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Old 03-12-2018, 08:06 PM
Lamoral Lamoral is online now
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To what extent are military planes designed to "look cool"?

Call it the stoner thought of the day.

If you look at military planes, particularly fighter planes, from the Cold War era, there is a really noticeable difference between the American/Russian planes and the British planes. The American and Russian designs are subtly distinctive from each other, but the British designs are way on a different aesthetic wavelength. I'm not saying they look necessarily cooler than the others, but there's something about their designs that's more rounded, curved, and futuristic. Anyone who knows about fighter planes will know what I'm talking about.

Hawker Hunter

Gloster Javelin

De Havilland Vampire (!)

Avro Vulcan (!!)

Surely the British did not need to adopt this kind of style for their planes. The American and Russian designs, which were much more angular, clearly were aerodynamic enough to accomplish the roles that they were designed for.

Regardless of what actually led to the planes looking so stylistically different - when military planes are designed, do the designers literally sit around and talk about "making it look cool/interesting/graceful" and factor that into their designs, and then among the military personnel who ultimately choose which aircraft designs are to be produced on a large scale, to what degree does the appearance factor in? When the military brass sat down with McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed and North American and so on, choosing from among many prototypes to be developed further, were they ever like "this one just looks cooler than that one"?
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:07 PM
Sicks Ate Sicks Ate is online now
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Eh, they all look like planes.
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:10 PM
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I think any objective observer can reasonably judge the designs to look different.
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:15 PM
Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor is offline
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To no extent.
They are designed to function, in a very demanding way.

Besides--why would anybody care?
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:18 PM
Lamoral Lamoral is online now
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I guess I could put it really simply:

Are aesthetics given any consideration at all in the design of military aircraft? Does anyone have a factual answer and some kind of aeronautical or military knowledge to back it up?
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Jacquernagy View Post
I think any objective observer can reasonably judge the designs to look different.
Not being an airplane buff, I believe I'm a reasonable observer. Looking through those pictures, I'm sure I can find US planes that look similar to each of them.

But not on my phone, because PITA.
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:25 PM
Lamoral Lamoral is online now
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Only if you're referring to prototypes or failed designs.

The Vought Cutlass is the only American jet that comes close to looking like the De Havilland Vampire or Venom; and the latter were in regular service while the former was phased out almost as quickly as it was introduced.

America's only delta-wing strategic bomber was the B-58 Hustler, which was far more angular and pointed in every way than Avro's Vulcan.

I'm not aware of any American jet fighter design that is similar to the Hawker Hunter or the Blackburn Buccaneer.
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Old 03-12-2018, 08:47 PM
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Yeeeaaahh, I just liked at those and decided you're not an objective judge. They're just planes. While they may be distinguishable from other planes, it's nothing to do with them being particularly stylish.
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Old 03-12-2018, 09:33 PM
gnoitall gnoitall is offline
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Aircraft are shaped by the demands of their mission and the state of aeronautical technology at the time of their design. At least for warplanes, there are no aesthetic design considerations.

Last edited by gnoitall; 03-12-2018 at 09:33 PM.
  #10  
Old 03-12-2018, 09:37 PM
watchwolf49 watchwolf49 is offline
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Originally Posted by Sicks Ate View Post
Eh, they all look like planes.
What, are you kidding ... that De Havilland Vampire is a complete knock-off of the P-38 ... I thought the Avro Vulcan was an F-106 at first ... anyway ... I'm guessing the engineers design the aircraft to be the perfect aerodynamic shape for the intended purpose ... any styling features would reduce the aircraft's effectiveness ... the military generally won't do that ...

In the small civil aircraft arena ... we have Piper making low-wing aircraft and Cessna making high-wing aircraft ... here perfect effectiveness isn't so important and we have two styles of aircraft to choose from ... I don't know all the differences just that throwing big rocks out of a Cessna is easier ...

Military planes define the cool look ... it doesn't have to be designed into them ...

Last edited by watchwolf49; 03-12-2018 at 09:39 PM. Reason: These thoughts brought to you by Trainwreak™
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Old 03-12-2018, 09:41 PM
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What, are you kidding ... that De Havilland Vampire is a complete knock-off of the P-38 ... I thought the Avro Vulcan was an F-106 at first ... anyway ...
Well yeah, that's my point. The British planes are no more or less intentionally plane-y than anybody else's planes.

You can de gustibus all day about which plane you may have an aesthetic preference towards, though.

