
a training carrier before being decommissioned.  _Independence_ is
homeported in Japan, the replacing the older _Midway_ as the forward-based
carrier.  She will be decommissioned in 1998 and _Constellation_ will take
her place in Japan.  All of these ships, except _Ranger_, were extensively
modernized under SLEP (Service Life Extension Program).

Next are the three 82,000 ton Kitty Hawk carriers: _Kitty Hawk_ (CV 63),
_Constellation_ (CV 64), and _America_(CV 66), commissioned in 1961 (first
two) and 1965 (_America_).  _John F Kennedy_ (CV 67), commissioned in
1968, is quite similar, but it considered to be a separate class.
_Kennedy_ nominally became the training/reserve ship in 1995, but she is
operating as a regular carrier.  _America_ will be decommissioned on 9
August 1996 and laid up in reserve.  _Kitty Hawk_ is scheduled to serve
until 2002, _Constellation_ to 2008, and _Kennedy_ to 2011.  All ships of
this group, except _America_, have been extensively modernized under the
SLEP and COH (Comprehensive Overhaul) programs. 

The first nuclear powered carrier was the 93,000 ton  _Enterprise_
(CVN 65), commissioned in 1961.  She was modernized during 1979-1981 
and was reconstructed and refueled during 1990-1995 under the RCOH
(Refueling/Complex Overhaul) program.  She will serve through 2015. 

The Navy's newest class of carriers is the the 96,000 ton Nimitz class,
the first of which was commissioned in 1975.  The class consists so far of
_Nimitz_ (CVN 68), _Dwight D Eisenhower_ (CVN 69), _Carl Vinson_ (CVN 70),
_Theodore Roosevelt_ (CVN 71), _Abraham Lincoln_ (CVN 72),_George
Washington_ (CVN 73), and _John C. Stennis_ (CVN 74).  _Stennis_ has
replaced _America_ in the active fleet.  Additional ships will be _United
States_ (CVN 75), to be completed in 1998, replacing _Independence_,
_Ronald Reagan_ (CVN 76), to be completed in 2002, and CVN 77 (unnamed). 
CVN 77 will be the last ship of the class.  _United States_ was named
_Harry S Truman_ until February 1995.  Ships of this class vary
considerably in details and displacement, reflecting the 20+ year span of
their construction.  Each vessel will receive a single major overhaul, a
RCOH, during it's planned 50 year service life. 

All of the World War Two era carriers of the _Essex_ and _Midway_ classes
have left service.  The last was _Midway_ (CV 41), decommissioned in 1992. 
She is laid up in reserve at Bremerton, Washington, but will be discarded
in the near future.  The _Essex_ class carriers previously laid up in
reserve have been discarded.

The US Navy currently operates 10 active carrier air wings (CVW) and one
reserve carrier air wings (CVWR).  The CVWs are similar in structure and
are interchangable between ships.  The "standard" CVW for the mid-to-late
1990's consists of the following:

 1 Fighter Squardon (VF) with 14 to 16 F-14 Tomcats
 3 Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA/VMFA) each with 10 to 12 F/A-18 Hornets
 1 Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ/VMAQ) with 4 EA-6B Prowlers
 1 Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) with 5 E-2C Hawkeyes
 1 Air Antisubmarine Squadron (VS) with 6 S-3B Vikings
 1 Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) with 6 SH-60F and 2 HH-60H Seahawks 
 1 Electronic Reconnaissance Squadron Detachment (VQ Det.) with 2 ES-3As
 Total: 69 to 77 aircraft (usually around 75)

Most of the F-14s in service are F-14As; there are 2 F-14B squadrons and 2
F-14D squadrons.  Almost all of the F/A-18s in service are F/A-18Cs, only
a few F/A-18As remain with the CVWs.  There are some deviations from the
"standard" scheme, due to the phasing-out of some aircraft types and
ongoing reconfiguration of the CVWs.  Some CVWs have an additional VF
(F-14s), while others have an Attack Squadron (VA, with A-6Es).  CVWs with
an additional VF/VA have only 2 VFA/VMFA. The remaining A-6E squadrons
will be phased out of the fleet by 1998.  All CVWs will, in theory, reach
the "standard" configuration by 1998. 

