Top Gun: Maverick - Birds of Fray

Rajat Narang

Maverick is back after 36 years & so has been his need for speed. However, he has been missing his old steed, the formidable F-14 Tomcat given its unmatched capabilities with a Mach 2.34 top speed, variable sweep wing & Phoenix missiles. In this high octane dogfight, we lock on to Top US Fighter jets, dig up their stories & analyse their abilities to meet Maverick's Need for Speed For more, check out Birds of Fray: Aerial Danger Zone: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B09HHMN96D https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B4JVK https://www.zazzle.com/store/danger_zone_maverick for TopGun merchandise read less
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Episodes

"Sled Driver: The Inspirational Life Story of an SR-71 Blackbird Pilot"
May 30 2023
"Sled Driver: The Inspirational Life Story of an SR-71 Blackbird Pilot"
Brian Shul was a USAF pilot having joined the force during the Vietnam War in 1970. His AT-28 aircraft was shot down during the Vietnam War in 1973 near the Cambodian border and the wreckage of his burning aircraft landed in the jungle. Brian managed to survive but was trapped in the burning cockpit of his aircraft and was burned severely. It took almost a year, immense pain and 15+ plus surgeries for him to recover from his injuries and he managed to get back to flying after clearing every possible physical examination required. After flying fighter jets for almost a decade, he applied for what could be termed as the most challenging assignment for a fighter pilot, which was to fly the world's fastest, manned air-breathing flying machine, the USAF's Mach 3+ SR-71 Blackbird. Brian has mentioned in his book https://www.amazon.com/Sled-Driver-Flying-Worlds-Fastest/dp/0929823087" target="_blank">Sled Driver about flying the SR-71, "“There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I wouldn't use to describe flying this plane—intense, maybe, even cerebral.” Brian was a regular at Military Aviation events and he relished talking about the SR-71 Blackbird, especially, his 'Ground Speed Check Story' which was one of his famous stories. Brian had a cardiac arrest and breathed his last on May 20, 2023 right after finishing his last speech at the Nevada military support alliance annual gala where he was the keynote speaker. For his 'Ground Speed Check Story' listen to the audio. Audio Credits: Jan Johnson
F-16 vs. MiG-29 - A Clash of the Aerial Titans amid the Backdrop of Russia-Ukraine War
May 23 2023
F-16 vs. MiG-29 - A Clash of the Aerial Titans amid the Backdrop of Russia-Ukraine War
The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the MiG-29 Fulcrum (NATO designation) are two iconic fightr jets developed in the late 1970s at the peak of the Cold War raging between the two global superpowers with contrasting ideologies.These two jets are still very much in usage and have been in the media as of-late owing to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war as Ukraine has been operating the older, Soviet-era MiG-29s and has been requesting the West to provide it with the modern F-16s to effectively take on the modern Russian fighters, including, Su-34 and Su-35s. Thus, a comparative analysis of the relative capabilitiesof these two jets has become relevant once again. The F-16 and the MiG-29 were developed as their respective light fighter jets again with very different & almost clashing design philosophies for a common mission, which was, air superiority. Also, the F-16 & the MiG-29 were to support and play second fiddle to their larger, heavier fighter jet counterparts, namely, the F-15 Eagle and the Su-27 Flanker family under their respective air doctrines and even after more than 4 decades of active service they still are the stalwarts of the skies. F-16's relaxed static stability(RSS) provides it with enhanced maneuverability but also necessitated the development of fly-by-wire controls which was the first at the time for a fighter jet, The F-16 also has a high turn rate and exceptional maneuverability at speeds above 200 knots, courtesy invaluable contributions by Colonel John Boyd & his energy maneuverability theory and the Fighter Mafia, which put all of their combat experience of the Vietnam war into the design & specifications of the F-16. On the contrary, the MiG-29's relatively much better low-speed maneuverability and better nose-pointing capabilities at under 200 knots, helmet mounted sighting systems and the specially designed ejection seat were really advanced features developed by the Soviet designers. Also, the R-73 missile used on the MiG-29 (and other MiGs) was found to be way better than thought earlier, especially, with its maneuverability, seeker acquisition & tracking and resilience to electronic jamming, which was discovered whence the Germans inherited the Soviet MiG-29s operated by the former East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The uncovering of R-73's capabilities ultimately forced the development of the AIM-9X Sidewinder by Raytheon (with a redesigned fuze, digital ignition safety device,  lock-on-after-launch capabilityand a new weapon data link supporting beyond visual range engagements) as a replacement for the AIM-7 Sparrow for the U.S. The U.K. chse to develop the ASRAAM, France developed the  MBDA Mica and the IRIS-T was developed by the Germans.        