Category Archives: Aircraft

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk airbrakes

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk Attack Helicopter

By William Pearce

In the late 1960s, Sikorsky Aircraft had many helicopter models in production, but they had lost contracts to develop new helicopters. In 1966, the United States Army’s Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS) contract was awarded to Lockheed, but their AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter ran into serious design issues. On 20 November 1969, Sikorsky initiated development of a new helicopter to be used primarily as a gunship, but it could also be used in other roles. This helicopter was designated S-67 Blackhawk, and its design and construction was self-funded by Sikorsky.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk airbrakes

The Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk was a very versatile helicopter that exhibited great performance, but it also had various shortcomings that the US Army could not overlook. The helicopter’s narrow fuselage and air brakes are illustrated in this image.

The Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk was designed as a high-speed attack helicopter with a small wing to generate lift. The pilot and copilot/gunner sat in tandem in the helicopter’s cockpit, with the copilot in the front seat and the pilot in the rear seat. The pilot accessed the cockpit from the left side of the helicopter and the copilot from the right. The narrow, streamlined fuselage was only 3 ft 10 in (1.2 m) wide, which decreased the helicopter’s drag and increased its survivability by presenting a smaller target to enemy gunners. Behind the cockpit was a compartment that could be used for additional equipment or to transport personnel.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk tail

This image shows the S-67’s original tail that did not have any rudders. Note the tail’s camber. Air brakes can be seen on the upper wing surfaces. The main gear had a 7 ft (2.1 m) track.

To cut expense and development time, the S-67 was designed to use the dynamic drive power system from a Sikorsky S-61/SH-3 Sea King. This included two 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines and their drive, rotor, hydraulic, and electrical systems. The S-67’s five-blade rotors had 22 in (559 mm) of their tips swept back 20 degrees to delay compressibility effects, lower vibration, and reduce noise. The net effect was that the blades allowed the helicopter to achieve higher speeds. The main rotors also had a hub fairing, and their collective pitch control was modified to increase sensitivity and range.

The S-67’s main gear retracted into sponsons mounted on the fuselage sides. The helicopter’s thin wings extended from the sponsons. Each wing featured two hardpoints for weapons, auxiliary fuel tanks, or equipment. Each wing also had three air brakes: two that deployed along its upper surface and one that deployed along the lower surface. With the air brakes deployed, the helicopter slowed twice as fast as without the air brakes. In addition, the air brakes could be deployed during combat to offer unrivaled maneuverability. The S-67 was the first helicopter with air brakes.

A five-blade, 10 ft 7 in (3.2 m) diameter tail rotor was mounted to the left side of the S-67’s vertical fin. A lower fin with a non-retractable tailwheel extended below the helicopter’s tail. The large upper and lower fins were cambered to counteract the torque of the main rotor at speeds above 46 mph (74 km/h). This enabled controlled flight without the tail rotor as long as the S-67’s forward speed was in excess of 46 mph (74 km/h). If the tail rotor was lost, the helicopter could be flown back to base and landed like a conventional aircraft. The S-67 used an all-moving horizontal stabilizer that increased the helicopter’s maneuverability and decreased rotor stress.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk landing

Note the angle of the all-moving horizontal stabilizer as the S-67 comes in for a landing. The landing gear was found to be insufficient for operating from unimproved locations. The helicopter’s double main wheels sunk into soft ground, and the gear doors only had 9.75 in (248 mm) of clearance.

With a 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) payload, the S-67 could accommodate a variety of armaments. A removable Emerson Electric Company TAT-140 turret mounted under the cockpit could carry a 7.62 mm minigun (M134), a 20 mm three-barrel rotary cannon (M197), a 30 mm single-barrel cannon (XM140), a 30 mm three-barrel rotary cannon (XM188), or a 40 mm grenade launcher (M129). The four underwing hardpoints could carry two drop tanks, up to 16 TOW missiles, or up to eight rocket pods. Each 2.75 in (70 mm) rocket pod contained 19 rockets, for a total of 152 rockets.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk side

The S-67’s rudders can be seen in this image. One is on the upper fin below the tail rotor, and the other is on the lower fin. Pylons have been installed on the wings’ hardpoints, with drop tanks mounted to the inner stations. The turret is installed with a M197 three-barrel 20 mm cannon.

The S-67 had a wingspan of 27 ft 4 in (8.3 m) and a rotor diameter of 62 ft (18.9 m). The fuselage was 64 ft 2 in (19.6 m) long, and the helicopter’s total length including the rotor was 74 ft 1 in (22.6 m). The S-67’s mast height was 15 ft (4.6 m), and the top of the tail rotor was 16 ft 4 in (5.0 m). The helicopter’s top speed was 213 mph (343 km/h); maximum cruise speed was 201 mph (324 km/h), and normal cruise speed was 167 mph (269 km/h). The S-67 could climb at 2,000 fpm (10.2 m/s) and had a service ceiling of 20,000 ft (6,096 m). The helicopter could hover in ground effect up to 9,700 ft (2,957 m) and could hover without ground effect up to 6,500 ft (1,981 m). Maximum range on internal fuel was 325 miles (523 km), but its normal combat range was 220 miles (354 km). With external fuel tanks, range was extended to over 600 miles (966 km). The S-67 had an empty weight of 12,525 lb (5,681 kg), a normal weight of 18,500 lb (8,391 kg), and a maximum takeoff weight of 22,050 lb (10,002 kg).

