The Dassault Rafale is a fantastic looking aircraft. Gradually being built in reasonable numbers, it has broken into the export market and has customers in Egypt and Qatar and probably India although exports to India are always hard to pin down! The French air force and navy will no longer be the sole operators. The Rafale B is a two seat version and the C is the Air Force’s single seat version. However, there was the Rafale A. One of them was built in the mid 1980s as a demonstrator. It looks almost identical to the production version but was actually slightly larger. Painted in Dassault’s house colors, it made a number of air show appearances. At the time, it was competing for attention with BAe’s EAP demonstrator. I didn’t get to see EAP until I got to Warton where I wasn’t able to photograph it!
Here are some shots of the Rafale A. It was originally powered by GE F404 engines although later one was swapped for the M88 that would power the production Rafale. The first Rafale C was rolled out in an all black paint scheme which made it look very cool. The size difference is not immediately obvious but a number of detail design changes were incorporated too including lots of sensors required for an operational type rather than the demonstrator. The wing planform was also altered slightly based on the experience gained with the demonstrator. I understand that, when the aircraft was retired, it went to the Museum at le Bourget in Paris.
A few outlets have recently been covering the reemergence of the Edgley Optica. In the 80s, his was an aircraft that was coming in to production. Designed as an observation platform, it is a rather interesting looking airframe. A bulbous fuselage sits ahead of the wing and the powerplant is mounted in the rear driving a ducted fan. The unrestricted view is supposed to make the aircraft ideal for seeing what is going on below. Supposedly, the ducted fan makes for a low noise signature which helps the “stealthiness” of the aircraft.
The ownership of the design moved through a few entities and the program experienced some setbacks including a crash and a fire that destroyed a number of in production aircraft. Ultimately, the whole thing sputtered to a stop. A few airframes are still in use around the world but John Edgley, the original designer, has bought back the rights and is now trying to relaunch the project. I saw the aircraft at Farnborough back at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s. These shots were taken then. I really would quite like to track down some of the currently active airframes.
Continuing through my theme of looking at individual types, I came across some old pictures of the MiG-29. I figured I could get a post out of them so here we are. I saw quite a few of the Fulcrums in the late 80s and early 90s when they started traveling further afield. My first encounter was when the Russian Air Force brought a pair to Farnborough. They showed up again in a later year and then examples from other eastern bloc air forces started coming to the UK once the wall came down.
The quality of my film shots from those days is not great but you can see a bit of what was on offer. The Ukrainian aircraft showed up in some really cool colors. The best shots I have are of the MiG-29OMT which was a demonstrator that came to the UK in 2006 and displayed at RIAT. It had thrust vectoring nozzles to enhance maneuverability and put in a pretty impressive display.
Lots of the operators today are starting to look at replacements. The age of some airframes along with the support issues are pushing them to renew while interoperability with NATO forces is another driver for change. I’m not sure how many more I will see flying although there are a good number in museums. There are a couple in private hands here in the states (one of which I saw being towed from across Paine Field) so they might be my best bet.
The attendance of the Russian contingent at Farnborough in 1992 was pretty impressive but they weren’t the only game in town. There were plenty of other aircraft on display. The Rafale prototype was there to follow up from the demonstrator a few years before. The first A340 was also part of the flying display.
Plenty of smaller types were on show including the Optica and the Pillan. Harriers and Hawks flew and the Gripen development program was represented by one of their jets. The Tucano for the RAF was taking part and the US military had a Black Hawk in the static display. Quite a variety of stuff to enjoy and interesting to see what is still in production today and what has disappeared from service.