The Supermarine Shukopoots ("Rattlesnake" in Chinook Wawa) is a family of fighter aircraft operated by the Royal British Columbia Air Force from 1967 to 2012.
The RBCAF entered the jet age operationally in 1951 with the Supermarine Attacker, as manufactured by Supermarine BC in a de-navalised version. Intended as a fighter, it wasn't greatly suited for the role, and by 1955 it was relegated to the ground attack role after the Supermarine BC Chakchak F.1 entered service.
In 1959, the BC-ised version of the Supermarine Scimitar entered service with the RBCAF in the FGA role; these aircraft were built in BC by Supermarine as a de-navalised version of the British Scimitar, and apart from the different cannon fit (Tobin AC.2 30 mm cannon instead of Aden) and the lack of naval equipment, the Scimitar FGA.1 was quite similar to its Royal Navy counterpart.
Almost as soon as the Chakchak F.1 entered RBCAF service, work began on a replacement, a further development of the British Supermarine Swift. Unfortunately, problem after problem came up, continually delaying progress on the project, and in 1958 de Havilland BC proposed to the RBCAF a land-based version of the de Havilland (UK) Sea Vixen then in the late stages of development; DHBC promised that the type could enter service in BC by 1961. Supermarine also insisted that the new Swift-based fighter would be ready by 1961 as well, but the RBCAF was sceptical of this claim, and so they turned to DHBC, promising an order for the Vixen if a prototype to production standards was ready by January 1960. DHBC delivered - early, with the production-standard prototype taking to the air in September 1959. The RBCAF kept its word, placing an order for 80 Vixens that entered service from late 1960; the Chakchaks, which had been problematic, were retired after less than 5 years in service.
The procurement of the Vixen bought Supermarine time to continue work on the new Swift-derived fighter, after the RBCAF said that it would expect to be looking to replace the Vixen around 1970. In mid 1963, the RBCAF gave the go-ahead to a Supermarine project called "Skookum Scimitar". This official go-ahead was actually just the first public acknowledgement of a "black project" that had been in the works in Supermarine's "Dark Corner" since 1960 - a Scimitar-based multirole fighter. The stated intention of the Skookum Scimitar project was to field an aircraft that would eventually replace both the Scimitar and the Vixen in RBCAF service.
Once the go-ahead was given, all work on the Swift-based project was stopped, and all of Supermarine's capabilities were focussed on the new project. In May 1964, a Scimitar test mule flew with basic Skookum Scimitar electronics, followed in June by another Scimitar test mule with an interim radar set. By November, the first aerodynamic prototype was ready, a modification of a Scimitar airframe. This underwent several tweaks before the first flying prototype Skookum Scimitar was rolled out in August 1965. This was a two-seat version of the Scimitar powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey 202. A modification of a Scimitar airframe, it retained the original Scimitar nose as it did not have a radar fitted.
The second flying prototype took to the air in early September 1965; this was essentially identical to the first, but it incorporated the new nose, designed to house a new radar system then in development at Ferranti. The flights of the two prototypes produced much data to study, and over the winter and following summer a great deal of work was done in further refining the design.
In October, 1966, the first pre-production Skookum Scimitar made its maiden flight, and glamour shots of the aircraft were released to the public in November. These showed the major, immediately-noticeable difference between the prototypes and the refined design - the empennage had undergone a complete redesign.
The RBCAF ordered a batch of five pre-production Skookum Scimitars on 8 November 1966, and extensive trials of the five aircraft were undertaken in northern BC between December 1966 and September, 1967, while in March of 1967 the aircraft was given a formal RBCAF designation, and the Supermarine Shukopoots was born.
In October 1967, the first production-standard Shukopoots FGA.1 made its maiden flight and began service trials, with three more taking to the air over the subsequent three weeks. The four LRIP aircraft, BC7600 through BC7603 were temporarily fitted with a Blue Circle radar set (that is, concrete ballast) until January 1968, when Ferranti finally delivered the first production AI.23 (Blue Parrot/AIRPASS II) radars. These sets were installed onto BC7600 through BC7603, and radar integration trials were completed in April 1968. 1 OTU accepted the production Shukopoots FGA.1 in May, and production began to fulfil the first RBCAF order for 66 aircraft. The Shukopoots FGA.1 was IOC declared on 17 August 1968 with No. 101 Sqn RBCAF.
Through the remainder of 1968, aircraft were delivered to No. 101 (S) Sqn, based at RBCAF Cranbrook, and No. 10 (S) Sqn, at RBCAF Terrace. The aircraft of both these units were delivered in the standard RBCAF strike camo scheme of Forest Green (BCSI-59-403), Dark Green (BCSI-59-404) and Dark Slate Grey (BCSI-59-606) over Sky (BCSI-59-503). The production Shukopoots FGA.1 retained the twin Tobin AC.2 30 mm cannon of the pre-production examples, and for air-to-air combat were capable of carrying Firestreak and Red Top missiles. In the air-to-ground role, the Shukopoots introduced two new weapon systems to the RBCAF - the French AS-20 ASM and the American AGM-62 Walleye glide bomb, which greatly improved the RBCAF's ability to effectively attack surface targets. Various iron bombs could also be carried.