The single reserve wing (CVWR) has 1 VF (F-14A), 2 VFA (F/A-18A), 
1 VAQ (EA-6B), 1 VAW (E-2C), 1 VFC (F/A-18A) and 1 HS (SH-60F/HH-60H). 

Plans call for introducing the improved F/A-18E/F Hornet into service
starting late in the century, replacing F/A-18A and C models, and
eventually F-14As. The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will enter service in
the next century.

In addition to its giant carriers, the US Navy also operates a number of
smaller helicopter and STOVL [Short Take Off, Vertical Landing] carriers;
the aircraft aboard these are operated by the US Marine Corps. 

The oldest belong to the 18,400 ton _Iwo Jima_ class: _Guam_ (LPH 9) and
_New Orleans_ (LPH 11), commissioned in 1965 and 1968 respectively.  They
operate about 25 helicopters, a mixture of CH-53 Sea Stallions, CH-46 Sea
Knights, AH-1 Sea Cobras and UH-1 Hueys. 

The five ships of the 39,300 ton _Tarawa_ class were built from 1976 to
1980: _Tarawa_ (LHA 1), _Saipan_ (LHA 2), _Belleau Wood_ (LHA 3), _Nassau_
(LHA 4), and _Peleliu (LHA 5).  They operate about 30 helicopters of the
same types carried by the LPHs plus 6 AV-8B Harriers. 

The newest ships are the 40,520 ton _Wasp_ class, commissioned from 1988
on: _Wasp_ (LHD 1), _Essex_ (LHD 2), _Kearsarge_ (LHD 3) and _Boxer_ (LHD
4).  _Bataan_ (LHD 5) will commission in 1997, _Bonhomme Richard_ (LHD 6) 
in 1998, and LHD 7 a year or two later.  They generally carry the same air
group as the LHAs, but can carry an alternate group of 20 AV-8B Harriers
and 6 SH-60B/f Seahawks. 

* Argentina:  The Argentine Navy's single carrier, the 20000 tonne
_Veinticinco de Mayo_ (25th of May) was originally a British carrier of
World War II vintage, being laid down in 1942 as HMS _Venerable_; it also
saw service with the Netherlands (as _Karel Doorman_) before being bought
by Argentina in 1968.  The ship played no part in the Falklands War of
1982, being withdrawn to port after the sinking of the cruiser _General
Belgrano_.  She was decommissioned for overhaul in 1986, but funds ran
out.  She is currently laid up without any machinery; there is virtually
no chance of her being returned to service.

* Brazil:  Brazil's single carrier, _Minas Gerais_ (also originally
British, starting life as HMS _Vengeance_, a sister ship to Argentina's
carrier), is in service as an antisubmarine carrier.  She had been laid up
in 1987 due to catapult problems, later returned to service as a
helicopter carrier, and reportedly is back in full service now.  She
probably operates 6 S-2 Trackers, 4-6 SH-3 Sea Kings, and utility

* France:  The French Navy currently operates two 32,700 ton carriers,
_Clemenceau_ and _Foch_, commissioned in the early 1960s.  They carry 16 to
20 Super Etendards in the strike role, about 7 F-8E(FN) Crusader fighters,
four Etendard IVP reconnaissance aircraft, six Alize ASW aircraft, and a
handful of AS.365F Dauphin helicopters for plane guard and SAR duties;
these are often augmented by a few Lynx ASW helicopters.  _Foch_ may
be modernized to operate the new Rafale multirole fighter, _Clemenceau_
is scheduled to be replaced in 1999.

