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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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

Lest we forget how dead animals helped stick warplanes together

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As the dreadful summer of hate rolls on, we are feeling a little moribund at Hush-Kit’s deluxe headquarters (situated in a hollowed-out volcano in the Quantocks); in our current mood we were drawn to these World War II posters offering the macabre service of turning bones into bombers and explosives.

According to the Canadian War Museum “Propaganda constantly encouraged Canadians to reuse and recycle so that salvaged material could be turned into war material, including explosives.” In the top image “they are asked to save leftover cooking bones to be processed into glue for aircraft like the poster’s Wellington bomber.” In the lower image (origin unknown) a Bristol Blenheim encourages citizens to donate their cooking bones to make aircraft glue to make warplanes to divide humans into their constituent parts.

Let’s all hope for a more peaceful autumn. 

Info for top image: Designer and printer unknown
Published by the Bureau of Public Information on behalf of the National Salvage Office
Commercial colour print, 1940-1941 Canada
CWM 19920196-001

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Match the quotes to the aircraft

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Match the pilot quotes to the aircraft, and for a bonus point name the pilot. Please add your answers in the comments section. 
 
1. “Always brought to my mind the adjective ‘sinister.’
A. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
B. Messerschmitt Bf 109
C. Edgley Optica
D. Hawker Sea Hurricane
 
IMG_6093
 
2. “It was a nasty little brute. Looked beautiful but didn’t fly beautifully.” 
A. Edgley Optica
B. Dewoitine D.520
C. Supermarine Spiteful 
D.  Folland Gnat
 
3. “It was a true anomaly of an aeroplane with delightful manoeuvrability but poor fighter performance”
A. Brewster F2A Buffalo
B. Sukhoi Su-11
C. Supermarine Scimitar
D. Edgley Optica
 
IMG_6110
4. “I soon worked out that the only way to land it without exploding was to run out of fuel first”
A. English Electric Lightning 
B. Grumman F4F Wildcat
C. Edgley Optica
D. Messerschmitt Me 163 
1024px-McDonnell_F3H-2N_Demon_in_flight_in_1956
5. “A mixture of the good, the mediocre and the bad.”
A. Vought F4U Corsair
B. Mitsubishi Ki-83
C. Edgley Optica
D. McDonnell F3H Demon
 
6. “like flying a Ferrari in the sky.”
A. Edgley Optica
B.  de Havilland DH.103 Hornet
C. Kawasaki Ki-96
D. Kawasaki Ki-45
 
Ed Ward is an illustrator, writer, historian and regular Hush-Kit contributor (like the Wyvern, he is unlikely, brutish and wonderful)
 
See his fantastic artwork here: 
 
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The secret electronic attack capabilities of the Tornado F. Mk 3 radar

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The Tornado F.Mk 3 retired from RAF service in 2011. The type was derived from a bomber and earned a reputation for poor agility and performance, especially at medium and high altitude. Though its crews will defend its abilities, and are keen to point out that it was good at what it was designed to do (the long range interception of bombers over the North Sea), in international exercises where it faced opposition from modern fighters it was always fighting from a back foot. Occasionally superior tactics allowed it to do well (once a single F.3 ‘downed’ three F-15s, though admittedly the Tornado was the only ‘survivor’ from a flight of four), but generally it suffered from over-specialisation and an engine designed for low-level flight. It was also hindered by the weight of variable geometry wings (one pilot who had flown both the F-14 and F-15 noted what a dog the former type was in the merge, saying that the ‘Top Gun’ film was rather misleading). It benefited from long-range, a decent data-link and a two man crew. Its Sky Flash missiles (prior to AMRAAM replacing them) were reported to have been the most reliable medium-range missile of all time, with a probability of a lock-on far greater than even the AIM-120 AMRAAM, though it did have a notoriously short-range. The Tornado was rather late in receiving AMRAAM and struggled when set against active radar missile armed fighters in exercise.

