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Marineflieger Panthers (no, not that one)

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Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Panther - Marineflieger 1, Deutsche Marine, 2007

Formed as the result of several mergers in the late 1960's the German aerospace manufacturer Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) became an integral part of the Panavia consortium designing and building the swing-wing Tornado for the air forces of Germany, Italy and the UK. But as early as 1975, MBB began to conduct research into the field of stealth aircraft and during 1981 MBB began developing a design for a viable stealth aircraft supported by funding from the German government. The resultant design was known as 'Project Lampyridae' (Firefly) and independently of American stealth research the Lampyridae used a similar 'faceted' design approach to Lockheed's 'Have Blue' technical demonstrator and the subsequent F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack aircraft. However, shortly after the existence of the Lampyridae project was revealed to the United States (during a technical exchange meeting at MBB's Ottobrunn facility in Bavaria in 1986) the Lampyridae project was suddenly terminated for unspecified reasons but diplomatic pressure on the part of the United States has long been assumed.

MBB's dissatisfaction with this decision was short-lived when they were unexpectedly given an invitation to participate in the Grumman X-29 Forward Swept Wing project. The X-29 was a project to design and test a forward-swept wing fighter with canard control surfaces and other innovative aircraft technologies such as the use of computerised fly-by-wire controls and the use of composite materials to control the aeroelastic divergent twisting experienced by forward-swept wings and to reduce weight. The first X-29 took to the air in 1984 and the two X-29s were flight tested during the remainder of the decade but whilst the programme was an overall success there was some disappointment that the X-29 did not demonstrate any noticeable  increase in agility - primarily due to the flight control system being moderated to prevent any excessive pitching rotation that could cause the aircraft from departing out of control and/or suffer structural damage. MBB could see that a combination of the stealth qualities of their Project Lampyridae allied to a forward swept-wing design but with larger control surfaces (and faster control surface actuators) would lead to an operational agile stealth fighter aircraft. In 1990, and with the backing of the German government, they launched 'Project Panther' to design and built a new multi-role stealth fighter for the German Air Force and Marineflieger with a projected in-service date of 2002.

Using the excuse of reunification costs Chancellor Helmut Kohl made an election promise to cancel the Eurofighter and in mid-1991 German Defence Minister Volker Rühe withdraw Germany from the Eurofighter project and quietly diverted Germany's Eurofighter funding into Project Panther. To avoid the problems associated with concurrently developing a new airframe and a new engine, MBB selected the logical off-the-peg choice of the General Electric F110-GE-132 afterburning turbofan rated at 17,000lbs dry thrust and 32,000lbs thrust with afterburner and the Panther's closely spaced twin engines incorporate MBB designed 2D pitch-axis thrust vectoring nozzles with a range of ±20 degrees. These engines give the Panther a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than unity when in a typical combat configuration and without external stores the aircraft can achieve 'supercruise' to about Mach 1.2 and exceed Mach 2.0 with afterburner.

Development moved swiftly during the mid-1990's and the first prototype 'Panther 01' (one of an eventual eleven engineering and manufacturing development aircraft) was unveiled at Ottobrunn, Bavaria on April 1st, 1998 taking to the air on August 15th, 1998 and appearing at the Farnborough air show during the following month where it appeared in the static park before making a low-speed flypast and departure on the final day. The first production contract was signed on January 2nd, 1999 for 170 Panther ADV aircraft (optimised for air defence) and 180 Panther IDS aircraft (optimsed for strike/attack) although differences between the two are confined to avionics and the two variants share virtually identical airframe and propulsion systems. In 2002, a major programme review saw a decrease in the overall number of aircraft to be procured from 350 to 280 and a multi-year procurement plan was implemented to stretch out production with an acceptable increase in the system unit cost (aircraft, training and spare parts) from €70 million per aircraft to €85 million per aircraft although this had further increased to €90 million per aircraft by 2005.

Entering service with Marineflieger 1 in 2006 the Panther currently serves with the German Air Force and Marineflieger and has been exported to Denmark, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates and is currently in the running to replace the Finnish Air Force's ageing F/A-18 Hornets in the so-called HX Fighter Programme with a decision now scheduled to take place in 2021.









My trawl of the SF1 archives continues...

Edited by Spinners
Superflous word removed
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Now that is nice!

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I recommend you download the original with it's amazing weapons.

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