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.
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.
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.
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.”
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/
Just as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was derived from the civil Bf 108 Taifun so the Spitfire was derived from the four seat cabin monoplane Supermarine Typhoon. First flown in 1935 the Gypsy Major powered Typhoon achieved a remarkable performance due to its fine aerodynamics. The sole example was written off barely two months after the first flight when chief test pilot ‘Mutt’ Summers forgot to lower the undercarriage on landing. The projected high price and complicated construction coupled with Supermarine’s increasing preoccupation with Spitfire development doomed the project and the attractive Typhoon was destined to remain an intriguing example of what might have been had war clouds not threatened.
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Once upon a time a new fighter was planned. It would be a great fighter. It would push the boundaries of technology and it would be all things to all air forces – and navies.
The military knew that it had to ask for every piece of technology and every capability it could think of. It knew this because a responsible government keeps a check on defence procurement, making sure that the military doesn’t spend all the treasure. So the military asked for all the toys it could ever want, expecting that it’d actually get only the toys it needed. That was usually the way of things. It also decided that it’d be really smart to ask for just one type of fighter, but have it built in really different versions.
So the military sat down and made a list of all the magic it wanted in its new fighter. The list said: stealth; a new radar and sensor suite; a helmet-mounted sight that did away with the traditional HUD; a single, widescreen cockpit display; advanced sensor and data fusion; a new propulsion system; the ability to operate from land bases without compromise; the ability to operate from aircraft carriers without compromise; the ability to operate from smaller ships without compromise; weapon bays; supersonic performance; a brand new logistics and maintenance system; world-beating air-to-ground capability; and world-beating air-to-air capability.
It also made a list of all the aeroplanes it wanted to replace. On the list it wrote F-16, F/A-18, A-10, Harrier, Tornado, F-4 and EA-6B, a long list of very different aeroplanes with diverse capabilities. Could the new fighter really take-off like a Harrier, kill tanks like an A-10 and jam mobile phone signals before they could trigger an IED?
Now the aircraft and engine manufacturers, high-tech wizards with great magic in their wands, looked at what the military was asking for and saw treasure. They saw the chance to develop technology beyond their wildest dreams and, if everything went well, to make billions of money from all the fighter jets they would sell to air forces and navies of the world.
It all seemed so possible and soon they were busily at work, crafting and concocting. Each piece of technology was possible, given enough time and resource, but no one stopped to ask if all the technology was possible at the same time and for the same machine. No one stopped to ask if so much technology could be adapted to fit the requirements of the very different versions of that machine. And no one stopped and said to the government, or the military, ‘Yes, we can do all these things, but probably, if we’re entirely honest, not in a useful timescale, certainly not on budget, and maybe not all for just one airframe design.’ Worse still, everybody became so engrossed in trying to make it all work, that nobody thought to ask if they really should be trying to make it all work.
Many years passed. A great deal of treasure was made and a huge amount lost. Wizards came and went. Dates and deadlines came and went. Some aeroplanes were built while the wizards were still working their magic and although these aeroplanes were upgraded, they were never as good as the aeroplanes that were made years later, when all the magic was finally working.
The problem was that none of the wizards ever lay down his wand and said: ‘What are we doing? This is all going horribly wrong and we should admit that we’re all wrong and fix it.’
The problem was also that the military saw all its wildest dreams coming true and didn’t want to admit that it had set off the wizards on a quest that would stretch their magic so far that it’d keep breaking. It had been allowed almost all of the toys that it had wished for, even though, in the real world, most of those toys were pure luxury most of the time.
The government simply didn’t understand and it didn’t think to ask anybody who did. It started out with a big chest of treasure and although it added a little bit of extra gold, it still wasn’t enough to pay for the fighter programme as it struggled along. So it decided to buy fewer aeroplanes, but it was the development costs using all the treasure up, not the production, so the government actually paid for fewer, much, much, much, much more expensive aeroplanes.
Happily Ever Afters
There were several possible endings to the Fighter Fairy Tail. In one, the whole programme was stopped and the wizards put all their magic and their clever spells into the aeroplanes that the new fighter was supposed to replace, and into much more modern aeroplanes that were already in production, but still evolving. Legend has it that this had been done once before, long, long ago, when a very clever helicopter gave away all its magic. It worked out quite well.
In another ending, the programme was cancelled and the military made do with the fighters it already had in production. This seemed like a very silly ending, because it wasted so much magic and most of the very, very clever wizards disappeared.
