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P-16 Fighter

By 1948 the High Command of the Swiss Air Force was interested in developing a ground attack jet fighter to replace the obsolete piston-engined D-3802 and C-3604 aircraft then in service. The new jet was to have flight and payload characteristics specially tailored to suit the complex Swiss topography of narrow, high-mountain valleys. The requirements included a near-supersonic top speed, excellent maneuverability and the ability to land and take off on extremely short runways that are typical in alpine regions.

The Swiss firm Flug- und Fahrzeugwerke Altenrhein Aktiengesellschaft (FFA) developed a combat aircraft called P-16 for the Swiss Air Force. On 15 July 1949 the FFA received the assignment to pursue the development of the single engine jet. The aircraft first flew in April 1955 and on 15 March 1956, the Swiss Parliament formulated the appropriate Federal Resolution for the procurement of further series of four prototypes. Three months later the second prototype of the P-16 with Sapphire engines started its first flight. In August 1956 a P-16 broke through the sound barrier over Duebendorf for the first time.

The one seat, single-engine plane featured a revolutionary wing design with a thin profile and a unique combination of trailing edge flaps, drooping ailerons and Kr ger-type leading edge flaps, which increased the lift significantly. As a result, the P-16 could start on runways under 500 meters in length, and perform landings that required a mere 300 meters. The P-16s reported STOL (short take-off and landing) performance, responsiveness at high speeds and low altitudes, high power and top-notch low-speed handling were all alluring factors.

The Swiss government was sufficiently impressed that an order for one hundred airframes was placed in 1958. Unfortunately, the crash of two prototypes caused the order to be suspended. While the cause of the accident was a relatively minor defect in the hydraulic system that was easily corrected, the Swiss government remained convinced that the design was faulty and cancelled the order.

The P-16 became victim of a change of the Swiss concept of aerial warfare. The National Defense Commission (LVK) had overhauled the doctrine for the possible employment of the Air Force. Existing NATO concepts had a substantial influence on this overhaul. In the middle of 1958, the LVK defined that Counter Air Operations would be the future of the Air Force. These operations would lead to missions beyond the Swiss border and the possibility of nuclear missions. The LVK called for a fighter which would be able of carrying atomic weapons. Since this call came after the P-16, which the FFA had developed for air superiority and close air support, not for carrying atomic weapons. The Swiss assigned the development of the P-16 without correct product requirement specifications. Federal Councilor Chaudet never discussed the true reasons for cancellation before the parliament.

Because of the pressure to replace the aging Vampire, the Federal Council decided to buy one hundred airplanes that could be used for ground combat. The Swiss government selected the Hawker Hunter Mk 6, a ground attack aircraft with limited air-to-air capability.

The cancellation of the P-16 led to the inability to develop a jet airplane by the Swiss aircraft industry. After the failure in 1959, Mr. William Lear recruited a group of Swiss aircraft designers and engineers to transform the P-16s wing and basic fuselage design into the cornerstone of a revolutionary aircraft the Swiss American Aircraft Corporation (SAAC)-23 and later the Learjet 23 Continental. The SAAC began the work on Lear's latest invention, a private luxury jet aircraft with the flexibility to fly passengers and freight to small airports around the world. The Lear 23 had a wingspan of 10.84m (35ft 8in) and a length of 13.18m (43ft 3in), compared to the 36ft 7in wingspan and 46 ft 9 in length of the P-16.

By 1965 delays in the Swiss Mirage program resulted in the revival of the earlier FFA P-16 fighter-bomber project as a private venture stop-gap, up-dated by the installation of a 15,8001b GE J9-11A turbojet. Thus modified, the STOL P-16, which had full under-fuselage Fowler flaps and Kriiger leading-edge flaps, was designated the AJ-7, and General Electric offered one of its standard Starfighter J79s without charge for installation in one of the two remaining prototype airframes. The AJ-7 was considered to have a promising export potential, particularly in view of the fact that its unit cost is considered to be as low as lm, but nothing came of this project.

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Page last modified: 31-05-2013 18:50:01 ZULU