Sikorsky S-67 Colonge Germany 1972

The S-67 seen in the same configuration as the previous image. The helicopter is over Cologne, Germany on its European and Middle Eastern tour in 1972.

Construction on the S-67 started on 15 February 1970 and proceeded rapidly. The helicopter made its first flight on 20 August 1970. Flight testing proved the S-67 to be very responsive, maneuverable, smooth, and quiet. The helicopter was able to perform rolls, loops, and split-S turns—although, only rolls to the right were made. On 14 December 1970, Sikorsky test pilots Kurt Cannon and Byron Graham in the S-67 established a new absolute speed record by averaging 216.841 mph (348.971 km/h) over a 3 km (1.86 mile) course. They then set a new record on 19 December 1970 by averaging 220.888 mph (355.485 km/h) on a 15–25 km (9.3–15.5 mile) course.

In 1971, the S-67 covered 3,500 miles (5,633 km) touring 12 US military bases. In addition to Sikorsky demonstration flights, the helicopter was flown on 147 demo flights with military personnel. The S-67 completed 155 rolls and 140 split-S turns during these flights.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk fan-in-tail

A fan-in-fin anti-torque system was tested in the S-67. Note the rudders above and below the fan. No issues were encountered with the fan-in-fin, but the helicopter was converted back to a conventional tail rotor.

Between 25 May and 13 June 1972, the S-67 was flown 26 hours for a series of flight evaluations by the US Army. The helicopter was competing against the Bell 309/AH-1 KingCobra to replace the AH-56 Cheyenne, which had been cancelled. For the AAFSS role, the S-67 was designated AH-3, and Sikorsky’s proposal included adding an additional hardpoint to each wing, bringing the total number to six. This would enable the S-67 to carry up to 24 TOW missiles. While the S-67 was praised for its performance and most of its flight characteristics, the evaluation recorded a number of shortcomings. The Army did not award either Sikorsky or Bell a contract and decided to initiate a new Armed Attack Helicopter program, which eventually was won by the Hughes AH-64 Apache.

The S-67 underwent a number of modifications in late 1972. Rudders were added to the ventral and dorsal fins to increase yaw control. The compartment behind the cockpit was altered to enable the transport of six troops. Hardpoints were added to the wingtips for each to carry a Sidewinder missile. A hoist was added under the helicopter that allowed the S-67 to transport a 7,000 lb (3,175 kg) external load.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk cockpit

After the fan-in-tail rotor tests, a small door was added on the left side of the fuselage to access the compartment behind the cockpit. Initially, access was gained (with some difficulty) via the door under the fuselage (seen above). The S-67 was then painted a light desert camouflage, and this was the helicopter’s final configuration.

With no interest from the US Armed Forces, Sikorsky offered the S-67 for export. In late 1972, the S-67 was taken on a two-month tour of Europe and the Middle East. More than 7,500 miles (12,070 km) were covered, and the helicopter was flown for 136 hours. Despite interest from Israel, no orders were placed. Sikorsky then modified the S-67 to test a fan-in-fin tail rotor installation. A 4 ft 8 in (2.6 m), seven-blade rotor was installed in the modified tail. The helicopter underwent flight tests, including a dive at 230 mph (370 km/h). After the tests in 1974, the S-67’s tail was converted back to its previous configuration (with rudders), and a door to access the rear compartment was installed in the helicopter’s left side. The S-67 was then painted a light desert camouflage. The data from the fan-in-fin test was used for the Sikorsky H-76 fantail demonstrator, which tested the tail configuration later used in the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche.

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk inverted

The S-67 made hundreds of rolls in its lifetime, but they were always to the right. The square in the fuselage above the wing is the window in the new rear compartment access door. What appear to be two rectangular windows can be seen father aft. Note the helicopter’s rudders and deployed air brakes.

On 26 August 1974, the S-67 arrived in the United Kingdom to start another European tour. On 1 September 1974, the S-67 was destroyed after failing to recover from a second roll during a practice session for the upcoming Farnborough Air Show. The copilot, Stu Craig, was killed in the crash, and the pilot, Kurt Cannon, died from his injuries nine days later. The accident was caused by the second roll being initiated in a less than ideal configuration combined with low altitude. However, the accident investigators believed that the crash was survivable had the helicopter been fitted with five-point harnesses rather than four-point harnesses. The S-67 had accumulated 598.7 hours at the time of the crash.

With the prototype destroyed and no interest from the US military, Sikorsky decided to end the S-67 Blackhawk program. Its swept-tip rotor blades were developed into those used on the Sikorsky S-70/UH-60 Black Hawk (the name similarity is a coincidence) and other helicopters. The S-67’s speed record stood for eight years until it was broken on 21 September 1978 by the Soviet Mil A-10 (modified Mi-24B) at 228.9 mph (368.4 km/h).