Last edited by Sicks Ate; 03-12-2018 at 09:42 PM.
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Old 03-12-2018, 09:56 PM
zombywoof zombywoof is offline
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Doesn't seem like an unreasonable idea to me at all - the plane's first "mission" surely is to get its design selected and funded over those of its competitors during the procurement phase.

(For example, to me, all pickup trucks pretty much look the same and do the same thing - yet people laying down the money for one will often prefer the "style" of a Ford or a Chevy or a Dodge or whatever.)
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Old 03-12-2018, 10:28 PM
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Probably to the same extent an F-117 is a fighter jet.

There are non-functional considerations in play here, in other words.
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Old 03-12-2018, 11:03 PM
Chisquirrel Chisquirrel is offline
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Originally Posted by zombywoof View Post
Doesn't seem like an unreasonable idea to me at all - the plane's first "mission" surely is to get its design selected and funded over those of its competitors during the procurement phase.

(For example, to me, all pickup trucks pretty much look the same and do the same thing - yet people laying down the money for one will often prefer the "style" of a Ford or a Chevy or a Dodge or whatever.)
Yeah, but the fate of the Republic doesn't hang on the efficacy of the body design of an F-150.
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Old 03-12-2018, 11:34 PM
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Yeah, but the fate of the Republic doesn't hang on the efficacy of the body design of an F-150.
Well, not since we went to the Tri-Service Designations.
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Old 03-13-2018, 03:06 AM
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It's not a bad question - when you look at military planes, some of them stand out as quite extraordinary pieces of design - and some look cooler or more imposing than others, for example the Saab Viggen, the B2 Bomber and the SR-71 Blackbird - all pretty 'cool looking' planes in my opinion.

But the 'cool look' of the plane is almost always founded in some design choice such as stability, stealth, speed, range, handling, etc.

I think there probably are examples of ground vehicles where 'looks imposing' could have been part of the design, but with planes, it seems like all of the design effort has to be invested in making them good at what they do. Sometimes, that accidentally makes them look cool.
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Old 03-13-2018, 05:41 AM
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Remember the JSF competition? Lockheed Martin presented the X-35 and Boeing had the X-32.

Each had its strengths and weaknesses. One constraint was the STOVL capability -- basically the ability to hover. Each company had chosen a different approach, and somehow that dictated the shape of the planes. The X-35 looked like a badass jet plane from a near-future sci-fi movie, the X-32 looked like... some sort of household appliance. One journalist said it had a shape only a mother would love.

I'm not saying that nobody used objective criteria when comparing them. But I'm pretty sure some people at the Pentagon eventually said "We're not going to be striking fear in the hearts of our enemies using those!". The X-35 became the F-35.

Last edited by Heracles; 03-13-2018 at 05:42 AM.
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Old 03-13-2018, 06:10 AM
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British planes may have put less emphasis on speed, in which case you would expect rounder shapes. Look at the E-2 Hawkeye or the C-130, they're designed to go slower than fighters/interdictors/supersonic bombers and they're rounder too.

British main battle tanks also put less emphasis on speed than their US and USSR counterparts.

It's quite possible that the YF-22 was preferred to the YF-23 at least in part because the YF-23 looks a little unconventional and not as aesthetic as the YF-22 even though the YF-23 was arguably a better design overall: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockhe..._and_YF-23.jpg

There may be design habits which countries hang on to if they don't have a pressing need to change, even if may now be suboptimal. Warsaw pact tanks usually have round turrets whereas NATO tank turrets tend to be angular. You can also tell that the AK-47, AK-74, Dragunov and PKM come from the same country. Germans have kept a very high rate of fire on their infantry GPMG all the way from WWII. They also tried to adapt that very high rate of fire principle to assault rifles with the G11 program.

Last edited by MichaelEmouse; 03-13-2018 at 06:11 AM.
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Old 03-13-2018, 06:47 AM
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There may be design habits which countries hang on to if they don't have a pressing need to change, even if may now be suboptimal. Warsaw pact tanks usually have round turrets whereas NATO tank turrets tend to be angular. You can also tell that the AK-47, AK-74, Dragunov and PKM come from the same country.
That's true. After all, no engineer starts a project with a completely blank page. Every individual, every organization has its own preferences and institutional habits, based on what worked before, what they know how to do and what they believe is the best way to do things. Couple that with the inherent conservatism of large organizations, and they'll eventually develop different "looks", even they didn't plan to.
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Old 03-13-2018, 07:00 AM
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I guess I could put it really simply:

Are aesthetics given any consideration at all in the design of military aircraft?
Yes, and aircraft in general. Aircraft are overwhelmingly symmetrical because symmetry appeals to the human eye, and people tend to dislike and distrust asymmetrical aircraft designs regardless of any technical advantages they have. As a result asymmetrical aircraft are a tough sell, and mostly relegated to experimental one-offs.