The new 36,000 ton nuclear-powered carrier _Charles De Gaulle_ is
scheduled to enter service in 1999, replacing _Clemenceau_.  The air wing
will be similar to those of the existing carriers, probably consisting of
16 to 20 Super Etendards, about 10 Rafale M fighters, two E-2C Hawkeye AEW
aircraft, possibly a few Alizes, and the same complement of helicopters.
Construction of a second new ship now seems unlikely.

* India:  India's first carrier, _Vikrant_, has been decommissioned after
a decade of machinery problems and continual refits.  The 29,000 ton
_Viraat_ (formerly HMS _Hermes_), laid down in 1944, commissioned by the
British in 1959 and sold to India in 1986, remains in service.  She has an
air wing of 12 Sea Harriers and 9 Sea King helicopters. 

Persistent reports of India buying, leasing or building a new carrier
have not produced a result.

* Italy:  The Italian Navy operates a single carrier, the 13,240 ton
_Giuseppe Garibaldi_, launched in 1983 and commissioned in 1985.  She has
an air group of 16 aircraft, a mix of Harriers and Sea Kings.  Plans to
acquire an additional ship are unlikely to be realized in the near future. 

* Russia: Russia's only operable carrier is the 67,000 ton _Kuznetsov_,
formerly named _Tblisi_, _Leonid Brezhnev_ and _Riga_.  She operates about
40-50 aircraft, a mix of Su-27 derivatives and Ka-27 variants.  She was
commissioned in 1991 and made her initial deployment in 1995.  She is
assigned to the Northern Fleet.  

The VSTOL/Helicopter cruiser _Goroshkov_ is in the Northern Fleet in
reserve/caretaker status.  The helicopter cruiser _Moskva_ is laid up in
reserve in the Black Sea. 

The rest of Russia's carriers are being scrapped.  See Section C.13 for
more details on the disposition of these ships.

* Spain:  Spain's only current aircraft carrier, the 16,200 ton _Principe
de Asturias_, was commissioned in 1988.  Her air wing is made up of
6 to 8 Harriers and 12 to 14 Sea King and/or Seahawk helicopters.

* Thailand: Thailand is having an 11,300 ton "Multirole Aviation Ship"
built in Spain.  The design is essentially the same as Spain's
_Principe De Asturias_.   The ship will carry 10 to 18 aircraft,
including Harriers.  It is scheduled to be commissioned in 1997.

* United Kingdom:  The Royal Navy's three 20,600 ton Invincible class
carriers (_Invincible_, _Illustrious_, and _Ark Royal_) were originally
designated "through-deck cruisers", to get around political attempts to
prevent the RN from operating carriers.  At any time, two of the carriers
are in service while the third undergoes refit.  The two active air wings
normally each consist of 8 Sea Harriers FA.2, 8 Sea King ASW helicopters, 
and 3 Sea King AEW variants,

A 20,000 ton amphibious assualt ship, _HMS Ocean_, which was launced
at the end of 1995, will enter service in 1998.  She will carry 
18 helicopters. 

The RN is currently considering the replacements for the Invincible class.
Three main options are: Major Service Life Extension Project on the current
boats. It's cheap, but the RN wants more. (ii) New STOVL carriers, 25ktons
(ish). (iii) CTOL carriers, 30-40kton.


Subject:  C.13.  What's happened to the former USSR's aircraft carriers?
Updated 1996-04-26

The 14,590 ton helicopter cruisers _Moskva_ and _Leningrad_, commissioned
in the late 1960's, are out of service.  _Leningrad_ was stricken in 1991
and is being scrapped.  _Moskva_ has been essential inoperable since 1983
and is officially in reserve status.  She is being held in the Black Sea
Fleet pending the final disposition of those ships between Russia and

The three 43,000 ton _Kiev_ class aviation cruisers are out of service. 
_Kiev_, commissioned in 1975, was stricken in 1994 and will be scrapped in
the near future.  _Minsk_, commissioned in 1978 and _Novorossiysk_,
commissioned in 1982, were reduced to reserve in 1992.  They were towed to
South Korea for scrapping in 1996. 

