Dogfights and the High Loss rate of 'Tail end Charlie'

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by timmy, Oct 13, 2010.

  1. timmy

    timmy Member

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    O.k I have just finished watching the History Channel 'Dogfights' again on Youtube

    Now it has always amazed me how many times a fighter ace would take down poor 'Tail end Charlie' first
    Saying that I'm not surprised he was picked (He is sitting at the tail end of the fighter group) but I am
    surprised how many times fighter pilots are not able to spot their opponents when being jumped from behind

    I guess those rear view mirrors are kind of useless ???

    Anyhow this all got me kind of thinking, why didn't they at least put someone in the back of the cockpit 'Facing Behind'.
    So he could, as his soul purpose spot enemy planes jumping on the fighter group?
    Not that all fighters needed this configuration just 'Tail end Charlie'

    Below I came across this picture of a P51 with a passenger facing rewards, so I think a lot of fighters had the room :D

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Modern radios take up a lot less room than the old WW II radios. passenger is sitting in the old radio bay.
     
  3. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    And facing forwards, not to the rear. This area also held the large, fuselage fuel tank, under the radio rack, during WW2.
     
  4. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    The rear-view
    was only any use when you knew there actually was someone behind you ie once you've engaged.
    Prior to the engagement, a pilot would have to be pretty foolish to rely solely on his rear-view and would be constantly scanning the sky to the greatest extent that his cockpit view would allow. The Luftwaffe evolved the finger-four formation to circumvent cockpit view limitations early in the war and this formation would allow pilots to provide mutual cover where they couldn't adequately cover their own six.
     
  5. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    #5 drgondog, Oct 14, 2010
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2010
    A side note: Typically a relatively inexperienced wing man is so focused on flying position on his element leader, and trying to avoid a mid air collision, that he often let significant time elapse in between 'head swivels'.

    Flying at 25,000 feet on oxygen, with 'variable temp' cockpit heaters tending for too low temperatures and numbing cold, loud noises directly in front of you, boredom, etc, - all contributed to a lack of alertness. Ditto for 15,000 but take the annoying heater out of the equation.

    In the case of long range fighters imagine your alertness levels after 5-7 hours in an uncomfortable office chair, listening to a hard rock instrumental with the same verse repeated at 100Db for 7 hours, cold, need to pee, have to keep your eyes moving left to right, with frequent swivels to look behind you, legs toasting from a small heater, room temp about 25 degrees, sitting on a padded set of books, face cold and numb, haven't seen the enemy for the last 10 missions, bored. Think you might be a little 'inattentive'??

    Aircraft in a dive out of the sun change from specks that are hard to see - to a 'firing solution' in seconds. Always difficult to see low and behind when the 'speck' gets close enough to shove a 20mm (or 6x.50's) up your ass and kiss it goodbye...

    In all theatres, high layered cirrus enabled a fighter to look down and see, but difficult to look up through the cloud level and see something on the other side. Ditto low cloud cover when your eyes are on the ground in front looking for targets and forgetting that you may be a 'target'

    Contrails offered 'cover'.

    Towering Cumulus provided ambushes and surprises for opposing forces
     
  6. tail end charlie

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    I havnt seen the video so I dont know which theatre you are referring to. Tail end charlie was a term used throughout the war for almost anyone at the back or bringing up the rear including rear gunners.

    In the early days in the RAF they flew tight V formationslater they flew a looser formation with weavers behind supposedly to protect from attack from the rear these were called tail end charlies and were very vulnerable. Later they flew a looser finger four formation where the two outside pilots could see to cover each others tail.

    I dont believe it was possible to carry an extra person as others have mentioned there was fuel tanks radios etc there. Even if it was the extra weight of the man parachute seat armour and extra oxygen would hamper performance.
     
  7. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    everything drgondog said it pretty much spot on. TEC or as some of the raf units had "weavers" was picked on because you could take them out and still possibly maintain surprise..possibly getting more ac before they are aware you are there. the worse the visibility the tighter the formation got and thus the more you had to focus even more on just not crashing into another ac. but even in good weather it demands most of your attention. my father was flying TEC on a mission and had a me 262 slip in fly in formation right beside beside him. the german was lined up to take out the guy my dad was flying wing to. it remain a mystery to this day why he didnt shoot or why he focused on that ac and not taken my father down ( although i am not complaining). perhaps this was his ballsy or stupid way of "counting coup"....but he did live to fight another day.

    and IIRC from my father's stories i thought he said there was a kind of radar that would tell you if someone was behind you and ring a bell. but the range was narrow and short. most of the time it was turned off because of formation flying or by the time the bell rang you were dead meat anyways. i have no idea what models these were in besides a later D model or if i am recalling the story correctly. perhaps someone can confirm or dispel this.
     
  8. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    AN/APS-13 tail warning radar was fitted to most late war USAAF fighters (later P-51D's, P-38L, P-47N, P-61, etc). As you said it wasn't viewed as that effective for day fighters. By the time of the Korean War it had been removed from F-51D's, and no such device was fitted to day fighter jets. The Soviets used tail warning radars on MiG-15's in Korea from 1952 and did feel it reduced losses to surprise attacks by F-86's.

