Saturday, July 20, 2013

Skybolt: The First (and only) USAF ALBM: Air Force work on air launched ballistic missiles began in earnest by the late 1950s, and was spurred by several factors. Many (incorrectly) regarded the ballistic missile as a replacement for manned bombers (just as SAMs were to have replaced interceptors) but combining the two did have its attractions. ICBMs could not be recalled after firing, or launched and then kept in a holding position; bombers had these capabilities, as well as being capable of use in conventional strikes, and assuming successful completion of a mission and recovery, could be used again. The aircraft, however, were increasingly vulnerable to air defenses, whereas missile warheads were essentially unstoppable. There was a political aspect as well, as it was becoming apparent that the Navy's Polaris system had the potential for being an almost invulnerable nuclear deterrent force, while the Strategic Air Command was restricted to operating fixed land-based missiles and vulnerable bombers. Developing a mobile strike force using bombers and ALBMs meant that the USAF would have a chance to compete with Polaris for defense dollars.

Although conventional aircraft obviously could not maintain standing patrols for months at a time as submarines could, SAC's airborne alert program had much the same effect, using rotating flights to keep a portion of the force in the air at any given time. There were also long-range plans for nuclear powered bombers that while not having the on-station endurance of a submarine, could mount patrols of very long duration while carrying ALBMs.

Martin's Bold Orion ALBM prototype program was run in 1959, and used three-stage missiles of various configurations, with the launch aircraft being a refitted B-47 Stratojet. A series of launches were made, with the final shot being acknowledged as the first known ASAT test, as the missile's trajectory came close enough (several miles) to the orbit of an Explorer satellite that the "bird" could have been destroyed had the Orion been carrying a warhead.

There was another late 1950s ALBM demonstrator program, this time using the Convair B-58 Hustler as a launch platform. Lockheed would design and build the High Virgo demonstrator missiles, which would be carried and launched from the Hustler's centerline station, which normally carried the aircraft's fuel/bomb pod.

 Like Bold Orion, High Virgo was basically a lash-up of existing solid-fuel stages. An attempt at an ASAT test is said to have been made during the High Virgo launches, but apparently did not succeed. Despite the early work on ALBMs done by Lockheed and Martin, the contract for an operational-type weapon went to Douglas, in 1960. Developed under the WS-138 program, the Skybolt was to be a two stage solid-fuel missile capable of carrying a W59 warhead in a Mk.7 reentry vehicle some 1,500 miles. Launch aircraft would (at least initially) be late-model B-52s, which would carry four missiles externally with a pair of missiles on each underwing pylon.

Although Skybolt was intended primarily as a weapon for the B-52G/H force, refitting older models of the Stratofortress to carry the missile was also considered. Of SAC's other bombers, the B-47 was in the process of being retired, the B-58 was not earmarked as a carrier, and extensive changes to the design would have been necessary to match the weapon to an operational version of the B-70.

The British joined the Skybolt program early on; RAF Bomber Command badly needed such a weapon, as its "V-Bombers" were far fewer in number than SAC's huge force, and as such needed a standoff weapon to keep the limited number of aircraft as effective as possible. The Vulcan B.2 would have carried four missiles, and a single B.2 test ship was used to conduct compatibility and dummy drop tests. The Handley-Page Victor B.2 was another potential carrier, and there was even a proposal for a missile platform version of the Vickers VC.10 airliner armed with the Skybolt.

The first Skybolt launch took place on the afternoon of April 19, 1962, with the B-52 launch aircraft staging from Eglin AFB, Florida. A single Skybolt was carried under the right wing, with an inert example fitted on the port launcher. The launch and first stage ignition took place as planned, but a failure of the second stage meant that the planned 1,000 mile range for this first shot was not achieved. The second Skybolt test, on June 29, failed completely when the first stage did not ignite.