The third unit to convert to the Shukopoots FGA.1 was No. 5 (MS) Sqn, which had since 1959 been a dedicated maritime strike unit based at RBCAF Comox. 5 Sqn's aircraft wore a distinct camouflage scheme of Blue Grey (BCSI-59-508) and Dark Slate Grey (BCSI-59-606) over Haze Grey (BCSI-59-603).
International interest in the Shukopoots FGA.1 was disappointing, but it was well known that Supermarine was working on an improved variant even as the first FGA.1s began to roll off the production line; this was perhaps a factor in the limited interest. In the event, the FGA.1 found only one foreign customer - the South African Air Force. The SAAF ordered a total of 60 aircraft - 54 fully combat capable FGA.11 and 6 T.11 trainers, which replaced the aft bombardier/radar operator's equipment with a second set of flight controls for the instructor. The SAAF operated their Shukopoots until 1991, and through the late 1970s and the 1980s they saw considerable action in the Border War with Angola. Shown here is an FGA.1 of No. 3 Sqn (SAAF).
While production of the FGA.1 was getting up to speed and successfully replacing the Scimitar in the strike role, work continued on the development of a dedicated air-superiority fighter to replace the DHBC Vixen as the RBCAF's tactical fighter. Using the FGA.1 design as a starting point, Supermarine made a number of significant changes. Immediately noticeable is the single-seat cockpit and the different nose - where the FGA.1 used the Ferranti AI.23 ("Blue Parrot") radar specifically suited for the strike role, the F.1 carried the Magnavox AN/APQ-104, which was designed for air interception. As an air-combat specialist, the F.1 could not carry the air-to-surface missiles that could be used by the FGA.1, though it could carry iron bombs. To make up for this, the air-to-air capability of the F.1 was expanded: in addition to the Firestreak and Red Top AAMs, the F.1 could also carry the Blue Dolphin AAM, a radar-guided version of the Red Top. The standard weapons load for an F.1 was two Blue Dolphin and two Red Top missiles.
The Shukopoots F.1 entered squadron service in 1971 with No. 7 (F) and No. 3 (F) Squadrons, with No. 9 (F) Squadron following in 1972. The F.1s were delivered from the factory in the last air superiority scheme to have been worn by the Vixens - upper and lower surfaces painted Sky (BCSI-59-503) with side surfaces painted French Grey (BCSI-59-604).
A third variant had also been in the projected, but this was deemed least important of the three, and so serious work began only after the FGA.1 had been delivered to squadron service. The Shukopoots FR.1 was a photo-recce variant that removed all weapon capabilities (though retaining one cannon for emergency self-defence) and replacing it with a new nose. This nose carried an array of cameras, along with a Texas Instruments AN/APQ-99 radar. A total of twenty were built, using the FGA.1 tooling. These entered service in 1973, ten aircraft going to No. 104 (PR) Squadron, and another ten to No. 111 (PR) Squadron. In 1974, however, 111 Sqn temporarily stood down in preparation for converting to a fighter squadron, and all twenty of the FR.1s were gathered at 104 Sqn.
More of the Supermarine Swan Song - Operation Housecat
In 1970, Supermarine announced that it had received an order for 90 Shukopoots FGA.1 from the US Air Force. Given the US' unwritten "not built here" rule, this order came as something of a surprise in aviation and defence circles. The ninety aircraft - given the factory designation Shukopoots FGA.21 and the USAF designation F-112A Rattlesnake (and given serial numbers 70-0020 through 70-0109, reused from a block assigned to a cancelled F-111D order) - were delivered to Edwards AFB in between December 1970 and February 1971, where they were all assigned to the 6510th Test Wing. Over the following months, two squadrons were formed to operate the F-112s, which were successively deployed to Vietnam in 1971 and 1972. In early 1973, the last F-112A returned from Vietnam to Edwards AFB, where the aircraft were returned to the 6510th TW, where they remained until they were returned to Supermarine in the summer of 1976.
The F-112A had a significantly different weapons fit than the Shukopoots FGA.1, though it retained the Blue Parrot radar. Instead of the two AC.2 30mm cannon, the F-112A was fitted with two 20mm Pontiac M39 cannon. In terms of missile capability, it was capable of carrying the AIM-9E air-to-air missile, as well as the AGM-12 Bullpup air-to-surface missile and the AGM-78 Standard ARM anti-radiation missile. Of course, a wide array of iron bombs could be carried as well, along with Paveway I series LGBs. Further, the IFR system was replaced with a USAF-style receptacle for refuelling via boom.
Very little information was available at the time about the F-112 and its operations, and the RBCAF was perhaps understandably secretive about the formation of Shukopoots squadrons and about some extensive training deployments made by RBCAF personnel to Edwards AFB. Given the lack of concrete information, several conspiracy theories arose around the question of the Supermarine F-112 Rattlesnake.
The official story, issued by the RBCAF, the USAF, Supermarine, the BC Defence Ministry and the Pentagon, was that the USAF had purchased the aircraft simply for use in Vietnam, and after the withdrawal, the type became superfluous to needs. Initially the USAF considered using them as drones, but decided instead to return them to Supermarine, who dismantled them to sell off as parts.