Sikorsky S-67 Blackhawk crash

The S-67 tries to recover from a roll a split second before it impacts the ground. The helicopter’s low altitude left no room to recover from the roll, which was rushed and initiated in a flawed manner. The crash would ultimately kill the pilot and copilot and end the S-67 program.

“Blackhawk’s Last Flight” Aeroplane Monthly (June 1976)
Attack Helicopter Evaluation, Blackhawk S-67 Helicopter by George M. Yamakawa, et al (July 1972)

Douglas XB-42 no1 in flight

Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster Attack Bomber

By William Pearce

In the early 1940s, Edward F. Burton began to investigate ways to simplify bomber aircraft. Burton was the Chief of Engineering at the Douglas Aircraft Company (Douglas), and he had noted that each subsequent generation of bomber aircraft was substantially larger, more complex, and more expensive than the preceding generation. Burton and his team started with a clean sheet of paper and designed what would become the XB-42.

Douglas XB-42 no1 in flight

The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster had a unique design that provided very good performance. However, it was too late for World War II and too slow compared to jet aircraft. The first prototype (43-50224) is seen with its short tail on an early test flight.

Acting on their own, with no official United States Army Air Force (AAF) requirement, Burton and his team worked to design a two-engine tactical bomber with a top speed of over 400 mph (644 km/h) and that was capable of carrying 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs to a target 2,500 miles (4,023 km) away. The aircraft’s high speed would eliminate the need for extensive defensive armament, which would minimize the bomber’s crew and save weight. Burton’s team placed the wings, tail, and propellers in their optimal positions; the designers then filled in the rest of the aircraft with the needed equipment. What emerged from the drafting table was the Douglas Model 459: a mid-wing aircraft operated by a crew of three. At the rear of the aircraft were a set of coaxial contra-rotating pusher propellers driven by engines buried in the fuselage. In May 1943, Douglas proposed the aircraft to the AAF, and they were sufficiently impressed to order two prototypes and a static test airframe on 25 June 1943.

The AAF originally gave the aircraft the Attack designation XA-42. Douglas had presented the aircraft in a variety of roles that suited the Attack aircraft profile. However, the aircraft was reclassified as a bomber and redesignated XB-42 on 25 November 1943. Unofficially, the XB-42 was given the name Mixmaster, on account of its eight contra-rotating propeller blades loosely resembling a popular kitchen mixer.

The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster was a very unique aircraft. It was an all-metal aircraft with a tricycle landing gear arrangement, which was novel at the time. A plexiglass nose covered the bombardier’s position. Atop the fuselage were two separate bubble canopies for the pilot and copilot. At the rear of the aircraft was a cruciform tail; its ventral fin contained an oleo-pneumatic bumper to protect the propellers from potential ground strikes during takeoff and landing.

Douglas XB-42 no1 nose

Nose view of the first prototype shows the twin bubble canopies to advantage. Both XB-42 aircraft were originally built with the canopies, but they were disliked. The second aircraft was later modified with a more conventional canopy.

The aircraft’s long wing used a laminar flow airfoil and was fitted with double-slotted flaps. An inlet in the wing’s leading edge led to the engine oil cooler and radiator, both fitted with electric fans for ground operation. After air flowed through the coolers, it was expelled out the top of the wing. The main landing gear retracted back into the sides of the fuselage, below and behind the wings. The complex retraction required the gear legs and wheels to rotate 180 degrees. Fuel tanks in each wing carried 330 gallons (1,249 L) of fuel. Four additional 275 gallon (1,041 L) fuel tanks could be installed in the bomb bay to extend the aircraft’s range. In addition, a 300 gallon (1,136 L) drop tank could be installed under each wing.

Housed in the fuselage behind the cockpit were two Allison V-1710 engines. Each engine was installed with its vertical axis tilted 20 degrees out from center, and the engines were angled toward the tail. Ducts flush with the aircraft’s skin and positioned below the cockpit on both sides of the aircraft brought induction air to the engines. A row of exhaust stacks was located above the leading edge of each wing, and two rows of exhaust stacks were positioned along the aircraft’s spine. The engines of the first XB-42 prototype produced 1,325 hp (988 kW) at takeoff and 1,820 hp (1,357 kW) at war emergency power. The second prototype had engines that produced 1,675 hp (1,249 kW) for takeoff and 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) for war emergency power.

Douglas XB-42 no2 gear retract

A unique view of the second prototype (43-50225) that displays the aircraft’s slotted flaps and uncommon main gear retraction that required the legs and wheels to rotate 180 degrees into the fuselage sides. Also visible are the wing guns and revised leading edge inlets, both features exclusive to the second prototype.

Extending from each engine was an extension shaft made up of six sections. The shaft sections were like those used in the Bell P-39 Airacobra (which used two sections). The shafts extended around 29 ft (8.8 m) and connected the engines to a remote, contra-rotating gear reduction box from an Allison V-3420-B engine. The gearbox had been slightly modified for the XB-42 and used a .361 gear ratio that was unique to the aircraft. Each engine turned a three-blade Curtiss Electric propeller. The left engine drove the forward propeller, which was 13 ft 2 in (4.01 m) in diameter. The right engine drove the rear propeller, which was 13 ft (3.96 m) in diameter. The engines and propellers were operated independently—if needed, one engine could be shut down and its propeller feathered while in flight.

