So says the dictionary regarding the word chosen by Dassault as the name for the first European aircraft capable of sustained Mach 2 flight. The prototype was a response to a French Air Force requirement for a high altitude interceptor, originally called the Mystere Delta. This was an incredibly advanced specification for 1953, calling for an aircraft capable of Mach 2 that could reach 60,000ft in under six minutes; issued at a time when transonic flight was in its infancy Perhaps the engineers working on the project thought they knew something everyone else was missing when they changed its name to Mirage I. The difficulties facing them were severe; this was completely new territory in aerodynamic terms, but the aircraft that emerged from this programme was a triumph, an artistic expression of elegance. lithe and streamlined, its curves flowing into razor sharp lines made it look like it was doing Mach 2 standing still. like the F-86 Sabre in the US, the impossibly futuristic shape captured the imagination of the public, creating a multi-media icon as powerful as the Spitfire is in Britain.
Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a succession of different Aviation Classics, one where we are not covering a single type of aircraft or an event, but instead studying the entire history of one of the great aircraft manufacturers. The choice of Saab for this first issue came about due to a number of factors. Firstly, 2012 is the 75th Anniversary of the founding of what is now a world class giant of the aerospace industry, and secondly, on looking around, I could find very little that covered the history of the company and its highly original products, a situation I found odd. My interest in Saab and its aircraft began at an early age, when as a boy I built the Airfix kit of the mighty Viggen. Placing it among the Phantom, Lightning and other types of its generation, two things became apparent, first of all this was a really big aircraft, and secondly, it didn't look like anything else around, and indeed, still doesn't I was struck by the individuality of it, and this is an impression that has stayed with me even as I have learned more about this company and the country where it was founded.
How do you tell the story of a legend, a national icon and one of the most amazing flying machines ever built in a single page? Well, it's difficult. Like the Mosquito issue, this introduction has seen a few drafts to get to this stage. To understand the Hurricane, you have to understand the urgency that created it When the British Government finally admitted that another war in Europe was inevitable, the front line RAF fighters were open cockpit biplanes. Can you imagine the likely outcome of Bf 109Ds against Demons, Furys and Gauntlets? It would have been like fish in a barrel. So a huge expansion and rearmament programme began, to swell the ranks of the armed forces not just in size, but in capability, through more modern equipment. Two designs were chosen as the new single seat fighters for the RAF. These were the Supermarine Spitfire, which became the most famous British fighter of the Second World War, and the Hawker Hurricane. The Hawker Hurricane was an amazing aircraft. It was cheap, easy to build and incredibly tough. It was built using the same methods as earlier biplane designs and had originally been known as the 'Monoplane Fury'.
Well, this turned out to be a fascinating aircraft to research, since it tied together so many famous people in a single design. One of the greatest aircraft designers of all time, Clarence L "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for the layout of the aircraft, famous test pilots such as Milo Burcham and Tony LeVier were responsible for working the bugs out of the advanced design, and many of the greatest US aces of the Second World War were to fly the big fighter in combat, achieving remarkable results with the large twin against much more agile opponents. Again, I found myself learning a vast amount about an aircraft I thought I knew well, and I sincerely hope I have captured that fascination in these pages. The P-38 was the only US fighter to be in production for the entire length of the Second World War, yet is was produced in smaller numbers than its single engined counterparts, none of which had such longevity. Partly, this was due to the complexity of the design and partly it was down to the fact that Lockheed was busy designing and producing a wide range of other aircraft. Front line demand for the fighter was high in every theatre, but it was not until 1944 that a second production line was set up by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft at its facility in Nashville Tennessee.
Well, producing this magazine has been a real learning curve again, and this time one for which I am deeply grateful, as it has cleared up many questions I had often pondered regarding the programmes that led to the F-14. It also posed a particular problem. Let me try to explain... There are some aircraft which are legends because of a particular piece of history. In this I am thinking about the Spitfire and the Battle of Britain. Completely unfair, of course, as everyone knows it was the Hawker Hurricane that won the battle, not the Spitfire. Or do they? Public perception is a difficult thing to break, and as time passes spectacles become rosier, facts become less distinct and romantic ideals replace cold hard facts. That's one of the reasons I hate writing this page, somehow I have to condense that kind of altered viewpoint into a few paragraphs. Not easy, especially in this case, as the Tomcat does not have one legend about it, it's one of those rare aircraft with three.