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|"QUANTUM SHOT" #622|
Link - by Avi Abrams
Also read Part 1: Big Planes and Part 2: Huge Helicopters
"The Bigger the Better" seemed to work for airplanes, just like it worked for dinosaurs - for a while
Of course you can fly the latest Airbus today, but vintage giant planes still evoke a certain fascination and a sadness of their demise. Their stupendous size seemed to fuel dreams of daring-do and glamour... like smoking a cigar on board of a giant flying boat bound for some nameless Central American lake, discussing the odds of finding an ancient treasure with a sultry brunette lady - seemingly a fellow adventurer but, very possibly, a rival spy.
The closest aviation history came to realizing this ludicrous pulp-fiction dream was Dornier Do X flying super-boat:
Dornier Do X, by Lufthansa
The largest, heaviest, and most powerful flying boat in the world - made by Germany in 1929, nicknamed The Flugschiff. It was "The Flying Ship", indeed, or rather a small airborne island with a crew of 14 and capacity for more than a hundred passengers.
Check out this dieselpunk-infused photo of a German engineer operating the twelve engines:
(image Deutsches Bundesarchiv, via)
The highlight of this video? Total worship of technology, the "bigger, the better" attitude.
Tarrant Tabor: super-weird and equally disastrous
This "flying furniture" wing set-up did not survive past the first attempt at flying. It was big, yes, but the real problem was the placement of the engines: too high over the wings, forcing the nose down on the lift-off (more info)
Tarrant Tabor, though, looks like a game-designer dream come true:
Giant "flying wing" and "engines within wing" concepts from the early 1940s:
1000 Passenger Giant Transport Project from 1950's
Saunders-Roe was building large flying boats after the war (see "The Princess" and "The Duchess" below):
But the plans for the tentatively-named "The Saro Queen" were simply out of this world. This flying monster boat (slated for the London-Sydney run) was to have FIVE decks, enough to carry a thousand passengers in comfort, plus include bars, dining rooms and elite lounges! The mammoth aircraft was to be powered by twenty-four engines (mounted within wings). "The wings were deep enough for the engineers to be able to carry out maintenance standing up while the aircraft was in flight." (more info)
Brabazon! Bigger than Boeing 747
Bristol Type 167 Brabazon was a full-size flying machine worth remembering. "This huge prop airliner, around the same size as a 747, was only built to carry about 100 passengers and was deemed economically unfeasible." (more info)
(images via 1, 2)
The largest piston-engine land-based transport aircraft ever built
Convair XC-99 was basically a military transport, but a passenger version was also proposed (Convair Model 37, good for 204 passengers):
(images via 1, 2)
It had an elevator to load and move cargo between decks. It was so heavy that it was restricted as to where it could land as on occasion it crushed runways. XC-99 was developed from B-36 bomber, itself pretty huge:
This hefty plane, comparable to Bristol Brabazon, had a few successful flights, but US Air Force simply decided that it did not need such large, long-range transport at the time...
Wondrous Supersonic Aviation
Why wondrous? Well, for one thing, it would be a sheer wonder if you did spot any non-military supersonic airliner flying over the US - simply because they are forbidden to do so, due to the fear of sonic booms devastating peaceful suburbia (read our article about supersonic aviation development in the US. Tongue-in-cheek comments aside, any supersonic plane is quite a beauty to behold with its swept wings and a space-bound attitude. Here is a comparative size chart of supersonic airliners from Russia, England, and the US (the proposed SST):
(image credit: TIME Magazine, October I969)
We do not have the luxury of crossing the Atlantic on the Concorde due to the well-known tragic incident... but take a look at the Concorde cockpit: quite intense, isn't it? (Click to enlarge)
Military supersonic airplanes are another (success) story: it is hard not to mention Blackbird SR-71, one of the oldest Decepticons, capable of sustained speed 10% faster than a 30-06 bullet at the gun muzzle. Still the fastest plane ever - think Mach 3.5...
What is this behind the double cockpit? A space for the R2-D2 droid? -
Well, this opening seems to be the in-flight refueling door.
This plane truly has a formidable presence... "After the Soviets shot down Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960, Lockheed began to develop an aircraft that would fly three miles higher and five times faster than the spy plane - and still be capable of photographing your license plate." One pilot remembers:
"... The Mach continues to increase. The ride is incredibly smooth. There seems to be a confirmed trust now, between me and the jet; she will not hesitate to deliver whatever speed we need, and I can count on no problems with the inlets. The cooler outside temperatures have awakened the spirit born into her years ago, when men dedicated to excellence took the time and care to build her well. We are a bullet now - except faster. Screaming past Tripoli, our phenomenal speed continues to rise, and the screaming Sled pummels the enemy one more time, laying down a parting sonic boom. In seconds, we can see nothing but the expansive blue of the Mediterranean. I realize that I still have my left hand full-forward and we're continuing to rocket along in maximum afterburner."
SR-71 also holds the record of highest sustained flight for a man-powered aircraft (25,929 m) and the speed record still holds since 1976!. The aircraft was retired twice because of high operational costs, and a letter was written to US Senate, signed by astronaut John Glenn: "Mr. President, the termination of the SR-71 was a grave mistake and could place our nation at a serious disadvantage in the event of a future crisis."
If you get an opportunity to fly this noble plane (who knows, you may be the next Sam Witwicky), here is the SR-71 Flight Manual.
Rare assembly pictures of Blackbird SR-71 ("Watch for G.O.D."? - er, sorry no, it's F.O.D. - Foreign Objects Damage)
(images credit: Lockheed, via)
Here are some interesting plane concepts, related to the development of Blackbird unique engine. Convair NX-2, for example, for one of the weirdest - at one time even slated to become America's first Atomic Plane (more info):
("Convair NX-2", images via 1, 2)
Check out this huge atomic engine on the left:
(images via Modern Mechanix)
The Russians also came up with a few radical supersonic concepts - this is the RAK-DA project, or Sukhoi T-4MS, a strategic heavy bomber from the 1960s (more info)
Smaller T-60S was an intermediate range bomber:
Some dreams require a custom Boeing 747 to get them off the ground
Coming back to our day and age, we have exclusive pictures of Boeing 747 Large Cargo Freighter Dreamlifter (more info), sent in by John P. A. Cooney (photos taken at the 2008 Experimental Aircraft Association Airshow):
(photos credit: John P. A. Cooney)
It's perhaps the most exciting to watch such a heavy bird rise gracefully into the sky:
(image credit: Royal S. King)
Finally, as a sort of a riddle for our dear readers, here are some planes that need identifying:
UPDATE: Good fun with answers: left plane is the experimental unmanned aerial vehicle Boeing X-48. The plane on the right is the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy
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