In general, appearance does matter to the extent it affects the likelihood of the aircraft getting funding. The military is unlikely to pick an aircraft design just because it looks cool, but they're only human; it's inevitable that there's going to be a tendency to pick the good looking aircraft over the ugly one, all things being equal.
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Old 03-13-2018, 07:14 AM
MichaelEmouse MichaelEmouse is online now
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That's true. After all, no engineer starts a project with a completely blank page. Every individual, every organization has its own preferences and institutional habits, based on what worked before, what they know how to do and what they believe is the best way to do things. Couple that with the inherent conservatism of large organizations, and they'll eventually develop different "looks", even they didn't plan to.
I'm curious about Israeli design habits. Could you go on about that?



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Yes, and aircraft in general. Aircraft are overwhelmingly symmetrical because symmetry appeals to the human eye, and people tend to dislike and distrust asymmetrical aircraft designs regardless of any technical advantages they have. As a result asymmetrical aircraft are a tough sell, and mostly relegated to experimental one-offs.
What are some technical advantages of asymmetrical designs?
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Old 03-13-2018, 08:03 AM
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That's true. After all, no engineer starts a project with a completely blank page. Every individual, every organization has its own preferences and institutional habits, based on what worked before, what they know how to do and what they believe is the best way to do things. Couple that with the inherent conservatism of large organizations, and they'll eventually develop different "looks", even they didn't plan to.
Very true. Notice that three of the planes linked by the OP have their engine air intakes at the leading edge of the wing where it meets the fuselage. All three of the British V bombers from the early '50s used that configuration, with the engines mounted within the wing. Jacquernagy compared the Vulcan to the American B-58 Hustler; both had delta wings but the Hustler had the engines in pods under the wing. It carried over to civilian planes, too; compare the British Comet with the American 707 and DC-8.
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Old 03-13-2018, 08:53 AM
Dorjän Dorjän is offline
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"If it looks right, it'll fly right" was a real design principle for much of aviation history so yes, aesthetics does play a role in aircraft design, both civilian and military.
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Old 03-13-2018, 08:57 AM
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Actually, I can think of one example where 'looks cool' was unequivocally a design criterion for military aircraft - this one.
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Old 03-13-2018, 09:17 AM
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Seriously? We're supposed hunt through that page to find out what you're talking about? You know better.
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Old 03-13-2018, 09:35 AM
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Seriously? We're supposed hunt through that page to find out what you're talking about? You know better.
You really had to read the article to find out what was special about the Red Baron's plane?
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Old 03-13-2018, 10:22 AM
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Seriously? We're supposed hunt through that page to find out what you're talking about? You know better.
Wow. I actually think you should read the whole article now.

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Old 03-13-2018, 10:25 AM
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I wish I could find a cite, but I remember reading that a General in the procurement stream for the US military during WWII basically said (paraphrasing from memory), "Style isn't a main concern, but we're not funding ugly aircraft."
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Old 03-13-2018, 10:51 AM
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"If it looks right, it'll fly right" was a real design principle for much of aviation history
It's bullshit, btw. Lots of pretty planes have flown like pigs, and plenty of ugly ones are pretty sweet.

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yes, aesthetics does play a role in aircraft design, both civilian and military.
It's easier to sell a pretty plane, especially a civilian one, but there are exceptions. The F-22 beat the sleeker F-23 for the strike fighter competition based on cost and performance, for instance.
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Old 03-13-2018, 11:18 AM
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The aesthetics of the Bell X-1 were pretty cool, but it was designed that way for a totally different reason.
Quote:
The .50 caliber bullet shape of the fuselage, strong thin wing sections, and an adjustable horizontal stabilizer were engineering developments used in the design of the X-1.
Take a look at the Anglo-French Concorde vs. the Russian Tu-144. Even the U.S. B-70, despite it's twin tales, has a similar profile.
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Old 03-13-2018, 11:30 AM
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Yes, and aircraft in general. Aircraft are overwhelmingly symmetrical because symmetry appeals to the human eye, and people tend to dislike and distrust asymmetrical aircraft designs regardless of any technical advantages they have. As a result asymmetrical aircraft are a tough sell, and mostly relegated to experimental one-offs.
I would've thought aircraft are symmetrical because pilots prefer aircraft that perform to the left like they do to the right.
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Old 03-13-2018, 11:40 AM
ElvisL1ves ElvisL1ves is offline
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Typically speaking, a plane that doesn't want to flip over is considered to fly better. YMMV.
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Old 03-13-2018, 12:19 PM
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I would've thought aircraft are symmetrical because pilots prefer aircraft that perform to the left like they do to the right.
Yeah, generally speaking symmetry of handling and performance is likely to go hand in hand with symmetry of appearance.
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Old 03-13-2018, 01:36 PM
gnoitall gnoitall is offline
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The aesthetics of the Bell X-1 were pretty cool, but it was designed that way for a totally different reason.