The full, true story of the F-112 didn't emerge for decades. In 2004 an article was published in the Vancouver Dominion newspaper, in which a man identified only as a retired RBCAF officer described in vague terms RBCAF operations in the 1970s, mentioning Edwards AFB among other things, and hinting about operations in Vietnam. Over the following year, a few other ex-RBCAF officers came out with similar stories, some vague, others somewhat more specific. But the story remained mostly out of the public eye, restricted to the attention of those with an interest in aviation or history, until in October 2005 it came out that Flt Lt George Nikolich of the RBCAF had been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in 1974, confirmed by a letter leaked to the Victoria Times-Colonist by an employee of the Defence Ministry. "How could that be?" was the question on the minds of BC's public, when such great fanfare was made about Sjt Dennis Gordon in 1991, when he was awarded the VC for heroism during the Gulf War. Sjt Gordon was the first British Columbian to receive the VC since WW2! At least, that was the official story until the leak of the Defence Ministry document. The Defence Ministry's only comment was to acknowledge that yes, Flt Lt Nikolich was indeed awarded the VC in 1974, but would comment no further as the events surrounding the award were still classified. The "retired RBCAF officer" of the original Vancouver Dominion article resurfaced, still without being named, saying that he was in the same unit as Flt Lt Nikolich, at the same time, and that all of the squadron was there for the award ceremony that was attended only by squadron members, Air Vice Marshal Edwin McDougall, the Governor General, several other high-ranking BCDF officers and a USAF general. After this, the issue gradually faded from the public mind until 2009, when a book was published by the "retired RBCAF officer" under a pen-name, which told the entire story. Though neither the Defence Ministry nor the RBCAF has commented either way on the veracity of the book's claims, and the USAF's official response to inquiries from the BC media was along the lines of 'we were not aware such a book had even been published', the story is nevertheless plausible. Which story is true? We'll have to wait until the relevant files start becoming declassified in 2019...
In the long history of up-and-down relations between BC and the United States, the late 1960s was an 'up' period, at least on the governmental level; general public sentiment, however, was less favourable, especially because of the war in Vietnam.
The Dominion government, however, was broadly in agreement with the aims of the war, but due to public opinion it was unable to openly commit to the effort. So, in late 1968, secret discussions began between HMDG and the US Government which led to an agreement culminating in the USAF order for the Shukopoots.
BC made a two-year commitment to aiding the war effort, subject to re-evaluation after the two years was up. Under the terms of the agreement, the RBCAF would send two squadrons to Vietnam, one squadron at a time, for a period of 12 months each. Of this 12 months, only 8 were spent in-theatre. Two months were spent in training with the USAF prior to deployment, followed by four months in Vietnam. This was followed by a month's leave, during which squadron members could, if they wished, return to BC. The unit then returned to Vietnam for another four month combat tour, after which the unit returned to the US, where it helped train up the replacement squadron for a month before returning to BC.
Since it couldn't be openly known that BC was taking an active part in the war, a deception strategy was devised. It was part of this strategy which brought about the USAF order for the Shukopoots. Another part was the selection of the personnel who would take part in the deployments - only those who were eligible for North American Eyes Only clearance would be assigned to the operation, codenamed "Housecat". Another factor to consider was language, but more on this later...
From delivery until 3 March 1971 all the F-112A were located at Edwards North Base; on that day, No. 9 (F) Squadron (RBCAF) arrived at Edwards with brand-new Shukopoots FGA.1s in RBCAF markings, after the unit's pilots had undergone a conversion course to the Shukopoots FGA.1 in January-February 1971. The rest of the squadron's personnel arrived over the course of the next two weeks. From there, they redeployed in secret to Nellis AFB, where they spent their two months' training for operations in Vietnam. Once there, they flew only in the F-112s, and during their absence, their FGA.1s were flown by USAF pilots, mainly for appearance's sake.
9 Sqn deployed to Vietnam on 3 June 1971 as the 392nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, part of 49th Wing based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The choice of number - one that was not assigned to any USAF unit at the time - is significant: during WW2, 9 Sqn was an Article XV squadron operating as 392 Sqn RBCAF (this is a tidbit that was soon latched onto by the conspiracy theorists - an example of them being right sometimes!). The aircraft carried the HO tail code, and the squadron personnel wore USAF uniforms, and each member was given a fictitious personal history, complete with false papers - memorising new birthplaces, high schools, and other such details was part of the two-month training program. As mentioned earlier, language* was a factor in the selection of personnel to be assigned to Operation Housecat. They had to be fluent in English, of course, and had to have as little of the distinctive BC accent as possible. This meant that the vast majority of personnel selected were from either the Greater Vancouver area or the area around the towns of Trail, Salmo and Creston, where the accent is quite similar to that of eastern Washington state: a BCer from Victoria or Prince George, for example, would have great difficulty passing off as an American (or as a Canadian, for that matter!).
<<* Side note: yes, I *have* even worked out details of the AltBC dialect!>>
Operationally, "392nd TFS" flew Wild Weasel missions for the first seven months of their combat time, thus their aircraft were painted in the day version of the USAF's SEA camo scheme. The Shukopoots proved well-suited to this role, but at the beginning of their last month in combat, they were shifted to night strike operations and their aircraft were repainted in the dark version of the SEA camo.
