Flying Guns – The Modern Era

This book describes the history of aircraft guns, their ammunition and their installations in aircraft since 1978. Similar to the two other volumes in the series, it opens with a technical chapter on the development of machine guns, their ammunition, and related issues such as mountings and sights. The next two chapters describe the development of combat aircraft and their armament at a time that saw the introduction of jet engines and guided missiles, two innovations that had a large impact on gun development and installation. Two chapters are dedicated to combat experiences in the wars of Korea and Vietnam, the Middle East, Asia and the Falkland War. The sixth chapter in the book describes the use of guns to arm helicopters, another major innovation of the post-war period and one which opened up a niche for novel forms of armament. The final and seventh chapters looks at current trends tries to asses what future guns still can have as aircraft armament. Appendices include comprehensive tables of the gun installations, guns and ammunition, and illustrations of the most important guns used. A final appendix contains an evaluation of gun system effectiveness, trying to establish what the best available guns of this period were.

The authors have tried to create a unique source by combining information from two areas that are rarely discussed together despite the fact that they are inextricably linked: The history of military aviation, and the history of automatic weapons. Anthony Williams is particularly interested in the history of automatic weapons and their ammunition. His research in this field culminated in the writing and publication of his book Rapid Fire. Emmanuel Gustin major interest is in the history of military aviation, with special attention for the history of their armament.


page 5
page 7
page 8
Chapter 1: Technical Developments
pages 9 — 67
Introduction – The wartime designs continue – New hope - the revolver cannon – Gatlings revived – Gast-type guns – Helicopter Weapons – Gunship Guns – Ammunition Developments – Experimental Cartridge and Gun Design s– Calibres, weights and ballistics – Sights, accuracy and hitting power– Installation Issues – Gun pods
The first jet fighters were armed with refinements of World War II guns. However, new technologies were being developed, and revolver cannon, rotary guns and Gast-type guns offered a dramatic increase in firepower. Unconventional applications for airborne guns, with quite specific requirements, were discovered in helicopters and gunships. Especially the helicopter installations are very varied and this is one of the major applications for modern airborne guns. The development of the airborne guns has not halted yet, and many unconventional designs of guns and ammunition have been tried, most without lasting success.
Chapter 2: Early Jets
pages 68 — 92
Frontrunners – A gift from overseas – Soviet Jets – Amibitious Nations – Prop Jobs – Nuclear Deterrence
The first generation of jet aircraft incorporated a lot of the technology, including the guns, of the last generation of propeller-driven combat aircraft. However, a quite different armament installation was required by the nature of the new engines and high-speed aerodynamics. The first in the field were Britain and the USA, with the USSR soon following and many other nations striving, some with success, to develop their own jet aircraft. In some roles relatively conventional technology, and piston engines, still prevailed. The problem of air defense, however, changed drastically with the introduction of nuclear weapons, necessitating the development of much more powerful armament to assure the destruction of an intruding bomber.
Chapter 3: The Missile Era
pages 93 — 119
The Development of the AAM – Sabre Derivatives – Navy Fighters – Super Priority – Mystère – Century Series – Tiger, Crusader and Phantom – Swept or Delta? – Brisk Performers – Attack Jets – Return of the Fighter Gun – Attack Revival – Fighters into the 21st Century
The development of the air-to-air missile began in Germany during World War II. Most combat aircraft that entered service since the end of the Korean War have carried missiles at one time. At a time of dramatic increases in aircraft performance, complexity and cost, guns were altogether abandoned in some categories. However, only fairly recently have guided and homing air-to-air missiles really achieved sufficient performance and reliability to make guns only a back-up weapon for air combat.
Chapter 4: Korea and Vietnam
pages 120 — 133
Korea – Air Superiority – Supporting the Army – Vietnam – Gunships – COIN
The experience in Korea was a shock for the USAF and the West, when the modern MiG-15 appeared in the skies and challenged UN air superiority. Besides the battle for air superiority that was fought over 'MiG Alley', there was the just as vital, and much more controversial, task of air support to the ground forces caused. The USAF found itself hard-pressed to find the correct equipment for this task. History repeated itself in Vietnam, with larger and more expensive aircraft. At least for some functions an effective solution was found in the form of the gunship aircraft. The development of "counterinsurgency" aircraft was another attempt to fulfill the role of airpower in low-tech conflicts adequately.
Chapter 5: The East and the South Atlantic
pages 134 — 144
1948 – Suez – Air Superiority – India and Pakistan – Yom Kippur – Lebanon – Afghanistan – The Falklands – The Iran-Iraq War – Irregular Conflicts – The Gulf Wars
In the many wars fought in the Middle East, the evolution of the relative importance of guns and missiles can be followed. In 1967, guns were still responsible for the majority of victories in air combat. In 1973, only 30% of the 'kills' were made with guns. Since then the importance of guns in fighter-vs-fighter combat has steadily decreased. However, guns still find application in ground support missions.
Chapter 6: Helicopters Go to War
pages 145 — 175
The First Helicopters – Military Acceptance and the First Armament Trials – European Developments – The American Experience – Russian "Flying Infantry Combat Vehicle" and Modern Combat Helicopters – Other nationalities – Sighting Systems – Unconventional Rotorplanes – Helicopter v. Helicopter – Conclusions
As soon as helicopters developed enough load-carrying capability, various experiment forms of armament were installed on them. Early combat experience in Algeria and Vietnam demonstrated the value of armed helicopters, but the category became a bone of contention between armies and air forces. Modern helicopters carry both fixed guns and turreted guns, installed permanently or in pods, in a bewildering variety. Applications are not only air-to-ground but also air-to-air, a variety of helicopter combat that was significant in the Iran-Iraq war. However, the availability of small missiles with a high performance may reduce the importance of helicopter guns in the near future.
Chapter 7: Trends and Prospects
pages 176 — 181
The Case for the Gun 1: Aerial Combat – The Case for the Gun 2: Ground Attack – Which Gun? – The Future of the Aircraft Gun
Aircraft guns appears to be threatened with extinction. In recent conflicts, missiles have been the dominant weapon. Nevertheless a case can still be made for a gun as a desirable weapon for fighter aircraft. For the ground attack mission, too, guns have their advantages. However, it is clear that to minimize the impact of the installation, the most efficient weapon should be chosen. The modern fighter guns are reviewed, and possible future developments are discussed.
Appendix 1: Installation Table
pages 182 — 201
The purpose of the installation tables is to give as complete a listing as possible of all operational combat aircraft since 1945, with their gun armament. Some aircraft that remained prototypes, or did not get past the service test stage, are also included. This listing is ordered by nation and then alphabetically by manufacturer.
Appendix 2: Ammunition Table
pages 202 — 203
For every cartridge size known to have been in use in combat aircraft this table gives the most common projectile loadings, basic performance figures, and the guns in which the cartridge was used.
Appendix 3: Gun Table
pages 204 — 207
All guns that were in operational service after WWII are listed, with their main characteristics.
Appendix 4: Gun Drawings
pages 208 — 211
This appendix contains drawings, approximately to scale, of the most important aircraft guns of the period.
Appendix 5: Projectile Colours
page 212
An overview of the paint colours that are used, according to several different standards, to identify the type of a projectile.
Appendix 6: Modern Fighter Gun Effectiveness
pages 213 — 218
An attempt to quantify fighter gun effectiveness with a simple, but justifiable model. A number of important post-war fighter aircraft are compared.
pages 219 — 226
pages 227 — 235
pages 236 — 240