Take a look at the Anglo-French Concorde vs. the Russian Tu-144. Even the U.S. B-70, despite it's twin tales, has a similar profile.
As I said earlier: shaped primarily by function and the state of the art at the time of design.

It's not coincidence that all those contemporary SST passenger aircraft are hard to tell apart at a glance: they all solved the same performance problems with the same engineering solutions. The state of the art, circa early 1960s. The same "art", and similar* performance requirements, shaped the XB-70 as well.

*"Similar" performance except that the B-70 was designed for triple-sonic cruise and the SSTs were expected to do Mach 1.5 to 2.0 in cruise. And those performance differences were generated by the differences in the design: the B-70's compression lift design and radically different (and more powerful) engines.

Yeah. They look cool. But they look cool as a consequence of practical engineering, and often "looks cool" is applied after the fact. (My cite is the hordes of A-10 "Warthog" fans.)

ETA: I have no idea why this in in GQ.

Last edited by gnoitall; 03-13-2018 at 01:37 PM.
  #35  
Old 03-13-2018, 02:09 PM
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No, aesthetics are not part of military aircraft design, unless you include paint jobs.

It just so happens that the features that make an aircraft look attractive to us tend to generally be those things that also make it fly well - sleek, efficient shapes, symmetry, etc. But no military aircraft designer will add weight or impede functionality in order to make the aircraft look 'cooler'. Perhaps in civilian aircraft you might find some very minor compromises for aesthetics, but in general the rule is that the airplane should be designed for the mission, and not for looks.

So why do they look so good? Well, that starts to get into human psychology. Why do puppies look cute? Why do people look more or less attractive to us? Much of this is mystery, although we know that humans are attracted to symmetry, the golden ratio, and other geometric qualities that show up in efficient aircraft designs.

But we also know that standards of attractiveness change - at various times in the past, for example, being 'plump' was considered attractive, and being thin wasn't. In the Victorian era being white as a ghost was considered attractive, and having a tan wasn't. So standards of beauty change with society. It's entirely possible that the reason we find aircraft beautiful is because we like aircraft, and if you had shown someone in the 19th century a picture of an SR-71 they might have thought it was ugly.

Last edited by Sam Stone; 03-13-2018 at 02:11 PM.
  #36  
Old 03-13-2018, 04:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Jacquernagy View Post
Call it the stoner thought of the day.

If you look at military planes, particularly fighter planes, from the Cold War era, there is a really noticeable difference between the American/Russian planes and the British planes. The American and Russian designs are subtly distinctive from each other, but the British designs are way on a different aesthetic wavelength. I'm not saying they look necessarily cooler than the others, but there's something about their designs that's more rounded, curved, and futuristic. Anyone who knows about fighter planes will know what I'm talking about.

Define the mission, then design the aircraft. Both the US and Russia benefitted from each's version of operation paperclip and collecting Nazi engineering and engineers. If you notice each aircraft by decade, you see the school of thought in its design. The fifties were an exercise in seeing what worked with Jets, primarily with a ww2 influence in the early jets followed by design and testing in peacetime conditions.

Most of the rest of the world in the 1960's went with a delta wing high altitude energy fighter that had a minimum time to altitude to engage bombers, both the US and Russia had space to engage intruders on defense, but the Russians went with a ww2 asthetic with rough field conditions, poor support and expected heavy casualties. The US had a multi divergent path between naval aviation and airforce doctrines veered away from the pure fighter and start to see the introduction of the multi mission capable Phantom, the worlds first generation superfighter.

In the 70's France and Sweden doubled down on the delta fighters, and were joined by clones from South Africa and Israel with the Cheetah and the Kafir respectively.The American experience in Vietnam led to the hi/lo doctrine with the heavy fighter, the F15. Big wing, lots of missiles, big gun and big radar. The airforce doctrine was to gain dominance in the air, followed up with the lo fighters, the F16 doing the air to mud. Naval aviation smarting from the F111 debacle went with the F14 Tomcat, carrying 6 huge missiles that pushed engagement ranges to 100 miles out, based on the adage of kill the archer, not the arrow.

