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Red Top & Firestreak

Mon Dec 15, 2008 9:58 pm

To all:

I am currently building a model of an EE Lightning(and unlike my colleagues in the modelling forums, thoroughly enjoying it and not caring one bit about the tailpipe shape)and I was wondering about its' main armaments; Red Top & Firestreak. Were these effective systems
of similar performance to contemporary weapons like Sparrow or Sidewinder or were they in the category of "also rans"? I know that many early generation GM's were rather unreliable.

A search can tell me all about dimensions, production, units produced, ect., but not much else. I find it interesting that the RAF never integrated these systems into their F4's. Too costly or was it performance?

Can any of our British colleagues share some info on this?


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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:14 pm

I'll give it a go!

Firestreak, made by what was then called DH Propellers, was a first generation IR guided AAM.
I'd compare it to a IR guided US Falcon.
Unlike the AIM-9 (but like the Falcon), this weapon required equipment on the actual aircraft for integration.
It was, like all IR weapons of it's generation, a tail chase weapon.
Firestreak was fitted, operationally, to the RN's Sea Vixen FAW.1 (up to 4) , the RAF's later Javelin versions, (again up to 4) and of course the Lightning.

Red Top, (originally called the Firestreak Mk.4), was a step change in IR missile capability.
It was, like the Firestreak, really designed with destroying bombers in mind.
But the prospect of better Soviet aircraft, including supersonic ones, meant that opportunities for a tail chase interception would reduce.
So Red Top (uniquely at the time), was to have at least a limited head on attack capability.
(In truth, this would mean for a target coming on at supersonic speed, the IR seeker homing on to the airframe heat generated by high speed as much as the engines heat).

Both of these missiles had large warheads compared to AIM-9 and Falcon and intricate fuzing systems.
Like Firestreak, Red Top required on board aircraft equipment.
A limitation was the warm up time from lock on to launch, each lock on discharged nitrogen to cool the seeker, meaning by today's standards these were inflexible weapons.

In tests, both weapons performed well within their seeker/launch envelope.
We'll never know how they would have done in combat. Maybe just as well, since the most likely targets would have been nuclear armed Soviet bombers!

Red Top was fitted to the Sea Vixen FAW.2 (up to 4), plus of course Lightning versions after the MK.3.
(The MK.2's with the RAF Germany units, even after being modified to externally a rather similar standard to the MK.6, as the F.2A, could only use Firestreak still).

A radar guided version of the Red Top ('Blue Top perhaps?), was mooted but never built.
Nor was the regular Red Top ever given the sort of upgrades we associate with the much more mass produced US systems.
This is a shame, since Red Top had the potential with upgrades to have the capability of the AIM-9L maybe a decade sooner. With a bigger warhead too.

The reason is the aircraft they were fitted to, were hardly mass produced and never expected to be in service for that long.
AIM-9B's were indeed in UK service by the end of the 1950's, the RN fitted them to the Supermarine Scimitar and Buccaneer.
This weapon of course was much easier to integrate on to an aircraft.

The reason, perhaps, that Red Top was never fitted to the UK's F-4's, might be in part due to the short lived fitment of AIM-4 Falcons to USAF F-4D's.
In Vietnam the warm up time required made them much less effective in dogfights, USAF legend Robin Olds stripped them from his units F-4 replacing them with AIM-9's, reportedly not bothering with getting the permission to do so, he was out fighting in the field after all.

When the UK got F-4's the AIM-7 and AIM-9G/H's came with the package.
This seemed to spell the end of UK AAM development, but later the AIM-7 was used as the basis of the BAe Skyflash, the programme for a radical new IR 'dogfight' weapon, the HS Taildog, was passed over for UK production involvement of European deployed AIM-9L's.
But in a later form, it returned as the SRAAM now in service on RAF Tornado F-3's and Typhoons.
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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Thu Dec 18, 2008 4:20 am

As mentioned in the first responder's comments, the Red Top and Firestreak missiles had to have support systems built into the carrying aircraft. The F-4 didn't have those systems and is such a dense airplane mechanically that it might have been very hard, not to mention very expensive, to modify them to accommodate the missile.

The point is well made that both missiles were designed to take out bombers and, truth is, that's what the Lightning was designed to do. From what I've read, both the airplane and the missiles would have been effective in the bomber destroyer role. Whether it would have done well against fighters is something I've never seen addressed.
Dare to dream; dream big!
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Ryan h
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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:17 am

Regarding British developed AAMs, there was also the fireflash.

Was it IR or radar Guided?.
South Australian Spotter
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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Thu Dec 18, 2008 8:17 pm

I think the Fireflash was a beam rider.
However, it never really entered service proper, it was matched to the Supermarine Swift, a rival to the Hawker Hunter.
The Swift only entered service in small numbers and then in the low level recce role.
Soon replaced've guessed it, Hunters!

The Hunter could have had Fireflash and the associated Ekco radar, but then it also could have had Firestreak and AI.23 radar or AIM-9's.
(The latter was never fitted to RAF Hunters).

But the main effort was in to what would have been a big, complex, pure interceptor, so such upgrades for the Hunter never happened - as well as a potentially huge selling supersonic 'Thin Wing' version.
This interceptor would have carried the massive active radar 'Red Dean' missile - imagine an early, even bigger, AIM-54 with early 50''s technology.

It got axed in the 1957 Defence Review - before a winning contractor was ever picked.
The Lightning barely survived this review - but developments that would have put the BAC aircraft in the F-4 class did not.
Prior to that, the Red Dean had been axed anyway.

So out all all these British aircraft and AAM developments of the 1950's, only the Lightning survived.
As stated, it was seen as a 'bomber swatter', though the aircraft itself was loved by the pilots (maybe not as much by the ground crews!), having loads of power and improving agility as the tweaked later versions emerged.
However, it was always stuck with the 'bomber swatting' weapons and systems.

