29 January 2011

The First Operational Helicopter UAV: DASH and the Gyrodyne QH-50

The Kaman HTK-1, forerunner of the DASH
In the years following the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Navy expanded its submarine force considerably to offset the powerful surface fleet of the United States Navy. In response to this growing threat, the Chief of Naval Operations at the time, Admiral Arleigh Burke, envisioned a two-layer stand-off system to knock out Soviet subs. The innermost layer of defense consisted of the ASROC weapons system. ASROC (Anti-Submarine ROCket) consisted of a solid rocket motor booster that lofted a Mk 44 torpedo on a ballistic trajectory to the suspected location of the enemy submarine. Later versions of ASROC could deliver a nuclear depth charge or the Mk 46 torpedo. However, ASROC only had a range of five miles and the launch and control system couldn't be readily added to the existing fleet of World War II-era destroyers. As a result, the second outer layer of defense became the DASH system- Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter. At the time, funding was hard to come by given the limits of the technology of the day until aeronautical engineer Charles Kaman proved that a remotely-controlled drone helicopter could be stably operated with his own HTK-1 test drone, based on the HTK helicopter trainer. The transition to turbine power improved the capability of Kaman's tests when a QH-43G Huskie was successfully tested from the USS Wright (CVL-49) and the USS Mitscher (DL-2), proving that a drone helicopter could be operated from warships. Secret tests at the time with the QH-43G showed that not only could a warload be carried and delivered, but dunking sonar could be used as well as communication to friendly subs. Kaman's tests proved that DASH would work as the outer defense layer against the Soviet threat. As a result, in 1958, the Navy invited submissions from industry for the DASH contract. 

The final round in the competition left Bell, Kaman, and Gyrodyne standing- and to the surprise of many who expected Kaman to win, Gyrodyne was selected the winner in December 1958. Gyrodyne already had a contract with the Navy dating from 1951 to study the co-axial rotor arrangement which the Navy felt offered promise as it was compact compared to conventional helicopter designs (the same reason that the Russians went with Kamov co-axial designs for their shipboard helicopters). The founder of Gyrodyne, Peter Papadakos, started the company in 1946 when he acquired the assets of the Bendix Helicopter Company which included an unfinished design for a one-man helicopter which he finished and perfected as the Rotorcycle. At one point, the US Marine Corps was considering acquiring the Rotorcycle as a one-man reconnaissance vehicle- and this undoubtedly won Gyrodyne the DASH competition as the company's design was based on the Rotorcycle- and having flying hardware that was more compact that Kaman's designs won the contest for Papadakos and Gyrodyne. 

DASH QH-50 recovering aboard the USS Allen M. Sumner
To make the Gyrodyne design as compact and light as possible, many safety and redundancy systems used on manned helicopters were dispensed with and the first versions of what would become the QH-50 weighed only 1,200 lbs and used a Volkswagen automobile engine. The initial plans were for the QH-50 to be essentially disposable in delivering a nuclear depth charge to the target. However, the need for extensive security and safety measures made storing nuclear depth charges on the modernized destroyers impractical, so a single Mk 44 torpedo became the DASH weapons load. The first shipboard landing was made on 1 July 1960 aboard the USS Mitscher with a safety pilot cumbersomely strapped to a bicycle seat behind the rotors! The first unmanned landing was made in 7 December 1960 aboard the USS Hazelwood (DD-531). Following development testing off the coast of Key West, Florida, the QH-50 was upgraded  in 1962 to use a more powerful Boeing T50 turbine engine which increased the warload to two Mk 44 torpedoes. After having been impressed by a DASH demonstration, in 1963 President John F. Kennedy authorized deployment of the system to provide two helicopters and associated equipment (hangar, control center, transmitting/receiving antennas) for the 240 destroyers upgraded to FRAM I and FRAM II standards (Fleet Rehabilitation And Modernization).

Project Snoopy QH-50 showing the underslung tray of equipment
The simplicity of the QH-50 and the DASH system (lack of redundancy) proved to be its weakness- without feedback from the QH-50, the ship's radar had to be used to track its location. If there was an equipment failure in any of the electronics, the drone would be lost. As a result, of the 746 QH-50s produced for the US Navy, fully 80% were lost due to electronics failures! By 1966, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara pushed for a reduction in DASH funding as the growing conflict in Vietnam was consuming a significant portion of the US defense budget. Given that the submarine threat was nil during Vietnam, the Navy and Gyrodyne were eager to show that the QH-50 could perform other roles. Under Project Snoopy in 1967, QH-50s were modified with telemetry and transmission systems in a tray underslung where the torpedoes were usually carried. A television camera was also mounted in the tray and the Project Snoopy drone were used in Vietnam operationally to spot the fall of naval gunfire on enemy targets. Under a series of DARPA programs code named "Blow Low", "Night Panther", and "Night Gazelle", armed QH-50s were flown operationally in Vietnam. Some of the helicopters carried bombs to attack enemy river shipping and some QH-50s also flew with a TV-camera-aimed 40mm grenade launcher. Another operational test program fielded in Vietnam had QH-50s carrying underslung cargo loads to resupply Special Forces units deep in enemy territory. Of all the QH-50s produced for the US Navy, 5% were lost in combat action in Vietnam. 

The last QH-50 was delivered to the US Navy in August 1969 and the only foreign operator of the DASH system was Japan, which took delivery of 18 helicopter drones for service from seven destroyers in their fleet. The last Project Snoopy missions in Vietnam were flown in 1970, after which most DASH systems had been phased out from the fleet with the introduction of Kaman SH-2 Seasprite as LAMPS- Light Airborne Multi Purpose System- that offered greater manned capability from ships too small to operate the larger Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King. The US Army at White Sands Missile Range and the US Navy at the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake gave the QH-50 a new lease on life flying test and research missions and ending their days as targets in anti-helicopter trials. The last QH-50 mission was flown in 2006 by the US Army at White Sands, New Mexico. As a result, Gyrodyne has claim to first and so far only production and operationally-deployed helicopter UAV until the deployment of the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Firescout in 2009. 

Source: Helicopter Gunships: Deadly Combat Weapon Systems by Wayne Mutza. Specialty Press, 2010, p97-101.

27 January 2011

The First Successful Combat Drops of Laser-Guided Bombs

Capt. Thomas Messett led the first combat LGB drop
By 1972 President Richard Nixon's policy of "Vietnamization" was underway as the bulk of responsibility for the defense of South Vietnam transferred from US forces to the South Vietnamese military. Nearly the bulk of US forces in Vietnam had already departed and the Seventh Air Force had already sent half of its combat aircraft back stateside. Only two aircraft carriers remained in the Gulf of Tonkin. The North Vietnamese saw the opportunity to win the war via a conventional attack and on 29 March 1972, twelve of North Vietnam's fifteen divisions made a three-pronged invasion into South Vietnam, leaving only one division in North Vietnam and two divisions in Laos in reserve. Within three days of the Easter invasion, South Vietnamese forces were on the brink of collapse. Over the course of the month of April, a massive influx of US combat aircraft striking the advancing NVA was all that prevented the collapse of the Saigon regime. On 8 May 1972 US Navy aircraft mined the approaches to Haiphong harbor and that evening President Nixon addressed the nation to announce Operation Linebacker, the intensive bombing of North Vietnam, to commence on 10 May 1972. With the North Vietnamese having exposed their logistical tail in their multi-pronged invasion of the South, they left themselves open to air attack on their rear. 

