Tag: This Incredible Plane

Lockheed YO-3 Quiet Star: The First Produced Stealth Aircraft

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When we think of stealth aircraft, we usually focus on low radar-signature planes like the F-22 fighter or B-2 Stealth Bomber. But, in fact, stealthy technology encompasses much more. Most aircraft also produce a heat signature, a vapor trail and, of course, the generation of power produces noise. In 1966, the Lockheed corporation combined a Schweitzer 2-32 glider airframe, a Continental 0-200 engine and the muffler from a 1958 Buick to produce what was arguably the first stealth aircraft. 

This original design, the QT-2 (Quiet Thruster), eventually morphed into the production version, the YO-3 Quiet Star, which went on to gather intelligence for the U.S. military in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam and then had a second act catching wild game poachers in the Mississippi Delta. 

Modified general aviation aircraft have been pressed into military service for a very long time. The Piper L-4 Grasshopper, Cessna O-1 Birddog and later the Cessna O-2 Skymaster all saw extensive action as artillery spotters, forward air controllers and liaison aircraft. 

However, in 1966, the U.S. Navy had a unique request. It had been tasked with finding and interdicting traffic in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Lieutenant Leslie Horn, himself a private pilot, grew tired of the dangerous work of searching the canals in a riverboat with a set of binoculars and a starlight scope. So, he asked, what if a very quiet airplane, undetectable from the ground, could orbit over the delta for long periods of time and look for the enemy in relative safety? 

Surprisingly, the powers-that-be agreed, and soon the Lockheed Space and Missile Division had a U.S. Army contract in hand to develop a high-lift, low-noise, stealthy reconnaissance aircraft. The company, which had already been at work on a similar project, asked engineer Stanley Hall, a noted sailplane designer, to head up the project. 

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Hall’s first effort, the QT-2 (Quiet Thruster Two Seats), consisted of the venerable Schweizer 2-32 glider airframe with a Continental O-200 engine mounted on top of the fuselage, just behind the pilots. To reduce propeller tip noise, a large, slow-turning wooden propeller was connected to the engine by a driveshaft that ran over the pilots’ heads. This ungainly looking arrangement was driven by a series of rubber belts to reduce gear noise. And, of course, the final stealth modification was the addition of the aforementioned 1958 Buick muffler. 

Once flight tests began, it was immediately apparent that the QT-2 was virtually undetectable on dark nights at altitudes greater than 800 feet AGL. To be sure, the QT-2 was not completely silent. However, the combination of ambient background noise, the soft, gentle surf-like sound of the large, slow-turning propeller, and the fact that the boats traveling on the river would produce their own noise made it a very stealthy platform. 

Pleased with the two prototypes’ performance, the company modified both airframes into a combat-ready airplane named the QT-2PC (Prize Crew), which was soon shipped to Vietnam. Lt. Horn, now a Lt. Commander, led a hardy band of pilots and maintainers and put the stealthy motor gliders to the test. The results were a mixed bag. The QT-2PCs were as stealthy as advertised. They managed to average 10 hours in the air each night, flying below 1,000 feet while identifying enemy traffic on the Delta, all while undetected. On the other hand, these heavily modified gliders were a handful to fly. 

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The large propeller was supported by a thick pylon immediately in front of the pilot. Unfortunately, this acted as a second rudder, well forward of the center of gravity. The result was a case of serious Yaw Roll coupling, a phenomenon previously seen in Mach 2 experimental planes. Thus, any unplanned yaw had the potential to develop into a severe roll response, a liability, especially close to the ground. QT-2PC pilots soon learned to limit the aircraft to straight and level and very gentle turns. 

Handling issues aside, the test was considered a success. So, Lockheed began work on a more practical successor, the YO-3A Quiet Star. It was also based on the Schweizer 2-32 airframe. However, it featured wing-mounted retractable landing gear, a conventionally mounted Lycoming IO-360, and a large, slow-turning wooden propeller driven once again by a rubber belt drive system. The Buick muffler was retired and replaced by a sophisticated 26-foot-long acoustic exhaust system. Because of these modifications to the original concept, the Quiet Star was a safer, more capable, if slightly noisier, aircraft. 

Of the 11 Quiet Stars constructed, nine operated in Vietnam from June of 1970 to September of 1971. While three were lost to crashes, none were lost to enemy action. All turned out to be very effective at identifying enemy supply/troop movements. To ensure their stealth before setting out on their nightly missions, Quiet Star crews flew over the ramp area while the ground crew listened for any unplanned whistles or humming noises. If any were heard, the pilots would immediately land while “duct tape” was applied, and soon they were on their way. 