Skybolt's high cost, coupled with the troubled development program, made it a prime target for cancellation. During a conference between President Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in the Bahamas in December 1962, Kennedy let it be known that the US would not in the end buy Skybolt for SAC, although the program could be continued by the British. Becoming the sole customer for Skybolt would have driven costs too high, and MacMillan settled on an alternative offered by Kennedy, namely the supply of Polaris SLBMs.

Although the Polaris decision would preserve Britain's nuclear deterrent, the fact that a new ALBM would not be forthcoming meant that the V-Bomber force would have a limited lifespan ahead of it, at least in its original strategic role. The British-developed Blue Steel ASM would be bought in limited numbers, but that weapon's range and speed could not compare with those of Skybolt, and development of a more capable Mk.2 version had been abandoned. Given the cancellation, there was no justification seen in proceeding with the Vulcan B.3 design, which could have carried a triple load of missiles under each wing. However, vestiges of the Skybolt system were to survive to the end of the Vulcan B.2's service life in the bomber role, as at least some aircraft had provisions for the missiles, and these were used to haul conventional weapons to the Falklands.

Ironically, a final Skybolt test launch in December was hailed by some as a success, although it was later revealed that the missile did not carry a representative warhead. There was considerable political furor over the Skybolt cancellation, especially given the Kennedy Adminstration's lack of enthusiasm for bomber related programs, in particular the B-70. Critics contended that without the B-70 or Skybolt, the future of the manned strategic bomber was in doubt.

In the late 1970s, nearly two decades after the cancellation of Skybolt, the USAF was again looking at putting small ballistic missiles on strategic bombers. Like Skybolt, the Longbow missile was to be a two-stage weapon, but would be far smaller than the older missile, although thanks to advances in propellant technology the range would actually be greater. Although Longbow could have been pushed as part of the early 1980s US nuclear buildup, the program was not picked up, as there were other systems such as Pershing II and GLCM that had already reached the hardware stage.

Magazine Articles
"USAF Concern Over Skybolt" Aviation Week August 15, 1960 p.27

Irving Stone "Skybolt ALBM Gets Priority for 1964 Availability" Aviation Week October 3, 1960 p.26-28 4 illustrations

"Britain Finances Vulcan-Skybolt Work" Aviation Week January 2, 1961 p.16

"Coming: A Deadly B-52 Loaded With Missiles" U.S. News & World Report January 16, 1961 p.8

[Photo: Skybolt] advertisement U.S. News & World Report May 8, 1961 p.25

"Skybolt ALBM Has New Configuration" Aviation Week June 5, 1961 p.42 1  illustration

[Photo: Skybolt] advertisement Aviation Week June 5, 1961 p.112

"B-52H Makes Test of Skybolt Compatibility" Aviation Week June 19, 1961 p.33 1 illustration

"Skybolt Successfully Air-Launched From B-52G" Aviation Week & Space Technology April 30, 1962 p.28-29 6 illustrations

"RAF Vulcan Tested With Dummy Skybolts" Aviation Week & Space Technology April 9, 1962 p.118 1 illustration

Photo: B-52H w/Skybolts Aviation Week & Space Technology March 12, 1962 p.73

"Skybolt - What Now?" Air Pictorial February 1963 p.32-33. One photo of a Vulcan with a Skybolt test vehicle mounted.

 "Two New Ballistic Missiles Scrutinized" Aviation Week & Space Technology January 29, 1979 p.101+ 3 illustrations

Newspaper Articles

"Skybolt: A Promising New Weapon" The New York Times April 21, 1962 p.4 c.4 2 illustrations

"Two U.S. Missiles Score In New Tests" The New York Times June 30, 1962 p.5 c.2

Web Resources
A restored Skybolt mockup at the Air Force Space & Missile Museum

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jupiter IRBM

Even as the Cold War was heating up between the superpowers during the mid-1950s, another conflict was brewing in the United States, a bureaucratic battle between different branches of the nation's armed forces. Beset with post-Korea budget cutbacks, the USAF, Army, and Navy were all trying to ensure their future by hopping on the nuclear bandwagon. Nuclear arms promised devastating firepower without the manpower cost of conventional forces, but the rush to nuclearization would lead to a serious flare-up of the roles and missions controversy between the Army and Air Force.