By comparison the Russians only real improvement was the mig 25 foxbat for defense against a bomber that never entered service. Until the F15/16 started entering squadron level service in the early 80's, everyone was limited to daylight ops. Russia's main aviation chops during this decade was heavy bombers, designed to kill carriers working in concert with Russian submarines and fleet assets.

In the 80's video killed the rockstar, but also Russia as a major power. With the introduction of microchip technology and the astonishing display of airpower that led to Israel disembowling the Syrian airforce, the Cossacks had a problem. They had a third rate airforce and really needed to upgrade, which led to the mig 29/ Su 27 , yeah they copied the american hi/lo doctrine and before they could capitalize on it, the wall came down. Russian design has never really recovered.

But to answer your question, American and Russian designs look like they were designed by aircraft engineers. British designs, by contrast look like they were designed by automotive engineers.
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Old 03-13-2018, 05:19 PM
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Very true. Notice that three of the planes linked by the OP have their engine air intakes at the leading edge of the wing where it meets the fuselage. All three of the British V bombers from the early '50s used that configuration, with the engines mounted within the wing. ...
Isn't this a trade-off between efficiency/performance, ease of maintenance and difficulty/cost of manufacturing? It's not just a matter of British engineers thinking it looks cool.
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Old 03-13-2018, 06:43 PM
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...If you look at military planes, particularly fighter planes, from the Cold War era, there is a really noticeable difference between the American/Russian planes and the British planes....the British designs are...more rounded, curved, and futuristic...American and Russian designs...were much more angular...
This is a good point. The degree of aesthetic vs aerodynamic influence on design is often discussed. You can obviously have two aircraft which meet roughly the same performance spec yet which look very different. Some aircraft designers have consistently produced aesthetically beautiful planes, which aren't always successful or dramatically superior to similar contemporaries in aerodynamic terms.

In civilian aviation an extreme example of this difference is between the Beech King Air 250 and the Beech Starship, both made by the same company but the Starship was essentially designed by Burt Rutan who often made nice-looking planes:

King Air 250:
https://blog.wepushtin.com/wp-conten...ng_Air_250.jpg

Starship:
https://airway.uol.com.br/wp-content...ar-n-large.jpg

Two Cold War military planes which were roughly similar in performance were the F-104 Starfighter and the Mig-21. They are very different aesthetically.

F-104:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockhe...(modified).jpg

Mig-21
https://theaviationist.com/wp-conten...lAF-Mig-21.jpg

The F-104 was designed by Kelly Johnson who designed many beautiful planes, including the Lockheed Constellation, often considered the nicest-looking propliner: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...lation_TWA.jpg

And the SR-71 which didn't have an aerodynamic equivalent: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ft_taxiing.jpg
  #39  
Old 03-13-2018, 08:05 PM
JRDelirious JRDelirious is online now
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The Starfighter conveys very clearly: "this sucker's fast, dude"

And lest we think the Brits were exclusively about the swoopy curvy relatively low-speed very conservative birds, there's their very fast Lightning fighter with a whole bunch of other unusuals about it.

Last edited by JRDelirious; 03-13-2018 at 08:07 PM.
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Old 03-13-2018, 09:40 PM
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What are some technical advantages of asymmetrical designs?
There was an experiment with a plane that had a wing that could be rotated as a unit. On takeoff, you had a nice wide wing for excellent lift; then, at high speed, the wing would be rotated so that, say, the port wingtip was forward of center by as much as the starboard tip was aft of it. This would give a good high-speed sweep to the wing that made it more aerodynamic than a symmetrical sweep. And I guess it worked pretty well except they ran into inertial coupling instabilities. It might have been good for straight-line fast travel in clean air, but the disadvantages were not enough to outweigh the gains, so it got set aside.
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Old 03-13-2018, 10:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Der Trihs View Post
Yes, and aircraft in general. Aircraft are overwhelmingly symmetrical because symmetry appeals to the human eye, and people tend to dislike and distrust asymmetrical aircraft designs regardless of any technical advantages they have. As a result asymmetrical aircraft are a tough sell, and mostly relegated to experimental one-offs.
Such as the BV 141, which reportedly performed well, but was never put into service.
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Old 03-13-2018, 10:12 PM
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Originally Posted by zombywoof View Post
Doesn't seem like an unreasonable idea to me at all - the plane's first "mission" surely is to get its design selected and funded over those of its competitors during the procurement phase.
It'd be interesting to see if the concept drawings that go before congress are deliberately created to be "Cooler", "Sexier", and more futuristic-looking than the way the aeronautics company knows the plane will look in the end (due to engineering factors, cost factors, and basic common sense stuff).
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Old 03-13-2018, 10:31 PM
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Originally Posted by commasense View Post
Such as the BV 141, which reportedly performed well, but was never put into service.
Only meth-addled Nazis could think that thing looked good.