To eliminate the danger the propellers presented to the crew during a bail out, a cord of explosives (cordite) was threaded through holes carefully drilled around the gearbox mount. Before bailing out, the crew could detonate the explosives, which would separate the gearbox and propellers from the aircraft.

Douglas XB-42 Allison engine test

Two Allison V-1710 engines connected to the V-3420 remote gear reduction for the contra-rotating propellers as used on the XB-42. The power system accumulated over 600 hours on the test stand and never caused serious issues during the XB-42 program.

The XB-42’s bomb bay was covered by two-piece, snap-action doors. The bay accommodated 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) of bombs, or a single 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) bomb could be carried if the doors were kept open six inches. The bay was long enough to carry two 13 ft 9 in (4.2 m) Mk 13 torpedoes. Two fixed .50-cal machine guns with 500 rpg were installed in the aircraft’s nose. Housed in the trailing edge of each wing, between the aileron and flap, were a pair of rearward-firing .50-cal machine guns, each with 350 rpg. The guns were concealed behind snap-action doors. Once exposed, the guns could be angled through a range of 30 degrees up, 15 degrees down, and 25 degrees to the left or right. Their minimum convergence was 75 ft behind the aircraft. The rear-firing guns were operated by the copilot, who rotated his seat 180 degrees to use the gun’s sighting system.

Douglas designers envisioned that the B-42 aircraft could be fitted with a solid nose containing different weapons for different roles. This is the same concept that was applied to the Douglas A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader. Three of the possible B-42 nose configurations were as follows: eight .50-cal machine guns; two 37 mm cannons and two .50-cal machine guns; or a 75 mm cannon and two .50-cal machine guns. Douglas also thought the aircraft’s speed and range would make it very useful in a reconnaissance role. None of these plans made it off the drawing board.

The XB-42 had a 70 ft 6 in (21.49 m) wingspan and was 53 ft 8 in (16.4 m) long. Originally, the aircraft was 18 ft 10 in (5.7m) tall, but the tail and rudder were extended to cure some instability. The extension increased the XB-42’s height to 20 ft 7 in (6.3 m). A brochure published by Douglas in April 1944 predicted the B-42 would be able to carry 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs over 5,333 miles (8,583 km) and have a top speed of 470 mph (756 km/h). These numbers proved very optimistic. Perhaps the speed was a misprint, because some sources indicate the anticipated top speed was 440 mph (708 km/h). Regardless, the aircraft only achieved 410 mph (660 km/h) at 23,440 ft (7,145 m), and its cruising speed was 312 mph (502 km/h). The XB-42 had an empty weight of 20,888 lb (9,475 kg) and a maximum weight of 35,702 lb (16,194 kg). The aircraft’s service ceiling was 29,400 ft (8,961 m). Its combat range was 1,800 miles (2,897 km), but additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay could extend the XB-42’s range to a maximum of 5,400 miles (8,690 km).

Douglas XB-42 no2 rear

Rear view of the second prototype shows the ventral tail and rudder. Note the oleo-pneumatic bumper on the tail and its minimal ground clearance. The wing guns and new canopy are just barely visible.

Construction of the XB-42 proceeded rapidly. The AAF inspected and approved an aircraft mockup in September 1943, and the first prototype (43-50224) was completed in May 1944—one year after the aircraft was proposed and 10 months after the contract was awarded. The XB-42 flew for the first time on 6 May 1944, flown by Bob Brush and taking off from the Palm Springs Army Airfield in California. The second prototype (43-50225) flew for the first time on 1 August 1944, taking off from Santa Monica Airport in California.

Both XB-42s were originally fitted with separate bubble canopies. This cockpit layout was not very popular with the pilots. Although they could communicate via intercom, the pilots often found themselves leaning forward to speak with one another face to face under the canopies. The second aircraft was modified with a more conventional single canopy that encompassed both pilot and copilot. While the bubble canopies reduced drag, the single canopy was preferred. Another issue facing the aircraft was that cracks formed in the plexiglass nose. After the plexiglass was replaced several times, the nose was eventually covered with plywood.

Both prototypes were heavier than expected, which reduced performance. Some work went into lightening the second aircraft, like the use of hollow propeller blades. However, issues with vibrations occurred when disturbed air encountered the propellers, and this phenomenon was exacerbated by the hollow blades. No issues were encountered when the aircraft was clean, but when the bomb bay doors were open or when the gear or flaps were deployed, the vibration issue occurred. Some pilots lived with the vibrations and dismissed the issue, but other pilots found it very disconcerting. An improved propeller was designed that featured reversible blades to decrease landing roll and to slow the aircraft in flight. However, it was cancelled in March 1945 and was never built.

Douglas XB-42 no2 with canopy

Front view of the second prototype illustrates the aircraft’s revised canopy. The canopy on production aircraft would have been similar but more refined. Again, note the tail clearance and wing guns.

