Props

U.S. Commander Wants New Prop Planes in Iraq

A-20 Havoc T-shirt

The armed reconnaissance aircraft is part of a bold plan conceived by Col. Gary Crowder, commander of the Middle East-based Combined Air and Space Operations Center,to upgrade the Air Force’s theater control system, which the service uses for air-to-ground integration …

–What we have found over here is that the structure, which focuses almost exclusively on providing the Army kinetic … close air support, is being taxed pretty hard because that’s not what [they’re] asking us to give,” he said in an April 1 telephone interview, referring to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is somethig Murdoc’s been advocating for years. Low and slow in environments like Iraq and Afghanistan is what’s needed virtually all of the time. I think a window of opportunity exists where the same plane could be developed for the US military and also for sale to Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Because, you know, developing a propeller-driven ground attack aircraft would be a multi-year, multi-billion dollar development project. I mean, it’s not like they have any existing designs to use.)

UAVs and helicopters, obviously, have their uses. But a relatively inexpensive, tough-as-nails turboprop-powered light attack aircraft would sure come in handy for all sorts of things.

Does this have a chance of actually happening? Nope. Nada. Never. (In that order.)

A few of the previous MO posts on this subject:

Comments

  1. I was thinking that for COIN, a caliber between .50 and the 20mm would be ideal to be mounted on the aircraft. Some extra range and accuracy, more than enough power to deal with breathing targets out of 3000 meters, still compact and light recoil. Like the russian 14.5mm.

  2. How about a relatively inexpensive, tough-as-nails turboprop-powered light attack UNMANNED aircraft?

  3. I’m sure that all those who love the latest ‘gee-whiz’ gadgets and aircraft will have a fit, but I don’t see anything wrong with a turboprop powered A-20 Havoc in the COIN role. After all, its a proven design, easy to fly, very rugged (and would be more so with todays tech built in), and flexible in a variety of roles. Add additional power with turboprop engines, and you’re payload weight goes up, as well as top speed, and time to target numbers. Plus, if you add in ECM, chaff and flare dispensers, it would be very survivable in todays hostile airspace. Besides, it would be SUCH a ‘Cool!’ factor to see a Havoc on an attack run again!

  4. Ok, imagine you’re pinned down by a massive enemy force that has penetrated your lines and you’ve called in air support. Do you want a pilot in those airplanes that’s on site who has a full view of what’s going on through his cockpit canopy or somone whose only awareness of what’s going on where you are is what he can see on a monitor the size of the one you’re looking at right now? I’m thinking if my ass is on the line, I want the pilot who can look around and has the better picture of what the tactical situation is, even if it does put his life at risk too. A UAV is not going to cut it as a close support airplane, not now, probably not for a long time into the future. I still think an attack airplane built around one or two T-56 or A2100 turboprops is the way to go. The E-2C is still in production. I’ll bet you could mount a 30mm gattling gun in its nose. You might even be able to stash a 105mm cannon in there somewhere too. You’d want to lose the radome, like the C-2 variant does.

  5. Oddly enough, I had a similar idea recently — some small, fast all-gun ships with light armor to deal with pirates on the high seas. The principle is the same — we’re deaing with small, low-tech threats, and low-tech solutions would work a hell of a lot better than high tech ones. A few Frigate or Destroyer Escort-sized ships with a few 76mm cannon and some smaller weapons, coupled with modern communications gear and a ‘mother ship’ with observation drones, would be a hell of a lot more efficient than the same amount of money’s worth of Burkes and Ticonderogas. J.

  6. Their was a program in the 90’s called JULV (Joint Ultra Light Vehicle) if my memory is correct. I guess the plan was to embed ultralight aircrafts with the troops on the ground, like a platoon organic reconnaissance airwing. The C-LVL ( http://www.c-lvl.com ) TOAD project is a bit similar in idea. Cheap, easy to fly, autogyros that can take off from unprepared field very close to the action to provide a view from above without the soda straw view of an UAV because the pilot/observer has peripheral vision and it is a lot less expensive than using fast jets for spotting.

  7. There is a lot to be said for speed when you’re down low and everyone is taking a pot shot at you. Of course, an autogyro is small, and therefore hard to hit. The E-2C has a lot of fuselage. Ideally you’d want tandem pilots if you had 2 of them in a real attack airplane, and the fuselage would be thin like the A-10’s. The V-22 is fast for a helicopter, but slow for an airplane with a top speed of only 270 kts. It gives up probably 50 kts or more to a turboprop (with no radome). It would take it a long time to get on station and it would be in the hot zone for what would seem like an eternity if I was the pilot. They could use a C-27J or something like that for a small gunship. I’m obviously not too hot on the Italian made C-27. Plus it has a lot more fuselage to attract bullets than an E-2C variant would. Plus if you were going to go with a gunship, might just as well stick with the tried and true C-130.

  8. Teh Air Force gets all pissy about Army types operating fixed wing stuff … so …. Maybe a B-17 sized HIND chopper? Or maybe even a similar sized autogyro, with a turboprop tractor? Or a stub winged chopper hybrid? If the Army needs a low and slow ordinance platform, make one that doesn’t step on AF toes.