Tod 'Leif' Ericson, a retired USAF Colonel and an experimental test pilot, with over 2+ decades of flying experience has flown both F-16 and the MiG-29 and he has provided a detailed comparison between the two iconic jets on key technical aspects in an interview given to IDGA. Read more about it in the link below:- https://www.idga.org/events-militaryflighttrainingusa/landing/f-16-vs-mig-29-training-sky-predators Audio Credits: Military News
F-15EX Eagle II - USAF's 'Flying Missile Truck' and 'StormBreaker'
Aug 17 2022
F-15EX Eagle II - USAF's 'Flying Missile Truck' and 'StormBreaker'
If the F-15E was USAF's 'Flying Bomb Truck' then its latest Avatar, the F-15EX, is the 'Flying Missile Truck' with the EX-Traordinary Eagle capable of carrying a large number and array of missiles under its wing pylons. In a direct comparison with its 5th Gen siblings, i.e. the F-35 & the F-22 which can carry only 4-6 missiles in their internal weapon bays to maintain stealth profile, the reincarnated F-15EX is capable of carrying 6 AIM-9X short range Adams and 12 AIM-120C/D BVR AMRAAMs (equipped with GPS navigation along with a two-way datalink) as well as its under development, upcoming, modernized variant, the longer range AIM-260 AMRAAM. The F-15EX will also be given the honour as the USAF's flagship carrier of its first hypersonic missile, the AGM-183A ARRW, owing to the weapon's size which can not fit into the internal bays of both the F-22 as well as the F-35. The F-15EX will also be the USAF's first fighter jet to carry Raytheon's latest StormBreaker smart weapon capable of seeing through rain, fog and smoke while gliding upto 45 miles and hitting moving targets with precision. The F-15EX can carry upto 16 StormBreakers with the DOD greenlighting the StormBreaker's use on the Eagle II in 2020.  The 'flying missile truck', thus, is also a 'StormBreaker' for the adversaries... Audio Credits: SandBoxx News decrypting the choice of the F-15EX by the USAF in the stealth age. Image credits: Boeing
F-15EX Eagle II - The 'EX-Traordinary' Eagle Strikes Back 'Digitally'....
Aug 5 2022
F-15EX Eagle II - The 'EX-Traordinary' Eagle Strikes Back 'Digitally'....
The F-15EX Eagle II is the latest, digital Eagle species to enter the USAF's inventory with the first two birds delivered by Boeing to Eglin AFB in 2021. The F-15EX is being drafted to replace the older F15C/D variants for the Air defense & superiority role by leveraging the Eagle's capability to strike from very long ranges which no other USAF aircraft can boast of while also supplementing the F-22 & F-35 5th Gen fighters on strike missions given its massive 13 tonnes weapons payload. The EX takes the Eagle's capabilities to another level by combining an all digital backbone, open mission system architecture, an advanced cockpit offering better visibility & fly-by-wire controls along with Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS), an electronic warfare and threat identification system, which further enhances Eagle's survivability and attack capabilities by further sharpening its instincts. The EX is capable of carrying around 12 AMRAAMs and 22 AIM-9X Sidewinders under its wing pylons besides 15 JDAMs and hypersonic missiles making it the most advanced, capable & lethal Eagle variant in the USAF colours ever. The inability of the F-22 and F-35 to carry hypersonic missiles in their internal weapons bays owing to missile size will ensure that the specialized role is assigned to the F-15EX. The first set of Eagle IIs spread their wings at Eglin in 2021 and recently had their live fire tests wherein they shot AIM-120C/D missiles while proving their survivability and ability to operate in tandem with 5th gen penetrating platforms. USAF plans to buy around 76 of these Eagle IIs which could go up to 144. The Eagle, thus, is back and this time in its extraordinary digital Avatar to take on the adversaries... Audio and Episode Cover Art Credits: Boeing
F15E Strike Eagle: The Most 'Dangerous' Eagle Species...
Jul 28 2022
F15E Strike Eagle: The Most 'Dangerous' Eagle Species...