The USAF attempted to claim hegemony over ballistic missiles with the assertion that the new weapons were aerospace vehicles, and as such, evolutionary extensions of the strategic aircraft operated by the Air Force. On the other hand, the Army was of the opinion that it had greater experience with guided missiles, and in any case, missiles were merely very long range artillery. The Army Ballistic Missile Agency, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal and staffed with many of the German A-4/V-2 personnel that had helped develop the Redstone, was established to develop an IRBM with a range of 1,500 miles. By mid-1956 this had coalesced as the Jupiter missile, with Chrysler being contracted to develop the new weapon.

Powered by an S-3D engine, the single stage Jupiter had similar performance to the Air Force's Thor, although a slightly higher-yield warhead would be used. A key technical innovation of Jupiter would be its use of an RV coated with ablative material, which would disperse reentry heat by gradually melting. This would allow weight-savings when compared to heat sink-type RVs, but there was little experience with ablative materials and construction. ABMA tested the concept using the Jupiter-C vehicles, which were in fact Redstones that had been uprated with a longer first stage and three solid propellant upper stages to loft subscale ablative test vehicles on profiles that would encounter heating conditions similar to those that would be encountered by operational Jupiters. A successful recovery of a Jupiter-C RV and the article's subsequent examination helped to confirm that the ablative design was feasible. The Jupiter-A was another Redstone-derived testbed, in this case for proving the guidance system. Flight testing of this version began on March 14, 1956, and a total of twenty-five were launched.

Flight testing of actual Jupiters began on March 1, 1957, and by March of the following year the ablative RV design had been conclusively demonstrated by the launch and recovery of a full-sized test article. Unlike the Thor, Jupiter was housed vertically, sitting on a pedestal.

Army hopes of operating the Jupiter had been dashed in November 1956 when the Secretary of Defense issued an edict that forbade the Army from operating SSMs with ranges beyond 200 miles. Jupiter would have to be operated by the USAF, which was already developing the comparable Thor, putting the Redstone-developed missile's future in jeopardy.

Secretary of Defense Wilson appointed a small committee that was charged with settling the IRBM debate, and many thought that the program would be cut altogether. Combining the technologies of both missiles into a new type was also considered, but both weapons had many similarities in the first place, and starting anew would have of course entailed major delays. The decision kept being pushed back, and in the meantime the Soviets orbited the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in October 1957. Overnight, US missile programs were almost guaranteed a future, and in November of that year it was announced that both IRBM programs were to be continued.

Jupiter's intermediate range dictated basing near the peripheries of the USSR; deployment to several locations in the Pacific was looked at, but in the end, Jupiters were only to be emplaced in NATO countries. In 1958, France turned down a proposal to host the Jupiter system, but in the following year, Italy and Turkey agreed to deploy the missiles.

The Jupiter deployment on NATO's southern flank was one of the factors that provoked the Soviets into deploying missiles to Cuba, and as part of the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US agreed to withdraw the Jupiters. This withdrawal was not as significant as it might have seemed to some, as by late 1962 increasing numbers of Polaris A1-armed SSBNs could be assigned to hit targets formerly assigned to the Jupiters, and could do so with far less vulnerability.

Army film showing the first Jupiter test launch

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Boeing B-9

YB-9: The first US bomber to use an all-metal airframe, Boeing's YB-9 was an offshoot of the company's Monomail mail plane of 1930. This successfully used stressed-skin construction, and spurred the private venture Model 214 and 215 bomber prototypes, powered by Curtiss G1V and P&W Hornet engines, respectively. Given the military designations YB-9 and Y1B-9, these modern machines proved far superior to existing biplane bombers, being capable of hauling a ton of bombs while outrunning pursuit aircraft. However, despite these capabilities, series production would be limited to five Y1B-9As, as the USAAC opted to buy the Douglas B-18.