This is where the story usually ends. Unique military aircraft concept is designed, achieves success, then is scrapped. But not so fast! As it turns out, the same technology that allowed the Quiet Star to sneak up on enemy transports in the Mekong Delta was just as effective at tracking game poachers in the Mississippi Delta. Two of the YO-3A Quiet Stars served the Louisiana Department of Fish and Game in this role for many years. Seeing this success, the FBI eventually acquired the aircraft and used them to track down its most wanted. NASA also acquired a Quiet Star. It used its YO-3A quiet flight characteristics to measure the noise signatures of other aircraft, from helicopters and tiltrotors to the SR-71s sonic booms. 

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NASA’s Quiet Star remained in service until 2015 and then found a permanent home at the Vietnam Helicopter Museum in Concord, California. Happily, most of the surviving airframes are on display in aviation museums around the country, several in flying condition. So, long before stealth was cool, military necessity, a young naval officer with general aviation roots and a Lockheed engineer with a passion for designing sailplanes created this incredible plane! 

Learn about another Incredible Plane, the V-173 Flying Pancake.

V-173 Flying Pancake: The Amazing STOL “Flying Saucer”

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As is usually the instance, a number of the very best concepts are simply awaiting the best mix of sources as well as scenarios to assemble. The V-173″Flying Pancake” is an ideal instance. In the late 1930s, with battle drums defeating louder, the U.S. Navy was searching for a plane that several idea was difficult. A solitary layout that can remove on the shortened deck of a ship, show competitor aircraft rate as well as ability to move, and afterwards land back on that particular very same brief deck. Get in wind resistant designer Charles Zimmerman and also his “Zimmer Skimmer.”

In 1935, Zimmerman won a give from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to establish a small brief departure and also touchdown (STOL) airplane. His special layout included a 7-foot wingspan, mixed wing body style as well as big, slow-turning props. Troubles with prop synchronization based the Skimmer, and also it never ever flew. It did capture the eye of Vought Aircraft as well as the U.S. Navy. Vought quickly employed Zimmerman as lead designer on the Navy’s STOL job. To decrease threat and also reduce advancement time, the very first model would certainly not be a combat-ready airplane yet instead an innovation demonstrator, the V-173 Flying Pancake.

Made and also constructed to the basic air travel criteria of the age, the V-173 was created of timber as well as material with light weight aluminum scheduled for the fairing and also cowling locations. Zimmerman defined the airplane form as discoidal. The body created a bent wing area about 25 feet in size. 2 Continental A80, four-cylinder opposed air-cooled engines, which later on powered ratings of Pipers and also Taylorcrafts, were hidden in the combined wing. Both mechanical fuel-injected four-bangers were attached to the twin three-bladed, slow-turning props with an intricate system of clutches and also driveshafts. This system enabled either engine to power both props in case of a solitary failing.

The distinct prop idea was the trick to both the high-speed as well as sluggish efficiency of the airplane. In standard airplane, wingtip vortices develop a substantial drag charge. To counteract these vortices, the V-173’s props, situated at the external sides of the training body, kipped down the contrary instructions of the vortices, properly terminating the drag. While both Continental A80s performed at 2,500 RPM, the huge three-bladed props transformed at a careless 400 RPM. The huge slow-turning props supplied smooth air flow over the lorry for improved low-speed efficiency. In addition, each completely flexible prop blade bent ahead at the origin, just like helicopter rotor blades. Establishing this complicated system, comparable to that of the contemporary V-22 Osprey, postponed trip screening for numerous months however was ultimately improved. Gas amount was restricted to 2 10-gallon containers, each feeding among the Continental A80 engines. Because of the 22-degree angle of the combined wing, the flooring of the cabin was polished with plexiglass for launch as well as touchdown. The initial setup consisted of twin standard upright and also straight tail surface areas. All set for launch, the Pancake considered in at a little over 3,000 extra pounds.

Examination pilot Boone Guyton made the very first trip on Nov. 23, 1942. It lasted 13 mins, as well as it almost finished in catastrophe. Side controls were as well hefty, drivetrain resonance degrees were high, as well as the standard lifts were not effective adequate to change from the high climb right into straight trip. Guyton’s conserving elegance, actually, was that the V-173 would certainly not delay. In reaction, Zimmerman changed the standard straight stabilizers with all-flying surface areas, referred to as “airivators.” These effective totally portable surface areas worked as both ailerons and also lifts as well as were effective adequate to permit change to as well as from cruise ship trip.

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On later trips, a set of special touchdown flaps were included in between the twin tails. Pilots grumbled that ground result stress stopped the tail from working out to the path throughout touchdown. The enhancement of a collection of 2 touchdown flaps that dispersed up eased the stress as well as made regular touchdowns feasible. These as well as various other problems were dealt with, and also the V-173 Flying Pancake took place to transform 190 effective trips as well as log roughly 132 hrs airborne. The brilliant yellow model might remove in much less than 200 feet, cruise ship at 138 miles per hr, as well as land at 15 miles per hr. Charles Lindbergh, that flew the V-173, kept in mind that it can almost float, would certainly not delay under power with complete aft stick, as well as was very easy to land.

