The Pilot Factor

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by stona, Feb 6, 2015.

  1. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Time and time again we see this most important single factor in the performance of any aircraft ignored in discussions.

    Everyone knows that a Spitfire I can out turn a Bf 109 E and that the Messerschmitt pilot would be ill advised to fight in the horizontal, right?

    Well, for the two aircraft flown at their limits by experienced pilots this is probably true, but most aircraft were not flown in combat at these limits, nor were they flown by pilots who could do this.

    Erwin Leykauf would beg to differ. On the Bf 109 vs Spitfire duel of 1940 he wrote:

    "Indeed many fresh young [Luftwaffe] pilots thought they were pulling very tight turns even when the slots [slats] were still closed against the wing. For us, the more experienced pilots, manoeuvring only started when the slots were out. For this reason it is possible to find pilots from that period (1940) who will tell you that the Spitfire turned better than the Bf 109. That is not true. I myself had many dogfights with Spitfires and I could always out turn them."

    Leykauf may well have been turning with Spitfire pilots who were not pushing their aircraft to the limit. He had developed a sophisticated technique to turn his Bf 109 inside a Spitfire.

    "One had to enter the turn correctly, then open up the engine. It was a matter of feel. When one noticed the speed becoming critical-the aircraft vibrated-one had to ease up a bit, then pull back again, so that in plan the best turn would have looked like an egg or a horizontal ellipse rather than a circle. In this way one could out turn the Spitfire and I shot down six of them doing it."

    Just saying :)

    Cheers

    Steve
     
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  2. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Very good (and I agree: overlooked) point!
     
  3. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    I think most books that say the Spitfire could out-turn the Bf 109 were written by people looking at flight reports of Allied pilots who flew the Bf 109 a few times and made the report. There is a BIG difference between a pilot flying a combat plane for the first few times and one who had flown it enough to be familiar with the aircraft.

    I have also seen reports of German pilots who said they could turn with a Spitrfire easily.

    Likely the real story is as above. That is, the ability to turn tightly was probably tied to pilot experience rather than initial impressions of a test pilot flying a plane for the first few times.

    You posted a pretty good thing to think about there, Steve.
     
  4. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Pilots make the difference. I think that is best shown on the eastern front. By 1944, it is very arguable that the performance of the Soviet aircraft outshone their luftwaffe opponents. im not talking the handful of uber a/c that were deployed....its the mainstream aircraft. An La-9 or a Yak-3 should have been able to defeat most of the garden variety LW fighters, but they still had trouble, even in 1944. The difference in my opinion was the quality of the aircrew. Most Soviet pilots were never better than fair to middling.

    For the BoB, I still think that given two pilots of equal experience, the Spit can out turn the 109 in the horizontal. they often didnt however, because of the lack of experience for many RAF pilots.

    Ive seen it stated that most pilots are simply padding and cannon fodder. Most of the lethal work is done by perhaps 20% of the pilots. the padding is there to protect these vital assets but they generally dont shoot many enemy down.
     
  5. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    I am not a pilot but shooting down a plane in a tight turn is done by the pilot, for one plane to out turn the other one of them would stall out wouldn't they? From what I have read here the ability of a plane to sustain a high G turn depends on the power available as much as the aerodynamics. If that is the case it depends completely on which spitfire and which Bf109. German BoB pilots were always shot down by spitfires (so the legend goes) and so they presumably always shot them down too?

    I saw one veteran Typhoon pilot on TV recounting a chase of a Fw190 at sea level. The Fw190 went into a power on stall and hit the sea, that I would say is out turning.
    If someone is getting a lead on you and you cant turn harder surely you must try something else?
     
  6. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    It's worse than that! In the BoB 221 of the Luftwaffe aircraft shot down in aerial combat were credited to just 17 pilots.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  7. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    Aerodynamically the Spitfire I should be able to turn tighter than a Bf 109 E at similar altitudes and speeds. My point is that this was not always the case and that is down to the man at the controls.

    For a pursuing pilot to make a deflection shot on a turning target he has to pull his nose inside the other aircraft's turn.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  8. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    That is for an instantaneous turn, for a sustained turn in the horizontal plane power is required or speed bleeds off, turning rate is similar to climb rate in this situation, the higher powered AC will maintain the turn longer. This isnt what I "know" it is what I read here posted by a pilot (GregP I think)
     
  9. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    It depends on many factors apart from power.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  10. eagledad

    eagledad Member

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    Agreed that pilots make the difference, in fact many times the decisive factor in my opinion. The following is from a test by the British between a Spitfire I, Hurricane I and a captured Bf-109E:

    “When the BF-109 was following the Hurricane or Spitfire, it was found that the British aircraft turned inside the Bf-109 without difficulty when flown by determined pilots who were not afraid to pull their aircraft round hard in a tight turn. In a surprisingly large number of cases, however, the Bf-109 succeeded in keeping on the tail of the Spitfire or Hurricane during these turning tests, merely because pilots would not tighten up the turn sufficiently from fear of stalling and spinning.“ – Augsburg Eagle, William Green page 48.

    So though a Hurricane I or Spitfire I can turn inside a Bf-109E without difficulty, it took a determined or well trained pilot to accomplish it, assuming that the Bf-109E was flown by a pilot of similar skills.
     
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  11. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    When an experienced pilot knows the nuances of his aircraft, pushing it to the limits and pulling every last bit of performance out of it becomes second nature.

    You take that experience and pit it against an adversary who does not know his own machine well enough (even if it's a superior aircraft), and experience will dominate the encounter.
     