After the 392nd finished their eight months of combat duty, they returned to Nellis AFB where they spent a month training up their replacements prior to returning home to BC with the FGA.1s they flew down with to RBCAF Terrace where they spent two weeks being debriefed, then picking up their new aircraft - the Shukopoots F.1. Gradually, 9 Sqn crews who had taken part in combat operations were reassigned to RBCAF strike units - 5, 10 and 101 squadrons.
The second squadron to take part in Operation Housecat was 111 Squadron. 111 Sqn had been a recce unit since it was first established before WW2, but it had stood down in 1959. Pilots and ground crews selected to take part in Housecat were gathered into the newly re-established 111 (S) Squadron, where they underwent conversion to the Shukopoots FGA.1 before heading to Nellis AFB with their new aircraft. From then on, their story was similar to 9 Sqn's. 111 (S) Sqn RBCAF became "399th TFS" of 49th Wing - night-attack specialists throughout their combat deployments to Vietnam.
It was during one of these missions in 1972 that Flt Lt George Nikolich earned his posthumous Victoria Cross. During a pre-dawn strike, Nikolich's wingman, F/o Doug Davis, took considerable damage from a SAM strike. The aircraft remained flyable, however, and Nikolich escorted Davis back towards their airbase. During the return flight, they were bounced by a pair of VPAF MiG-17s. The MiGs drove in to try to finish off Davis' damaged aircraft. Nikolich's first Sidewinder shot downed the MiG leader, but the second MiG successfully evaded the second (and last) missile. Nikolich then observed that the MiG was going after Davis again, so he attempted to distract the MiG again. In the ensuing dogfight Nikolich made a mistake that saved Davis: the MiG had managed to get onto Nikolich's six, but the spacing was closer than Nikolich had assessed with his backwards glance, and his in an attempt to get off the MiG's nose, Nikolich pulled up sharply. This brought him directly into the MiG's line of flight, and the VPAF pilot was unable to dodge. Both Nikolich's F-112 and the VPAF MiG were destroyed in the collision, but it put Davis in the clear, who was able then to nurse his damaged aircraft back to base. After the debriefing, 111 Sqn's officer commanding submitted Nikolich's name for the Victoria Cross to RBCAF command. Due to the secrecy around British Columbian involvement in the War, the Air Chief Marshal forwarded the recommendation directly to the Prime Minister and the Governor General. After the official confirmation of the award in 2005, Flt Lt George Nikolich VC was given a full state funeral in Victoria.
399th TFS/111 Sqn returned to Nellis AFB in the beginning of 1973, where it underwent the same wind-down process as did 392nd TFS/9 Sqn, dropping off their F-112As and flying home in their FGA.1s. However, 111 Sqn exchanged their FGA.1s for ten new FR.1s, becoming a recce squadron as they had previously been.
The Vietnam experience brought much new data for Supermarine to study, which directly influenced the design of FGA.1's replacement, the Shukopoots FGA.2.
The survivors from the 90 F-112A which had been "ordered" by the USAF remained in the US until 1976, after which they were crated up and returned to Supermarine by rail. Supermarine dismantled the aircraft into components and sold the entire lot to the South African Air Force to serve as a parts store in October of 1977, when it became apparent that the UN would soon impose a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa.
In the late 1960s, the Royal Canadian Air Force was engaged in a drawn-out selection process for a new fighter. Initially, the RCAF wanted the F-4 Phantom, but McDonnell's unwillingness to allow licence production in Canada proved a dealbreaker. Other types were considered, and Supermarine, via the RBCAF, kept the RCAF up to date on progress with the Shukopoots; an RCAF test pilot flew the first second prototype Shukopoots twice, and thereafter a small team of RCAF evaluators were present at the tests of the subsequent pre-production aircraft. When it became apparent that only Northrop was willing to allow Canadair to licence-build a new fighter, the RCAF finally decided in 1968 to go with the Shukopoots, considering it a far superior platform than the F-5.
Canadair undertook licence production of the aircraft for the Canadian Armed Forces Air Command (unification happening before production could commence) starting in 1969 (thus predating the F.1), though Supermarine did give the type an internal designation - Shukopoots F.11. The CF-111 Rattlesnake was something of a hybrid of the Shukopoots FGA.1 and F.1 variants - an F.1 airframe carrying an AI.23 radar and capable of carrying the an air-to-air weapons fit equivalent to the F.1 (AIM-9 and AIM-7 for the CF-111), and an air-to-ground missile load the equivalent of the FGA.1 (AGM-62 Walleye and AGM-12 Bullpup). Canadair built 89 CF-111A single-seat and 45 CF-111D two-seat Rattlers, which in 1978 were rebuilt with Spey 205 engines. The CF-111As remained in front-line service with 433 and 434 Sqns until 1988, while the CF-111D remained operational with 419 (Tactical Fighter Training) Sqn until 1995.
