Category: Aviation Twilight Zone

The US Army’s Ring-Wing Transformer: The strange story of the Convair Model 49

 

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In the 1960s the US Army were growing sick of dependence on inappropriate USAF aircraft for the close support mission. Aircraft like the Republic F-105 Thunderchief were simply too fast and too vulnerable to support troops on the ground effectively. Instead the US Army wanted the versatility and forward-basing possibilities of a vertical take-off platform with the ability to hover. To excel in the tough close support role the type would need to be heavily armed and armoured. This need was expressed formally as the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System or AAFSS.

Convair, a company famed for its adventurous designs, responded to the Army’s AAFSS requirement with typical ambition. Drawing on their experience with the tail-sitting XFY-1 ‘Pogo’ they proposed a two man ‘ring’ (or annular) wing ducted-fan design quite unlike anything else in service, though somewhat similar to the experimental SNECMA C.540 Coléoptère. The concept was bizarre in appearance but Convair believed it was the perfect configuration for an aircraft combining a helicopter’s unusual abilities with some of the offensive features of a military ground vehicle. One of the greatest challenges was creating a cockpit that tilted so the pilot was not facing the sky in the take-off/landing and landed support parts of its mission. This necessitated  a complex hinged forward fuselage giving the type its distinctly ‘Transformer’-like looks.

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XFY-1 POGO (37)

The Convair XFY-1 ‘Pogo’ tail-sitting fighter.

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Two co-axially mounted contra-rotated rotors were to be powered by either Pratt & Whitney’s JFTD12 or Lycoming’s LTC4B-11 (GE’s T64 and Allison’s T56 were also assessed as candidates). The duct would generate more thrust from the engine than would the open rotors of a conventional helicopter design, which was a good thing as it was expected to weigh in at around 21,000 Ib (9526kg) fully-loaded.

 

The untold story of Britain’s cancelled superfighter, the Hawker P.1154, can be read here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Armament for this monstrous machine would include a central turret with a XM-140 30-mm automatic cannon with 1,000 rounds or a launcher for 500 (!) WASP rockets and two remotely-controlled light machine-gun turrets with 12,000 rounds of ammunition or a XM-75 grenade launchers with 500 rounds. Addition to this already awe-inspiring arsenal were four hard points on the nacelles which could carry Shellelagh or BGM-71 TOW missiles, or even the M40 ‘106-mm ‘ recoilless gun! The weapons could be fired during any part of the flight profile (note the ‘hover firing’ position). The steel armour would be impervious to 12.7-mm rounds, but there was little or no provision for defences or countermeasures against surface-to-air missiles.

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The risky Model 49 lost the AAFSS contest to the remarkable Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne which was in turn cancelled. The thirty year journey to produce an indigenous fire support aircraft for the US Army eventually led to today’s widely feared AH-64 Apache.

http://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/pdf/go6858.pdf

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here– it doesn’t have to be a large amount, every pound is gratefully received. If you can’t afford to donate anything then don’t worry.

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Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

 

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Hush-kit awards for best-looking aircraft in production 2014: Category 1: Fighters

Hush-kit readers voted for the best looking fighter aircraft currently in production. Silence please as we open the golden envelope.

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Bronze award: Saab Gripen
Though somewhat anodyne compared with Saab’s earlier Viggen, the perky Gripen is well proportioned, with a pleasing canopy and nicely shaped canards. The petite jet nozzle is pleasantly dainty.

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Silver: Dassault Rafale
The best-looking Western fighter is, of course, the Dassault Rafale. A distinctive Y-shaped cross section, sensual lines and a touch of the TF-102 combine in a stylish and predatory form.

And the winner is……………

Gold: Sukhoi Su-35
Bill Sweetman noted how the ‘Flanker’ “looks incomparably bad-ass, as if God designed a pterodactyl to go Mach 2.”, the latest member of the family continues this tradition. The bird-like bend to the ‘Flanker’s forward fuselage gives it a noble and almost living appearance. The fuselage/wing blending lends its shape an integrity that most other fighters lack.

It also helps that the Su-35 is unsurpassed at airshow gymnastics (though the MiG-29OVT may be on a par).

Incomparably bad-ass, as if God designed a pterodactyl to go Mach 2

Incomparably bad-ass, as if God designed a pterodactyl to go Mach 2

Booby prizes in this category goes to the F-35B which looks like somebody force-fed a filing cabinet to the runt of a F-22 litter.

Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

 

The Mikoyan MiG-37: A brief history of Russian stealth (in fact and fiction)

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On November 10 1988, a heavily airbrushed photo was shown at a press briefing by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, J. Daniel Howard. Until that moment the subject of the photo had been one of the world’s most closely-held secrets.

The photograph was of the Lockheed F-117, the legendary ‘stealth fighter’.

It was a new and weird shape. Slightly preceding this, (in April 1988) the Northrop B-2 had also emerged from the Black world of secret defence projects. The B-2 ‘stealth bomber’ was a charcoal grey flying-wing, clearly designed by the same person who had created the Batmobile.

Stealth was big news. Until then, aeroplanes had been tubes with wings, designed primarily with air particles in mind, now they were shaped for their reaction with radio waves; things had suddenly changed. As an aeroplane-fixated ten-year-old, I was hungry for more information on this new world. With its secrecy, its potency and dramatic unveilings, it was wildly exciting.

So I was very happy when I was bought a copy of Stealth Warplanes, a book by Doug Richardson.  I believed that this book, with its thrilling cover, was my secret pass to the nefarious world of Stealth. I picked up another copy today, as I was curious to see how well this book had stood the test of 23 years.

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‘Mikoyan MiG-37’

ImageWard's MiG-2000 featured inward canting fins. Another popular '80s idea for stealth aircraft, possibly stemming from leaked information on Lockheed's 'Have Blue'.

Ward’s MiG-2000 featured inward canting fins. Another popular ’80s idea for stealth aircraft, possibly stemming from leaked information on Lockheed’s ‘Have Blue’.

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Soviet developments could not be ignored by the book, despite the fact that at this time, nothing about Soviet stealth projects was known in the press. So the ‘Mikoyan MiG-37’ was pure conjecture, based on the pure ‘conjecture’ (more on this later) of the MiG-2000. The MiG-2000 was a notional threat aircraft devised by General Dynamics’ Richard Ward, of what a follow-up to the MiG-29 might look like. It was intended to give the  international F-16 community an idea of what they may be up against in the year 2000. This was based on Ward’s observations of several technologies the Soviets appeared to be very interested in, most notably thrust vectoring and the canard-delta arrangement. At this time, it was rumoured that the MiG-35 was to be a single-engined aircraft in the F-16-class, though in retrospect it is more likely that this rumour related to the Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) which would have probably been designated MiG-33 (and may have been a design influence on the JF-17).

The Mikoyan  Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) LFI light fighter concept.

The Mikoyan Izdeliye 33 (Izd 33) LFI light fighter concept.

Regardless, it looked to many observers that MiG-37 seemed the most likely designation for the first Soviet stealth fighter. As the text points out:

“In the autumn of 1987, the US plastic model manufacturer Testors.. launched its model of the “MiG-37B Ferret E”- a Soviet equivalent to the Lockheed stealth fighter. Its appearance must have caused a few smiles around the Mikoyan design bureau. As its manufacturer admitted.. Its reception in the Pentagon must have been less amusing. Here in widely-distributed form was the first model to widely illustrate the use of RCS reduction technique.” (more on Testor’s MiG-37 can be seen here). It seems that the concepts of a gridded intake and a surface made of flat panels was already there for those looking.  And Testors’ model designer John Andrews certainly seemed to have his ear to the ground.

The 'F-19' was featured in the 1990 computer game 'Operation Stealth '.

The ‘F-19’ was featured in the 1990 computer game ‘Operation Stealth ‘.

One of the fascinating features of this book was its strong belief in ‘round stealth’. Many of the hypothetical aeroplanes in this book feature rounded-off wingtips, noses and fin-tips of the hypothetical aircraft. Radar returns would be scattered from these curves:

“…the rounded planform (of the MiG-37) shown here would ensure that reflected energy was scattered over a range of directions.”

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A 1982 Lockheed ATF concept that includes ’round stealth’.

In reality, this design idea was never used (albeit to a small degree on some cruise missiles), and it could be argued that the cultivation of this idea was the result of deliberate disinformation by several companies. Loral, Northrop and Lockheed (in several ATF artworks) may have been actively involved in this attempt to draw attention away from the F-117-facetingand B-2 flying wing approach. This idea can be seen on most ‘F-19s’ and is evident on this MiG-37.