I'm really glad the US never built this thing...the air intake is not supposed to go there. I don't give a shit how it may have performed, it's just not meant to be!

The English Electric Lightning is an odd bird, looks sort of like an F-8 and a MiG-21. I'm sure it was more useful than the F-35 Lightning.
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Old 03-13-2018, 10:41 PM
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I recall reading an article in 1999 that said that the F-117 would have been less visually visible if it were painted a light blue rather than black, but the USAF didn't do that because it was considered too sissy a paint scheme, and painted them solid deep black instead because that looked good - and that that black silhouette made the jet MORE visible at night when backdropped against clouds, and that that was one reason it was easier for the Serbs to see it by eye during Operation Allied Force.

So it appears that aesthetics do play a small role.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if Boeing's big happy-mouth grin jaw engine intake for its X-32 was one reason it lost the JSF contract to Lockheed - but then again, Boeing did advance further in the contest than any other non-Lockheed competitor.

Last edited by Velocity; 03-13-2018 at 10:44 PM.
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Old 03-14-2018, 08:00 AM
ElvisL1ves ElvisL1ves is offline
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The Boeing prototype was so heavy they actually needed to take the inlet scoop off for it to take off. Since airplane designs inevitably get heavier as development proceeds and problems get fixed, it might never have been feasible. That, and the use of jet exhaust for hover lift at the forward end, instead of the Lockheed "salad shooter" fan, made hot gas ingestion into the engine a serious problem even with the scoop. So the decision would have been the same even without aesthetics.

Photos of the X-32 do often seem to be chosen from its least attractive angles, in fairness.
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Old 03-15-2018, 12:34 AM
MarvinKitFox MarvinKitFox is offline
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Originally Posted by Der Trihs View Post
Aircraft are overwhelmingly symmetrical because symmetry appeals to the human eye


Bullshit.
Aircraft are symmetrical for roughly the same reason that Wheels are.
The do not work otherwise.
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Old 03-15-2018, 07:36 AM
ElvisL1ves ElvisL1ves is offline
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Asymmetric airplanes do increase a designer's problems by requiring force and moment balances, in all flight conditions, to be dealt with about three axes rather than two, but they have been designed successfully, if mostly as stunts. The Bv-141 was already mentioned, the NASA Scissorwing, and the Rutan Pond Racer all flew, and there have probably been others.

Just to be picky, even light singles and non-counterrotating twins aren't perfectly symmetrical either - engines are often angled slightly to one side to reduce control problems due to P-factor or engine-out situations.
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Old 03-15-2018, 10:13 AM
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No one has mentioned wind tunnel testing of mockups, let alone computer simulation testing and ultimately flight testing. These are done for a reason, and the reason is determine the best aircraft on a very scientific and unbiased basis. As Declan said in post #36; Define the mission, then define the aircraft. I would extend the thought to say: Define the mission, and the current level of technology will help you design the aircraft. (And I readily admit there are several ways to solve any complex engineering problem, but the truism “the most simple solution that addresses all the known variables are usually the best solutions” tends to work very well. [And this always reminds me, what kind of razor did Newton and Einstein use? I believe it was British.])

While twin tails may look really cool and sleek, the reason some aircraft have them is because a single tail directly behind a canopy can easily fall into a “dead spot” where airflow is no longer hitting the control surface of the tail making it useless. In level flight wind passes over the tail just fine, but if the attitude of attack is too steep, the tail falls into the (air flow) shadow of the canopy. Sometimes wind tunnel tests prove the opposite however. In about sixth grade science class we were taught that the round shapes at the top of NASA and ICBM rockets were found to generate less air resistance than pointy tips (like the front end of a Roger Ramjet plane) because the point had wind resistance for a longer length of the rocket. An over simplified example would be a ten foot diameter, seventy foot tall rocket with two different types of design at the tip. A spherical top will have drag for the first five feet (radius of the rocket shaft) then the rest of the rocket will ride in the shadow of that sphere with no more resistance because all of the air is deflected away from the rocket by the rounded top. In contrast, the same rocket that tapers to a point for the top twenty feet or so will have resistance for that whole tapered portion of the rocket, plus more drag on the whole length of the rocket because the airflow is not deflected away from the body of the rocket as it was in the previous example, but rather sort of “clings” to the rocket body due to an aerodynamic effect.