The creation of the ground strike variant of the F-15 Eagle was conceived & undertaken by McDonnell Douglas on its own and pitched to the USAF as a replacement for the older F4 Phantom IIs and the sitting ducks, the F111s, in the early 1980s for the deep strike role. Designated as the  F15E Strike Eagle and featuring APG-70/82 radars and more powerful F100-PW-220 (later 229) engines, it got the USAF's green light over a proposed F-16 variant owing to its comparatively lower development budget and engine redundancy, being a twinjet.  The most dangerous Eagle species was thus born and got airborne with its maiden flight in 1986 and EIS in 1988. The sturdy F-15 airframe proved itself to be really sturdy and versatile to be able to undergo requisite modifications for the air-to-ground role, a clear departure from its original air superiority role, through the incorporation of LANTIRN and targeting pods featuring FLIR giving the Strike Eagle really high precision in flying low at night while targeting its preys irrespective of the prevailing weather conditions. The F15's high armament payload capacity at 23,000 lb makes Eagle one of the best weapons carrying fighter jets in the USAF inventory while the Israeli Air Force aptly calls its F-15Is the 'Flying Bomb Trucks' and has used them extensively for this role over the decades successfully. The F-15Is closely follow the stealthy 5th Gen F-35s in the lead during strike missions and take over the bombing of enemy targets with its massive ordnance payload after the F-35s have effectively knocked out or  suppressed the enemy's Air defenses in contested airspaces. Apart from JDAMs, a range of air to ground missiles ranging from Maverick to JASSM to Harpoon ASM and it's powerful M61 20mm Gatling gun; the F15E retains its air-to-air capabilities with the onboard short range AIM-7 Sparrow (4) AIM-9 Sidewinder (4) and 8 AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles making it a truly formidable flying weapons package. Audio clip and Episode Cover  credits: Boeing
F-15 Eagle - USAF's Sledgehammer & Israeli 'Flying Bomb Truck'
Jul 19 2022
F-15 Eagle - USAF's Sledgehammer & Israeli 'Flying Bomb Truck'
The F-15 Eagle, designed & developed originally by McDonnell Douglas in the late 1960s for aerial superiority (F-15A/C variants) is a special species which first flew in 1972 and entered service in 1976 as a replacement for the USAF's F-4 Phantoms and the F-111 Aardvark tactical fighter bomber. The F-15 Eagle has proven to be the undisputed Master of the skies with its almost unmatched capabilities, including, Mach 2.5 top speed, high thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.07, huge lift surfaces with a blended wing body design with fuselage also providing lift, low wing loading giving the F-15 extreme maneuverability, ability to pull upto 9.5Gs with the Eagle being the first US aircraft to be able to go supersonic in vertical flight, one of the highest service ceiling of 65,000 feet which the Eagle can exhaust in a mere 60 seconds, huge payload capacity for armament at around 23,000 lb and powerful onboard APG-63 radar with a target detection range of 200 miles. The F-15 Eagle has been one of the most successful fighter jets with an unmatched kill ratio of 100 to none with not a single aircraft lost to enemy in aerial combat over the past 5 decades. The F-15 Eagle has been produced in large numbers and exported internationally to the U.S. allies, especially, the F15E Strike Eagle variant developed in the 1980s for ground strike missions. The latest Eagle variant to touch the sky has been the F-15EX. In its latest incarnation, the Eagle takes the aerial predation game to the next level with a fully digital backbone, enhanced firepower with the bomb truck configuration capable of carrying 16 JDAMs. Audio credits: US Military News   Episode Image: F-15 Eagle.            Image Credits: Pixabay
F/A-18E/F - From Hornet to Super Hornet and Stories from the Deck - 5
Jul 19 2022
F/A-18E/F - From Hornet to Super Hornet and Stories from the Deck - 5
The Hornet's advent brought in a new and capable bird to complement the F-14 Tomcat on to the Navy's Deck. However, the Hornet had a limited operating range & combat radius. Also, the post-Cold war world & the 1990s decade was about massive defense budget cuts & industry consolidation which witnessed the virtual disappearance of a large number of defense primes across the U.S. & Europe and production wind-ups on key defense programs. The Tomcat production line, too, was put on the chopping block with the Navy asked to seek a replacement for the in-service fleet given high operating & sustainment costs. The Navy explored F-15N Sea Eagle and even considered F-22N, a proposed naval variant of the F-22 Raptor featuring a variable sweep wing, under its Future Advanced Tactical Fighter (FATF) program, both