Some cooling issues were encountered, and modifications to the air intakes were made to improve airflow. The main gear was also modified a few times to improve its retraction and performance. Overall, the aircraft flew well, but the controls were not well harmonized. In addition, the XB-42 aircraft would encounter a slow dutch roll oscillation if not counteracted by the pilot. As previously mentioned, the tail of the aircraft was enlarged to resolve the issue, but it was never entirely solved. The XB-42 required a very long takeoff run of some 6,415 ft (1,955 m). Because there was only about 9 in (.23 m) of clearance between the ventral tail and the ground, the aircraft needed to build up a substantial amount of speed before it was carefully rotated for liftoff.

The second XB-42 prototype was the only aircraft to have revised wing inlets and to be fitted with its machine gun armament, although the guns were never tested. The second aircraft was flown around 70 hours before it was turned over to the AAF. On 8 December 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden and Captain Glen W. Edwards flew the second XB-42 from Long Beach, California to Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. The record-setting, point-to-point flight covered 2,295 miles (3,693 km) in a time of 5:17:34—an average of 433.6 mph (697.8 km/h). The XB-42 had benefited from a favorable tailwind, and the aircraft’s average true airspeed was around 375 mph (604 km/h).

Douglas XB-42 wing guns

The guns in the left wing are seen aimed 30 degrees up and 25 degrees inboard. Only the second aircraft was fitted with the guns, and they were never tested. Note the snap-action doors that covered the guns. When open, the doors increased the XB-42’s directional stability, resulting in additional rudder force to give the desired yaw.

On 16 December 1945, the second XB-42 was lost during a test flight near Bolling Field. The aircraft was in a landing configuration when there was an issue with extending the landing gear. While the crew was troubleshooting the problem, the left engine began to overheat and then died. The right engine was taken to full power and began to overheat. The decision was made to bail out, and two of the crew safely jumped free before the pilot remembered to jettison the propellers. The propellers and their gearbox were successfully severed from the XB-42, and the pilot bailed out. All three crew members survived the ordeal without any injuries, but the aircraft was completely destroyed.

An exact cause of the crash was never determined, but it was speculated that the coolant doors were inadvertently left in their nearly-closed landing configuration while the crew investigated the gear issue. This resulted in the engines overheating. At the same time, a fuel tank switch was made a bit late and probably led to fuel starvation of the left engine. The second XB-42 had accumulated a little over 118 hours of flight time when it crashed.

The first XB-42 prototype had made 42 flights and accumulated over 34 flight hours by 30 September 1944. A year later, that number rose to around 150 flights, with the aircraft accumulating around 125 flight hours. Before the XB-42 had even flown, Douglas contemplated adding jet engines to the aircraft. An official proposal for the modification was submitted on 23 February 1945. The proposal was approved on 8 March 1946, and modifications to the aircraft began on 26 June 1946. At the time, the first XB-42 had made 168 flights and had flown around 144.5 hours. The two Westinghouse 19XB-2A (J30) jet engines were finally delivered in October 1946 and were installed on the aircraft.

Douglas XB-42A rear

Rear view of the XB-42A illustrates the notches in the new flaps to avoid the jet exhaust. The rest of the aircraft remained relatively unchanged from the XB-42 configuration. The cooling air exit can be seen on the right wing. Note the various Douglas aircraft in the background.

With the jet engines added to the first prototype, the aircraft was redesignated as the Douglas XB-42A. The 1,600 lbf (7.12 kN) thrust jet engines were mounted under the aircraft’s wings. New flaps were installed that were notched behind the jet engines. The notches allowed the flaps to avoid the jet exhaust when they were deployed. The fuel tanks in the wings were modified because of the jet engine mounts. Total wing tankage was decreased by 154 gallons (583 L), but two additional 74 gallon (280 L) tanks were installed in the fuselage. The jets themselves burned the same fuel as the piston engines. The aircraft’s instrumentation was also modified to accommodate the jet engines.

The XB-42A is listed as having a 70 ft 7 in (21.51 m) wingspan and a length of 53 ft 10 in (16.4 m). In reality, the wingspan was probably the same as the XB-42, and the length was slightly longer due to a different spinner. The aircraft’s height was 20 ft 7 in (6.3 m). The XB-42A had a predicted maximum speed of 488 mph (785 km/h) but only achieved 473 mph (761 km/h) at 14,000 ft (4,267 m); cruising speed was 442 mph (711 km/h). The XB-42A had an empty weight of 24,775 lb (11,238 kg) and a maximum weight of 44,900 lb (20,366 kg). The aircraft’s service ceiling was 34,500 ft (10,516 m). The XB-42A had a normal range of around 1,200 miles (1,931 km), but a maximum range of 4,750 miles (7,644 km) could be achieved with additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay.

Douglas XB-42A

The XB-42A makes a low pass over Muroc Air Base during an early test flight. Note the exhaust stains above the wing and the oil stains below the wing. The aircraft was outclassed by other jet aircraft, including its XB-43 cousin.