On the first day of Linebacker, sixteen McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing "Wolfpack" based at RTAFB Ubon in Thailand armed with 2,000 lb electro-optically guided bombs attacked the Paul Doumer Bridge that linked the port city of Haiphong with the capital of Hanoi over the Red River. The weapon systems officers (WSOs) in the back seat of the Phantoms used a TV screen to display the image from the TV camera in the nose of the bomb. Picking out a sharp contrast point between light and dark, the WSOs selected the aim points on the bridge and the bombs were on their way after the dropping aircraft turned for safety. Every electro-optical bomb missed, with the bombs locking on the shadow of the bridge on the water below or suffering a guidance unit failure. Some other supporting aircraft scored hits with conventional bombs, but none of the spans had been dropped. 

The AN/AVQ-10 Pave Knife, showing the camera/laser aperture
While the first laser-guided bombs were under development prior to the 1968 bombing halt, continued work by Texas Instruments had improved the method from the hand-held "Zot Box" that was used by the WSO while the Phantom flew a pylon turn around the target to podded systems in the form of the AN/AVQ-10 Pave Knife that allowed more flexible attack approaches to be made. The WSO used the laser in the Pave Knife pod to designate the target point for the laser-guided bombs. The 8th TFW at Ubon had six Pave Knife pods and it was decided to use them on the next day to revisit the Paul Doumer Bridge. Compared to the sixteen aircraft from the previous day, on 11 May 1972 only four F-4D Phantoms led by Captain Thomas Messett (who flew in the previous day's raid) would attack the bridge. One Phantom carried two 3,000 lb LGBs and the other three Phantoms carried two 2,000 lb LGBs. Only Captain Messett's F-4 carried a Pave Knife pod. The defenders of the bridge didn't think the four Phantoms were the main strike force and as they dived on the bridge, Messett and his WSO designated target points on the bridge and all eight bombs scored direct hits on the bridge, dropping the entire span on the Hanoi side of the bridge into the Red River. It would be a year before the Paul Doumer Bridge was usable again. 

The 3,000 lb GBU-11 added fins and laser guidance to the M118 bomb
The other bridge that was crucial to hitting at the North Vietnamese logistical support of the Easter invasion was the Thanh Hoa Bridge, an immensely tough rail bridge nicknamed "Dragon's Jaw" that crossed the Song Ma River and connected the rail shipment points from China to Hanoi. During Operation Rolling Thunder from 1965 to 1968 over 1,000 missions flew against the Dragon's Jaw, not one mission succeeding in bringing its spans down. The USAF even resorted to dropping floating bombs upstream of the bridge to try and bring it down in Operation Carolina Moon. Nothing worked, it was known as the toughest target in North Vietnam.  On 13 May 1972, two days after the Paul Doumer Bridge was dropped, the 8th TFW set out to drop the Thanh Hoa Bridge for good with fourteen Phantoms carrying nine 3,000 lb LGBs, fifteen 2,000 lb LGBs, and forty-eight 500 lb conventional bombs (due to a shortage of laser-guided bombs). Attacking through an intense flak barrage, direct hits by the LGBs put the entire western span of the Dragon's Jaw into the Song Ma River below. Before the end of Linebacker I in October, the Navy flew an additional eleven missions against the bridge and the USAF another two to insure the bridge was out for good. 

Post-strike recon photo of the Paul Doumer Bridge
It was a stunning debut for a new age of precision munitions. When the Pave Knife was used against the Paul Doumer and Thanh Hoa Bridges by the 8th TFW, it was technically still a developmental program and was rushed forward in response to Nixon's order to blunt the North Vietnamese invasion. Twelve pods were built for the testing program. When the preparations for Operation Linebacker started, three pods stayed stateside to continue the testing program. Three pods went to the US Navy for use on specially-wired Grumman A-6A Intruders and six pods went to the 8th TFW at Ubon for use on specially-wired F-4D Phantoms. Two pods were lost over North Vietnam during Linebacker I- the remaining four pods became quite valuable and after Paul Doumer and Thanh Hoa, were used only on the most critical and important targets. The commander of the Seventh Air Force, General John Vogt, reportedly told the pilots of the 8th TFW "Don't come back if you don't have that pod with you when you return!"

Source: The Linebacker Raids: The Bombing of North Vietnam, 1972 by John T. Smith. Arms and Armour Press, 1998, p61-75.

24 January 2011

The 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA)

The Boeing 747 was one of two choices for the SCA
During the design and development of the Shuttle Orbiter, air breathing jet engines were a part of the design for some time until cost and technical considerations in early 1974 led to their deletion from the concept. No longer able to "self-ferry", NASA now faced the problem of how to get the Orbiter from the remote landing sites to the launch locations. At the time NASA Langley had a study ongoing on a large aircraft design called VIRTUS that would have carried the Orbiter under the center wing flanked by twin fuselages and a twin boom tail with power coming from four Pratt & Whitney JT9D turbofans. Design work had proceeded on VIRTUS as far as wind tunnel tests with a 1/34 scale model, but sheer size, long development time and costs involved for an aircraft that would be built in very small numbers resulted in end of the VIRTUS project. At the time, Jack Conroy, the developer of the Super Guppy concept that NASA was using to transport rocket stages, had suggested using a jumbo-class aircraft to carry the Orbiter on its back. Proposals were issued to the industry and Lockheed offered up a twin-fuselage aircraft based on the C-5 Galaxy with the Orbiter suspended underneath a new center wing section- but, like the earlier VIRTUS program, it was eliminated from consideration due to cost, development time and that the design was so wide, no runway available could accommodate the design. Boeing offered a modified version of the 747 that carried the Orbiter on its back that presented a much lower risk approach. Boeing at the time even suggested that the large external tanks could be carried on the back of a 747, but wind tunnel studies showed the idea to be less practical than initially thought. Lockheed had subsequently reworked its design to a simple modification of a C-5 Galaxy to carry the Orbiter on its back much like Boeing's proposal. 

By mid-1974 Boeing's 747-based proposal and Lockheed's simpler C-5 Galaxy-based proposal were the only serious contenders to become the new Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). On 24 April 1974 NASA selected the C-5 Galaxy proposal from Lockheed based on it having the least acquisition expense and a C-5 Galaxy would need less structural modification than a Boeing 747. Accordingly, NASA approached the United States Air Force with the proposal and a request to make three to five C-5s available. The USAF was very receptive to the idea and the Lockheed proposal only added 400 to 600 pounds of modifications to the Galaxy without adversely affecting its cargo carrying capacity when not being used to transport the Orbiter. An arrangement was set up whereby NASA would pay for the modifications and then lease the modified C-5s as needed from the Military Airlift Command. One Galaxy was agreed to be bailed to NASA full-time for development into the SCA and for use in the atmospheric flight tests with the planned first Orbiter (which would become the Shuttle Enterprise). Despite some lingering concerns about the effects of the Orbiter's wake on the C-5's T-tail, both NASA and the USAF had worked out an acceptable arrangement for both parties.