The first export customer for Supermarine-built F.1s was the Iraqi Air Force, who ordered 65 F.1s along with 8 T.1s. The Iraqi F.1s were given the designation Shukopoots F.31 (the trainers were T.31) and called "rattlesnake" by the Iraqis, and were delivered in 1972. They saw extensive service in the Iran-Iraq war, putting up a satisfactory record: 14 kills for 16 losses (though in its defence, 7 of the losses were kills scored by Iranian F-14s). They remained in service until the first Gulf War as well, during which one was shot down in an intriguing irony: the kill was made by an RBCAF Shukopoots F.4! Many were destroyed on the ground, and about a dozen took refuge in Iran, but those airframes have not flown ever since. The last known flight of an Iraqi Shukopoots F.31 was in 1993, when it was shot down by an American fighter patrolling the southern no-fly zone.
The second foreign order came from the Hellenic Air Force who ordered 66 F.1s. Designated Shukopoots F.41, they were wired to carry AIM-9 and AIM-7 missiles instead of the Red Top and Blue Dolphin, but were otherwise identical to the RBCAF's F.1s. Greek pilots converted to the type in BC at RBCAF Terrace. The HAF F.41s were retired in 1984.
The Imperial Ethiopian Air Force had established a relationship with the RBCAF after WW2, when the RBCAF helped Ethiopia set up a new air force. The IEAF was also no stranger to Supermarine BC products, either, having flown the Skemcis F.92 from 1946 until 1960. In 1972, the IEAF was looking for a replacement for its F-86 Sabres, and quickly decided on the Shukopoots - in part because BC was willing to provide air-to-air missiles (though only the Red Top), whereas the Americans, who had offered the F-5A, were not. The IEAF received 44 Shukopoots F.51 in 1973, a year before the Derg overthrew the government of emperor Haile Selassie. Though the government changed later in the 1970s, the Ethiopian Air Force continued to operate the Shukopoots; they played a vital role in the Ogaden War, during which Ethiopian F.51s quickly established air superiority despite being outnumbered by Somali MiG-21s - the Red Top missiles proved a decisive factor. After Ethiopia began receiving Soviet aid, the Shukopoots fell into disuse; several can still be found rotting away at airfields in the country.
The Shukopoots FGA.1 had a reasonably long career with the RBCAF, with the first aircraft entering operational service in 1968 and the last being withdrawn from front-line use in 1975. However, by the end of 1972 Supermarine was working on a new version, in large part based on feedback received from RBCAF pilots who had flown the FGA.1 in combat in Vietnam. Before the feedback started to arrive, Supermarine and the RBCAF were intending to rebuild the FGA.1s with the new Spey 203, but the lessons learned in Vietnam were significant enough that it was decided to incorporate new features into the replacement for the FGA.1.
The first difference between the new Shukopoots FGA.2 over the FGA.1 was, of course, the engine. Replacing the Spey 202 was the Spey 203, which had a modified reheat control system that allowed for a faster reheat light-up time. The wing was also redesigned. Leading edge slats were added to increase manoeuvrability at the expense of speed, and the FGA.2's wing had greater flap deflection than the wing of the FGA.1.
Weaponry was also expanded: the addition of the AGM-65 Maverick had been planned as part of the intended FGA.1 rebuild program, but based on their experiences with the missile operationally in Vietnam, 9 Sqn's pilots enthusiastically recommended adding the AGM-78 Standard ARM anti-radiation missile. Further capability additions were the AS.34 Kormoran I anti-ship missile and Canadian-made CRV-7 rockets. In the air-to-air role the FGA.2 was still limited to the Red Top and Firestreak AAMs, but in the air-to-ground role the FGA.2 became truly potent - iron bombs, CRV-7 rockets, along with AS.20 and AGM-65 air-to-ground missiles, the Kormoran anti-ship missile, the AGM-62 Walleye glide bomb and the AGM-78 anti-radar missile gave the RBCAF a very wide range of attack possibilities.
The FGA.2 entered squadron service in 1974, receiving serials ranging from BC76200 through BC76262. The first aircraft going to No. 101 (Strike) Sqn at RBCAF Cranbrook. In 1974, the RBCAF introduced new painting schemes across the board, and the new strike scheme was applied to 101 Sqn's FGA.2s at the factory. The new scheme was Forest Green (BCSI-59-403) and French Grey (BCSI-59-604) over Sky (BCSI-59-503). In 1976, 101 Sqn deployed to Osan AB, South Korea, for 9 months.
No. 5 (Maritime Strike) Sqn based at RBCAF Comox was the next to replace its FGA.1s with FGA.2s, later in 1974. Though all FGA.2s were capable of carrying the Kormoran anti-ship missile, only 5 Sqn used the Kormoran (for the same reasons, 5 Sqn did not train with or use the AGM-78 anti-radar missile). Along with everything else, the maritime strike camo scheme was modified in 1974 as well - the FGA.2s were delivered in the new scheme of Blue Grey (BCSI-59-508), Ocean Blue (BCSI-59-509) and Ocean Grey (BCSI-59-605) camo over Haze Grey (BCSI-59-603). The closest the FGA.2 came to actual combat in the maritime strike role was a training mission with live Kormorans in which 5 Sqn attacked and sank a pair of WW2-era destroyers that the RBCN had removed from its strategic reserve and donated to the air force for this purpose. British Columbians occasionally got entertainment (or a fright!) when travelling on the BC Ferries Port Hardy - Bella Coola - Prince Rupert route, when 5 Sqn aircraft would make mock attack runs against the ferries. These were done in cooperation with BC Ferries, and passengers were warned well in advance of the fighters' arrival, so that they could go to (or leave) the deck in time to see (or hide from) the spectacle. These were generally well-received by the travellers, who got to get a rare glimpse into how their Air Force operated.