The reason was that the 1957 review saw manned interceptors (and much else besides), as irrelevant in the emerging missile age (the review was published two months before Sputnik 1 was launched).
Carrier aircraft yes, aircraft to defend UK airspace no, tactical aircraft - much reduced in force size and scope - RAF Germany saw it's force sized slashed by 50%.

The seeds of this were in cost cutting, the need to end the economically crippling conscription - which coincided with the RAF V-Bombers - the nuclear deterrent, becoming operational.
The emergence of the H-Bomb made planners stake everything on deterrence, the author of the '57 review, Duncan Sands, as a minister in WW2, had seen the V-1 and V-2 weapons launched against the UK and even then commented, this is the future .
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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Thu Dec 18, 2008 10:46 pm

I don't know much about Firestreak, but Red Top was agile off the rail, and hit the target with astonishing levels of energy and a lethal warhead. One hit would have brought down an M-4 or a Tu-95, so no MiG-15 was going to limp home with a Red Top embedded in it!

Until the advent of the Nine Lima, the Red Top was a respectable - if very expensive - weapon. Some Vixen pilots viewed the early AIM-9 as a retrograde step.
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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:06 pm

Good point about the lethality of Red Top.
A rather more substantial weapon in size than the AIM-9.
It is a shame that no Red Top 2 was ever made, with aircraft interface requirements more in line with AIM-9 series, but we come back to applications.
A newer Red Top 2 could have been carried on the F-4 pylons that usually carried AIM-9's, but then you are into expensive mods for one customer.

We also have to remember that many low airframe hours Lightning F.3's were scrapped in the mid 70's, as the Jaguar replaced F-4M's in the strike/attack role, making them available for air defence, where their highly effective radar/weapon system was a real boost for UK Air Defence, as well as much greater range and endurance.
The Lightning was essentially a straight up-stranight down interceptor with little loiter ability, granted the F.6 version with the bigger fuselage fuel tank improved this a bit, compared to the F.3.

By the late 60's, the new NATO focus on flexible response made air defence of the UK/Eastern Atlantic against conventional attack more important.
In reality, this meant the transfer of F-4's to AD, the move of Bloodhound 2 SAM's from Singapore, Cyprus and eventually Germany, to the UK.

By the end of the 70's though, there was a serious concern that due to the legacy of the 1957 review, the air defence of the UK was still very short of aircraft, with the optimized Tornado F.2/3 still some years from service. (The Prototype Tornado ADV first flew, less the weapon system, in 1979).

But had all those F.3's not been scrapped in the mid 70's, there could have been a way to boost this force rather substantially.
What if they-and the F.6's, had been upgraded to a new 'F.7' version?

By converting them with the F.6 bulged fuselage tank, the outer wing mods, the outer wing pylons, as fitted to the Saudi and Kuwaiti versions.
The F.6 also had over-wing pylons for fuel tanks, not for combat use (how could you 'drop' them - they were used for supporting overseas deployments).
Convert those pylons for missile carriage.
Remove the hurriedly retrofitted 30mm cannon from the forward part of the F.6 fuselage tank, restoring fuel capacity, all Lightnings could fit the cannon here as an option.

The early Lightnings of course had nose mounted cannon, but when fired they disrupted the avionics, were difficult to harmonize, could fill the cockpit with cordite! They were removed on the F.3 also in part due to the fitment of extra avionics, the Lightning was a very tightly packed machine!

With this common config, our upgraded former F.3's and F.6's could then carry the (4) AAM's on the outer and over-wing pylons, whilst retaining the cannon.
Then update the avionics/cockpit/weapon system.
You would be limited with the radar by fitment into the intake shock cone, in the early/mid 1970's the F-16's APG-66 was not yet developed, but an option might have been to resurrect the radar planned for the TSR.2 (which was tested on a Buccaneer).
It would have had basic air to air modes aside from the primary air to ground one, update and improve this ability, (perhaps with a moving target indicator).

Then add a HUD as part of the cockpit upgrade, as well as more modern nav systems. Adapting units from perhaps the Jaguar and/or Harrier.

BAC also did a mock up in the mid 60's with another two pylons mounted on the lower center fuselage, so space was available to perhaps further bulge out the fuselage tank some, conformal style, to improve fuel capacity further still.

These aircraft could then have boosted the RAF fighter fleet, even replacing the F.2A's in RAF Germany (allowing two further F-4 units for UK air defence).

The AAM's could have been a Red Top 2 for IR, as well the once mooted, now resurrected and updated Radar Guided 'Blue Top', two of each per aircraft.

Thus the RAF could have added several extra squadrons of Lightnings for the UK AD mission, to back up the F-4's, above and beyond the two that were retained post F-4 deployment, plus no need to deploy two F-4 units to Germany.
(And while we were doing this, upgrade the T.5 trainers to a similar 'T.8' version too).

In real life, several upgrades for the remaining Lightnings were mooted, including fitment of several AIM-9's, but, as so often, the money could not be justified for a type 'soon to retire from service', though in fact the Lightning remained with 5 and 11 squadrons at RAF Binbrook until 1988.
(Was it really 20 years ago they finally went? Seems almost like yesterday!)
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RE: Red Top & Firestreak

Tue Dec 23, 2008 8:04 pm

Before the Yom Kippur War, Egypt requested Lightnings from Saudi Arabia because the Red Top was the best AAM of its class.

Egyptian pilots converted to the Lightning, but, the aircraft never left Saudi Arabia.

With its acceleration, rate of climb and manoeuvrability, it would have been a serious opponent to the Phantoms, Mirages and Neshers of the IAF.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.



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