Ending number three saw some of the magic requirements relaxed. This meant that the remaining magic could be made to work much better, much more quickly. One of the fighter variants was abandoned, which allowed the others to be much less compromised. The wizards managed to get really, really good aeroplanes to the military without too much more delay. By the time the military got its hands on the jets it had forgotten about all the problems and the aeroplanes worked so well that everyone, even the government, was delighted.
In the final ending, the wizards carried on as they were. The military wriggled and jiggled and although some changes were made, it pretty much got what it wanted. At first the government made the military order far fewer jets, but the aeroplane remained in production for 30 years and because orders kept being added, in the end the military got all its aeroplanes and the wizards made lots and lots of treasure.
The problem was that the first aeroplanes were delivered when their magic was immature. They all needed new spells and some of them had lots of their magic missing for many years. By the time it was ready, they were worn out.
But finally, the military got all the variants of the new fighter into service. Eventually they all worked. All the magic did what it was supposed to do and because the magic was clever, the wizards could keep writing new spells that kept the aeroplanes on top of the world.
But there was a snag. The ending was not entirely happy, although it did take forever after. Almost two decades passed from the time when the wizards delivered the first aeroplanes until all the variants were in service and doing all the things that the wizards had promised and that the military wanted. This was always going to be the ending. The aeroplane was superb. Its technology was superb. Its powerplant was superb. But in combination, they were just too much for the wizards to make quickly and at the same time. For a truly happy ending, somebody should have realised that.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to militaries, governments, wizards or fighters, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Follow the author on @twodrones
Following Vickers decision to rationalise its aviation interests and close the Supermarine design office in 1936, the RAF’s high performance fighter needs were served purely by the Hawker Hurricane. The Mk XIV was developed as a matter of urgency following the cancellation of the Typhoon programme in 1942 due to insuperable aerodynamic problems and the simultaneous failure of the Napier Sabre to mature into a viable powerplant.
Hawker had no choice but to look to the proven Hurricane airframe and the Rolls-Royce Griffon. The Centaurus was considered but marriage of the radial engine to the slender Hurricane fuselage was rejected as too complicated. Along with the engine change, aerodynamic and practical improvements were made to the airframe. Cutting down the rear fuselage proved relatively simple due to its steel tube and fabric construction, stability was retained by use of a large fin fillet. The tailwheel was arranged to retract into the ventral fin and the large radio mast was replaced with a simple whip aerial, further reducing drag.
Armament was unchanged from the Merlin Hurricane though the new aircraft benefited from a cleaner gun barrel fairing for its four 20 mm Hispanos.
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Peter Stevens designed the beautiful curves of the Mclaren F1, which has been described as the finest car in history. The F1 was the fastest production car for an incredible twelve years (1993-2005) and clocked an insane 231 mph in 1993 (seventy years earlier, the Nieuport-Delage aircraft had surpassed the 230 mph barrier in the air). As visiting professor of car design for the Royal College of Art and a lover of aviation, Hush-kit decided to grill Stevens on planes, beauty… and flying-cars!
From where does your love of aviation stem?
Principally from my Godfather who was a Wing Commander in a Lancaster squadron, I built him an Airfix model of one when I was about 12 years old, and as a scientist he then built a scale wind tunnel at Birkbeck College so that he could demonstrate the principals of flight to me. He lived just at the back of Duxford air field and we would often sneak in there.
What was your most notable flying experience?
When I first discovered what ‘wake turbulence’ meant! Not long after qualifying for my PPL I was taking off from Leavesden air strip near Watford and was instructed by the tower to depart right after an HS 125, at about 250 feet the little Grumman Tiger that I was flying, just about fell out of the sky. I will be forever grateful to my instructor Keith who had drilled in to me ‘lower the nose, level the wings and then regain control’, it worked, hence these replies to your questions. Or maybe the idiot who flew in on finals at Elstree beneath me and never even saw me. He was excellently roasted by the tower after I had gone round again!
What is your favourite aircraft and why?
No question, the SR-71 Blackbird! When you consider that the project was underway back in 1955 and that part of the brief was to make an aircraft that would be almost impossible to describe in conventional terms at that time, in order to protect the secret nature of the project, it put all forward thinking into perspective. For any designer this is a crucial thing, the ability to think beyond contemporary norms is very difficult but it is what you have to do if you want to make progress.
What do you consider the most beautiful aircraft (if different from above)?
