Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thanks Russia, you almost ruined it...

This was my first love- the Vought F-8 Crusader.  I don't remember exactly when it hit me, but it was sometime in the early 70's, one of the times my dad took me to work with him.  He was the Leading Chief Petty Officer for the VF-302 Ordnance Division.  I loved visiting his ordie shack on the flight line at NAS Miramar and seeing the jets.  The long sleek lines, black cowled cockpit and bold yellow and black paint job, even the name- The Fighting Stallions - drew me in and I was hooked.  It was definitely the coolest thing I had ever seen.  It wasn't just the jets, but it was my dad too.  I felt cool being around him anytime, but especially when he was on the job.  I doubt I visited that shack more than once or twice, but it made enough of an impression on me to be very memorable.  I remember seeing him in his crisp khakis- 6 foot 5 inches of Navy Chief Petty Officer, watching his interaction with the men in his shop, hearing him pass on the days assignments and BS'ing with them during breaks.  I loved being around the squadron, smelling the jet fuel and hearing the jets fire up and take off, just feet from me. 

VF-302 F-4 over Yuma - Wiki

The squadron soon transitioned to the F-4 Phantom II, which then became my new favorite airplane.  My best friend Donnie Lee* who lived across the street, and whose father was also an Aviation Ordnance Chief at Miramar, taught me how to fold a paper airplane on which we wrote "Phantom" or "Blue Angels" on the side of every one we made.  


In 1975, my dad retired from the Navy and we moved to Southern Oregon.  I no longer had the same exposure to Naval Aviation, and had to make due with the F-8 and F-4 photos and squadron patches that my dad had given me back in San Diego before the move.  We would travel over to Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls OR, which hosted an Air Force Radar Squadron until the end of the decade, but being Air Force vice Navy, and having a dearth of cool airplanes (only Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172s I think), Kingsley was a distant second to my memories of Miramar NAS and its fighter aircraft.

Fast-forward to the middle part of the next decade and I'm back in San Diego for NROTC in college and TOPGUN is the biggest movie of the century.  Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but Naval Aviation is king, and my love of it is now up close and personal. I'm not in a squadron or anything like it of course, College NROTC is barely even part of the Navy, but for me it was everything- I had a uniform of my own and I was no longer just a kid following my dad around.  

So in my first 18 years of life, I had had an infatuation with 3 of the most beautiful aircraft in the history of manned flight.  You know much of the rest of the story, with me joining Naval Aviation a handful of years later.  I even grew to love other jets in our Military arsenal- the less sleek, but still cool A-6 Intruder, the Hornet, Falcons and Eagles, even the Buff and Warthog- beautiful in their baddassery and ability to slip the surly bonds of earth.


I even had a touch of respect for a couple enemy fighters- the Flanker and Fulcrum.  While those designs were probably knock-off variations of US fighters, they're still decent looking jets, even if they were flown by a bunch of dirty commies.

But that's where it ends...

I don't remember if it was in ROTC, Flight School, or once I hit the Fleet, but learning about the enemy order of battle, memorizing ships and aircraft so we knew them on sight, was when I  realized that for the most part, if it wasn't designed in the good old US of A, it can be pretty strange looking.

While there are exceptions to that rule, the adage below holds true most of the time.

"If it’s ugly, it’s British. If it’s weird, It’s French. If it’s ugly and weird, it’s Russian"
 I think I've used that before, and I'm sure I've posted pictures of some seriously ugly airplanes, but I recently came across one that has to be one of the worst I've ever seen.  And of course, it's Russian.  It's actually a Polish design, but it was designed and built for the Soviets to work their agriculture industry.

Milec M-15 Belphegor                                                                                   Source
Before I saw the more inelegant and unstylish aircraft that the rest of the world had to offer, I had more of a romanticized view of aircraft and aviation.  I thought that all airplanes, at least all the jets, were beautiful, and flying anything must be the coolest thing a person could ever possibly do.

When I saw the jet powered biplane crop-duster above, that opinion had to take a break.  There's a joke about riding a moped- that it's fun, but you don't want your friends to see you on it.  I think that the M-15 Belphegor is the airplane equivalent of the moped.  Flying is fun, but there's nothing cool about crop-dusting in this Russian beast.       

USAF Dew C-131

To be fair, it's not just the Russians. We've had our moments, like the one above. It was known as the Total In-flight Simulator, but it looks more like that monster thing that burst out of that guy's torso in the movie "Alien." It's not really a production model though, so it gets a pass, as do those NFO/WSO trainers the USAF flies.

There are actually several US military aircraft that have all sorts of bumps and warts.  Those are usually various sensors and pods that detract a bit from their looks underneath, lethality not withstanding.  The newest variant of the Cobra, and the Apache are good examples of this.

Here are several more examples of aircraft that are less-than aesthetically pleasing.