N905NA conducted the atmospheric landing tests with Enterprise
The downturn in the American economy in the early 1970s led numerous US airlines to release their 747 aircraft which were too large for the market at the time. As a result, the acquisition cost of the Boeing 747 as the SCA dropped much lower than that of the Lockheed proposal. With the ready availability of low-time 747s on the market, NASA abandoned plans for using the Galaxy as it was decided it was much easier in the end to have complete control of the SCA than to have to compromise with military priorities for use of the C-5 Galaxy. On 18 July 1974 NASA purchased a used Boeing 747-123 (N9668, msn 20107) from American Airlines. It was the 86th 747 off the production line at Everett and was delivered to American on 29 October 1970. By the time of the NASA purchase, it had only logged 8,999 flight hours and 2,985 cycles flying primarily transcontinental services between New York JFK and LAX. NASA re-registered the aircraft as N905NA. Before modification into the SCA configuration, N905NA was used for in-house studies with NASA Ames on wake vortices. Following conclusion of the wake vortex research program, Boeing initiated the $30 million conversion program on N905NA on 2 August 1976. 

Not often seen is the sense of humor NASA has with the SCA
Boeing installed new bulkheads to strengthen the fuselage with skin reinforcement at critical stress areas. The horizontal stabilizer structure was also beefed up along with the addition of telemetry and transponder test equipment, fittings for the Orbiter support struts, and the installation of a 747-200 rudder actuator system. Boeing also developed a set of removable modifications for the SCA- the first one was a telescopic forward support assembly that was used only during the atmospheric flight tests with the Shuttle Enterprise. This support would hold the Enterprise at a six-degree angle of attack to facilitate release during the flight tests. A fixed assembly was also developed for use during SCA ferry missions that held the Orbiter at a three-degree angle of attack, which induced less drag during the ferry flights. The aft support assemblies (there were two) were common to both the atmospheric flight tests and ferry flights and finally 10 foot by 20 foot vertical endplates were added to the end of the horizontal stabilizer to provide additional stability when carrying the Orbiter- in practice, though, NASA never removed the endplates. 

The 747's trim system was also modified to allow a greater range of trim in pitch to counteract the downwash off the Orbiter's wing on to the horizontal stabilizer. Most of the main deck interior was stripped out, but some seats were retained for support personnel during the ferry flights. The JT9D engines were also converted to allow a thrust increase from 43,500 pounds to 46,950 pounds of thrust. The current JT9D engines on the current incarnation of the 747 SCA are rated at 50,000 pounds of thrust. Since each Orbiter has a different empty weight, an adjustable ballast system using standard cargo containers in the forward underfuselage cargo compartment had to be developed to maintain the center of gravity. On 14 January 1977 Boeing finished the modification work and after a period of flight testing, it was delivered to NASA. 

Concerns about flight crew safety during the atmospheric flight tests with the Shuttle Enterprise led NASA to incorporate an escape system on N905NA since the flight crew of the Enterprise had ejection seats. The escape system was based on what was used on the 747 prototype during Boeing's 1969 flight tests- in the event of an emergency, a handle was pulled that blew out thirty fuselage windows to facilitate rapid decompression of the aircraft. Three seconds later an emergency egress hatch on the lower forward fuselage was blown out with extendable spoiler being deployed. The crew would make their way back from the flight deck to the middle of the upper deck lounge area where a hole leading to a 16 foot escape slide would lead them out the blown hatch and clear of the aircraft. Testing showed the flight crew could bail out of the 747 within 11 seconds. The atmospheric flight tests will be the subject of a future blog post, so stay tuned. 

N905NA has three upper deck windows, N911NA has five
In 1988 NASA acquired a second 747 to act as a back up to N905NA. Part of this was driven by the recommendations following the Challenger accident that a significant portion of Shuttle flights would still be landing at Edwards AFB. The first 747-100SR was purchased from Japan Air Lines where it had flown as JA8117, msn 20781. Boeing purchased the aircraft from JAL on behalf of NASA and conducted the necessary modification work to bring it up to SCA standards with the new tail number N911NA. On 20 November 1990 it was delivered to NASA and in 1995-1996 both of the 747 SCAs were repainted in NASA's new colors. 

During a ferry mission the SCA' smaximum speed it 250 KIAS (Mach 0.6) at an altitude of 13,000-15,000 feet with a range of approximately 1,150 miles. Without the Orbiter, the SCA cruises at 24,000-26,000 feet with a range of 6,300 miles. During ferry flights the usual crew is two pilots and two flight engineers, but only one flight engineer is needed on non-ferry flights. At one point NASA looked at inflight refueling of the SCA as the equipment was readily available as it was installed on a handful of the USAF's 747s- the E-4 airborne command posts and the two VC-25A presidential transport aircraft. Proximity flight tests were even carried out with N905NA and a KC-135 tanker minus the Orbiter, but the discovery of cracks at the base of N905NA led to the termination of the studies as it was feared that wake turbulence from the tanker may have been possible. Plans were in motion to fly the proximity tests with an Orbiter, but the costs involved and wake turbulence concerns led to the quiet abandonment of the idea. 

Source: Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System- The First 100 Missions by Dennis R. Jenkins. Specialty Press, 2001, p195-202.

23 January 2011

Operational Improvisation: Over-the-Shoulder Nuclear Bombing

F-84Gs of the 20th FBW had lightning markings, each squadron had its own color
In 1952 the Republic F-84Gs of the 20th Fighter-Bomber Wing crossed the Atlantic supported by aerial refueling to set up shop at their new base, RAF Wethersfield, in order to provide tactical nuclear strike capability for the first time to NATO forces in Europe. Just a year earlier, scientists and engineers at Sandia, one of the development centers in the United States for nuclear weapons, had developed the Mark 7 nuclear bomb, the first tactical nuclear weapon with an explosive yield of 20 kilotons. While the Mark 7 weapon would be carried operationally by many USAF and US Navy tactical attack aircraft, the first aircraft to carry the Mark 7 operationally also happened to be the first production tactical fighter to have not just nuclear capability, but also air-refueling capability. That was specifically the G variant of the Republic F-84 Thunderjet, which had an air refueling receptacle for a flying boom in the left wing root, a more powerful jet engine, and provisions for the Mark 7's special pylon that had the necessary circuitry for nuclear weapons delivery. 

The Mark 7 was the first American tactical nuclear weapon
The 20th FBW had been given six months to prepare for the move to Great Britain as well as to become the first tactical nuclear fighter-bomber unit in military history. At the time of the deployment, the F-84Gs and pilots of the 20th FBW were only versed in clear-weather weapons delivery more suited to the bombing ranges in the predominantly sunny southwestern United States, drops being made starting at 20,000 feet in altitude. The weather in Europe, however, was far from ideal for this sort of weapons delivery mode, with a predominantly cloudy maritime climate in the areas that the 20th FBW was expected to operate. I had posted this past September about the nuclear delivery role assigned to the McDonnell F-101 Voodoos of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing based in RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge in the late-1950s and early 1960s. Not unlike the conditions facing the pilots several years later that flew the Voodoo, the pilots of the 20th FBW were expected to navigate visually and by dead reckoning to their targets with only the most basic of navigational aids. By the time the 20th FBW had set up shop at RAF Wethersfield, a different form of nuclear delivery was needed and the wing commander, Colonel John Dunning, had sent some of his best pilots to Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico near Sandia, to find out more about a new weapons delivery tactic called LABS- Low Altitude Bombing System. Developed at Kirtland by Major Jack Ryan, it hadn't yet received much attention as most nuclear delivery tactics of the day concerned use by strategic bombers. Col. Dunning wanted his pilots in Europe to have every advantage possible and LABS offered that prospect. 