No. 10 Sqn was the last of the three strike squadrons to replace its FGA.1s with FGA.2s, receiving theirs in the winter of 1974-75. Being based in the north at RBCAF Terrace, a new scheme introduced in 1975 was applicable to 10 Sqn's aircraft - the Northern scheme (though commonly referred to by civilians as the "arctic" camouflage). This scheme consisted of Snow White (BCSI-59-002), Ice Blue (BCSI-59-502) and Forest Green (BCSI-59-403) over Dawn Blue (BCSI-59-501) with lettering in Antiglare Black (BCSI-59-004). This unique scheme was rarely seen away from the airbases at Terrace and Dease Lake, so were extremely popular when they paid visits to airshows in southern BC and elsewhere.
The Royal Australian Air Force leased new-build 24 FGA.2 in 1975 for a two-year period for extended evaluations, as they were considering a larger order including acquiring a licence to build the type in Australia. The RAAF FGA.2s were given the factory designation Shukopoots FGA.12. Though the RAAF was pleased with the type, the plan for acquiring and building a fleet of them had to be shelved due to budgetary constraints, and the 24 aircraft were returned to Supermarine in 1977.
The 24 ex-RAAF aircraft were overhauled by Supermarine, and were then bought by the Fuerza Aérea Peruviana (Peruvian Air Force) in late 1977. The Peruvians were also well pleased with the FGA.12, and in 1978 they purchased 40 more FGA.2s from the RBCAF after they were replaced by the FGA.3. These then formed the backbone of the FAP's strike capability, and they remained in service until 1993.
In 1973, a group of officers from the Republic of Korea Air Force visited the RBCAF to evaluate the Shukopoots FGA.1 then in service. The visitors were also shown around Supermarine, and were briefed on the development of the new FGA.2. The Koreans were suitably impressed, and the ROKAF test pilots who flew the FGA.1 were enthusiastic about the aircraft, and on returning to Korea the visiting group presented the Korean defence ministry with a glowing report and a recommendation to obtain the type. After negotiations were finished, the ROKAF ordered 40 aircraft to be delivered in a finished state from Supermarine, and kits for a further 60 that were assembled by Korean Air Lines. Korea's FGA.2s - designated KF-2 방울뱀 (Bang-ulbaem, "rattlesnake") in ROKAF service and Shukopoots FGA.22 by Supermarine, have been upgraded several times since their introduction and are in service, to be retired in the next few years.
Three years after the introduction of the F.1, Supermarine rebuilt them with Spey 203 engines in 1974. These were redesignated Shukopoots F.2 in RBCAF service, keeping the original serial numbers in the BC7670 through BC76132 range. While they were at the factory, they were repainted into the new fighter scheme of overall Sky 503 introduced that year. Apart from the new engines, though, the aircraft remained identical to the F.1. No. 3 (F) Sqn was the first to receive its F.2s in 1974, followed by No. 9 (F) and No. 7 (F) Squadrons in 1975. Later in 1975, 111 Sqn converted from recce to fighters, and the F.2 fleet was split four ways instead of three.
In 1976, the BCDF introduced new roundels for RBCAF and RBCN FAA aircraft. The new RBCAF Type D roundel was based on the WW2-era RAF Type B roundel. The F.2 had the new roundel applied that year, but otherwise the scheme remained unchanged.
After the F.2 rebuild program was finished, Supermarine turned to the FR.1, rebuilding them with the new Spey 203 engine as well. Like the F.2, the Shukopoots FR.2 remained otherwise unchanged from the FR.1, but were repainted into the new recce scheme of French Grey 604 over Recce Mauve 505. The new recce scheme was specified in 1974, but the FR.1s never received the new paint, as they were already slated for rebuilding. After the rebuild, all FR.2s were gathered together at 104 (PR) Sqn, with the former 111 (PR) Sqn converting to fighters with the F.2.
Like the F.2, the FR.2 also had their roundels replaced with the RBCAF Type D roundel introduced in 1976.
The FGA.2s, however, never received the Type D roundel, as their replacement, the all-new FGA.3 was already starting production in 1976; thus, the Type C roundel could be seen on Shukopoots variants as late as 1977.
The FGA.2 turned out to have a short career with the RBCAF - introduced in 1974, and the last one was withdrawn by 1977 and sold to Peru. The FGA.2 was replaced from 1976 by the Shukopoots FGA.3, which featured a redesigned nose housing the new Blue Fox radar, an IR seeker and a laser designator. Air-to-air capability was the same as on the FGA.2, with option to carry Firestreak or Red Top AAMs. The air-to-ground options were considerably different, too. Gone was the ability to carry the AS.20 ASM that were withdrawn in 1975; in its place, the capability to carry the AM.39 Exocet was added. Other ASM options remained the same as on the FGA.2 - AGM-65 Maverick, AGM-78 Standard ARM, AS.34 Kormoran I, AGM-62 Walleye glide bomb. Also retained were the CRV-7 rocket and iron bomb capability, but a significant addition was the on-board laser designator which allowed the use of laser-guided bombs - in the RBCAF's case, these were the Paveway II series: GBU-10 2000 lb, GBU-12 500 lb and GBU-16 1000 lb.