 

But in judging the effectiveness of the F.Mk 3 there is one facet of its performance that has only recently been declassified. According to two Tornado F.Mk 3 pilots that Hush-Kit spoke to, the radar had some secret modes that in the event of war would have given the fighter an unfair advantage: powerful ‘aggressive’ electronic warfare capabilities. That this has only recently come into the public arena begs the question if other fighter radars of this generation had similar capabilities.

 

Perhaps it was these that led to the short-lived EF-3 concept, an ALARM-armed role for the Tornado F.Mk 3 from the early 21st Century that could have prolonged the type’s service life.

What the hell is wrong with aviation nerds?

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I get it. Some people find aircraft and aviation all-consuming and fascinating. They cream their keks over the physics of it all. The turbines, the atmospheric pressures and gravitational forces at work on the fuselage at speed and altitude. The engineering and science that made it possible to send tons and tons of metal into the sky and keep it there – and even control it to get from A to B without incident (eventually). All this progress within, what, 30 years of the 20th century? Yes, it’s staggering. Yes, there is beauty and wonder in it all. But that’s what makes the whole nerd thing a bit weird to me: it’s all entirely subjective.

I love to look at aircraft as aesthetic pieces. Creatures, if you like – each with a humble, unquestioning work ethic – that reluctantly took their forms to serve a higher purpose. Sleek or lumbering, monolithic or slight and nimble – all had their origins in human agendas. Agendas like ‘being the first’, ‘puffing chests out to potential enemies’, and if we’re lending humanity any faith: ‘to discover what’s possible and improve life on earth’.

Pipes and clap

I’ll quite happily shuffle around a museum and look at engines, cockpits and pretend payloads, and gasp at the size of wings. I’ll readily read the stories of the scientists and test pilots who, albeit under the wagging finger of wealthy governments, put their lives on the line for progress. I love to imagine myself born into those innocent, pioneering times, and I wish we could still gather at air shows with hampers and pipes and clap at the achievements that fly by.

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Kettle-face transvestite 

What I don’t get, is the obsession. The submersion, the insatiable thirst to know everything about a particular model – its inner workings, how much it weighs, how much its riveted panels shrink or expand in extreme environments. Why Jerry ‘Kettle-Face’ Johnson insisted on wearing ladies’ underwear on every third testing mission he flew from Edwards Air Force base after 13 December 1974 (or some insist, 22 January the following year).

 

Nor do I understand why those afflicted with such passion (in its true sense – i.e. emotionally driven madness) think you’re a weirdo and a heretic if you’re not wearing a flak jacket, baseball cap and oversize training shoes laced up way too tight – and don’t spend at least ten minutes at every exhibit, rocking back and forth with your hands behind your back.

 

vintage airplane travelSure, for some, there is greater meaning and emotional attachment to a lost era. Lost colleagues, the tension of the Cold War, the reality behind the TV soap, Vietnam. But I don’t want to feel guilt or inadequacy for just looking at aircraft and being bowled over for my own inexplicable reasons. Reasons I wouldn’t want to decipher or disseminate through deeper knowledge, because that often spoils the wonder. We can’t yet explain love, and hopefully we never will. And often, when you nail something to the floor, it withers and dies. Our appreciation for beauty and awe is only common in the language we use to express it, which will never be sufficient. Evocative, maybe. But defining? No.

The end of an affair?

So stop it. Stop it at once. Empty your study of all the literature you’ve amassed in your pursuit of what will essentially be the end of your love affair: defining why you’ve amassed them in the first place. Erase your hard drive of all but the images and schematic diagrams that simply inspire you, and leave it at that. Put your hands up in the air, and shout, ‘I don’t know why, I just fucking love B-52s, and I don’t care who knows my knowledge on the matter is incomplete!’

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I went to Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona – and its boneyard – in 2010. I’m not an aviation enthusiast; I just know that some aircraft, up close, move me in mysterious ways. I don’t need to know why, or chase that feeling down – it’s enough in itself. I bought a coffee mug that says, ‘I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning’ and moved on.

 

Perhaps some people thrive on obsession – but the ones I’ve met didn’t look to0 good on it.

By George Caveney musician, writer, cynic and firefighter.