In a LABS run, an IP (initial point) is chosen that is a known distance and direction from the target and was most ideally located three miles away. The LABS equipment was quite basic- it was a timer with a gyro that was free to move about the pitch axis of the delivery aircraft. Having previously set the time from the IP to the pull up point near the target and the calculated angle of release beforehand, an aircraft on a LABS run headed towards the target at 500 mph at low level with the IP in between the aircraft and the target. Once the IP was reached. the pilot pushed the "pickle" button on the control stick which started the timer and a flashing red light on the gunsight was connected to both the timer and the LABS gyro. The pilot pulled into a steady 4G climb and at a precise point and angle (usually 25 to 30 degrees), LABS released the nuclear weapon which continued onward on a precalculated ballistic trajectory towards the target while the pilot pulled his aircraft into an Immelman loop and exited the area as fast as possible. In effect, LABS "tossed" the bomb towards the target. 

Diagram showing the over-the-shoulder bomb toss
On return to Europe, the pilots that trained in the LABS technique for the 20th FBW found that finding an IP near the target was challenging. It was noted that as the distance between the IP and target decreased, the ideal release angle of the Mark 7 bomb increased. If the IP was very close to the target itself, then the optimum release angle was 90 degrees. Pushing the idea further, the pilots of the 20th FBW worked out that if the IP was the target itself, then the optimum LABS release angle was 110 degrees and the bomb would impact right at the point where the pull-up maneuver was initiated. No IP was needed- the target itself was the IP. The bomb was released "over the shoulder" and would arc upward to 10,000 feet and more than a minute elapsed before it detonated, allowing time for the F-84G to rollout and accelerate out of the area in a dive. The USAF and the specialists at Kirtland AFB doubted if the average USAF pilot could carry out such a complex maneuver as the wings had to be absolutely level in the pull up or the bomb's impact point would stray away from the target. The operations officer of one of the 20th FBW's constituent squadrons had noted that the F-84G didn't even need a LABS gyro- the aircraft's own gyro started to "tumble" right past vertical and by complete coincidence, right at 110 degrees! Major John J, Kropenick, the ops officer who made this observation, came up with his own solution, the "Kropenick Autopilot" that was taught to all the pilots of the 20th FBW- two large rubber bands were hooked to the control stick on the run in, each one then looped over a cockpit light on the sidewall on each side. The tension of the rubber bands kept the stick precisely centered during the pull up and once the Thunderjet's own gyro tumbled, the bomb would be released. Pilots taught the method with the "Kropenick Autopilot" had bomb scores acceptable to the USAF given the 20-kiloton yield of the Mark 7 bomb.

By the time the LABS equipment had been fitted to the 20th FBW's Thunderjets, the pilots of the wing had gotten quite proficient at using the "Kropenick Autopilot" and made the transition to using the LABS equipment for "over the shoulder" toss bombing with a minimum of delay and fuss. 

Source: Aviation History, March 2011, Volume 21, Number 4. "Over-the-Shoulder A-Bombing; Cold War F-84G pilots improvised a surprising twist on bomb delivery" by David Rust, p54-57.

19 January 2011

The Achilles Heel of the Douglas B-66 Destroyer

The B-66 Destroyer ended up only resembling the A-3 Skywarrior
In January 1952 when the US Air Force issued its official General Operational Requirement (GOR) for a tactical bomber and reconnaissance jet aircraft to replace the Douglas B-26 Invader and the "interim" Martin B-57 Canberra, the selection of a minimum change version of the Douglas A3D Skywarrior as the B-66 Destroyer made sense. Douglas's proposed changes weren't all that major- deletion of the folding wings, catapult gear and arresting gear, addition of ejection seats and anti-icing, strengthening the airframe for the stresses of low altitude flight and an enlarged search radar antenna. Since the aircraft was "off the shelf", no prototypes were ordered. Eventually the USAF's GOR evolved to cover four distinct versions- the B-66B, a nuclear capable bomber version to replace the North American B-45 Tornado, the RB-66B, an all-weather day/night reconnaissance version, the RB-66C, a tactical electronic reconnaissance aircraft, and the WB-66D weather reconnaissance aircraft. Douglas agreed to an ambitious timetable to get the B-66 in production and operational, but the USAF kept requesting changes that ended up making the B-66 Destroyer a totally different aircraft that literally shared nothing in common with the Skywarrior. It's a testament to Douglas's abilities that the schedule slipped only two years as a result of constant changes being requested by the USAF! The B-66 ended up weighing just over 10,000 lbs more than the A3D Skywarrior as a result of all the changes. 

Had it gotten the J57 engine, the B-66 might have had a longer career
But being overweight wasn't the biggest flaw in the B-66 design. Ed Heinemann and his Douglas team recommended the Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet for the B-66 after the A3D was switched from the anemic Westinghouse J40 turbojet to the more powerful J57 (the first production turbojet in the world to exceed 10,000 lbs of thrust). However, the Air Force held a competition for the engine to power the B-66- in addition to the recommended J57 engine, the Allison J71, General Electric J73 and surprisingly the Westinghouse J40 were submitted. Not surprisingly the J40 was dropped early on and the J73 soon followed for technical reasons. To the surprise of Douglas, the USAF then selected the J71 for the Destroyer, not only an engine that had yet to fly but it was also less powerful than the J57 by nearly 2,000 lbs of thrust! The official reasoning was that the Allison J71 was readily available (a bit of a stretch here on the part of the USAF) and the B-66 had lower priority than other USAF programs that used J57 engines- namely, the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, the North American F-100 Super Sabre, the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, and the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. At the time the Voodoo was under development as a long range penetration fighter for SAC, so it became obvious to many that SAC dominated the USAF budget and would receive any and all J57 engines possible. The main reason the F-100 got any J57s at all was that the F-100 was central to the Tactical Air Command's desire to have its own tactical nuclear attack force built around the F-100. 

Ordinarily those assigned to the B-66 Program Office at Wright Patterson AFB would have pushed for the J57, but politically the B-66 was seen as primarily a reconnaissance aircraft and only in interim bomber. Those with fighter experience in TAC wanted the F-100, those with tactical bomber experience in TAC wanted the Martin XB-51. And SAC was determined to preserve its budgetary allocation at all costs. In the end, no one really fought for the B-66 Destroyer when it was given the clearly less-powerful Allison J71 engine. Allison had trouble getting the J71 prototypes bench tested to at least 50 hours without any problems and only barely made the cut which exacerbated the schedule slippage of the first operational Destroyers. And even at that, the test pilots at Edwards AFB flying the first B-66s hated the J71- it was slow to spool up for more power, it surged often, and even would flame out and stall while taxiing. On 8 October 1955 the pilots of the AFTC (Air Force Flight Test Center) filed an extremely unsatisfactory report on the J71. The test force concluded that the J71 engine was accepted by the USAF only partially developed and a replacement engine was needed, the preference being for the J57 used by the Skywarrior. It was alleged that on a hot summer day in Denver with a typical combat load, the B-66 Destroyer couldn't even get airborne!