of which were ultimately discarded over budgetary reasons. In the meanwhile, McDonnell Douglas proposed & pitched a larger variant of the F/A-18 C/D Hornet, a clean sheet & larger airframe design, with enhanced range and better capabilities, christened the Super Hornet, as a replacement for the F-14 Tomcat. There was no match between the Tomcat and Super Hornet in terms of tech specs & capabilities and the comparison would be like a bulldog to a puppy dog. However, in the prevailing realities of the Post-Cold War world, the Tomcat suddenly was a misfit with its dated technology & high sustainment costs and it's specialized role and mission profile simply having vanished with the vanquished adversary; just like the legendary SR-71 Blackbird; which too was wrapped up in 1990. The multi-role F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, thus, got the take-off clearance, had its maiden flight in 1995 and entered service in 1999 with the F-14 Tomcats bidding their final adieu to the carrier decks while flying into the sunset forever in September 2006... Episode Image: Blue Angels' F/A-18 Super Hornets Image Credits: Pixabay
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - Into the Hornet's Nest and Boeing's Stories from the Deck - 4
Jul 15 2022
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - Into the Hornet's Nest and Boeing's Stories from the Deck - 4
The F-14 Tomcat truly became the tip of the USN's spear in the fleet defense and air superiority roles upon entering service in 1974 as it had been designed to carry out air-to-air interdiction of incoming waves of Russian bombers and fighters from long ranges with its Mach 2.34 top speed, variable sweep wing, powerful APG-9 radar and onboard AIM-54 Phoenix missiles capable of striking targets at beyond visual ranges of around 100NM while cruising at speeds of upto Mach 4.3 to Mach 5. The F-14 truly was formidable but its sustainment costs were substantial especially for the swing-wing system. The Congress ordered the USN to search for lower cost substitutes in 1973. However, the search for proposed substitutes, like F-15N Sea Eagle and lighweight F-14X, ended up being economically unviable. The Navy, in the early to mid-1970s, was also looking for a deck based fighter to replace its legacy A4 Skyhawks, A7 Corsair IIs and the F-4 Phantom IIs and to also complement the F-14 Tomcats on its flattops. In the meanwhile, USAF's Light Weight Fighter (LWF) had just been won by the General Dynamics' YF-16 in 1975 which ultimately became the F-16 Fighting Falcon while the losing prototype YF-17 was picked up by the Navy as its baseline design which was subsequently modified heavily for the carrier role by McDonnell Douglas and Northrop turning it ultimately into the USN's F/A-18A Hornet which had its maiden flight in 1980. Let's cover the Hornet's journey to becoming the Super Hornet in the next episode...Also, check out the first YF-18A Hornet on display in 1978 in the episode image.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - USN Workhorse's Genesis and Boeing's Stories from the Deck - 3
Jul 14 2022
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - USN Workhorse's Genesis and Boeing's Stories from the Deck - 3
The Vietnam War spanning 1965-1975 proved to be a litmus test for the USAF as well as USN and their war fighting doctrines which had departed from close combat or dogfighting to stand-off distances led by the advent of air-to-air missiles. However, it proved to be the achilles heel for them while taking on the adversary in aerial encounters over North Vietnamese skies marked by setbacks and glaring hardware capability limitations as well as skill gaps exposed with USAF's kill ratio having deteriorated from 13.5:1 during the Korean War to 1.5:1 in Vietnam. It led to a radical shift and fundamental rethinking in the US defense establishment towards the late 1960s driven by the same fighter pilots who had endured the ordeal, especially, Col. John Boyd who proposed his radical Energy Maneuverability Theory and led the Fighter Mafia. It led to the evolution of next generation of U.S. fighter jets which were designed and developed from scratch based on lessons learnt in the Vietnam War, were custom built for aerial dogfights and were also termed as teen series fighters. They included the F-14 Tomcat, named by Grumman after Admiral Thomas Connolly who personally shepharded the development of the program throughout, as a replacement for the F-4 Phantoms on the Navy's flattops apart from the F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the 1970s. The F-14 Tomcat, in fact, also flew some sorties during the final phases of the Vietnam War in 1974. The story from F-14 Tomcat to its ultimate successor, the Super Hornet, continues in the next episode... Audio credits: Boeing                 Episode Image Credits: Pixabay