As with the FGA.2, the first unit to receive the FGA.3 was No. 101 (S) Squadron at RBCAF Cranbrook, who in 1978 repeated their 1976 adventure by deploying for six months to Osan AB, South Korea, in 1979.
No. 10 (S) Sqn received their FGA.3s in 1976 as well, based at RBCAF Terrace with a detachment at RBCAF Dease Lake. 10 Sqn took part in the inaugural Maple Flag exercises at CFB Cold Lake in 1978.
No. 5 (MS) Sqn of RBCAF Comox received their FGA.3s in 1977. As was the case with the Kormoran missile, only 5 Sqn trained with and used the AM.39 Exocet. After the introduction of the Exocet in 1977, the Kormoran was removed from use and the RBCAF stockpile was returned to Germany.
From 1978, all FGA.3s were rebuilt to FGA.4 standard by replacing the Spey 203 engine with the Spey 205, and adding the option to carry the AIM-9L Sidewinder AAM and the Matra Durandal anti-runway bomb.
1978 saw the introduction of the Shukopoots F.3, which included major changes from its predecessor the F.2. Immediately evident is the completely redesigned nose/cockpit area. The F.3 replaced the AN/APQ-104 radar of the F.1 and F.2 with the export version of the Hughes AN/APG-63 system. The larger diameter of the AN/APG-63 necessitated the redesign of the nose, and it was decided to modify the cockpit layout and canopy design at the same time. Along with the radar change was the installation of the new Spey 205, which featured modifications to improve reliability and service life. The armament fit was also expanded, adding capability for the AIM-9L Sidewinder and the Skyflash. With these, the F.3's AAM capability grew to Firestreak, Red Top, Sidewinder, Blue Dolphin and Skyflash. The F.3 turned out to be an excellent fighter, and remained in RBCAF service until replaced in 1988 by the F.4.
The Indian Air Force first expressed interest in the Shukopoots in 1975, and after extensive negotiations and planning the IAF, Supermarine and RBCAF worked out an acquisition plan in in four stages. In 1976, a group of IAF pilots arrived in BC to undertake conversion training and instructor training on the Shukopoots FGA.2, followed by a second group in early 1977. The second stage was the delivery in 1977 of 20 Shukopoots FGA.3 and 10 Shukopoots T.3 by Supermarine to the Indian Air Force. These were delivered to India and assigned to an operational conversion unit where the newly-trained instructors trained other pilots and ground crews in flying and servicing the type.
Designated दंदशूकः (Daṃdaśūkaḥ - "Viper" in Sanskrit) by the IAF and Shukopoots FGA.13 by Supermarine, the IAF's version of the FGA.3 featured some differences from the BC version in terms of weapons-carrying abilities. Instead of the Tobin AC.2, the Vipers were fitted with two ADEN 30 mm cannon, and in terms of air-to-air missiles, Red Top capability was retained, and missiles made in BC by DHBC were supplied, however after arriving in India the aircraft were modified to operate with the Soviet R-60 AAM, as well. In the air-to-ground role, iron bombs and laser-guided bombs could be carried (though in India's case the LGBs were of Soviet origin), along with the AM.39 Exocet; capability for the Soviet Kh-23 ASM and UB-30 rocket pod was added after the aircraft arrived in India.
In 1978, forty more Vipers were supplied in kit form from Supermarine while Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) set up production facilities to manufacture the type under licence, and from 1979 a further 100 were added to the Indian inventory. In 1988 Indian Vipers were upgraded with the Spey 207 engine. The type is still operational, though is scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2013.
India also expressed significant interest in the air-superiority version of the Shukopoots, and pilots evaluated the new F.3 in BC in 1978. A similar plan to the Viper was worked out, and 30 Shukopoots F.13 - designated विद्युत् (Vidyut - "Flash" in Sanskrit) by the IAF - were delivered at the beginning of 1980.
As the USA was unwilling to allow export of the AN/APG-63 radar to India, the Indian Air Force purchased thirty Cyrano IV radars from France in 1979. These were shipped to BC, where they were integrated into the Vidyuts being built for the IAF. As with the Vipers, the Vidyut also had different weapons capabilities than the F.3s made for BC, including replacement of the Tobin cannon with the ADEN. Of the F.3's AAM capability, only Red Top and Skyflash were retained (the UK having permitted the export of BC-made Skyflash missiles to India), and after arriving in India, the aircraft were modified to operate with the Soviet-made R-60 and R-23 missiles as well.
HAL began licence production of the Vidyut in 1982, building 100 more for the IAF. The Indian-made Vidyuts replaced the Cyrano radar with the Thomson-CSF RDM, which type was retrofitted to the BC-made Vidyuts in 1983. Like the Vipers, the Vidyuts also underwent an upgrade program starting in 1988 that saw the replacement of the original Spey 205 with Spey 207 engines. The Vidyuts were in service until 2003, being replaced by the Su-30MKI.