The tail guns were soon removed and replaced with ECM tailcone
Unfortunately for the B-66 program, the Secretary of Defense at the time, Charles Wilson, came to the Defense Department as the CEO of General Motors, of which Allison was one of its divisions. Wilson's 1953 confirmation hearings before the Senate were highly controversial because of his reluctance to sell his GM holdings and comments that alluded to him possibly favoring GM as Secretary of Defense. The loss of the J71 contract would have been a severe blow to Allison at the time. As a result, the Destroyer kept the J71 engines and Allison tweaked the engine further to bring the engine up to 9,700 lbs of thrust. While this satisfied the USAF given the mission profiles of the Destroyer in the 1950s, the addition of heavy electronic warfare equipment to the Destroyer to created the EB-66, the only tactical electronic warfare aircraft available in Vietnam, strained the limits of the J71 in the hot tropical environment of Vietnam. Destroyer crews nicknamed the aircraft "The Airplane with One-Way Engines" in reference to the fact that outside of the lackluster McDonnell F3H Demon, the other design to use the J71 was the Northrop Snark cruise missile. However, in 1956, Northrop switched the Snark's engine from the J71 to the- you guessed it- J57. 

Source: Glory Days: The Untold Story of the Men Who Flew the B-66 Destroyer into the Face of Fear by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel. Schiffer Military History, 2008, p24-38.

18 January 2011

Flight Testing on the Cheap: The Ground-Breaking M2F1 Lifting Body

In the early 1960s NASA's research work into lifting body designs was in full swing with the X-23/PRIME program testing lifting bodies in the re-entry regime from orbit. I had previously blogged about the PRIME program and the data that it provided the aerospace industry. But while the unmanned X-23 program answered the question of a lifting body's flight characteristics at the high speeds encountered during re-entry, questions still remained about the suitability of a lifting body in subsonic flight- would a lifting body design be controllable and stable in the low speed flight regime upon return to Earth of a reusable space vehicle? At the time, Dale Reed, an engineer at NASA's Flight Research Center (FRC) at Edwards AFB, had been following the lifting body research in his free time. Being an avid remote-control aircraft model builder, Reed built a 24-inch flying model of what was designated the M2 shape- the M1 shape was the product of research at NASA Ames which started out as a 13-degree half cone with a rounded nose. The M1 shape was refined into the M2 shape which added twin vertical fins, a canopy for a pilot, and horizontal control surfaces. This M2 shape was what Dale Reed modeled in his free time and dropped it from a 60-inch remote control "mothership" while his wife Donna would film the M2 model flight with an 8mm camera. He later showed the films to the director of the FRC, Paul Bikle, and Alfred Eggers, one of the pioneering researchers on lifting body work. They were suitably impressed with Reed's work that in November 1962 Bikle authorized a six-month program paid out of the FRC's discretionary fund to build a manned glider version of Reed's M2 model. 

The M2 glider had a steel tubular frame to which was attached the pilot's seat and landing gear (taken from a Cessna 150)- the exterior would be a light wooden shell this way different shapes could be tested. As it was, work on the lifting bodies within NASA would eventually settle on the M2 shape as the most ideal and the glider was designated the M2-F1. Space was set aside in the main hangar at the FRC which was cordoned off and nicknamed "Wright's Bicycle Shop". A local glider builder was contracted to help construct the outer shell while NASA engineers and technicians, many of whom were members of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), lent their time and talents to the construction of the M2-F1. As many of them did it in the free time, it ended up costing NASA only $30,000 to build the M2-F1 when it was finished in early 1963! One of the reasons Paul Bikle funded the program out of FRC's discretionary fund was that he feared NASA headquarters in Washington would disapprove, or worse, take control of the project and make it excessively complex and expensive. 

The finished M2-F1 was 20 feet long, 10 feet high, and 14 feet wide. At the aft ends of the blunt half cone it had twin fins that mounted horizontal control surfaces nicknamed "elephant ears". The main body itself had two flaps at the end that were for trimming the glider in flight. Complete with the pilot, the M2-F1 weighed only 1,138 pounds. Later in the flight test program a Weber zero-zero ejection seat was fitted, but for the first set of flights, no ejection seat was used. By March 1963 the full scale wind tunnel tests at NASA Ames were completed with encouraging results and back at Edwards AFB tow runs were made with various vehicles pulling the M2-F1, the first captive flight taking place 5 April 1963. For these initial flights, the M2-F1 was suspended below a Rogallo wing as the vehicles weren't fast enough to pull the M2-F1 to its rotation speed. 

The engineers wanted to a faster vehicle to get the M2-F1 airborne before pulling it aloft behind a tow aircraft to higher altitudes. A 1963 Pontiac Catalina convertible was procured and stripped down. It had a 455-cubic inch engine, four barrel carburetor, and was a five speed stick shift. The engineers enlisted the help of famed California hot-rodder Bill Straup in Long Beach to replace the street tires with racing tires and to tune and tweak the engine for maximum performance. Rollbars and radio equipment were installed and the right hand front passenger seat was turned around to face aft. Adorned with the suitable high visibility markings and NASA logos, the FRC's hot rod pulled the M2-F1 for the first time airborne in June 1963. Satisfied with the near-ground/low altitude peformance, a Douglas R4D (Navy version of the DC-3/C-47) pulled the M2-F1 glider aloft for the world's first piloted lifting body free flight on 16 August 1963 when NASA test pilot Milt Thompson cast off from the tow plane at 10,000 feet and landed smoothly onto Rogers Dry Lake below. Six other test pilots flew the M2-F1 glider after casting off from the R4D towplane- Bill Dana, Capt. Jerauld Gentry, Don Mallick, Bruce Peterson, Donald Sorlie, and Col. Chuck Yeager. Bruce Peterson and Milt Thompson flew the majority of the M2-F1 flights. The M2-F1 eventually got a proper ejection seat and a small rocket was added which was fired before landing to assist with the pre-landing flare. Eventually modifications and test equipment required the M2-F1 to trade in its Cessna 150 landing gear for the gear of a Cessna 180. 

The last M2-F1 flight took place on 16 August 1966 after just over 100 flights and 400 ground tows. It was donated to the Smithsonian Institution and was restored years later and returned to NASA Dryden (what the FRC is today known as) for display. Proving that a lifting body shape could be safely flown at subsonic speeds, NASA proceeded to develop the M2-F2, a heavier, alumimum, rocket powered version that was dropped from the NB-52A and was capable of supersonic flight. Plans were to build two M2-F2s, but eventually one M2-F2 was built to supersede the M2-F1 and a competing lifting body design was built by Northrop as the HL-10. As an interesting bit of television trivia, the crash depicted in the opening of the "Six Million Dollar Man" is Bruce Peterson crashing in the M2-F2 on 10 May 1967, which he did survive. 

