There’s a good reason that the 1942 Miles M.30 reminds you of the later McDonnell XP-67 ‘Moon Bat’, as both were based based on the blended-wing body principles patented by the Russian aerodynamicist Nicolas Woyevodsky. Miles were embracing these futuristic ideas to create a radical new type of aircraft. Miles Aircraft was run by two aero engineers married to each other and was based in Berkshire in England. Maxine ‘Blossom’ Miles, as well as being an aviation engineer, was a socialite, and businesswoman. She became fascinated by aviation in the 1920s, and married her flight instructor, Frederick George Miles. Together they founded Miles Aircraft Ltd. The company specialised in innovative clever designs, such as the M.20.
Miles M.20 – The ‘F-20 Tigershark’ of the 1940s
The M.20 was a thoroughly sensible design, cleverly engineered to be easy to produce with minimal delay at its nation’s time of greatest need, whilst still capable of excellent performance. As it turned out its nation’s need never turned out to be quite great enough for the M.20 to go into production. First flying a mere 65 days after being commissioned by the Air Ministry, the M.20’s structure was of wood throughout to minimise its use of potentially scarce aluminium and the whole nose, airscrew and Merlin engine were already being produced as an all-in-one ‘power egg’ unit for the Bristol Beaufighter II. To maintain simplicity the M.20 dispensed with a hydraulic system and as a result the landing gear was not retractable. The weight saved as a consequence allowed for a large internal fuel capacity and the unusually heavy armament of 12 machine guns with twice as much ammunition as either Hurricane or Spitfire. Tests revealed that the M.20 was slower than the Spitfire but faster than the Hurricane and its operating range was roughly double that of either. It also sported the first clear view bubble canopy to be fitted to a military aircraft.
Because it was viewed as a ‘panic’ fighter, an emergency back-up if Hurricanes or Spitfires could not be produced in sufficient numbers, production of the M.20 was deemed unnecessary since no serious shortage occurred of either. However, given that much of the development of the Spitfire immediately after the Battle of Britain was concerned with extending its short range, as the RAF went onto the offensive over Europe, the cancellation of a quickly available, long-ranged fighter with decent performance looks like a serious error. Exactly the same thing happened with the Boulton Paul P.94, which was essentially a Defiant without the turret, offering performance in the Spitfire class but with heavier armament and a considerably longer range. The only difference being that this aircraft was even more available than the M.20 as it was a relatively simple modification to an aircraft already in production.
The M.20 popped up again in 1941 as a contender for a Fleet Air Arm catapult fighter requirement, where its relative simplicity would have been valuable. Unfortunately for Miles, there were literally thousands of obsolete Hawker Hurricanes around by this time and with suitable modifications they did the job perfectly well.
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Blended Wing Body Designs
From 1938, Miles considered various size and roles of aircraft that could be better performed by a far ‘cleaner’ type of aeroplane, with buried engines and additional lift from an aerofoil cross-section fuselage. These aircraft promised unprecedented performance for their relatively modest installed power, hinting at low-cost flight.
These varied designs were studied under the designation M.26, with each having an individual X number. They ranged from small feeder-liners to vast 8-engined transatlantic transports.
Addressing much the same need as the Bristol Brabazon, the 55-seat Miles X-9 airliner was planned to feature eight engines buried in the wings, driving four sets of contra-rotating props. Range was calculated at a very impressive 3,450 miles. To investigate the blended wing/body Miles built a sub-scale flying model of the X.9 design, the M.30 X-Minor. The gorgeous M.30 first flew in February 1942 which provided useful data but Miles’ ambitious plans never came to fruition.
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McDonnell XP-67 ‘Moonbat‘ (1944)
The radical aerodynamics of the Moonbat gave this US fighter prototype the look of flying stingray. The design emphasised low drag and the harvesting of a high amount of fuselage lift through a blended wing/body design. The fuselage, like the wing, had an aerofoil cross-section. This idea had been seen earlier on the Westland Dreadnought based on the blended fuselage-wing ideas of Russian inventor N. Woyevodsky, a Russian emigre scientist who lived in England.
The first two manifestations of this design failed to arouse the USAAF, but promises of a 472mph top speed tantalised the authorities and funding was granted. McDonnell considered serious armament options including a 75-mm gun.
The resultant aircraft flew in 1944 and proved the unknown adage ‘if it looks like a stingray it will fly like one’. It was underpowered, with poor handling, a long take-off run, terrible fuel consumption and stall characteristics even a 1940s test pilot didn’t have the bottle to explore. A prototype crashed and the project was deemed too dangerous to continue.
The blended wing body concept however has not died. It was later used with great success, among other, the SR-71 Blackbird. It is also, in its purest form, being studied for a number of future airliners concepts.