The Navy was pleased and also quickly purchased 2 full-blown competitor models. These were the Vought XF5U, referred to as, properly, the Flying Flapjack. Astonishingly, the Flapjack was just a little bigger than the V-173, with a 28-by-32 size as well as size. It was powered by 2 Pratt & & Whitney Radial engines of 1,400 horse power each, generating a 17-fold boost in power to counter its fivefold rise in gross weight. The Flapjack included an ejection seat, retracting equipment as well as a layout rate of over 450 miles per hr. The XF5U program was terminated in very early 1947, simply prior to its initial trip– it was doing high-speed taxi examinations as well as brief jumps on the path. Program hold-ups, completion of World War II and also the dawn of the Jet Age confirmed to be merely excessive for the Flying Flapjack.

All the developments made by the little V-173 Flying Pancake were not shed. The all-moving “airivators” are currently the “elevons” that elegance the tails of a wide range of delta as well as swing-wing jets, supplying both roll as well as pitch control. As well as the interconnected prop drive system, lastly improved in the Vertical Takeoff as well as Landing (VTOL) V-22 Osprey, has actually ended up being an essential device for the armed solutions. Oh, as well as another point. The Flying Pancake examination trips in the Stratford, Connecticut, area produced several of the earliest UFO records on document!

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The V-173 Flying Pancake model was not damaged. Sixty years later on, on finance from the Smithsonian, it was carefully brought back by a group of Vought retired people. Today, you can see this extraordinary plane on screen at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. Delight in!

Learn more about one more Incredible Plane, the Mooney M22 Mustang.

The Extra EA 400: An Underappreciated Pressurized Composite Transportation Plane From Aerobatic Masters

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Looking for a low-time, used, six-seat piston single that cruises at FL 250 in pressurized comfort and can be found for the price of a used Cirrus SR 22? Oh, and it won’t be mistaken for anything else on the ramp! If so, the answer is Walter Extra’s EA 400! 

This all-composite high-winged beauty was Extra Aircraft’s entry into the market pioneered by the Piper Malibu. With the genes of an aerobatic aircraft, and some elegant engineering, the Extra 400’s appearance and performance are nothing short of spectacular. To understand this incredible plane, it helps to start with Walter Extra himself. 

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The McDonnell 119/220: The First BizJet

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The 2-inch-square advertisement in the April 2021 aviation monthly proclaims: “For Sale, One Off Prototype, The Very First Business Jet, Very Low Time.” The accompanying image is of a sleek four-engine mini airliner, a stylistic cross between a Douglas DC-8 and a Convair B-58 Hustler. This is the McDonnell 119/220, the very first business jet, which you probably never heard of.

The year is 1957, and the jet age is in full swing. Jet fighter protypes fill the skies at a rate of three or four per year. The Boeing 707 will make its first flight and enter service with Pan Am within a year, and the Douglas DC-8 and Convair 880/990 will not be far behind. The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation is right in the thick of it with its successful F-101 Voodoo interceptor and the equally impressive Banshee and Demon fighters for the Navy. And its iconic F-4 Phantom is on the drawing boards.

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Hacienda: A Legendary Modified Cessna 172

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Visitors to McCarran International Airport are treated to the sight of a heavily modified Cessna 172 hanging from the ceiling. Emblazoned on each side of the small plane is the word “Hacienda.” Few passing by it in their travel to or from the bright lights of Las Vegas know how remarkable a plane hangs above them. It is, in fact, one of the most unlikely tales in all of aviation. 

That legend was built on the strength of one flight, one extraordinary sortie that lasted between takeoff and landing 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and five seconds. 

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Piper Comanche 400: A Muscle Car On Wings

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It was early 1964, and Howard “Pug” Piper, one of three sons of founder William T. Piper and the driving force behind so many of Piper’s new-product development efforts, was looking to develop a new single-engine airplane. It would climb into the flight levels without turbocharging and transit the distance between Lock Haven and the new production facility in Vero Beach at great speed. An improved variant of the Piper Comanche, which had debuted under his guidance in 1958, seemed the perfect candidate. Piper Aircraft, famous for Cubs, Tri Pacers and, more recently, the all-metal Cherokee, had a real success with this handsome retractable-gear, four-place beauty. However, with only 180 or 250 horsepower currently on hand, more ponies were needed under the hood to turn up the wick on the speedometer. 

The year 1964 was also memorable for the birth of the American muscle car. The Big Three automakers were shoehorning the biggest V8 engine they could find into their plain-vanilla midsize sedans. The iconic Pontiac GTO came first, but soon the Ford 427, Chevy 396 and the unbeatable 426 Hemi, bolted into sedate family sedans, were setting records at the drag strip. While it might just be coincidence, the idea of taking the biggest and most powerful eight-cylinder engine available and pairing it with the family-friendly Piper Comanche airframe apparently made sense. Thus, the Piper Comanche 400 was born. 

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