16 January 2011

The Short and Deadly Career of the De Havilland Swallow

Evolution of the Comet from mailplane to jetliner
The Allies reaped a technological windfall with the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Both the United States and Great Britain in particular found that their wartime studies of future jet aircraft experienced quantum leaps in performance with the incorporation of the aeronautical knowledge of the personnel technical documents, and aircraft of the Third Reich. During the final half of the Second World War, Britain grappled with the future of passenger flight with the Brabazon Committee's deliberations on the future of commercial aviation. Of the five designs put forth by the Committee, the most advanced was the Type IV design for a jet-powered 100-passenger design. This aircraft would become the De Havilland DH.106 Comet- but the DH.106 started out as a very small, modest adaptation of the Vampire jet fighter as jet-powered mailplane with a six-seat passenger compartment. But with the input of the Brabazon Committee, the DH.106 evolved into a substantially larger aircraft that at one point was a tailless design before taking on the shape now familiar as the Comet. 

TG283, the low-speed DH.108 aircraft
The British were particularly interested in the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet rocket-powered point interceptor- it was fast, had modestly swept wings, was tailless and was known to have good flying characteristics. As a result of their evaluation of the Komet, the government issued the E.18/45 requirement which was awarded to De Havilland for the construction of two small jet-powered research aircraft to study swept wings and the tailless configuration. Designed by De Havilland engineer Ronald Bishop, what was designated the DH.108 used the fuselage of the De Havilland Vampire jet fighter which was stretched and streamlined combined with a new swept vertical fin and new swept wings. This served to save time and effort and like the Vampire jet fighter, the DH.108 had wing root intakes. Unofficially named "Swallow", the two prototypes received the RAF serials TG283 and TG306. TG283 had a 43-degree swept wing and was intended for low speed testing while TG306 had a 45-degree wing and was assigned to high-speed transonic testing. Initial wind tunnel studies suggested that the Swallow would have lousy stall characteristics, so the first of the two to fly, the low-speed assigned TG283, had fixed wing slats and anti-spin parachutes in fairings on the wingtips. It made its first flight on 15 May 1946 and TG306, the high-speed Swallow, made its first flight a month later and had automatic wing slats but no anti-spin parachutes.

VW120, the third DH.108 Swallow that broke the sound barrier in 1948
The test pilot for the DH.108 was the chief test pilot for the company, Geoffrey De Havilland, Jr, the son of the company's founder. After several problem-free test flights it was found that both aircraft lacked the predicted poor stall characteristics and the high speed aircraft, TG306, joined the formal research program on 23 August 1946. By the time De Havilland had safely taken it to 630 mph at altitude with no problems, it was decided he would take TG306 to break the world speed record. On a practice run over the Thames Estuary on 27 September 1946, the aircraft exceeded its structural limits at high speed and broke up, killing Geoffrey De Havilland, Jr, as the aircraft had no ejection seat. John Cunningham succeeded De Havilland as chief test pilot and took over flying the DH.108. To replace the lost aircraft, a third DH.108 was ordered and received the RAF serial VW120. It featured a more pointed nose, revised canopy and cockpit including a Martin-Baker ejection seat, and a higher thrust Goblin engine than what had powered the first two aircraft. Cunningham took VW120 up on its maiden flight  on 24 July 1947. With Cunningham and fellow test pilot John Derry flying VW120, a series of new speed records were set in 1948 and on 9 September of that year, Derry took VW120 past Mach 1 in a dive from 40,000 feet, making the DH.108 Swallow the first British aircraft to break the sound barrier- though it must be pointed out that Derry had for the most part lost control of VW120 during the supersonic portion of the flight but had safely recovered and landed. 

After flying demonstrations at the 1948 Farnborough SBAC air show, VW120 was handed over to the Royal Aircraft Establishment to join TG283 (the first Swallow) in the research program. On 15 February 1950 RAE test pilot Stuart Muller-Rowland was killed when VW120 broke up due to structural failure during a high speed test run. Three months later TG283 was lost and killed its test pilot, RAF Squadron Leader G.E. Genders, when it stalled at low speed and low altitude. 

Despite the loss of all three DH.108s with the loss of life, the data from the Swallow flight test program and the research program at the Royal Aircraft Establishment benefited not just the design of the DH.106 Comet jetliner, but also that of the DH.110 Sea Vixen naval fighter as well.

Source: Military Aircraft Monthly International, Volume 9, Issue 12. "A Deadly Swallow: The short sharp story of De Havilland's DH.108" by Nico Braas, p28-32.

12 January 2011

The British Knock Out the Italian Fleet with Biplanes

The Fairey Swordfish as marked/painted for the Taranto attack
The planning for the attack on the Italian fleet at the harbor of Taranto began in earnest in 1938 during the Munich Crisis when it seemed that Europe was headed for war. Though boasting a force of six battleships, five cruisers and twenty destroyers at the start of the conflict that could have caused significant headaches for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, Mussolini rarely ordered the fleet to sail far from the home port of Taranto and they would return at the earliest opportunity, failing to engage the British Mediterranean fleet. With the threat of war looming, captain of the HMS Glorious, Capt. Lumley Lyster, was asked to draw up an attack plan to knock out the Italian fleet while it sat in harbor. Essential to any attack given the strength of the defenses of the harbor would be surprise, necessitating a night attack. By the time 1940 had come around and maintaining the sea links with the British forces in North Africa took added importance, the need to proceed with the attack, codenamed "Operation Judgement", the trained Fairey Swordfish aircrews that trained aboard the HMS Glorious were now serving aboard the HMS Illustrious and under strict secrecy, the attack was planned for 12 October 1940 on Trafalgar Day. Unfortunately, a fire in the hangar deck of the Illustrious resulted in the Swordfish aircraft being drenched in saltwater, necessitating their clean up and repair. Also, the original attack plan called for the HMS Eagle to accompany the Illustrious on the attack, but Eagle had suffered damage from an accidental bomb explosion earlier in the year. As a result, some of Eagle's Swordfish and aircrew were transferred to the Illustrious. The attack was rescheduled for the night of 11/12 November 1940. 

Given the nature of the defenses based on the latest British reconnaissance, the first wave to attack Taranto would consist of twelve Swordfish, only six of which would carry torpedoes while the balance of aircraft carried bombs and flares. At the time, the conventional naval wisdom was that torpedoes were only usable in deep water, but the Royal Navy had modified their torpedoes to run in the shallow water of Taranto Harbor. The photos showed that the battleships were protected by torpedo nets, but they were standard keel-depth nets. The torpedoes used were configured to magnetically detonate below the ships' keels. 

Diagram of the attack on the Italian fleet
At 8:30pm the first wave took off from the HMS Illustrious. The gunners weren't carried, their place being taken by a supplemental fuel tank to allow a two-man crew to fly the 340-mile roundtrip mission. By 9:00pm the twelve aircraft were all airborne and they set off for Taranto. Several of the Swordfish became separated from the main formation and had to make their own way to the target- one pilot arrived at Taranto ahead of the main force and had to await the rest of the aircraft- some references indicate that this may have alerted the Italians. Arriving over the harbor at 11:00pm, the strike force immediately came under fire. One of the Swordfish peeled off from the group and dropped a series of flares at 7,500 feet along the eastern perimeter of Mar Grande, the outer harbor. A second Swordfish followed suit, illuminating the area for the rest of the strike force. Lt. Commander K. Williamson, the CO of No. 815 Squadron, made the first torpedo run against the battleship Conte di Cavour, blowing a hole in the side of the ship but getting shot down in the process. Two more Swordfish that accompanied Williamson then pressed their attack against the battleship Andrea Doria, which was unsuccessful. The last group of the first wave attacked two cruisers and four destroyers as well in Mar Piccolo, the inner harbor. The Swordfish's agility paid dividends as the seemingly archaic aircraft managed to weave around the barrage balloons and jink hard to throw off the anti-aircraft fire. 