The first flight of the XB-42A (still 43-50224) occurred on 27 May 1947 at Muroc (now Edwards) Air Base in California. The aircraft required a lot of maintenance and did not prove remarkable in any category to justify further development. Despite the increased performance, the XB-42A was perched on the awkward dividing line between piston-powered aircraft of the past and jet-powered aircraft of the future. There is no better indicator of this than the fact that Douglas had already moved forward with an all-jet XB-42 aircraft, designated XB-43. The Douglas XB-43 Jetmaster had its jet engines buried in the fuselage, near were the Allison engines were installed on the XB-42. The first XB-43 was built using the XB-42 static test airframe. The jet-powered XB-43 made its first flight on 17 May 1946—little more than a year before the jet/piston-powered XB-42A first flew. The XB-42A made only 23 flights, accounting for a little under 18.5 hours of flight time.

With technological progress outpacing the XB-42A, the aircraft was donated to the Air Force Museum on 30 June 1949. It was later moved to the National Air and Space Museum’s Paul Gerber Facility in Silver Hill, Maryland, where it was stored for a number of years. In 2010, the XB-42A was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft, along with second XB-43 prototype, will eventually be restored for static display.

Douglas persisted with the pusher configuration and designed a number of other military and commercial aircraft. The most developed design was that of the Model 1004, which was actually designated DC-8. Known as the Skybus, the aircraft was similar to an XB-42, but with an extended fuselage for airline service. The aircraft could seat a maximum of 48 passengers, and the extension shafts from the Allison engines travelled under the passenger compartment. First proposed in October 1945, the Skybus was never built, and the DC-8 designation was reapplied to Douglas’s first jet airliner.

Douglas DC-8 Skybus

Although visually similar to the XB-42, the Douglas DC-8 Skybus was an entirely new design. The aircraft’s excellent performance and great single-engine handling was not enough to justify its expense over more conventional designs.

American Bomber Development in World War 2 by Bill Norton (2012)
Vee’s for Victory! The Story of the Allison V-1710 Aircraft Engine 1929-1948 by Daniel D. Whitney (1998)
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920: Volume I by René J Francillon (1979/1988)
The Allison Engine Catalog 1915–2007 by John M. Leonard (2008)
“The First, The Last, and the Only” by Walt Boyne, Airpower Vol. 3 No. 5 (September 1973)
“The Douglas DC-8 Skybus” by R. E. Williams, Douglas Service Vol. 41 (second quarter 1984)

Martin-Baker MB5 dH front

Martin-Baker MB5 Fighter

By William Pearce

On 12 September 1942, the Martin-Baker MB3 fighter crashed after its Napier Sabre engine seized. Company co-founder Captain Valentine H. Baker was killed during the attempted forced landing. James Martin, the aircraft’s designer, had already designed the MB3A, which was the production version of the MB3 that incorporated several changes to enhance the fighter’s performance. The second MB3 prototype was to be completed as a MB3A. After the MB3 was destroyed and Baker was killed, Martin wanted to further alter the aircraft’s design to improve its safety and performance. Perhaps the paramount change was to replace the Sabre engine with a Rolls-Royce Griffon.

Martin-Baker MB5 Rotol front

The Martin-Baker MB5 was one a few aircraft that sat at the pinnacle of piston-engine fighter development. Here, the aircraft is pictured at Harwell around the time of its first flight. The Rotol propeller is installed but the 20 mm cannons are not.

The British Air Ministry doubted the quick delivery of the two MB3 prototypes still on order and was agreeable to a contract change. They authorized the construction of a single prototype of the new aircraft design designated MB5. The MB5 was given serial number R2496, which was originally allocated to the second and never-built MB3 aircraft. The third MB3 prototype was cancelled.

The Martin-Baker MB5 was officially designed to the same Air Ministry Specification (F.18/39) as the MB3. Also, the aircraft’s construction closely followed the methods used on the MB3. The aircraft’s fuselage was made of a tubular steel frame with bolted joints. Attached to the frame were formers that gave the fuselage its shape. Aluminum skin panels were attached to the formers, and detachable panels were used wherever possible. A rubber seal attached to the formers ensured the tight fit of the detachable skin panels, which were secured by Dzus fasteners. The large and easily removed panels helped simplify the aircraft’s service and maintenance.

Martin-Baker MB5 Rotol org tail rear

Again, the MB5 is shown at Harwell. The original vertical stabilizer and rudder were very similar to those used on the MB3. The inner gear doors are not installed on the aircraft.

The MB5’s wings were very similar to those used on the MB3, except that each housed only two 20 mm cannons with 200 rpg. All control surfaces used spring servo tabs; the rudder was fabric-covered, but all other control surfaces were metal-covered. The aircraft’s brakes, split flaps, and fully retractable landing gear were pneumatically controlled, and the air system operated at 350 psi (24.13 bar). The main wheels had a wide track of 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m). Two fuel tanks were housed in the aircraft’s fuselage: an 84 gallon (318 L) tank was positioned in front of the cockpit, and a 156 gallon (591 L) tank was positioned behind the cockpit. The cockpit was positioned directly above the wings and was enclosed with a bubble canopy. The cockpit had very good visibility, and its design was praised for the excellent layout of gauges and controls. The three main gauge clusters hinged downward for access and maintenance.