Boeing B-9 model photo

Build article on a YB-9 RC foamy

Boeing B-9 for FSX

Friday, February 22, 2013

T-33 Shooting Star

RT-33A: 85 photo recon models with camera noses and mission equipment in place of the backseater. Production was undertaken for foreign customers, but in the early 1960s the USAF acquired several second hand examples for use over Laos as part of Project Field Goal.

T2V-1/T-1A Seastar: The last new build version of the F-80/T-33 family, the T2V-1 Seastar was started as the private venture L-245 prototype, built from an incomplete standard T-33 and first flown in December 1953. The design was quite different from the baseline aircraft, with a new rear fuselage, raised rear instructor seat for better visibility, and BLC and a slatted wing for slower approaches. The USAF passed on the program, but the USN elected to buy the type as the T2V-1 Seastar; fitting out the airframe for carrier use included strengthening the undercarriage and installing a tailhook.

Lockheed T2V Seastar model photo
T2V Seastar model
The T2V was redesignated as the T-1A in the fall of 1962, but by that time the Seastar had already been replaced in its originally intended role by North American's T-2 Buckeye. VT-10 would continue to fly the Seastar to train NFOs, and the type would see widespread use at USN and Marine Corps air stations as a utility aircraft.


Photo: T-33 FT-4 of the Royal Belgian Air Force. Air Pictorial May 1961  p.143

Photo: A pair of Pakistani AF T-33s in flight. Air International February 1987  p.72

Photo: Paraguayan Air Force T-33 #1020  Air Forces Monthly October 2002  p.53

Photo: Former Belgian Air Force T-33 at Spadeadam. Air Forces Monthly October 2002  p.58

TV-2 "virtual cockpit" at the National Museum of Naval Aviation

A nice build article on the Sword 1/72 T-33 model kit

The Falcon Models 1/72 diecast T-33 model

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bristol Blenheim

Bristol's Blenheim originated as a light transport design by Frank Barnwell, and was brought to reality by the requirement by the Daily Mail for what in later years would be termed an executive aircraft. The resulting Mercury-powered Bristol Type 142 of 1935 lived up to the newspaper's speed requirements, being significantly faster than front line RAF fighters of the day. The Type 143 was similar, save for the Bristol Aquila engines used on the second aircraft.

   Air Ministry interest in the Type 142 had been high from the start, and within a few months of the first flight an order was placed for 150 Type 142M bomber derivatives under Specification B.28/35, these receiving the name Blenheim.

The last production version of the type, the Type 160 entered service as the Blenheim MkV with No.18 Squadron. This mark entered service with a glass nose, but had actually originated as the solid-nosed Bisley prototype.

Crash site of a Blenheim that is thought to have been carrying Airborne Interception radar as part of a test

Building the 1/72 scale Airfix Blenheim kit

Restoration of Blenheim  G-BPIV


"Britain's Death Angel" Includes a photo of Blenheim K7037.  Popular Aviation October 1937  p.29

Photos: Finnish Blenheim I and VI. Air International June 1984  p.309

"Golden Anniversary" A photo feature marking the Blenheim's 50th year. Aeroplane Monthly April 1986  p.190-194. Some interesting images, including the Bristol Type 142 and 143 together, an air to air portrait of prototype K7033, and a production line shot.

Photos(3): A Blenheim I seen after landing in a field.  Aeroplane Monthly January 1989  p.38

"World's only genuine Blenheim completed"  (Blenheim IV in Finland)  Aeroplane September 2008  p.6

Color profile: Blenheim Mk.I L8609  Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare  p.201 

Blenheim for FSX

Some useful views and plans of the Blenheim bomb bay

P-39 Airacobra walk around

Among the more promising US fighter designs of the late 1930s, bell's P-39 Airacobra was never to achieve in service it's early potential as a high-altitude fighter, thanks to deletion of the turbocharger installed on the early prototypes.

   The P-39 design came about as the result of a desire to build a fighter around the T9 37mm cannon; use of this large weapon, which would fire through the propeller hub, dictated that the Allison V-1710 engine be placed well aft in the fuselage, requiring a long extension shaft. A tricycle landing gear configuration was necessary, and the P-39 would be the first Army Air Corps fighter to be so equipped.