HMS Illustrious with a Swordfish on the deck
With the first wave turning back for the Illustrious, the only aircraft shot down was that of their CO, Lt. Commander Williamson, who was taken prisoner along with his crewman. The second wave, under the lead of Lt. Commander J.W. Hale, the CO of No. 819 Squadron, had left the Illustrious thirty minutes after the first wave took off. Of the twelve Swordfish in the second wave, only eleven arrived at Taranto due to technical problem with the twelfth aircraft that forced it to return to the carrier. Arriving over the harbor at midnight, again the flare-dropping Swordfish lit up the area while the bomb and torpedo-armed aircraft set to work on the rest of the Italian battle fleet. Two aircraft attacked the battleship Littorio, but only one scored a hit. Another aircraft despite taking damage pressed an unsuccessful attack against the battleship Vittorio Veneto. The battleship Caio Duilio was also hit, and only one aircraft from the second wave was shot down, the two aircrew being killed. By 240am, the last of the Swordfish landed on the Illustrious. A third wave was planned the following night, but bad weather prevented a final blow to the Italian fleet. 

The attack was a stunning success by an aircraft that was older and slower than many of its contemporaries. Just 11 torpedoes and 48 bombs managed to knock out half of the Italian battle fleet at Taranto and while the defenders fired off over 22,000 rounds, only two aircraft were shot down, quite an impressive feat! The attack followed by the Battle of Cape Spartivento two weeks later and the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 consolidated the Royal Navy's control of the Mediterranean, hastening the defeat of the Axis. The planning staff of the Imperial Japanese Navy, at the time putting together the plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor, studied the British attack at Taranto carefully and managed on 7 December 1941 to knock out more battleships in the process, but unlike the Mediterranean, the attack failed to shift the balance of power in the Pacific as the US Navy had shifted its fleet emphasis to the aircraft carrier as the new capital ship. 

Source: International Air Power Review, Volume 27, Winter 2010/11. "Warplane Classic- Fairey Swordfish- the Fleet Air Arm's enigmatic warrior" by Allan Laws, p125-129.

10 January 2011

British Defenses Against the Summer 1944 V-1 Bombardment

Cutaway view of the Fiesler Fi 103, or V-1 "Buzz Bomb"
Within a week of the Allied landings on Normandy on 6 June 1944, the Germans initiated a new form of bombardment against London, launching ten of Hitler's "Revenge Weapon No.1" or Vergeltungswaffe 1- V-1 for short. Of the V-1s launched in the early morning darkness of 13 June, six suffered failures that prevented them from even reaching the English coast from launch sites at Pas de Calais. Four bombs made it into British airspace, three of them hit in open land causing no casualties. One of those four V-1s, though, hit Bethnal Green, 2 miles from the famous Tower Bridge (which was used as the nominal aiming point) where it killed six people and injured nine more. British intelligence had predicted history's first cruise missile bombardment for a year, but the opening salvoes were far smaller than what was feared. It took three days to resume the launches and by 16 June 244 V-1s had been fired at the British capital. Of those missiles, 153 crossed into British airspace and of those V-1s, 73 hit the London area causing widespread damage and civilian casualties. 

German launcher crew prepare a V-1 on its firing ramp in France
In the three day lull following the first attack, the Royal Air Force and British Army swiftly deployed its defenses to southeast England. The first line of defense consisted of nine squadrons of Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Tempest fighters as well as two squadrons of De Havilland Mosquito night fighters. The aircraft three lines of standing patrols, the first line 20 miles off the coast, the second line at the coast, and the third line 15 miles inland. Behind the fighter patrols came the gun zone made up of 192 heavy caliber AA guns and nearly 200 light-caliber guns in an area 20 miles deep. If a fighter pursued a V-1 into the gun zone, gunners were ordered to hold their fire to allow the fighter to complete its pursuit. Behind the gun zone on the southeast suburbs of London was the balloon zone made up of 480 barrage balloons. Over a quarter million mothers and children were evacuated out of London itself during the bombardment. Up to the end of June 1944, an average of 153 V-1s were fired at London. One-third failed or were shot down before crossing the English coast. Another one-third crashed or were shot down over southeastern England before reaching London. But that left a significant amount that managed to hit the London area. 

By mid-July, the defenses were revised based on the experience so far. This time each defensive measure was given a predefined zone for unrestricted engagement of any flying targets. The British Army's AA gun batteries were increased to 412 heavy guns and nearly 600 light guns in a 65-mile long strip along the coast that allowed the gun-laying radars of the batteries a clear view over the English Channel. Fighter pilots were prohibited from crossing the new gun zone, knowing that the gun batteries had unrestricted rules of engagement. The fighter zones were now split into two, with an outer zone over the English Channel that stopped five miles from the coast where the gun zone began. The inner zone began at the rear of the gun zone along the coast and extended back to the barrage balloon zone in London. In less than a month the number of barrage balloons increased to over 2,000. With the new defensive layout, over one-half of incoming V-1s were stopped from reaching the capital. 2 August would be the heaviest bombardment day, with 316 V-1s launched from 38 launchers in Pas de Calais. Of that number, 107 would impact in London. On that day, the nominal aiming point for the V-1 batteries in France, the Tower Bridge, took a direct hit from a V-1. 

A Spitfire pursues a V-1 at treetop height
By early August, the first Gloster Meteor jet fighter units were becoming operational and were tasked with V-1 interception. However, there were three developments that would vastly improve the British defenses, all technological wizardry courtesy of the United States. First was the SCR-584 gun laying radar that was the state of the art in 1940s radar technology and could lock onto targets instead of having to be manually directed by operators. A new device called the the Number 10 Predictor was the second device, it could exploit the improved fidelity from the SCR-584 to direct the AA fire more accurately. And the third bit of wizardry would also save many US Navy carriers and warships in the Pacific- proximity-fuzed AA shells that no longer needed a direct hit to bring down a target. With these three advances, the average V-1 engagement by a British Army gun battery only used a mere 156 rounds to bring down a V-1. 

The last V-1 launched from Pas de Calais came on 1 September, by which point the launch sites were all overrun by British Army units on the breakout from the Normandy beaches. From that point on, the V-1s that hit London were delivered by air-launching which was less effective and more prone to interception. During the first phase of the bombardment from June to September 1944, until the British defenses received new radars and proximity-fuzed AA shells, the most effective defense was actually the Allied air attacks on the French rail system. V-1 launch sites often had to wait days before receiving new missiles to fire due to attacks on supply trains and the rail network itself. Throughout this first V-1 bombardment phase, the launchers at Pas de Calais never launched V-1s at their intended capacity. 