Textron Scorpion-  looks like they mashed a few different jets together to design this one.  - Scorpionjet.com

Another Russian knock-off

King-Aire jet prototype

This is the Saab 29 Tunnan, which looks like an F-86 Saberjet  mated with a TBF Avenger.  

Here's another one that would have gotten picked on by the cooler jets on the flight line.  The Grumman XF10F Jaguar gets a pass though, mainly because it was just a prototype for the Navy, and that the research behind it led to the F-111 and F-14.

French Leduc .22 - looks like it was designed in a vineyard, or at least after a few glasses of vino.

This beast is the Me 323- a tank carrying German monstrosity.  I guess that if you throw enough engines on it, anything will fly.  I read that it was a flying death trap though, when on missed approach, powering up would cause the nose to rotate downward.

MiG I-320-1
Hmm, where have I seen this design before?

Oh, now I remember.

A third engine crammed into the nose-cone.  Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.


I'm not being fair.  The fighter aircraft, at least the modern ones, are sleek and sexy.  It's the prop-jobs, cargo and utility aircraft that seem to be all funky and fat.


Ilyushin 102
I don't think Russian aircraft designers even try.  Maybe they modeled it after one of those plastic toy airplanes you can buy in an Easter Basket or Christmas Stocking.

Beriev Be-12.  From the side it doesn't look quite as bad.
Bell X-14, the Edsel of airplanes - Wiki


CH-37 Mojave looks like a grasshopper to me.

The only Japanese entry onto this list, the Kawasaki EC-1 doesn't win any beauty contests either.

Rutan 202 Boomerang
Come on Mr. Rutan, the asymmetry alone is bad enough, but did you have to make all the windows different sizes too?

While there are plenty of ugly Russian aircraft, I know they're in good company.  Nevertheless, I can't say the Russians completely de-romanticized aviation for me, but they came pretty close.  It probably stems from not having a capitalist system, and no incentive to make an aircraft attractive for source selection within the Defense Acquisition Life Cycle.  Maybe that's a good thing though.

In reality, I still love aviation, and always will, even if I was only able to fly in some Russian Moped/Crop Duster.  At least it'll be fun- just don't tell my former squadron buddies.

*If anyone knows of or how to find Donald Lee, or his parents/siblings (Jack and Kay, Leslie, Michael) living somewhere in Montana, let me know as I'd like to reconnect.


  1. My eyes, my eyes! The Russians sure had a way with designing an ugly airplane, but that USAF Dew C-131 takes the cake!

  2. Oh my word! What a chamber of horrors! Just kidding, but where did you find all those ugly birds? I had no ideer.

    I too have a very grudging like of the Fulcrum and the Flanker. Saw a MiG-29 on the taxiing out at Geilenkirchen one fine German day, it was a former East German bird taken over by the Luftwaffe. Looked very ugly on the ground, all sorts of crap underneath, once she got airborne she cleaned up real good. (As they say.)

    I'm glad you finished the post with that lovely Viking shot. Helped cleanse the mental pallet it did!

    1. There's really only one good view of the Fulcrum and Flanker. The one from 6 O'Clock, about 1000' back with the gunsight dead steady on the cockpit and the time of flight indicator flashing. But that's just me.

    2. Or in pieces moments later?

  3. I wondered where you were going with the title, but I didn't peek. Great post, Tuna, thanks.

  4. Cool post, Tuna. There's something fascinating about hideous airplanes. I wonder if the genisis of the TC-4C lies in the DEW C-131?

  5. Love the paint scheme of VF-302!

    A friend of mine bought a slightly wrecked (engine throttle linkage failed; did emergency landing and landing gear collapsed) "Miglet" - an I-1L. I don't know whether it is ugly of cool looking but it definitely looks like fun - built in the 90s in the same factory making the MiGs, it was designed for pipeline surveillance.

    It's built like a tank - would "sturdy" be an apt Russian description?

    Rivits everywhere - my friend's plane has a Lycoming O-320 - an equally robust engine

    You be the judge of whether it is a beauty or beast - I tend towards the "form follows function" in the beauty camp


  6. May I nominate the Anderson-Greenwood AG-14?

  7. Ya miss-named(countried?) only one, The big white one with canards is the B-70 IIRC. Designed to fly high and fast; sorta a high flying version of the B-58 Hustler.

    1. Hhmm, I think Mr Bond has got you there Tuna...

  8. Hey, you've got a photo of the B-70 Valkyrie listed as just "Another Russian knock-off." I guess you confused it for a TU-144 or something? The TU-144 was a poorly manufactured Tupelov knock-off of the Concorde, the Valkyrie was the crowning achievement of North American Aviation. A mach-3 bomber that never saw production due to developments in ICBMS, the Valkyrie not only pushed the limits of aircraft technology, it had the Soviet PVO so afraid that they had to completely re-think their development strategy. If you think it's ugly, that's your opinion, but two guys died testing that thing and they were Americans.

    1. 0007 already noticed that mis-identification.

      Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

    2. Oops, it seems he did. Great article by the way, I laughed more than once reading through it!


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