It sounds so easy to say the Spitfire but for me it’s true. Most summer weekends a couple of Spitfires fly low over our house, either on their way to or from air displays. They come from a strip just a bit North of where we live in Suffolk. And the reason they still look (and sound!) so beautiful is part of a personal theory that I have. The Hurricane is a fabulous aircraft but I suspect that the draughtsmen who would have drawn the full-size lines of the ‘plane would have been local to Hatfield and would most probably have had amongst their drawing kit ‘railway curves’. These are very large radius curves used during the laying out of railway tracks. If you then connect these very big radius lines, often almost straight lines, with regular corner radii you get a Hurricane. The Spitfire, on the other hand was drawn up in Southampton where the draughtsmen would have come from the boat building industry, and they would have amongst their drawing kit ‘ships curves’, these are transitional curves that slowly tighten or flatten over their lengths. Hence the more sensuous lines of the Spitfire. Despite the arrival of CAD I still use ships curves for the most important lines on a car. These curves are sometimes call ‘French curves’ and are some of my most valued studio possessions.
The architect Norman Foster has a model of the Northrop YB-49 flying wing in his studio, do you have a model aircraft in yours?
Two little models, a Gee Bee (such outrageous proportions), a DC-3 (first plane I flew in with my Godfather), and a BIG model of a Bleriot Monoplane (those first days of flight were just so romantic).
What effect has aviation had on car design, if any? For instance has the faceted, angular stealth shape of modern aircraft influenced any designs?
In aircraft term all cars can be described as being reliant on ‘low speed aerodynamics’ but the actual shapes are often taken from very high speed aircraft. This could be considered dishonest but designers are so often looking for the ‘next new thing’. When designing a fast road-car the whole aero thing is so different from that to be considered when designing a race car. On a road car you do not want lift but you also do not want much downforce at all, otherwise the springs will need to be so stiff to avoid scraping the ground at high speeds that the thing will ride like a truck at low speeds. I do think that designers are looking at things like the F-117 stealth fighter for inspiration, the Lamborghini Aventador is a good example of this trend.
What was the most beautiful era for aircraft design?
It’s easy to get carried away with the romantic notions of early aircraft and see Golden Eras in the past, or to use the daft old adage used in race car design that ‘if it works well and wins it’s automatically beautiful’, but that is just not true. There are aircraft from all eras that are beautiful and many that are not.
Do you have any thoughts about the crossover (if any) between the purely aesthetic design fields and that of applied design (like in aviation).
I suppose that in the past designer were more inclined to be just surface decorators, this was particularly true in the Victorian age. But as popular ideas of design focused on simpler forms the designer took charge of both the form and the surface decoration. Whether this time line followed or preceded that of painters and sculptors, I am not sure (subject by a PhD I think). What I have observed is that some pure engineers have a very real sensitivity towards the difference between a ‘good line’ and a ‘poor line’, Both Patrick Head and John Barnard, ex Formula One designers, were very aware of the importance of a ‘good line’ to them. This comes back to the Spitfire and Hurricane debate.
A related point – cars and aircraft that are designed apparently for purely aerodynamic concerns are often very beautiful, indeed often the most beautiful examples of their kind. Why should this be?
I think that a sensitivity for what airflow wants to do is an unusual trait, these days CFD (Computational fluid dynamics) can produce technically correct solutions that lack any degree of harmony in the resultant forms. You can push the airflow around but you cannot force it to do what it does not want to do, I see the air as being lazy and wanting to take the least stressful path and it is the same for your hand when passing over a form. Natural transitions as seen in nature almost always have something to tell us about the best aerodynamic shapes. A good example in car design is the Jaguar XJ 13 of 1966/67; Designer Malcolm Sayer was an aerodynamicist at Jaguar but also a superb designer and the car exudes style.
What will be the next technology to move from aviation to motoring or vice versa, for example have F1 drivers used helmet mounted displays or have any advanced materials recently passed into cars from the aerospace world?
I think that more specialised carbon composites, particularly penetration resistant ones could find their way into race cars. The head-up display thing (the HUD) or the much more complex Apache helmet mounted system is now not needed in F1 cars because (unfortunately) there is an army of guys monitoring all the systems in the car and making strategy calls from the back of the pit garage, or even in some cases monitoring stuff back at the factory.
What will aeroplanes look like in 100 or even 1000 years time?
In 100 years I suspect that military aircraft will be pilotless but I think that private flying will remain popular but the machines will be so much more efficient and ‘drama’ proof. The huge amount of progress made in automated systems for cars, like stability control etc will find their way into aircraft in the near future. In a 1000 years we will without doubt travel virtually or maybe in person, very rarely, using our rare and expensive carbon/energy credits that we will have to earn by our ultra low energy personal lifestyles. How grim is that!
Will flying cars ever become popular?
As popular as amphibious cars. Who would want a crap car that is also a very poor aircraft? Just like who wants a miserable car that is also a thoroughly poor boat?
Hush-kit is reminding the world of the beauty of flight.
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