All that to say, testing usually leads to sleeker more aggressive looking design, but sometimes it leads to boring rounded designs. I have a hard time picturing an engineer, or high ranking military officer saying: “Yes, forget that effective design that is aesthetically neutral—deliver eight thousand units of that aggressive looking dud over there over the next decade. Oh, and by-the-way, better give me a hundred of those ones that work better too, you know- in case we actually have a war or something.”

My view is that aside from paint schemes (which I do not consider design at all- unless it has a tactical purpose like paint that absorbs radar so less is reflected back to the guys hunting you) “cool looking” military aircraft are only manufactured by Mattel and Matchbox, or perhaps by animated advertising campaigns (I seem to recall Joe Camel used to pose next to fictional aircraft in flight jacket and aviator glasses on billboards all over town).

Now some stuff that has probably been addressed twenty times while I have been typing this. Let’s see: Bi-lateral symmetry, flight stability, high performing ugly planes & poor performing sexy planes, competitive designs

Airplanes, like the human body, are only symmetrical in one of three dimensions. If you cut them top to bottom (front to back on the body) through the long axis, the two sides are mirror images of each other and that does contribute to stability in flight and equal response to control inputs to left and right (or starboard and port). But if you cut them through the long axis in the other direction, very few planes would be identical in profile and they would all be dissimilar looking at the top and bottom longitudinal sections or looking at the top half and bottom half from the ‘outside’. Of course, cross sections would be very different; unlike the Chevy Corvair, the front and back look very different. If you took a cross section of ANY aircraft and mirrored either end and put it together you would have a plane that could never fly. Wouldn’t matter if you created a plane with two tails and no cockpit, or one with two cockpits and no tail—it would be very odd looking and never be able to fly (even if you dropped it off a cliff).

I am not sure why symmetry was mentioned, either as an element of beauty or as an element of flight performance. The only perfectly symmetrical thing I know of is a sphere (like say a cannonball) which is not known for either beauty or aerodynamic flight, but is known for simplicity of design (aesthetics), and ballistic flight (the antithesis of high performance aerodynamics).

In post #32, ElvisL1ves mentions flight stability, and that is a very important part of any tactical platform. It is much easier to hit a target from a smooth platform that is not bucking and yawing and rolling. Now any plane that is liable to flip over or go into a spin is not a good gun platform, difficult to fly, requires constant attention to just stay in the air, and is going to kill more of OUR pilots then it is going to kill their pilots. But a very stable, smooth flying airplane is going to be slow to respond to attack and is vulnerable. Tactical aircraft need to be designed so they can be flown straight and level with little difficulty for long periods of time (to get to the battle- especially if they have to avoid certain airspace), then they have to be able to flip and spin and jinks which requires a design that pushes it closer to ‘unstable in level flight’. What the mission is really does inform how the aircraft is designed, but there are always compromises. Planes that go really, really fast do not necessarily twist, turn, bank, and fire well in a dog fight. The trick is to design a plane that can get there quick enough to intercept the enemy, be capable enough to beat the enemy and stop the attack, and fuel efficient enough to get there and back on the fuel they can carry. In almost any design, when you increase one of those capabilities—you diminish one or both of the others.

During the Vietnam era, the F4 was THE airframe. All of the flying services used it as their primary tactical platform. I have been told it didn’t do anything extremely well—but it did do everything. Air to air, air to ground, electronic jamming, refueling, attacking air defense missiles, played three instruments, tap danced, and it could bake a pie which is more than you can say about some sharp shooters.

One beloved plane in the US arsenal which is not a beauty queen is the A-10. They named it the Warthog for good reason, but it has been praised as the best close support aircraft ever created. Also, you can shoot it with a tank round and it will survive and continue flying. Nothing sleek or sexy about that plane except for how it performs. I suppose one could say it is the exception which proves the rule and you’d get no argument from me. I am told all of the planes in the US inventory are fairly easy to fly too. That way we don’t need to score in the top two percent on the SAT to qualify to fly one. A good airplane design is also one that can be mastered by most adults who are properly trained.

The services are chock full of experimental planes that never even made it past taxi runs. Many of them are beautiful, powerful looking duds that are long on style but short on substance. Chuck Yeager refers to them as Hanger Queens, poorly designed and in need of constant service and upkeep. Many of them were too complex and not durable enough for actual field conditions. But they were good enough looking to become some general’s or some admiral’s pet project and prototypes were built. In most cases fortunately, the system worked and the good looking but poorly performing plane never goes into production. (Speaking just for myself- the F-35 is a dog. It looks all tough, and every service flying it will reduce unit price and all. But the best thing about that plane is that it looks similar to the vastly superior F-22. I would rather be defended by two F-22’s and a slingshot than be defended by a dozen F-35’s. There is no way to make a 22 Carrier capable, but we would have been a much better defended nation if they had built more of those and never adopted the 35.)

