5 aeroplanes you haven’t heard of
Here are some brilliant machines we’ve been thinking about for a while and not known what to do with.
The Fairchild XC-120 Packplane was an experimental transport aircraft developed from the company’s C-119 Flying Boxcar. It was unique (for a fixed wing design) in the unconventional use of removable cargo pods that were attached below the fuselage, in place of a fixed internal cargo compartment.
Its greatest cultural legacy was as the inspiration for Thunderbird 2, a fictional aeroplane from a British children’s TV show.
Budd RB Conestoga
The Conestoga was the tragic answer to the eternal-man-in-the-bar question “Why don’t they build planes from the stuff they built black boxes from?” Well they did. Worried about a limited supply of aluminium, bus manufacturer Budd came forward with a wealth of largely irrelevant experience. The Conestoga was a tough as hell wartime transport built largely from steel. Its strength proved an asset, as the type was very prone to crashing. It was said that you wait half an hour for one Conestoga crash and then three crash at once.
Built at Southampton Airport, where our regular contributor (and Maule pilot) Dorian Crook learned to fly, the Concordia was a feederliner designed by the brother of Paddy Garrow-Fisher (holder of the London-Calcutta car speed record). The Cunliffe-Owen factory later went on to be the home of the Ford Transit. It’s rumoured that a dusty prototype Concordia was scrawled with the legend “I wish my wife was as dirty as this unlucky feederliner”.
Helio Courier -Super STOL utility machine, psy-ops propaganda-monger and Air America workhorse. A cloak & dagger-man’s Beaver, if you will. The Courier did a bunch of deeply spooky stuff during the misery-fest of America’s South East asian wars. See its more COIN sibling here.
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Jurca MJ54 Silas
What could be more lovely than touring remote regions in a small car-carrying aeroplane? Once at your destination you may drive around and explore surrounding area before sleeping in the cosy fuselage of your aeroplane. The type could have been adapted as an air ambulance, parachutist carrier or transport for a physically disabled pilot but despite winning French invention of the year, it was not to be.
Note the importance of a double-barrelled name in the manufacturer, be it English or French.
The HD34 is a perfect example of the French going it alone*, in this case to an absurd degree considering the aircraft’s very limited role of aerial mapping. Whereas less proud nations might have procured a clapped-out airliner and drill holes in the floor (the more conscientious might even attach a camera), the French followed the HD series 31 and 32, with 34. It shared the high aspect ratio wing concept of the earlier types, as favoured by designer Maurice Hurel and was powered by two Wright Cyclone radial engines. Its sole operator was the French National Geographic Institute (Institut Geographique National).
–– Joe Coles & Dorian Crook
The Budd Conestoga was more of an innovation than it was suggested. That design for a military transport with the high tail and rear ramp to a boxy fuselage was a first at the time and only later became common place.
The thinking behind the use of stainless steel for the construction was because both a possible shortage of aluminium and the large labour force to manually apply the many 1000s of rivets that it required. ( Still a problem today as Boeing recently failed to get robots to satisfactorily machine rivet the fuselage of its 777 airliner)
The new techniques of machine seam welding of stainless steel thin sheets offered to bypass most of the riveting. Of course the loss of performance from a heavier plane wouldnt be acceptable in combat planes which was why the US only developed it for the Conestoga and Fleetwings BT-12 for the Air Corps. Even so the BT-12 was of similar weight to the preferred Vultee BT-13.
For a railcar builder Budd had also unusually built in stainless steel its version of the Savoia-Marchetti S.56 as the BB-1 biplane flying boat.first flight 1931. Fleetwings who also were in the sheet stainless steel business, designed and built the monoplane Seabird which had a small production run in the 1930s.
About time you wrote an article for this site Duker, you’re very knowledgeable!
Hunting H.126? That’s an endearingly weird research aircraft: 32mph takeoff speed, produces jet blast from all manner of unexpected places…
In regards to the Budd Conestoga, if an aviation firm could expand into railcar manufacturing (Hawker Siddeley via Brush Traction and Canadian Car & Foundry), why couldn’t a railcar firm take to the air?
Wouldn’t be the first time either. Henschel & Sons was a German locomotive and rolling stock company that, during the 1930s and World War II, built a number of aircraft for the Luftwaffe, including the Hs 123 dive-bomber and the Hs 126 observation plane.
I thought at first that HD34 was some form of Antonov, then I stated counting all the vertical stabilizers – like the ones from the engine nacelles to the gear sponsons? Antonov was much more frugal with their aero surfaces….
Far from obscure, the XC-120 was widely viewed as a harbinger for the future. Faster turnaround for both civilian and military , especially important in combat conditions. Was featured in a very serious children book I had in the late ’50’s-early 60’s. Nad of course, the very concept for the Sikorsky H-54 Tarhe Skycrane https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikorsky_S-64_Skycrane
Thanks Jacques, Absolutely, but certainly obscure in 2020. The H-54 is why we mentioned it was unusual for a ‘fixed-wing aircraft’. Do you recall the book name? HK
It was a popular format in North America for the time late 50’s-early 60’s: black outlined drawing that we could colorize and self-glueing colored stamps that served as a guide. After almost 60 years, I have no recollections of titles or publishers even if I have distinct souvenirs of some images( I remember a F-84 in an inverted dive shooting rockets at a train.)
There was one book on space showing space warehouse dropping bags of food on starving people…