    Such radars were first used by the British ('Monica', APS-13 is sometimes said to be US designation for Monica but actually a different radar of similar concept) for night bombers in 1942. The problem for such a device on a bomber is night fighters might be fitted with receivers to home on it when they might otherwise not have detected the bomber. The British stopped using it for that reason. But in the Korean War the Marine/USN F3D nightfighter with a tail warning radar was felt to be at an advantage to the USAF F-94 which had to rely on ground controllers to warn of enemy night fighters on its tail.

    Joe
     
  9. rednev

    rednev New Member

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    As noted the position occupied by the passenger in the photo carried the radios and fuselage fuel tank in war time aircraft . What hasn't been mentioned is that when the fuselage tank had fuel in it the aircraft was restricted to straight and level flight or very gentle manouvers . If they had removed the tank and replaced it with an observer the pilot might have been warned he was about to be shotdown but wouldnt have been able to do a thing about it. perhaps not such a good idea.
     
  10. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    Strictly speaking all normal take off and formation assemly flight procedures were ok with a full fuse tank - but it was SOP to burn it down to 25 gallons or less then switch to drop tanks

    To the other question about tail warning radar, the P-51D-20 was the first production D to have the radar installed on the vertical stabilizer
     
  11. tail end charlie

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    IIRC there were experiments with spitfires to increase the range with an extra tank in the rear like the Mustang but the Spitfire was even more marginal on stability than a Mustang so it didnt work. The Mustang needed the extra tank to perform its mission as a long range escort. Also allied fighters only started to get bubble canopies as per the photo late in the conflict. Putting a rear facing seat in an early spitfire mustang hurricane or thunderbolt would be a major mod.
     
  12. Nikademus

    Nikademus Member

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    On a bright note however, the technology has given Soccer Mom's in their SUV's an increased sense of comfort while backing out of the driveway. :lol:
     
  13. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    It works amazingly well. My wife gets a loud blaring warning from the sensor in the back right before she rams into something. We have more nicks in our back bumper than an Italian Wedding.
     
  14. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Was glancing through a very old copy of "Horrido" yesterday and stumbled across this interesting stat. "By 1945 the USAAC had 156,677 trained pilots. In the course of WW2 the USAAC suffered 17000 pilots KIA and 6442 WIA." I had never realised how many pilots were killed. That is a really high casualty rate. I wonder how many were captured. which would increase the casualty rate?
     
  15. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    I suspect the pilot list includes co-pilots and there were a lot of them in medium and heavy bombers, transports etc in all theatres.
     
  16. timmy

    timmy Member

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    OP here finally getting the chance to respond

    Yeah looking closely at my photograph in fact the pilot is facing forward....my bad
    Like some of you said, looking at P51 cutaways there is no chance of fitting someone back there
    i didn't realize that today's P51's are missing so much of there original equipment

    A lot of posters here have mentioned the finger-four formation was pretty good at covering your 6 o clock
    Maybe that's why I have never seen, even a prototype where a fighter had someone sitting behind the pilot

    Still as a Hypothetical Question. If they did have room back there, does anyone here think the pilots would
    have any benefit from some one observing from behind? All do the benefits would never cover the disadvantages?


    [​IMG]
     
  17. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    Yes there would be advantages.

    There would be disadvantages.

    Small single seat or bigger heavier two seater.

    Boulton Paul Defiant or Supermarine Spitfire?

    Me 109 or 110? Your observer can see the fighter but if the loss of performance caused by his extra weight and having to accommodate him means they get shot down...then that stoopid. You don't see pillions on MotoGP for this reason.

    In modern terms...a second guy can reduce the workload on the pilot. But you have to train him so it costs more.
     
  18. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    It can be simplified even further. The aircraft is only a means of transport of get the weapon(s) into a position to damage, destroy or deter an enemy aircraft. In the case of WW2, the weapons were invariably machine guns or cannon, operated by a single button. The airframe, the engine, the prop, the fuel, the pilot were all there just to bring these guns to bear on a target, as quickly and efficiently as possible; the fact that all of these might be negated by enemy action is a relatively small risk in the overall scheme of things, and it only needs one person to operate the guns. So why have a second person sitting there, probably redundant 95% of the time, and affecting the combined performance of all of the above, when that person could be employed more efficiently elsewhere ?
     
  19. The Basket

    The Basket Well-Known Member

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    The Illyshin Il-2 is a good example of the advantage of a rear observer...but he was a rear gunner.

    So...when does a rear observer become a rear gunner...
     
  20. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    When you've added even more weight in the form of armament, armament mount, ammo drums/feeds and armour protection. Having not yet satisfactorily explained where the bulky WWII radio equipment and, in the case of the P-51, the fuselage fuel tank are going to go, I'd say we've got so much weight aft of the CoG it's going to need an interstate to get it off the ground and fly like a wounded turkey when it does.

    Weight and weight distribution are factors of primary concern to single-engined, single-seater fighters. Just about everybody adopted the finger-four during WWII for good reason, it was the best method of catching someone sneaking up on your formation before he could do any damage.

    There would be zero benefit to saddling this type of aircraft with a second crewman, and a host of reasons why it wasn't a good idea.
     
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