Harry Hillaker, the man who played the biggest part in designing the world’s greatest fighter jet, the F-16, died on Sunday. But another man involved in the plane’s development, Pierre Sprey, is alive and well — and still firing frequent rhetorical darts at the U.S. Air Force and its force planners.
Sprey, a long-time critic of a military bureaucracy that consistently produces bigger, heavier and more expensive aircraft that can be bought only in limited quantities, now is poking holes in the Air Force’s rationale for wanting more F-22 stealth fighters.
The Air Force, you see, claims it needs F-22s in part because air forces across the world are buying up Russian-made Su-30 fighters that can whip old-model U.S. fighters. Fear of the Su-30, pictured, has been stoked by videos depicting dramatic airshow maneuvers by the Russian plane.
But the Su-30 ain’t all that, Sprey contends:
1. The Su-30MK is simply another modification of the Su-27, a not-very-high-performing Russian imitation of our F-15 that had its prototype flight in 1977. The new version is significantly heavier and has poorer dogfight acceleration and turn than the original, mainly because of all the weighty and draggy gadgetry (e.g., canards, vectored thrust nozzles) added to allow these spectacular maneuvers.
2. The spectacular maneuvers … are purely and simply airshow tricks, intended to wow the gullible. Not one of these maneuvers has any application to combat, because they can only be performed at speeds well under 150 knots. At that speed in a dogfight against any competent pilot, your life expectancy is measured in seconds.
3. My guess is that there are no more than six pilots in all of Russia that can actually fly these maneuvers — and that they have been in training for years in order to trot out these tricks at international airshows.
4. Executing these wonderful tricks at the Paris airshow with these Olympic-athlete type of pilots, the Russians have crashed two of the Su-30 “Wunderwaffen,” one in 1999 and one in 2006.
5. The Russians have, in fact, palmed off versions of the Wunderwaffen to the Chinese, as well as to the Indians, Malaysians, Algerians, and the dreaded Venezuelans. Despite these triumphs of Russian salesmanship. I’m not losing much sleep over the specter of the awesome Su-30 in the hands of these superb air forces.
5. The more of these turkeys the Russkies sell, the longer the now-ancient F-16 (designed in 1972) will reign supreme as the world’s best fighter. And the less reason we will have to buy F-22s at $355 million each.
Just one thing: didn’t the Indians in their Su-30s kick the U.S. Air Force’s ass not once, but twice?
(Photo: BW Jones)