  9. As I noted here it doesn’t have to be an airplane for the Air Force to object. Forcing them to take an airplane originally designed for the Navy should just about get them to orbit.

  10. Actually, turboprop is too high-tech for this sort of thing, and unsuitable for an environment with dust storms. For general robustness and maintainability in field conditions, go back to the thinking (not the technology level!) of the Soviet ground support biplanes of the WWII era, then look at the thinking behind the Pucara.

  11. Turbines replaced props long ago in all but general aviation because they provide higher power densities, about 2:1 over piston engines, and about two orders of magnitude increase in reliability. If you want an airplane that you can tinker with in the shop and you can afford to hire plenty of skilled engine maintainers, a recip is perfect for you. If you want an airplane that will fly, there is no question that the turbine is the way to go. Obviously the designers of the Pucara knew that, because it is powered by a turboprop. In a high hot environment as is often encountered in places like Afghanistan, a recip powered airplane is lucky to get off the ground with a pilot and some gas. Offensive ordinance is out of the question. The T-56 and to a lesser extent the A2100 turboprop engines are used extensively in current inventory USAF and Navy aircraft. They provide 5000-6000 shaft horsepower with amazing reliability. They have propellors available with up to 8 blades and will swing one that’s 10 to 13 feet in diameter depending on the kind of performance desired. Smaller props deliver higher speeds, but less take-off and climb performance.

  12. – armed reconnaissance – turboprop – cheap – fuel efficient um, we already have this in inventory and are getting more yes, i’m talking about THE MQ-9 REAPER there’s a reason you don’t want a manned aircraft for this job pilots can’t loiter for 14 hours l

  13. With a 200 kt top speed? Yeah, that’s a real close attack platform there. If all the good guys aren’t dead by the time it gets on station, they can be killed by friendly fire. I don’t think so.

  14. > With a 200 kt top speed? Yeah, that’s a real close attack > platform there. If all the good guys aren’t dead by the time > it gets on station, they can be killed by friendly fire. > I don’t think so. 1. it’s 220 kt CRUISE 2. they stay over the area of operations continuously so they are always right there 3. if there’s an emergency situation that calls for high speed, ANY turboprop is going to be inadequate. That’s why we still have fast jets no one is saying get rid of the jets, just that a lot of the routine COINops can be offloaded onto something cheaper

  15. The A-10 is a jet. It cruises at 300 kts. That’s a hell of a lot faster than 200 kts, but slower than a turboprop like the C-2. The A-10 has a max speed of 450 kts, which is the kind of speed you’d want in a diving attack pass. The max speed of a Predator is 220 kts. That’s nothing but a target. A turboprop can dive fast enough to make the prop blades go supersonic. The prop will throw out a lot of drag especially once the blades go supersonic, which can be an advantage in an attack dive. It also pulls like crazy coming out of the dive getting the airplane back to the safety of altitude quickly. They don’t put out much heat compared to a turbofan or turbojet too, making them easier to hide from heat seekers. The only real down side to a turboprop is that they’re hard to make stealthy. Even so, stealth is more of a ‘nice to have’ for this kind of airplane.

  16. > The A-10 is a jet. It cruises at 300 kts. That’s a hell of a lot faster than 200 kts, but slower than a turboprop like the C-2. yup, there have been times when the A-10 has been too slow to get to a target i said FAST jets after all, not ‘slowest jet possible’ ;) > The A-10 has a max speed of 450 kts, which is the kind of speed you’d want in a diving attack pass diving attack pass makes you a target period the Reaper doesn’t do ‘diving attack passes’ it loiters at altitude and fires rockets at targets of opportunity at altitude it is definitely NOT a target (at least to the sort of weapons most insurgents can get)

  17. Turbines replaced props [sic – must mean piston engines] long ago in all but general aviation because they provide higher power densities, about 2:1 over piston engines, and about two orders of magnitude increase in reliability. If you want an airplane that you can tinker with in the shop and you can afford to hire plenty of skilled engine maintainers, a recip is perfect for you. If you want an airplane that will fly, there is no question that the turbine is the way to go. Obviously the designers of the Pucara knew that, because it is powered by a turboprop.’ With all due respect, there is rather more to it than that:- – The skill level (and initial cost) is even greater for turbine maintenance, likewise components may present difficulties in the field. – The achievable reliability level is actually greater for reciprocating engines; it depends which tradeoffs were made. You only get less reliability than turbines when you prioritise performance (either power to weight ratio or fuel economy), which is a case of falling between two stools because you don’t beat the turbines on performance either. – The skill level for piston engine maintenance can also be low, again depending on the tradeoffs. Twin piston (twingle) two strokes generally only need a take apart-clean-put together approach! (You lose on fuel economy, of course, though not as much as two strokes usually do.) So, if you want an aircraft for this role that will fly with minimal available support, you go piston engine – of the right sort. On the other hand, if you know you will have a good support base, as with the Pucara’s intended uses (yes, I knew it was a turboprop), you go that way. Yes, I know about ‘hot and high’ – but then again, dust environments are kinder to piston engines. That’s why I wasn’t simply recommending a complete solution but also referring readers to examples that illustrate the issues. You see my pick, but it’s becoming clearer with more comments that you are contemplating even higher performance needs.