P-39Q Airacobra at NMUSAF photo
Although displayed as a P-39J, the NMUSAF's Airacobra is actually a P-39Q, having been configured at one point as a two-seater before being restored in the 1960s to standard configuration .

Bell P-39Q side view picture

P-39M: V-1710-83 engines. -2-BE

P-39Q: The major production variant of the Airacobra, the P-39Q was also the last. Most were supplied to the USSR and other Allied air arms.

P-39Q-1-BE: 150 aircraft, with reduced fuel.
P-39Q-2-BE: 1-BE conversions with cameras.
P-39Q-5-BE: Less armor, more fuel.
P-39Q-10BE: Winterized, more fuel.
P-39Q-21BE: Aeroproducts four-bladed props.
P-39Q-25BE: Beefed up rear fuselage, four blade props.
P-39Q-30BE: Three bladed props.
F2L-1K: Designation for a pair of Q-model Airacobras transferred to the USN.

TP-39: Unarmed trainer conversions with second cockpit forward, dorsal and ventral fins.


"Detailing the P-39" Structural drawings of the cabin, rear fuselage, and outer wing. Flying November 1943  p.116

Photo: TP-39Q 44-3908/N40A Warbirds International October 2000 p.61

Color profile: Italian Co-Belligerent P-39N  Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, p.149

The Airacobra's first export customer was to have been France, but like orders for other American types, the French collapse mean that these aircraft could not be delivered. Britain, desperate for any modern fighters, appropriated the 200-aircraft French order and added 475 more.  The Airacobra I would be fitted with a 20mm Hispano in the nose and .303 machine guns in the wing. However, the type would have a very short service life in the RAF, as No. 601 Squadron had barely started conversion when it was recognized that the non-turbocharged aircraft had deficient performance at altitude.

Scale Models:

Special Hobby made a 1/32 scale P-39D that has since been reissued by Revell. There was also an earlier vacuform Airacobra in that scale from Combat Models.

 P-39 model under development for FSX
Monogram 1/48 P-39 models for sale

P-39 Airacutie of the 3th FS

Building the Hasegawa 1/48 scale Airacobra as the NX92848 Cobra II air racer

Sureflite RC P-39 conversion

Some great views of the Simtech P-39 for FS2004

An excellent series of photos depicting the restoration of a P-39 by the Classic Jets Fighter Museum, using pieces salvaged from PNG as well as new-build components.

P-39 pictures from the NMUSAF archives 

A detailed video walk around of a P-39Q under restoration

Saturday, February 16, 2013

MC.200 Saetta

First flown in December 1937, Macchi's C.200 Saetta was powered by a Fiat radial, with early versions being armed with a pair of 12.7mm machine guns. The C.200B1 had a much more powerful Piaggio radial, but only a single conversion was produced. No more successful was the Fiat-powered C.201, with a redesigned fuselage and better cockpit visibility. By the time this last aircraft had flown, testing was already underway on the C.202 Folgore, powered by a Daimler-Benz DB601A. Performance gains were substantial, and by 1941 production aircraft with engines built under license by Alfa Romeo were arriving.

Macchi MC.200 Saetta photo
The NMUSAF's Saetta, on display in front of the Museum's B-24 Strawberry Bitch

MC.200 Saetta landing gear photo

Build article on the Hasegawa 1/48 scale Folgore

Scale Models:

Pacific Coast Models makes a 1/32 scale C.200

Hasegawa 1/48 scale Macchi C.202 Folgore


Italeri 1/72 Macchi MC.202 Folgore model kit


Photo: Maachi MC.205V I-MCVL overturned. Air Pictorial October 1986  p.515

Preview: The Italeri 1/48 scale MC.200 kit  Model Airplane International September 2010  p.62

Color profile: MC.205V Veltro of 351 Squadriglia.  Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, edited by Chris Bishop  p.147
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