Westralian Aircraft Consortium WA.38 Taipan
In the late 1960s, Western Aerojet engaged in a number of studies looking towards an aircraft to fill the attack role for the Royal Westralian Air Force. It came to the conclusion that a supersonic jet aircraft capable of flying at low-level in all weather, broadly comparable to the in development SEPECAT Jaguar, would be the best fit for a potential Westralian attack aircraft. Initial development began in 1968, though was quickly interrupted with the merger of key Westralian aerospace companies into Westralian Aircraft Consortium, and the allocation of significant resources to the Project Silversun supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. It was not until 1974 that development resumed on the prospective aircraft as a private venture, progressing reasonably smoothly. Thanks to the pause in development, emerging technologies such as digital fly-by-wire (with mechanical backup), CRT multi-function displays and HOTAS became integral to the aircraft, making it the first Westralian 'electric jet'. The first prototype was completed in 1979 and first flew in 1980, however by this point the RWAF had firmly made it known it had no interest in purchasing the aircraft, forcing WAC to orient it to the export market. Notably, WAC approached Australia and New Zealand with offers for the aircraft, even painting prototypes in camouflage similar to that of aircraft already operated by the respective countries. Throughout the 1980s, WAC would tour the aircraft around airshows, even taking them to Farnborough, attempting to stoke enough interest to secure a buyer. Unfortunately for the Taipan, the Jaguar had already secured much of the market, being cheaper to purchase and operate. The closest Taipan got to securing a buyer was in New Zealand, which expressed some significant interest in the type to replace its A-4s, though ultimately decided against the purchase in the late 80s. This failure to secure any operator meant that ultimately only four prototypes would be built, though these soldiered on as test airframes for WAC well into the 21st century.
The WA. 38 Taipan was similar in many respects to its competitor the SEPECAT Jaguar, though differed in some key areas. Most notably, it was powered by a single Rolls Royce Spey Mk202, fitted with a thrust reverser similar to that in the SAAB Viggen. Further more, it was twin tailed, and the wings were fitted with very large LERX that assisted in slow speed and landing performance. To combat Dutch Roll, which early wind-tunnel tests had shown as a potential problem, the wing tips were turned down, introducing some necessary instability in the roll axis. This, and the stalky undercarriage, earned it the nickname 'TSR-2 Junior' in the aviation press. In the cockpit, a centre mounted stick and left hand throttle fitted with HOTAS controls improved ergonomics over previous aircraft, and the two MFDs (non-colour) and single INS Moving maps display allowed easy operation of all key aircraft and mission systems. The modern HUD was an added bonus, being broadly similar to those in the new F-16 and FA-18. The aircraft lacked a radar, however was fitted with a LRMTS in the nose, much in the same way as on Jaguar.
In the air, test pilots regarded the Taipan as nice handling machine, easy to control and reasonably maneuverable, especially down low where the higher bypass and afterburner of the Spey engine meant there was plenty of power. Acceleration below 35,000ft was good, superior to that of the Jaguar, though top speed was somewhat slower at Mach 1.4 thanks to a slightly draggier airframe and an intake design that struggled with higher speeds. At higher altitudes, the Taipan was less refined and more sluggish, gradually worsening above 35,000ft. Takeoff and landing performance was especially good, thanks to the large LERX, blown-flaps and thrust reverser, along with the 20,500lbf of thrust available from the Spey engine (though this was reduced to roughly 19,000lbf when blown flaps were activated). Takeoff and landing with a reasonable tactical load was able to be accomplished within 500m in testing, though more often STOL operations would be conducted with 700m to limit wear on brakes and suspension components. The beefy landing gear and high set air intakes enables the Taipan to operate from unprepared dirt strips and stretches of road, such as those that were prevalent in the sparser areas of northern Westralia.
In terms of armament, the aircraft was capable of carrying a wide selection of air-to-ground munitions. Fitted with five hardpoints (potentially 7, as the aircraft was designed to be compatible with overwing rails), range of unguided bombs, including the British GP and American Mk-80 ranges, cluster munitions and Matra rocket pods made up the majority of the Taipan's weapons fit. AGM-65 Mavericks were potentially the most lethal munition able to be carried by the aircraft, providing a precision attack capability. Tests were conducted with other laser guided munitions, mainly LGBs, though the lack of buyers meant that this capability was not ardently pursued and ultimately never achieved in full. External fuel tanks were able to be fitted to the centre and inboard pylons. In terms of air-air armament, it relied on the AIM-9 Sidewinder or its internal gun. The Taipan was originally designed to be fitted with two ADEN cannons, though late in its development it was decided to fit a single Oerlikon KCA in the starboard gun blister, owing to its heavier round and better ballistics improving gunnery accuracy. The additional space saved was used to increase ammunition capacity to 300 rounds over the 150 per gun originally.
Length: 17.40m (excluding nose probe)
Empty Weight: 17,200 lbs
MTOW: 37,300 lbs
Powerplant: 1 x Rolls Royce Spey Mk202
Dry Thrust: 12,140lbf
With Reheat: 20,150lbf
Maximum Speed: Mach 1.1 at MSL, Mach 1.4 at 35,000ft
Combat Range: 541nm hi-lo-hi in internal fuel
Service Ceiling: 45,000ft
Rate of Climb: 23,500ft/min
Cannon: 1 x Oerlikon KCA 30mm with 300 rounds
Hardpoints: 5 (4 x under wing, 1 x ventral)
Bombs: Mk. 80 series, British 500lb, 1000lb GP, BL.755 cluster bomb, CBU - series munitions
Rockets: Matra 2in rocket pod
A/G Missiles: AGM-65 - series
A/A Missiles: AIM-9 - series