Are two engines really mandatory?

CF-104 Starfighter in "Tiger Meet" livery.

For some reason, the two-versus-single-engine debate never seems to go away.

Possibly the day before the Harper government announces its plan to replace the CF-18, a new study questions the wisdom of going with a single engine aircraft.

Morbidly entitled "One Dead Pilot", the study concludes that the single engine F-35 is a poor choice for Canada due to its single engine design.  The piece often compares the F-35 to the infamous CF-104 Starfighter, a fighter that earned the nickname "Widowmaker" due to its sketchy (and deadly) safety record.

For one thing, the CF-104 is a TERRIBLE example of single-engined jet fighter safety.  The Starfighter was notoriously unforgiving, being little more than a "missile with a man in it".  Its tiny wings provided the glide characteristics of a lawn dart, and its onboard diagnostic systems would be considered positively archaic by existing standards.  To complicate matters further, the CF-104 was originally designed to be a high-altitude interceptor, NOT the low-altitude strike fighter role it was forced into.

F-105 Thunderchief.  Proof that a single-engine aircraft can be tough.  

By contrast, the single-engined F-105 Thunderchief was praised for its responsiveness as well as its  low-altitude/high-speed performance.  Despite earning the early nicknames "Thud" and "Lead Sled", the F-105 endeared itself to its pilots.  Unfortunately, it proved easy pickings for MiGs over Vietnam.  It was, however, an extremely durable aircraft, many returning home riddled with battle damage.  Once, one landed with an enemy missile still lodged in its tail section!

As I've noted before, two-engines certainly doesn't seem to be as big of an issue as some make it out to be.  Sure, two engines would be nice...  But it shouldn't be required absolutely necessary.

CP-140 Aurora.  Canada's preferred "arctic patrol" aircraft.
And before someone brings up "arctic patrol", let me assure you that patrolling the arctic is a job best performed not by a jet fighter, but by a ISR aircraft like the CP-140 Aurora.  Ideally, it would be done by a UAV.  These aircraft have much better surveillance equipment than fighters as well as fly longer and further.

CF-18s do not constantly patrol the northern skies looking for Russian bombers.  Instead, they are launched when North Warning System (formerly the DEW line) radar installations detect incursion into Canadian airspace.

While I do have issues and concerns regarding the F-35 as Canada's next fighter aircraft, its single engine is nowhere near the top of the list.


  1. You do have a love for that Gripen. Yes , the report is somewhat incorrect. You are absolutely correct about the starfighter. Yet there are reasons why the USAF only has F-15's & F-22's in Alaska, no F-16's. All the Russian equipment all have two engines. All the other arctic nations are patrolling relatively small territories. Your idea of the F-15 was a good one. Now if they must get the F-35 for political reasons at least go with a mixed fleet of maybe 40 F-35's and 25 F-15's.

  2. Bingo!! "Patrol" seems to be synonymous to driving around pointlessly burning gas. Then we should.....wait, that's a whole new can of worms.

  3. F-16's are not on NORAD duty. OK maybe it's the single engine thing but most likely the Raptor and Eagles are faster and have huge radars.

    The Gripen NG isn't all that bad. Sorry not available until 2023 (?).

    I agree the report is riddled with assumptions and crude research.

  4. One thing the Starfighter and the F-35 have in common other than being Lockheed products are they are both aircraft being thrust upon US allies that aren't really suited to the particular nations needs. Anybody familiar with the Lockheed Martin corruption scandal in Japan in the late 70s that I believe bought down the Japanese government?

    I am a huge fan of a Gripen/Growler mix. Order 20 Growlers right away, phase out the legacy Hornets by 2023 and bring Gripens Es. The Growlers make the Gripens viable in contested airspace. WE CAN REFUEL BOTH, so if we need to intercept a Bear over the arctic we could.
    But where it gets interesting is cost. In Libya one of the reasons for partial American involvement was there staggering national debt. In conflicts like this we don't need to be part of the first day (but could with Growlers) , but with Gripens we could do the heavy lifting later on, and at lower cost for all parties. Maybe the cost savings would allow for purchase of other equipment, like new fire arms for the Northern Rangers, a meager SAR force, the Northern Military Base the Conservatives promised. There is a great article I read about how a small force of Gripens could operate from a base supported by a C-130 for extended periods. Imagine, we could send this force to Norman Wells, or Inuvik in an emergency. This is something I'm sure the F-35 can't do.

    I hope the Conservatives have a memory, because it was a 500 million dollar helicopter deal that brought down Mulroney. What are Canadians going to think about 30-40 planes 8-9 BILLION (insert Doctor Evil here) dollars?

  5. In Australia the Mirage had similarly poor reliability statistics 40% failure rate. But the number lost due to engine failure was low <5%. Undercarriage failure was much higher cause. The reason the Yanks might use twin engine planes over Alaska might have more to do with range rather than engine reliability

  6. The Gripen has a better safety record than both the F18 and the Typhoon. Zero dead pilots. The practice range in northern Sweden is by far the largest in Europe. Sweden has operated the type in arctic conditions successfully. The twin engine rap going on in Canada is funny. At some point you have to start looking at facts. How many accidents? How many killed? Accident reports? The Swedish Gripen or Norwegian F-16 have superior safety records to any Russian twin. The Gripen was designed to operate in an environment where Sweden would fight an overwhelming force and loose superiority quickly. Air bases all bombed with sparse fuel and infrastructure avalaible. Robustness and simplicity. The F35, on the other hand, is designed to function in the context of a superpower with huge support resources. Ergo, the Gripen is more robust by necessity. My second choice would be the Rafale – an extremely good fighter, top of the line. The Super Hornet has mediocre characteristics compared to any of the Eurocanards.

  7. The Gripen E will have a cutting edge electronic warfare suite and should be able to penetrate defended air space just like the Rafale impressively did in Libya. I think Sweetman mentioned somewhere how the Gripen E will have the worlds first gallium nitride technology in its EWS suite.

  8. I would also support that a mixed fleet of some kind is the only realistic future path.

  9. OK is it me or is the smear campaign against the F-35 so bad right now that it looks like an intentional effort to derail the purchase? From the PC's point of view? There is no way in hell the government will be backed. They've had a year and half to prove what anyone watching may know. Yet they let it accumulate?? Even LM's effort to do BDA is lacking a little lustre. The plot thickens.

  10. I thought the report demonstrated an improvement in single engine jets with the data provided. And with the Gripen's record the reliability seems much improved. Once you get under 1/100000, as the newer single engine jets are, the differences start to seem negligible.
    However, It just seems naive to promote the reliability of the F35 when it hasn't proven its reliability yet. Especially in light of Peter MacKay's single engine failure comment two years ago "it won't".


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