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 Of course complex curves are used in modern low observable designs, but this ‘round stealth’ is not like the two US schools of stealth that have emerged, the Lockheed approach (sharp angles and flat surfaces) and the Northrop approach (as flat as possible, and of the flying wing configuration for subsonic designs, as seen on the B-2, Lockheed Martin RQ-170, Dassault NeuroN etc). When Northrop and McDonnell Douglas designed the YF-23, they incorporated the ‘flat as a pancake’ Northrop approach.

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Doug Richardson’s Mikoyan MIg-37

The notional MiG-37 is a tactical fighter that weighs around 50,000 lb and is powered by two 30,000 lb (in reheat) thrust class turbofans. It has two-dimensional vectored thrust provided by ‘slotted low-RCS nozzles’. It is a two-seater, with a canard delta planform and two canted out vertical fins. The concept emphasizes performance and reduced radar cross section.

Did history provide us with a real MiG-37 to compare it to? The simple answer is yes. The Mikoyan Project 1.44/1.42 was a technology demonstrator that first flew in 2000. It displayed some similarities to Richardson’s MiG-37.

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MiG 1.44/1.42

It was a canard delta, it did have out twin canted tails. The thrust class was similar, though the real aircraft was even more powerful, with two Lyulka AL-41F turbofans rated at 176 kN (39,680 lb) in reheat. Weight was between 42-62,000 lb depending on fuel load, test equipment etc, so again- excellent guesswork. It certainly did not have rounded-off wingtips or tail-fins. The nozzles were not flat, despite the stealth advantages these could have conferred. The reason for the inclusion of round exhaust nozzles could have been one or more of the following-

1. 3D vectoring was envisioned, requiring a circular nozzle (perhaps extreme manoeuvrability was considered more important than minimum RCS)
2. Russian metallurgy was not good enough to make square nozzles which could withstand the  high temperatures of a vectoring jet nozzle
3. The actual production version if made, would have featured 2D nozzles
4. They were not required or were not consider a suitable design feature

It was claimed that the aircraft would feature plasma stealth technology, an exotic idea that a General Electric employee had filed patents relating to in 1956. Little has been heard about plasma stealth since, though the fact that the later PAK FA is so carefully shaped suggests it is not a technology that was made to work satisfactorily. Problems in developing working plasma stealth include the generation of sufficient power to create the required plasma layer, and the operation of radar and radio in what amounts to a ‘radio blackout’. Talk of this technology may have been deliberate disinformation.

The MiG 1.44/1.42, a candidate for the Mnogofunksionalni Frontovoy Istrebitel (Multifunctional Frontline Fighter) programme was cancelled (though some contend that research from this effort found its way into the Chengdu J-20 project though there is no direct evidence of this). Sukhoi’s rival S-47 ‘Berkut’ took a radically different approach and adopted canards with forward swept wings, as can be seen from later developments this configuration appears to have been a design dead-end, at least for the time being.

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As far as we know MiG’s current stealth efforts are devoted to developing a Northrop-style UCAV with Sukhoi (using experience gained on MiG’s cancelled ‘Skat’ UCAV).

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The Russian stealth fighter in development today is the Sukhoi PAK FA. The design features with some smaller similarities with Richardson’s MiG-37. Both the ‘MiG-37’ and the PAK FA feature a IRST/laser ranger finder (à la MiG-29/Su-27)- something the Russians very much appreciate, and there seems relatively little effort to reduce this sensor’s radar cross section.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/071060131X/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=071060131X&linkCode=as2&tag=hushkit-21

It appears the PAK FA is built with a more attention to ease of maintenance than the ‘hygienically’ smooth Raptor, which seems to favour absolute minimum radar return (but this is pure speculation). The PAK FA does not have a canards (a difficult feature to make stealthy, nevertheless featuring on the J-20), instead, it has an innovative kind of movable leading edge root extension (described by some as Povorotnaya Chast Naplyva or PChN). The Sukhoi approach to stealth includes elements seen in both the Northrop and LM schools, but seems to have less emphasis on achieving a minute RCS to the detriment of serviceability and aerodynamic efficiency.

The Sukhoi PAK FA is a large advanced stealth fighter now in development.

The Sukhoi PAK FA is a large advanced stealth fighter now in development.