  12. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    The Spitfire could out turn the 109. The question is could the pilots.

    the 109 had the 'advantage' of the pilots legs sticking out in front instead of the more normal seated in a chair posture of the British pilots.

    If you are flying even near the limit you are pulling 4-6 "G"s and graying out or suffering vision problems. The German seating position delayed things a bit.
    Early Spitfires had overly sensitive elevators ( too powerful) and if you are fighting a 4+ G turn modulating the elevator input (stick pull back) might be a bit hard for a novice pilot. If you over do it you black out and the plane stalls while banked at over 70 degrees (perhaps over 80) with a inverted spin being a possible result, how soon does the pilot "wake up"? The Spitfire did have a gentle stall and gave warning when near the stall but a pilot had to have the experience at flying near the limit to figure it out. Being shot at the first time you are pulling 4-6Gs and flying near the stall is not good.
    These planes did NOT have G meters so it was experience that told the pilots when they were near the limits.

    Good pilot in either plane can out turn a novice in either plane.
    Many novice pilots would not fly either plane to it's limits.
     
  13. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    MAny statistics seem to contradict, there are statistics for AC that didn't see who shot them down and statistics for "out turning". If you are a pilot do you know or care if the plane in your sight has seen you. It seems to me tat the statistics for planes downed that didn't see their opponent don't tie in with those for turning battles. Just my opinion.
     
  14. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    #14 GregP, Feb 6, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2015
    When you see gun camera film, the way you know the victim didn't see you is when it appears undamaged before the first hits ... but takes no evasive action until well after the first burst of fire hits. All it means is the pilot was flying along and didn't do anything until he either died or felt the first hits on his plane and had a bit of time to react.

    If the enemy is turning hard in the first gun camera shots, then he saw you before combat was joined. Another factor is that a plane that gets ambushed is usually NOT at combat speed, not knowing the combat is imminent. It usually takes awhile to go from ecconomy cruise to combat speed, and the pilot might or might not HAVE awhile before fatal damage is done to him.
     
  15. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    Thanks GregP, most combats from the BoB didnt have cameras only pilots accounts. The overwhelming impression I have is that most kills on both sides (fighter on fighter) were made by flights being bounced but there are then many stories of turning battles, all pilots seem to be convinced that their mount was the master Hurricane Spitfire or Bf109 they all had the best plane, Nothing against the veterans but I think they started with an advantage.
     
  16. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    I've said this in here before, but we have former WWII pilots make presentations every month on the first Saturday at the planes of Fame. Almost all of them are convinced that their particular mount was the best fighter evcer built. Only once have I asked one of them how many ohter fighters he flew, and the answer was none, he only flew the P-51 in combat.

    So ... his P-51 actually WAS the best figher he had ever flown in combat since it was the ONLY one. I'd bet a good chunk of all former combat pilots are in that group ... that is, they only flew what they flew, and it was the best. There are probably only a very few who have experience in combat in multiple platforms.

    I could be mistaken here, but I don't think so.
     
  17. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    From my limited knowledge there were a surprisingly high number of Polish/Czech pilots who prefered the Hurricane to the Spitfire purely because all the guns were together if they got in close it was game over. So long as their mount was in the game they were confident of getting a shot in they just wanted enough fire power to make the kill. In the UK many pilots swapped between Hurricane Spitfire and then on to P40s Typhoons Tempest Mustang. As you say if they ended up with the last model Spitfire or Tempest..that was the best plane.
     
  18. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Mostly I was talking about US pilots since that's what we MOSTLY see in Southern California. We HAVE had presentations from British, German,and Jamanese pilots, and the subject never quite came up as the talk was about what it was like being on the side that lost the war and what condition were like in the beginning, in the middle, and as the end closed in.

    The British guys spoke of their experiences, but did not volunteer whether or not any particular aircraft was the best. One of them flew in the BOB and said the the best pilot in the world would get shot down if he flew against very large number of guys who were experienced, but not as good as he was. The problem is that if there is enough opposition that was decent, then they could get above, below, and right at your altitude and more or less overwhelm you with numbers when there is nowhere to run.

    It's not so bad when you are matched, say, 8 to 8 ... but 4 on 20 will mean the 4 are going to have a bad time, usually.

    The only reason which mount was "the best" canme up in some sessions is because the guys were asked taht question specifically.
     
  19. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I once read an account of an exercise, carried out in 1940, in which six Hurricanes, posing as bombers, would attack an airfield patrolled by Spitfires. It all went wrong when the 'bombers' on seeing the Spitfires approach from their rear turned into the attack in a most un-bomberlike fashion. For the next several minutes the two squadrons chased each other over the English countryside for miles. Eventually they'd all had enough and landed.
    The exercise was deemed a failure as nothing was learnt about breaking up bomber formations or airfield defence. It did give the two sets of pilots something to argue about, just as we do today.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  20. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Good story, Steve.

    One of our volunteers is a former Dutch Air Force pilot. He flew MEteors, Hunters, F-86Ks, and the F-104. He said that while he was flying Hunters there were some RAF EE Lightbings around and they used to dogfight every chance they got. He said it was great fun for a few minutes and then the Lightnings would break off and glide down to a dead stick landing ... completely out of fuel! He says the Lightning was a very GOOD dogfighter ... but quickly was out of the fight due to fuel.

    I once asked a former Lightning pilot who came therough the museum if the Lightning was really a Mach 2.5 fighter.

    He scratched his beard for a bit and said, "Toward the fuel you could get to Mach 2.5 if you tried. If youe ever got going Mach 2.5 pointed away from the fuel, you'd never make it back to the fuel!"

    Sounds like a fun airplane that was a PHD study in fuel management ...
     
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