_Goroshkov_ (ex _Baku_), a 45,000 ton _Kiev_ variant, has been inoperable
since 1992.  A planned sale/lease to India fell through.  She is in the
Northern Fleet, in reserve/caretaker status. 

The 67,000 ton _Kuznetsov_, the only conventional aircraft carrier
ever operated by the Soviet Navy, remains in service with the Russian
Navy's Northern Fleet.  See Section C.12 for details.  Her sistership
_Varyag_ (ex _Riga_) was launched in 1990, but construction work stopped
in 1992.  Plans to complete the ship for Russia, Ukraine, India or China
were not realized.  A UK Scrapyard has bought the Varyag in 1996 for 
scrapping, with an agreement that the boat will definitely be scrapped 
(and not bought up by the RN etc).

The 75,000 ton nuclear powered _Ulyanovsk_ was never completed; she
was broken up on the building ways.


Subject:  C.14.  What's an Su-35?

Formerly known as the Su-27M, the Sukhoi Su-35 is an advanced derivative of
the Su-27 "Flanker".  The first Su-27M prototype was displayed at the 1992
Farnborough Air Show.  The Su-35 is expected to enter service in 1995.

Changes from the Su-27 include a new radar, requiring a somewhat larger
nose; foreplanes, as on the naval Su-33; more powerful engines (also
originally developed for the Su-33); an enlarged and improved infrared
search and track unit in front of the cockpit; an infrared missile-warning
scanner on the fuselage spine; numerous internal electronic improvements;
larger tail fins (required by aerodynamic changes imposed by the enlarged
nose); and a large "spine" between the engines containing a rearward-facing
air-to-air radar, allowing the use of rear-firing semi-active radar guided
missiles.  Not present on the prototype, but expected to be on the
production version, are two-dimensional thrust-vectoring engine nozzles (as
on the F-15SMTD demonstrator and YF-22).

The interesting concept of rearward-firing missiles has apparently been
tested on Su-27s, using modified R-73 missiles mounted on rotating pylons
that can fire missiles in either direction.  The production version
apparently has a "nose cone" over the rocket engine (jettisoned on launch),
and modified fins to prevent instability problems while briefly flying
backwards after launch.  The launch rails are fitted with gas cartridges to
boost the missile backwards, so its own engine doesn't have to overcome the
aircraft's full forward speed.  It isn't clear whether the missiles will be
mounted on fixed rearward facing rails, or rotating pylons similar to those
used during development.  How well any of this will work in practice
remains to be seen.

Besides being a better fighter, the Su-35 also has greatly improved ground
attack capability compared to the original Su-27, which was more
specialised for the air-to-air role.

Other Su-27 derivatives include the tandem two-seat Su-30 in interceptor
(Su-30, formerly Su-27PU, intended to supplement the more capable but more
expensive MiG-31) and fighter-bomber (Su-30M, equivalent to the F-15E, and
export Su-30MK) versions; Su-33 (formerly Su-27K) carrier-borne multirole
fighter; and Su-34 (formerly Su-27IB/KU) side-by-side two-seat strike
aircraft (intended to replace the MiG-27, Su-17, and Su-24 in the
interdiction/strike role, probably entering service in 1996).  The Su-30MK
has been offered for export to India and China.  The Su-34 shares the
Su-35's tail radar and rear-firing AAMs.

Vital statistics (Su-35):  length 21.96 m, span 14.70 m, empty weight 18400
kg, normal TO weight 25700 kg, max speed 2440 km/h (Mach 2.30), ferry range
3500 km; power plant:  two 137.30 kN Lyulka AL-31MF augmented turbofans;
armament:  one GSh-30 30mm cannon, 14 hardpoints, max external load 8200

[My main source here is Steven Zaloga's _Russian Falcons_; thanks also to
Rustam Yusupov for posting additional details]

This FAQ created and maintained by Urban Fredriksson
Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.