Okay, I fell asleep at the computer last night, and woke up to the above. Only one more thing I wanted to mention. Because of our system of procurement, and because of intellectual property rights and attitudes—we can’t always just add new technology to a competitor and hybrid a best possible design. New innovations are proprietary information first of all. Second of all, the competitive bid process is a winner takes all contest. All aircraft (and possibly missile) companies are invited to submit plans. Most will pass, some will offer to provide their engines or air frames or avionics in a package to a bigger player. Even small companies may build parts for the successful design eventually. Some designs are probably eliminated when it is all “on paper”, or possibly after some computer simulation testing. The eliminated companies may offer elements of their design to the survivors. Eventually it comes down to two competing designs. Both will probably get contracts for a prototype. Those will be tested extensively, both by the manufacturing company and the military branch seeking the platform. Negotiations will take place and one will be adopted at a certain price (which will overrun before a single plane is delivered). The other is tossed aside like a one night stand. The non-selected company will hold on to any innovative designs or concepts to put into future prototypes. There is no mechanism (short of the government declaring the new technology property of the state for security reasons) for the procurement agency to say: “We like this one, but want to incorporate this, and this, and that from the other design. That contributes to institutional similarities too. Most services buy primarily from the same one or two manufactures which already have an institutional design style. So several Navy platforms built by Grumman will look similar, but different from several Air Force platforms built by McDonald Douglas. Of course this is old information; both of those companies have been swallowed whole by other companies now. In fact most of my interest in the field is at least twenty years old. Running very late this morning (slept in a chair last night), no time to review—please forgive any obvious mistakes or misstatements that are just errors; but feel free to persecute the ideas relentlessly.
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Old 03-15-2018, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Jacquernagy View Post
If you look at military planes, particularly fighter planes, from the Cold War era, there is a really noticeable difference between the American/Russian planes and the British planes. The American and Russian designs are subtly distinctive from each other, but the British designs are way on a different aesthetic wavelength. I'm not saying they look necessarily cooler than the others, but there's something about their designs that's more rounded, curved, and futuristic. Anyone who knows about fighter planes will know what I'm talking about.

Hawker Hunter

Gloster Javelin

De Havilland Vampire (!)

Avro Vulcan (!!)
Despite the numerous contrary assertions in this thread, I think the OP's observation has some merit. Take the Hawker Hunter -- if you look at the Wikipedia entry, you'll find:

Quote:
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Dassault Mystère IV
Mikoyan MiG-17
North American F-100 Super Sabre
Saab 32 Lansen
Of those, roughly contemporaneous and designed for the same mission, only the Saab has vaguely similar aesthetics to the Hunter.

Or the Avro Vulcan:

Quote:
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Boeing B-47 Stratojet
Handley Page Victor
Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6
Vickers Valiant

The Vulcan looks very little like the Stratojet.
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Old 03-17-2018, 04:25 PM
Brayne Ded Brayne Ded is offline
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Originally Posted by MichaelEmouse View Post
British planes may have put less emphasis on speed, in which case you would expect rounder shapes. Look at the E-2 Hawkeye or the C-130, they're designed to go slower than fighters/interdictors/supersonic bombers and they're rounder too.

British main battle tanks also put less emphasis on speed than their US and USSR counterparts.

There may be design habits which countries hang on to if they don't have a pressing need to change, even if may now be suboptimal. Warsaw pact tanks usually have round turrets whereas NATO tank turrets tend to be angular. You can also tell that the AK-47, AK-74, Dragunov and PKM come from the same country. Germans have kept a very high rate of fire on their infantry GPMG all the way from WWII. They also tried to adapt that very high rate of fire principle to assault rifles with the G11 program.
Planes are designed for a purpose, and that dictates their appearance. Up to a point, there are only so many options for a particular wing shape, so planes tend to look alike.

Jet fighters these days tend to be designed to top out at about Mach 2.2. After that you run into heat problems. One of the fastest fighters was the BAC Lightning.

The British and Israelis emphasize protection over speed, although most MBTs are pretty fast anyway. Angular turrets? That is because they use Chobham armor or some variation of it, which can only be made in slabs.

Small arms depend greatly on their intended purpose, but within a general category they all look fairly similar.
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