Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What the opposite of stealth looks like

I can't believe I missed this: On Saturday, Iran rolled out what it says is an indigenous stealth fighter. And unlike other high-profile weapons it has announced, this one can be viewed from all angles:

The video includes a clip of the thing in the air, which I'll get to in a sec.

First, though, let's address the most obvious question: is the F-313 a threat?

It certainly looks stealthy, doesn't it? Beveled edges, air intakes on top of the fuselage, canted tailfins. These are indeed design elements that, when used correctly, do reduce an aircraft's radar signature. To wit:

The B-2's air intakes--and engines--are shielded from the ground.

The facets of the "Hopeless Diamond" bounced radar waves away from the reciever.

But here's the thing. The entire aircraft appears to have been designed by someone who just wanted to represent every whistle and bell of stealth technology they had seen in photographs. Up close, it's pretty obvious that we're looking at the equivalent of a practical special effect piece.

For instance, those above-wing intakes? As noted in the Aviationist, they are far too small to support a high-performance engine. They also appear to have been borrowed from pictures of an F-117.


... but no cigar.

The plane's tailpipe section is puzzling too. Although building stealthy nozzles can be difficult, the Iranians seem to have gotten around this issue by simply... not having a nozzle. That means either they are using a low-thrust engine without an afterburner (which would not require a variable-geometry nozzle); it's a rocket, ala the X-15; or there's no engine at all.

In any event, the section closely resembles that of the F-35...

Hot stuff.

... without, of course, the all-important bit in the middle.

Not so much.

Even just looking at basic details like the aircraft's skin show imperfections that at the very least are a sign of sloppy craftmanship, but more likely just reflect the fact that there are no stealthy materials or coatings involved here: just some type of skin stretched over a metal or wood frame.

Look at the way the light reflects off various surfaces; they're not smooth at all.

Also, the cockpit is tiny and filled with low-tech instrumentation.

There's no way I would fit in that thing.

And the list of parts obviously "stolen" from pictures or the internet goes on and on.

The wings? Check out the Boeing Bird of Prey demonstrator:

Formerly secret; always awesome-looking.

The vertical stabilizers? I smell F-22:

Tilted for practical reasons, but also pretty.

The canards (which are nearly as big as the main wings and, hilariously, don't seem to pivot)? How about the brand-new and mostly unproven J-20:

Neat-looking, but with problems.

In short, it has copied superficial features of prominent aircraft, tacked on a cockpit that would look at home in a Cessna Skyhawk, and mounted all of it on a frame that probably includes some balsa wood. Don't even get me started about that canopy made of scratched-up plexiglass.

And all of THAT doesn't even matter as much as the fact that the whole aircraft (listed here as, I think, being 16.4 meters long) isn't big enough to fit stuff you like to see in a fighter like, well, weapons. And avionics. And even usefully large fuel tanks. You get the idea.

But if it's actually flying, they obviously built something useful, right? If you watch the video above all the way through, you see some footage of what appears to be the F-313 zooming around the sky. The problem is, the footage also doesn't look completely real. The first frames of the video allow for some scale comparisons (because you can see the ground and people), and it makes the F-313 look pretty small. Like, "I'm a model" small. You can in fact buy jet-powered radio-controlled model kits of stealth aircraft online.

So unlike China, which appears to have done quite a bit in developing some new aircraft in-house, Iran has put together something that basically belongs on a movie set.

Then they made a big production out of introducing it to the world... and provided close-up photos and video that clearly show it to be at best an amateurish, large-scale mock-up (albeit one that already has its own Wikipedia page). That's an expensive sales job for a country with a struggling economy, and it's beyond doubtful that anyone is buying.

On the other hand, if your goal is to get the world to ignore your air force, then maybe this plane is stealthier than I'm giving it credit for.

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