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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Martin B-10 walk around

The first operational US monoplane bomber, Martin's B-10 was quite an advanced type when it first appeared in 1934, although its time in the sun would be brief.

YB-12: R-1690-11 Hornet engines and enclosed cockpits; seven examples built.

YB-12A: Production aircraft with Hornet engines and capable of carrying additional fuel in the weapons bay.

XB-14: Solitary prototype with R-1830 Twin Wasps.

Martin B-10 nose, side view photo
B-10 nose turret, side view

Martin B-10 at NMUSAF, July 2012

Martin B-10 landing gear
B-10 main landing gear

B-10 bomber nose turret, frontal view photo
B-10 frontal view

The B-10 did play a role, albeit short-lived in World War II with the Royal Netherlands Indies Air Corps. The Dutch had bought 78 export models as Model 139WH-1/2/3/3As, with six squadrons operating 58 aircraft still being operational at the time of Pearl Harbor. The Martins first saw action on December 14, attacking Japanese shipping at Miri, but it was soon obvious that they were easy prey for A6M Zero fighters. The Dutch forces were reinforced with British aircraft evacuated from Singapore, as well as RAAF types and USAAF B-17s and B-24s, but the Japanese offensive could not be halted, and by February 1942 Allied forces had been bottled up on Java. After the naval defeat at the Battle of the Java Sea, hopes of holding out were realized to be futile, and although the remaining Martins continued to fly sorties as the Japanese landed, the die was cast, and the last airworthy example was flown to Australia on 7 March 1942, just ahead of the Dutch surrender.

Crash site of B-12A 33-165

Building the Williams Bros. B-10 kit


Color profiles of Martin 139s, including an aircraft captured by the Japanese. Air International May 1989  p.247

The Special Hobby 1/72 scale Bolo kit finished as a NMF aircraft

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2nd Bombardment Wing Memorial at NMUSAF

2nd Bomb Wing memorial at Air Force Museum
2nd Bomb Wing monument at the Air Force Museum Memorial Park, Dayton

1947 – The 2nd Bombardment Group, flying the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, was reactivated to formed the core of the 2nd Bombardment Wing, although at first the group, without its headquarters unit, was part of the 43rd Bomb Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB. The 2nd relocated to Chatham AFB, Georgia two years later, and replaced its wartime vintage aircraft with B-50 bombers and KB-29 aerial refueling tankers. The 2nd unit shifted to Hunter AFB, Georgia due to poor conditions and infrastructure at Chatham, eventually replacing the Superfortresses with Boeing B-47 Stratojets and KC-97 Stratofreighter tankers.

The 2nd BW came to its current base at Barksdale AFB, Lousiana in 1963 in order to operate B-52F Stratofortress heavy bombers and KC-135 Stratotankers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NMUSAF Expansion Plans

The National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB is embarking on the next phase of the museum's expansion, planning a 224,000 square foot fourth building to house Presidential aircraft, space artifacts, and airlifters. There is a large model of the planned new building in the lobby:

The space exhibit area, showing a Titan 34, shuttle crew compartment trainer, C-119J satellite retrieval aircraft, KH-9 Hexagon, X-1, and X-15.

Air Force Museum expansion - space gallery

The airlift section, showing a C-5 Galaxy, C-130E Hercules, C-141C Starlifter, and a KC-135.
NMUSAF expansion - airlifters

The Presidentail Aircraft Gallery, showing a VC-137C, VC-121E Columbine III, VC-118, and VC-140B JetStar.
NMUSAF Air Force One and other VIP aircraft

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fokker D.VII

Among the most potent fighter designs of late WWI, Fokker's D.VII was built in response to an early 1918 requirement for a new single-seat fighter. Despite this late start, over 700 D.VIIs were to be completed by the end of the war, with Albatross building the type under license.

The D.VII's airframe owed much to the Dr.I triplane; early aircraft had the Mercedes D.III engine, but the definitive powerplant was the BMW III. The D.VII helped form the basis of Fokker's E.V/D.VIII parasol monoplane, although this slightly later design used the Dr.1's engine.

Significant numbers of intact D.VIIs were handed over after the Armistice, and the US reengined some of theirs with Liberty L-6s.

D.VII on display at the Air Force Museum
Replica D.VII on display at Dayton, as seen in July 2012. This example is finished in the colors of JG 35b's Lt. Rudolph Stark.

The D.VII greatly influenced the design of the larger V38 prototype; this was too late for wartime use, but after Fokker relocated to the Netherlands, the type was put into production as the C.1 reconnaissance aircraft. The C.I was in turn developed into the C.II 3-seater and the C.III trainer.

The Hangar 9 RC D.VII

Fokker D.VII paper model 

 Photo from the cockpit of the Smithsonian's D.VII


Color profiles of D.VIIs, including aircraft of Jasta 13, Jasta 35, Jasta 43, Belgium, Czechoslavakia, and Switzerland.  Air International April 1984  p.200-201

Dr. Bill Funcke  "Workbench Reviews: Eduard's 1/48 scale Fokker D.VII" FineScale Modeler January 2006  p.64-65

D. Edgar Brannon Fokker D.VII in action   Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996
Some highlights:

  • Large photo of Herman Goering in a VIIF
  • Side view diagrams of the VII prototype, D.VII early/late models, and Albatros and A.O.W.-built aircraft
  • D.VII (early) 3-view and specifications
  • Scrap diagrams showing the different engine louver configurations
  • Two photos of an aircraft with an experimental wooden fuselage
  • Details of the Spandau machine guns
  • Exhaust system details
  • Color profiles of aircraft from JG 2, Jastas 4, 16B, 53, and 74
  • Postwar D.VIIs in service with Poland and Switzerland, plus several pages of photos depicting aircraft in the US.

Scale Models:

The D.VII has been kitted in 1/72 scale by Revell, and in 1/48  by Monogram

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yak-25 Flashlight

First flown in June 1952 as the Yak-120 and first seen by the West at Tushino three years later, the Yak-25 Flashlight was intended to protect the Soviet airspace in the far north and eastern region, where the vast distances involved demanded a large, long-range interceptor. The basic aircraft, powered by a pair of AM-5 engines, was equipped with the RP-1D High Fix radar, and was armed with a pair of NL-37 37mm cannon. The improved Yak-25M had the RP-6 Sokol set.

Yakovlev Yak-25 Flashlight model
Yak-25 Flashlight model on display in the Cold War Gallery of the NMUSAF

Yakovlev built a tactical reconnaissance version, the Yak-125, with a glazed nose replacing the radar, but this did not enter series production. The Yak-26 tactical bomber outgrowth, powered by Tumansky RD-9s, likewise did not go into production. The later Yak-27 had a pointed radome and increased sweepback on the outer wings, while the Yak-27V prototype had a Dushkin rocket in the tail and so equipeed proved capable of "zooming" past 80,000 feet.

Yakovlev Yak -25/26/27/28 (Aerofax) by Yefim Gordon, probably the definitive reference on the type.

An excellent article on a free-flight Yak-25M model with plans

Yak-25 1/72 models for sale

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