The MB5 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Griffon 83 engine capable of 2,340 hp (1,745 kW) with 25 psi (1.72 bar) of boost and 130 PN fuel. The engine originally turned a six-blade Rotol contra-rotating propeller, but by late 1945, a 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m) de Havilland contra-rotating unit was installed. A small scoop under the spinner brought in air to the Griffon’s two-speed, two-stage supercharger. The intercooler, radiator, and oil cooler were arranged, in that order, in a scoop under the fuselage. This arrangement provided some heat to the oil cooler when the engine was first started and prevented the oil from congealing and restricting the flow through the cooler.

Martin-Baker MB5 2nd tail

An intermediate modification to the MB5’s tail involved a more vertical leading edge that increased the fin’s area. This version of the tail did not last long before the completely redesigned unit was installed. The aircraft still has the Rotol propeller.

The aircraft had a 35 ft (10.7 m) wingspan, was 37 ft 9 in (11.5 m) long, and was 14 ft 4 in (4.4 m) tall. The MB5 had a maximum speed of 395 mph (636 km/h) at sea level, 425 mph (684 km/h) at 6,000 ft (1,829 m), and 460 mph (740 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m). Normal cruising speed was 360 mph (578 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m). The aircraft stalled at 95 mph (153 km/h) clean and at 78 mph (126 km/h) with flaps and gear extended. The MB5 had an initial rate of climb of 3,800 fpm (19.3 m/s) and could reach 20,000 ft (6,096 m) in 6.5 minutes and 34,000 ft (10,363 m) in 15 minutes. The MB5’s service ceiling was 40,000 ft (12,192 m), and it had a range of around 1,100 miles (1,770 km). The aircraft had an empty weight of 9,233 lb (4,188 kg), a normal weight of 11,500 lb (5,216 kg), and an overload weight of 12,090 lb (5,484 kg).

Construction of the MB5 started in 1943, and some components (possibly the wings and tail) of the second MB3 prototype were used in the MB5. The work on the aircraft was delayed because of other war work with which Martin-Baker was involved. In addition, Martin continued to refine and tinker with the MB5’s design, much to the frustration of the Air Ministry. However, the Air Ministry decided that Martin was going to do whatever he thought was right and that the best course of action was to leave him alone; the MB5 would be done when Martin decided it was done.

Martin-Baker MB5 dH front

The MB5 pictured close to its final form. The de Havilland propeller, inner gear doors, and taller vertical stabilizer and rudder have been installed. Note the smooth lines of the cowling. The position of the cockpit gave a good view over the aircraft’s nose and wings.

Captain Baker was Martin-Baker’s only test pilot and was never replaced. As the MB5 neared completion in the spring of 1944, Rotol test pilot (Leslie) Bryan Greensted was loaned to fly the aircraft. On 23 May 1944, the MB5 was disassembled and trucked from Martin-Baker’s works in Denham to the Royal Air Force (RAF) station in Harwell. The aircraft was reassembled and underwent some ground runs. Later that same day, Greensted took the MB5 aloft for its first test flight. To disassemble, transport, reassemble, and flight test an aircraft all in one day speaks to the MB5’s impressive design.

Greensted was not overly impressed with the aircraft’s first flight, because the MB5 exhibited directional instability; in fact, he said the aircraft “was an absolute swine to fly.” Martin listened intently to Greensted’s comments and immediately went to work on a solution. The increased blade area of the contra-rotating propellers had a destabilizing effect when coupled with the MB3 tail that was originally used on the MB5. To resolve the issue, Martin designed a taller vertical stabilizer and rudder, which were fitted to the MB5. The change took six months for Martin to implement, but when Greensted flew the aircraft, he was impressed by its performance and handling. In addition, a new horizontal stabilizer was fitted, but it is not known exactly when this was done. From its first flight until October 1945, the MB5 accumulated only about 40 flight hours. Martin-Baker had been informed around October 1944 that no MB5 production orders would be forthcoming, given that the war was winding down, and any production aircraft would most likely enter service after the war was over.

Martin-Baker MB5 dHf

The MB5 undergoing maintenance. A large panel has been removed from under the aircraft, and one of the inner gear doors has also been removed. Note the Dzus fasteners on the cowling and that the spinner is now painted black. The small scoop under the spinner delivered air to the engine’s supercharger.

Some sources state the MB5 was prepared for a speed run in the fall of 1945. The Griffon engine was boosted to produce 2,480 hp (1,849 kW), and the aircraft reached 484 mph (779 km/h) on a measured course near Gloucester. However, the speed record claim seems highly doubtful. On 29 October 1945, the MB5 was one of the aircraft exhibited at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough. It was the only aircraft present that had contra-rotating propellers. While Greensted was demonstrating the aircraft before Winston Churchill and RAF officials, the Griffon engine failed. With his vision obscured by oil and some smoke in the cockpit, Greensted jettisoned the canopy. The canopy flew back and struck the tail, but Greensted was able to land the MB5 without further damage.