Richardson’s MiG-37 concept was, given the information available to him, an excellent piece of guesswork, and  a pleasantly revealing insight into a ‘crossroads’ period of aviation history. It is also interesting that, on first impressions, the MiG-37 was a more accurate guess than Ward’s MiG-2000. However, there is more to the story than this, as Richard Ward was one of the most experienced figures in the design of stealth aircraft.  General Dynamics had inherited a wealth of stealth research from Convair, from projects including the A-11 and Kingfish. Ward probably worked on the Model 100/Sneaky Pete and other A-12 precursors.  As Bill Sweetman said to Hush-Kit:  “He knew what to avoid with MiG-2000.”

The PAK-DA is a new stealth bomber project at a very early stage of development.

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Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here– it doesn’t have to be a large amount, every pound is gratefully received. If you can’t afford to donate anything then don’t worry.

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As a thank you….

 

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Special thanks to the great Bill Sweetman for ironing out several of the facts in the original version of this.  There are likely to be further amendments to this piece at a later date.

 

NUCLEAR POWERED AEROPLANES: A GALLERY

What could be safer and saner than an aircraft fitted with an atomic reactor? 

Despite worries about safety, many aircraft designers, air forces and ponderers have toyed with the idea of an atomic plane. Here’s a gallery of some of the exciting, and somewhat insane, atomic aircraft.

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Want to see more stories like this: Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit

Thank you for reading Hush-Kit. Our site is absolutely free and we have no advertisements. If you’ve enjoyed an article you can donate here. At the moment our contributors do not receive any payment but we’re hoping to reward them for their fascinating stories in the future.

Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versus Typhoon10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians.

 

NAPALM BATS: THE BIZARRE TRUE STORY OF BAT BOMBS

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Animals have been a part of military organisations for about as long as human history. Horses revolutionized combat. Carrier pigeons provided a cheap and effective way to communicate during combat. Bomb-sniffing dogs continue to save lives. There are a few instances of attack animals, such as Hannibal’s use of war elephants and police attack dogs, but fortunately for the critters of the world, technology has progressed to a point that attack animals are essentially unnecessary.

But did you know that the US military poured money into an actual ‘bat bomb’? Not bombs shaped like a bat, or a bomb that just had “bat” as part of a secret code name — actual bats carrying around incendiary devices. As bizarre as it may sound, it’s true. Not only was this top secret weapon on the verge of being deployed in combat, but initial testing suggested that the bat bomb would have been one of the most destructive weapons in the US military’s arsenal.

My dentist is always busy.

Shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the military was inundated with ideas for new, ingenious, and often quirky weapon ideas. One such idea came from Dr. Lytle S. Adams, a dentist and inventor. Adams happened to be friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which allowed him to submit a proposal to President Roosevelt.

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“Thanks, our reputation for being dark and evil has been helped no end.”

His idea was to attach incendiary devices to bats and drop them over Japan to create a widely effective firebomb. Four facts made this a tempting idea:

1. Bats can be induced to hibernate, which makes them easy to transport.

2. Millions upon millions of bats can be found in caves across the US, which means that they would be cheap to acquire.

3. Bats seek out dark areas during daylight, so there is a good chance that they would roost in the attics and cubbyholes of buildings.

4. Bats can carry several of their young at a time, so they can probably carry a bomb.

The project received funding, amazingly, and the US military set about experimenting with ways to equip bats with incendiary devices. After a few bungled prototypes, they eventually developed a napalm device that weighed less than an ounce and operated on a 30 minute timer.

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The bat bomb- the perfect weapon for biblical apocalypses.

Testing the bomb proved to be incredibly effective — even moreso than anybody had ever predicted. Several bats escaped from captivity at the Carlsbrad auxiliary airfield, and within a few minutes the entire base was up in flames. The military later performed another test in a mock Japanese village; the fake town was completely obliterated. The military wrote, “It is concluded that the bat bomb is an effective weapon.”

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“Several bats escaped from captivity at the Carlsbrad auxiliary airfield, and within a few minutes the entire base was up in flames.”

At that point, the only tricky part was figuring out how to deploy the bats. Bats cannot be dropped out of a plane like bombs, because they would simply crash into the ground. That’s where the bat bomb came in. The military created a bomb-shaped device that held hundreds of bats in stacked layers. The bomb would release a parachute after it was deployed and then open its stacks to give the bats a chance to wake up and take to the skies.

Unfortunately for the bat bomb project, another famous program, the Manhattan Project, had secretly rendered the bat bomb obsolete. Everything that the bat bomb could do, Fat Man and Little Boy could do a thousand times better. The nuclear era had just begun, and the age of the bat bomb was over before it even got started.

By Dabney B. http://strikefighterconsultinginc.com/blog/