After ten years in service, the last F.3 was withdrawn in 1988 after being replaced in front-line service by the Shukopoots F.4 starting in 1987. This, the ultimate air superiority Shuki, was equipped with the export version of the AN/APG-70 radar with improved fire control system, and the new Spey 207 engine, which featured changes to the reheat and nozzle over the Spey 205, and added an extra compressor stage. Adding the new DHBC Skyflash Mk. II AAM (the so-called "Active Skyflash", it was an improved version of the Skyflash Mk. I with an active radar seeker), its arsenal of air-to-air missiles grew to include both Skyflash variants, Firestreak, Red Top, Blue Dolphin and AIM-9L Sidewinder. By 1990, the standard loadout was four AIM-9L and four Skyflash Mk. II. No. 111 (F) Sqn took part in Operation Hastings, the BC contribution to Desert Storm. 111 Sqn pilots were credited with a total of four air to air kills, with two of those kills scored by Flt Lt Harbinder "Harry" Singh Bains, who on the first night of the war shot down an Iraqi MiG-29, and a few nights later, in an interesting irony, an Iraqi Shukopoots F.31. Both kills were made with the Skyflash Mk. II. The F.4 enjoyed a long career with the RBCAF, being retired in 2004 after the arrival of the Spitfire II.
In 1990, No. 7 Sqn RBCAF repainted one of their Shukopoots F.4 into the camo scheme used by the squadron's Skemcis F Mk. VII A fighters in 1940, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. No 7 Sqn RBCAF was the first unit of the Royal BC Air Force to deploy to the UK to take part in the Battle of Britain.
In 1987, the existing Shukopoots FR.2 were put through a major overhaul, rebuilding the airframes to zero-hour condition, and being fitted with a modernised cockpit, improved avionics, an all-new camera system and Spey 207 engines. They were also repainted into the same scheme as used on the F.4s, a new unified air superiority + recce scheme of Sky 503, Haze Grey 603 and French Grey 604 with Ocean Grey 605 lettering. The complete overhaul of the airframes gave the FR.3 a long service life, being finally retired in 2011 after new conformal recce packs for the Spitfire II were delivered.
Supermarine had had high hopes for the export prospects of the F.4, and indeed it was a very capable fighter. Unfortunately, no foreign orders came to pass. Several NATO members expressed interest in the type, including Denmark, Norway and Greece, but Supermarine was unable to match the cost-offer put forth by General Dynamics, and so the Shukopoots F.4 lost out to the F-16 on economic grounds. In other cases - notably India and Brazil - it was the choice of radar that prevented the export: while the AN/APG-70 was a significant part of why the F.4 was as good as it was, the US refused to allow export of the radar to these countries.
This had already become apparent with the Shukopoots F.3 and its AN/APG-63 radar, which had forced Supermarine and India to find an alternate system - the Cyrano IV - for the Indian Vidyuts. Thus in 1986, after the cancellation of the F-20 program, the US authorised the sale as-is of the AN/APG-67 project to BC.
The Sensors Division of the BC Telephone Company was established in 1951 to manufacture ground-based radar systems for civilian and military use. The BC Defence Procurements Establishment, who had purchased the AN/APG-67, assigned the project to BCT-Sensors, who by 1988 had a production-ready system completed. This was given the designation "Blue Gold". Despite the similarity, this was not a Rainbow Code name, though the name was a tip of the hat to the names of the Blue Parrot and Blue Fox systems; BC Telephone's corporate colour scheme at the time was blue, gold and white. The Blue Gold was further refined over the years, with the Blue Gold II replacing the Blue Gold in RBCAF service in 1999, and the Blue Gold III being the radar of choice for the RBCAF's Spitfire F.2 until the Blue Gold IV, an AESA system, is ready for service.
The RBCAF started receiving its first Shukopoots FGA.6 in 1988. These were new-built airframes with the nose modified for the new Blue Gold radar, and were powered by the Spey 207. The air to air capabilities were identical to that of the FGA.5 - Red Top could be carried, but the standard was the AIM-9L Sidewinder. Air-to-ground ordnance was similar to the FGA.5 as well - iron bombs, CRV-7 rockets, Paveway II-series LGBs, Matra Durandal anti-runway bombs. Amongst air-to-ground missiles, the FGA.6 options differed somewhat from the FGA.5: the Sea Eagle, AGM-65 Maverick, Martel, AGM-88 HARM and AM.39 Exocet capability was retained, while the AGM-62 Walleye glide-bomb was deleted. Added were the Penguin and AGM-123 Skipper.
With the FGA.6 a new - and, as it happened, final - strike scheme was introduced which was applied to all strike aircraft, replacing the three previous schemes with one scheme of Ocean Grey 605, Forest Green 403 and Marking Grey 607 camouflage over Haze Grey 603. The FGA.6 wore this scheme for the entirety of its RBCAF career - 22 years from 1988 to 2010, which was third in length after the 33 years (1978-2011) of the FR.3 and the 23 years (1988-2012) of the T.4.
The FGA.6 first saw action in Operation Hastings, the BC contribution to Operation Desert Storm. The RBCAF deployed one fighter squadron (111 Sqn with Shukopoots F.4) and one strike squadron, 101 Sqn, with the FGA.6. Prior to deployment they were repainted in a desert scheme of RAF Desert Sand over BC standard Sky 503.
Over the years the FGA.6 also took part in operations in Yugoslavia (1999) and Afghanistan (2001-2010).