The V-1's magnetic compass in the nose was enclosed in a wooden sphere
By far the most interesting defense that nearly got fielded in the summer of 1944 also came from the United States. Dr. Don Hare and his team at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory in New York were working on radio countermeasures systems when they were asked by the US government to assist in developing a counter to the V-1 attacks on London. Since the V-1 required no outside cues, it was invulnerable to jamming. Its direction guidance came via a magnetic compass in the nose that cued the master gyroscope that controlled the rudder. As the V-1 had to be simple to produce, it lacked any ailerons and its straight wing lacked any dihedral to provide stability. RAF pilots had already discovered a V-1 could be thrown off course and downed by forcing the bomb into a steep bank by tipping one wing. Dr. Hare's team reasoned that if a suitably strong magnetic field could be created, the magnetic compass could be tricked into cueing the master gyroscope to put the V-1 into a tight turn, thereby downing it. The American team's idea was to use existing railway lines that formed a loop around London 60 miles in circumference as a giant magnetic loop. By connecting specific rail lines in a giant circuit, it would take 1,000 amps of DC power to create a magnetic field over London that could confuse the V-1's autopilot. It was determined that 20 to 30 megawatts were needed which was within the capacity of a large commercial power station. Design work began on the needed equipment, but the "Mightiest Magnet" program ended when the launch sites in Pas de Calais were overrun by Allied forces. 

Source: International Air Power Review, Volume 27, Winter 2010/11. "Pioneers & Prototypes- Vergeltungswaffe 1- Adolf Hitler's revenge weapon" by Dr. Alfred Price and P.G. Cooksley, p150-159.

05 January 2011

Flying for Less: The Birth of PeoplExpress

Don Burr was seen as taking full advantage of dergulation
For years Don Burr, a former mutual fund manager, and Frank Lorenzo had been inseparable since their early days as airline management consultants, long before they'd taken helm at Texas International. In the turnaround of Texas International, Don Burr was the brains and Frank Lorenzo provided the schmooze factor, demonstrating a remarkable talent in getting creditors off their back. They were the best man at each other's wedding and Frank Lorenzo was the godfather to one of Burr's children. Their families even vacationed together. Given their closeness, what was soon to transpire was earth-shaking in the industry.

In 1978 deregulation was right around the corner and suddenly the US airline industry would have to deal with an open and free market for the first time in its history. Even Lorenzo knew that Texas International wasn't the right vehicle for prosperity in the post-deregulatory market. He once remarked at a conference that there were only two kinds of airlines after deregulation- very small ones and very large ones and with Texas International only the sixteenth largest airline, it was neither. It could be crushed by the juggernaut that was American at DFW or nibbled to death by Southwest Airlines which had already cut deeply into Texas International's intrastate business. Lorenzo's solution was to look for a takeover target and get bigger by acquisition. Burr's solution was different. Markedly different, to say the least- while Lorenzo absorbed himself in a stock market race with Pan Am for control of National Airlines' stock, Burr decided the culture of the company had to change- it had transform to face the new market reality.

Frank Lorenzo's rise to fame began at Texas International.

In his younger days Burr read a book called The Greatest Thing in the World in which a 19th century Scottish minister named Henry Drummond extolled the virtues of establishing love at the foundation of every activity of daily life. Burr adored the book and still kept it within reach for moments of comfort and inspiration. Burr figured that he could apply the same principles to Texas International- trusting employees, eliminating time clocks, minimizing supervision and giving the employee the freedom and latitude to do the best job possible. Burr tapped Texas International's chief of service, Edwin Cathell, and they analyzed everything from Abraham Maslow's hierachy of needs to the corporate policies of other companies known in those days for progressive employee relations.

The result of this research was Don Burr's "People's Program"- a set of black three-ring binders distributed to all the officers of company. He then called a meeting to go over how he planned to transform the corporate culture of the airline to make it a better player after deregulation. Of course, Frank Lorenzo was invited. He hadn't read the binders, of course. That wasn't his style With Lorenzo at a glittering hi-rise office building in downtown Houston, Burr remained at the "Blue Barn", Texas International's headquarters at Houston Hobby Airport.

As the meeting began, Burr noted that while financial considerations were always vital to a company's performance once deregulation took place, the expected universality of low fares meant that Texas International would have to leverage customer service to survive and his "People's Program" would be the cornerstone of that transformation. Burr showed how the binders he distributed established a program of "Leadership and Love" throughout the company through psychological indoctrination, specialized training sessions, open work spaces, jogging trails and a shift from the "Blue Barn" to new campus-like corporate headquarters in the wooded suburbs north of Houston. Employees would work in an environment where they were not only cared for, but trusted. It would cost money, but the investment in improving productivity added to the airline's bottom line. 

Texas International operated primarily DC-9-10s/30s.

Ten minutes into his presentation, Lorenzo interrupted the presentation and told Burr to follow him to his office. And that's when Lorenzo told Don Burr what he thought of his People Program."This is complete bullshit!" Burr was crushed. Over the years of dealing with Frank Lorenzo, Burr would often storm out threatening to quit but like some battered wife, Burr always came back and never carried out his threats to leave Texas International for good. This time was different, though. Burr knew Lorenzo was trying to get control of National Airlines and it would be up to him to pick up the pieces and make it work while Lorenzo moved on to his next target. After several months of soul-searching, he called Lorenzo and told him "I resign". "Fine", Lorenzo sneered back, "it's about damn time!" while he laughed. Lorenzo had heard this from Burr a hundred times before and hung up on him. Burr then called Melrose Dawsey, Lorenzo's personal secretary (she was literally Lorenzo's organizer), invited her to resign and join him a new business venture. She walked out that day. Burr next called Gerry Gitner, Lorenzo's numbers man who was one of the most important gears in Lorenzo's machine. Gitner walked out that day was well. 

PeoplExpress started out with second-hand Boeing 737s.

It was a bad time go strike it out. There was a second oil recession on the heels of the Iranian Revolution, the Fed was jacking up interest rates to sky high levels to rein in inflation, the airline industry was stagnating, and Burr, Dawsey, and Gitner had just angered the most vindictive man in the history of the airline industry. Leasing a small office in the northwest suburbs of Houston, they put out word that they were available ready to fix any struggling airline. But it occurred to Burr, why fix one when we can start our own? Burr had already seen Southwest as a young upstart compete ably against Texas International, American, and Braniff in Texas. So it was possible if they leveraged customer service like Southwest had so successfully done in Texas. The three of them scraped together as much money as they could, selling their cars, homes, vacation condos, stock options, and depleting their savings to pull together about $500,000. 

Don Burr at his office at Newark's North Terminal

Burr figured they needed to start up someplace that was vulnerable to a low-cost competitor. And that would be the Northeast- airlines were pulling planes out of the region to more robust markets in the West and South. They would combine Southwest's high-frequency low-cost service with Burr's People Program. With the regional economy in the Northeast depressed, the area was ripe for a low-cost carrier to set up shop as the only airline not cutting back in the region was USAir, which was already saddled with the highest labor costs in the industry. JFK and La Guardia were too expensive for Burr's proposed airline and settled on Newark's abandoned North Terminal- the ceiling was falling in, it was infested with rats, garbage was strewn everywhere. But it was available for pennies from the Port Authority and Burr snapped it up. 

By Februray 1980 Burr along with Dawsey and Gitner met with a venture capitalist in Boston. When asked what the airline would be named, Burr replied that "the name will flow from the design." He was sure the name would come to him as things got rolling. The potential investor strongly advised them to think hard about the name as it should as closely as possible describe their business.

"We're people with a People Program, working to move people. We'll call it PeoplExpress."

And the rest, is history.