A 1957 patent by Skunk Works genius Nathan C. Price envisioned Mach 4 airliners shaped like cigars. Powered by ramjets, capable of vertical take-off and flying in the mid-Stratosphere, the designs almost certainly started as a Black project with a military application in mind.
The Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner was the first commercial transport aircraft to enter service with a pressurised cabin, thanks to the ingenious cabin pressure regulator created by Nathan C. Price. He also developed the supercharger for the P-38 Lightning fighter without which it would had lacklustre performance at higher altitudes. He was an early champion of the axial-flow jet engine and an important figure in US jet propulsion development.
He was exceptionally far-sighted in his vision: his Lockheed L-133 design (above), work on which started in 1939, was for a blended wing-body canard delta jet fighter capable of 612mph. By the 1950s, as Lockheed’s senior engineer, he was happily designing Mach 4 flying saucers— but even these were conventional compared to his next one. He proposed an airliner with no wing, no control surfaces, no visible cockpit and it was to have a cruising speed between Mach 3-4 and be capable of vertical take-off and landing!
The machine was essentially a ramjet-powered missile, albeit full of holiday-makers. Ramjets can only function at high speeds, so in order to reach these speeds it harnessed the power of a clutch of turbojet engines. Vertical takeoff and landing would take place by directing the exhaust gases of the turbojets (using the Coandă effect Effect: the tendency of a fluid jet to stay attached to a convex surface). Without visible control surfaces steering was to be via selective vectored thrust channelled through louvres.
Once the huge ramjet kicked in the machine was expected to reach 100,000ft, and achieve intercontinental ranges. The machine would utilise inertial guidance and have a high degree of automation — but would carry a crew to manage emergencies. It is believed that wind tunnel testing took place, though fascinating concept was never built.
It was filed as a patent in 1957 but it was not listed until late 1964. Though revealed as an airliner it seems highly likely — considering both Skunk Works history and the Cold War context — that the study begun life as a military aircraft, most likely a nuclear strike platform or reconnaissance aircraft.