The Helwan HA-300 was a significant Egyptian effort, developed as a single-engine, delta-wing supersonic interceptor.
In the 1960s, the main component of the Egyptian air force was the Soviet second-generation MiG-21 and MiG-19 fighters. Their opponents were the Mirage III fighters of the Israeli Air Force. Egypt sought to reduce its reliance on foreign-sourced weapons by developing an indigenous platform, to supplement its MiG fleet. The Helwan HA-300 was a significant Egyptian effort, developed as a single-engine, delta-wing supersonic interceptor.
The development of the Helwan HA-300 project involved Willy Messerschmitt, one of the world’s best aircraft designers. After World War II, Messerschmitt founded Hispano Aviacion in Spain and began designing an ultra-light fighter aircraft. However, the aircraft project was halted for many reasons, including a lack of funding and technical difficulties. Early in the 1960s, Egypt took over this ambitious project of designing and manufacturing a supersonic fighter. The HA-300 was a single-seat delta-shaped fighter plane with a separate tailplane.
The aircraft that Messerschmitt would produce was, on paper at least, impressive. Three prototypes were produced, with the first flight on 7 March 1964. Initially the Egyptian fighter was planned to be powered by a Bristol Orpheus engine with 36.3 kN with afterburner, but it is thought that the performance of the HA-300 could be much better with a more powerful engine. Near the end of the program, India began financing the development of the E-300 engine for use in the Indian HF-24 Marut jet fighter. The new engine produced 47.2 kN of thrust with afterburner.
The fighter had quite an impressive performance, with a top speed of Mach 2, a range of 1,400km and a maximum altitude of 18km while carrying two cannons and four missiles. The aircraft’s capabilities were ideal for Egypt’s needs for a high speed and long range interceptor, and the fighter was set to be an excellent complement for the Soviet MiG-21 which then formed the mainstay of the Egyptian fleet.
With an equal speed, longer range and heavier armament the HA-300 arguably surpassed the Soviet jet, and the aircraft was set to become one of the world’s first third generation fighters – alongside the elite American F-4 Phantom and Soviet MiG-23. Though expensive, it could have been exactly what Egypt needed to match the third generation Phantoms Israel would acquire shortly after its overwhelming victory in the Six Day War – jets which could fly higher and faster and had far longer ranges than the MiG-21 or the Mirage III.
Despite its promising beginnings, the HA-300 program was cancelled in 1969 – two years after Egypt’s defeat. The primary cause of this was the program’s significant cost. Following the end of the Six Day War Egypt was in dire financial straits, and the USSR was offering to provide MiG-21 fighters not only at a fraction of the cost – but with an additional discount of near 50% and with substantial loans payable in local currency. Egypt’s thus prioritised what appeared in the short term to be the more cost effective weapons program, acquiring advanced variants of the MiG-21 in large numbers and relying heavily on these jets to engage Israeli Phantoms during the War of Attrition and Yom Kippur War.