  18. Certainly a recip can run pretty well with a filtered intake which would automatically make it better in a dust environment. Personally, if I were going to do some development work on recip engines, I think I’d focus on the Wankle rotary. I did some work with a 4 rotor version of that motor a while back. That work suggested to me that considerably more power density can be obtained from that engine than is the current state of the art, but, unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to pursue the theories I had developed. Actually they weren’t my theories so much as it was my application of some theories a friend of mine developed for top fuel dragster engines that I found an analog to in the rotary. Oh well, maybe some day…

  19. Irtusk, what you’re suggesting is fine, but off topic. It is not a close air support airplane. When troops are being overrun on the ground the idea that you can pick targets from 20,000 ft and launch precision guided weapons to intercept them is spitting in the wind. You need something to put the fire out. You need to, as Bram says, ‘bring the rain’.

  20. > the idea that you can pick targets from 20,000 ft and launch > precision guided weapons to intercept them is spitting in the wind no, it is the future (and even the past) of CAS A-10s are getting electronics upgrades to operate from altitude one of the most valuable CAS assets is the AC-130 do you know how low to the ground it operates? not very with improved sensors and guidance, there is no reason to be low and expose yourself to trashfire

  21. The changes being made to the A-10 offer it more flexibility, but not necessarily an new direction since it continues to do the same mission of close air support. You mention that the gunship operates above the range of a lot of ‘trash fire’, so do you think the gunship can replace the close air support airplane? I ask because I have wondered about this very thing. It seems to me that gunships are always in high demand in any conflict we’ve been in since they came on the scene. They lay down a lot of fire without getting too close to the action. Could they replace the A-10 if we were willing to buy enough of them?

  22. > Could they replace the A-10 if we were willing to buy enough of them? well they are very different so i would hesitate to say it could replace them for all roles but for many roles i would say they are in fact superior the pylon turns enable them to keep a target in the gunsight continuously as opposed to making a pass and then having to circle back around and reacquire but they’re also very expensive, because of both a large acquistion cost and a large crew (12-13 airmen as opposed to 1 pilot in an A-10 or Reaper) if they could make them cheaper and cut the crew down to say 5 they would be a ton more attractive

  23. A C-130J at $60M is not that expensive relatively speaking. An F-16 runs about $35M a copy. In WW2 a close air support airplane was one that didn’t do too well as an air support fighter for one reason or another. Usually the best of these had air cooled radial engines that would keep chugging even when some pretty substantial parts had been blown off them. Once fighters started flying supersonic, they had to make some big sacrifices in low speed performance and ordinance carrying capacity that kept them from being very effective in the close air support role. The internal weapons carriage requirements of stealth even further compromise the fighter’s close air support mission. The A-10 was designed from the start to be a close air support airplane, but it is very slow and not very survivable in an air to air battle. Given that, I’m thinking maybe you’re right about the gunship taking over the ground attack mission. It would also be possible to build a UAV gunship. Much of the targeting is done by operators who monitor the ground situation via cameras and displays. I suppose it wouldn’t make too much difference if that operator was on the ground watching via an RF link instead of in the air. This is an interesting turn in the conversation. I wonder what the perspective of someone involved in A-10 operations would be on this subject?

  24. A C-130J at $60M is not that expensive relatively speaking. An F-16 runs about $35M a copy. In WW2 a close air support airplane was one that didn’t do too well as an air support fighter for one reason or another. Usually the best of these had air cooled radial engines that would keep chugging even when some pretty substantial parts had been blown off them. Once fighters started flying supersonic, they had to make some big sacrifices in low speed performance and ordinance carrying capacity that kept them from being very effective in the close air support role. The internal weapons carriage requirements of stealth even further compromise the fighter’s close air support mission. The A-10 was designed from the start to be a close air support airplane, but it is very slow and not very survivable in an air to air battle. Given that, I’m thinking maybe you’re right about the gunship taking over the ground attack mission. It would also be possible to build a UAV gunship. Much of the targeting is done by operators who monitor the ground situation via cameras and displays. I suppose it wouldn’t make too much difference if that operator was on the ground watching via an RF link instead of in the air. This is an interesting turn in the conversation. I wonder what the perspective of someone involved in A-10 operations would be on this subject?

  25. > A C-130J at $60M is not that expensive relatively speaking. An F-16 runs about $35M a copy. a C-130 isn’t that expensive, but an AC-130U is i don’t understand why, but it is one of the most expensive planes in the fleet (unit cost $190 million, that’s $48 million more than a Raptor!)

  26. I interviewed once for a job working on gunships. I got the impression a lot of the expense of the gunships is the fact that they were based on such an old airplane. Many of the functions the gunship avionics had to do are things the newer C-130J aircraft avionics does already. I think the unit costs could be driven down substantially if they were basing new gunships on new airplanes. The down side is that there would be some development work that would have to be done to integrate it with a new avionics.