The MB5 had accumulated around 80 flight hours by the time it was handed over to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. In March, April, and May 1946, the MB5 was flown by various pilots, and the aircraft’s performance and handling characteristics were well praised, but it was noted that the MB5’s acceleration and its roll rate were not quite on par with contemporary fighters. Overall, the tests showed that the MB5 was an excellent aircraft and that it was greatly superior from an engineering and maintenance standpoint to any other similar type. The MB5 was back at RAE Farnborough for an exhibition in June 1946. During the show, Polish Squadron Leader Jan Zurakowski flew the aircraft in a most impressive display and later stated that the MB5 was the best airplane he had ever flown.

Martin-Baker MB5 show

The MB5 was present at RAE Farnborough in October 1945. The display featured the latest British aircraft and several captured German aircraft. In the foreground is a Supermarine Spiteful and the MB5, with its 20 mm cannons installed. Other visible British aircraft include a Blackburn Firebrand, Bristol Brigand, Fairey Firefly, and Fairey Spearfish. Visible German aircraft include a Dornier Do 335, Fieseler Fi 103, Junker Ju 188, a pair of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, and a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Many other British and German aircraft were present at the display.

The MB5 was flown sparingly until a number of flights were made toward the end of 1947. Wing Commander Maurice A. Smith flew the aircraft during this time and highly regarded the MB5’s layout and performance. From mid-November to the end of 1947, the MB5 was loaned to de Havilland at Hatfield for propeller testing. In 1948, the aircraft returned to RAE Farnborough, where it was flown by legendary pilot Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown. Although Brown was slightly critical of the aircraft’s lateral handling qualities, he said the MB5 was an outstanding aircraft and that he had never felt more comfortable in a new aircraft.

On 5 May 1948, the MB5 was sent to the Air Ministry Servicing Development Unit at RAF Wattisham. There, it served as a training airframe until it was moved to RAF Bircham Newton around 1950. Reportedly, the MB5 was used as a ground target until its battered remains were burned in 1963—an inglorious end for such a fine aircraft.

Martin-Baker MB5 takeoff

The MB5 taking off from Chalgrove in 1948 with Wing Commander Maurice A. Smith at the controls. The MB5’s flaps did not have any intermediate positions—they were either up or down. The 20 mm cannons have been removed. Note the belly scoop’s outward similarity to the scoop used on the P-51 Mustang.

The Martin-Baker MB5 is one of a handful of aircraft that demonstrated superlative performance and flight qualities yet never entered production due to the end of World War II and the emergence of jet aircraft. It is quite impressive that the MB5 was created by a small firm that produced a total of four outstanding aircraft—each being a completely different model. Despite the quality of Martin-Baker’s aircraft and their best efforts to enter the aircraft manufacturing business, the MB5 was the company’s last aircraft. Martin-Baker turned their attention to other aircraft systems and became a pioneer and world leader in ejection seat technology.

An MB5 replica has been under construction by John Marlin of Reno, Nevada for a number of years. Although not an exact copy, Marlin’s reproduction is a labor of love intended to commemorate one of the most impressive aircraft of all time and to honor all who created the original MB5.

Martin-Baker MB5 Martin

James Martin is pictured in front of his masterpiece, the MB5. Martin-Baker’s aircraft never found success; however, the company’s ejection seats have saved thousands of lives and are still in production.

RAF Fighters Part 2 by William Green and Gordon Swanborough (1979)
British Experimental Combat Aircraft of World War II by Tony Buttler (2012)
Wings of the Weird & Wonderful by Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown (1983/2012)
Sir James Martin by Sarah Sharman (1996)
“The Martin-Baker M-B V” Flight (29 November 1945)
“M-B V in the Air” by Wing Commander Maurice A. Smith, Flight (18 December 1947)
“Martin-Baker Fighters,” by Bill Gunston, Wings of Fame Volume 9 (1997)
The British Fighter since 1912 by Francis K. Mason (1992)

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube front ground

Rumpler-Loutzkoy-Taube Aircraft

By William Pearce

Boris Loutzkoy (also spelled Lutskoi, Luskoy, Lutsky, and probably other ways) was a Russian engineer who went to Germany to continue his education in the 1880s. Initially, his main interests were with internal combustion engines and automobiles, but it was not long before Loutzkoy turned his focus and engineering talents to aviation.

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube front ground

The tandem-engine Rumpler-Loutzkoy-Taube employed coaxial propellers that rotated the same direction. The second engine can just be seen behind the first engine and between the wings. Note the aircraft’s double main wheels.

By 1911, he had teamed up with Rumpler Flugzeugwerke in Berlin, Germany to test an innovative propulsion concept. Loutzkoy’s idea was to use two engines to power separate propellers on a common shaft. Since the propellers shared the same shaft, they were coaxial. However, they were not contra-rotating, because they rotated the same direction. The propellers in Loutzkoy’s system were of different sizes and turned at different speeds. Loutzkoy believed this power arrangement would improve the aircraft’s low- and high-speed performance, with the twin propellers achieving a level of efficiency beyond what could be obtained with a single propeller of any size. In addition, two engines with separate propellers would provide a level of reliability well beyond that of a single power plant. At the time, engines were notoriously unreliable.

To test his theories, Loutzkoy made many modifications to a Rumpler Taube aircraft. The Taube (Dove) was designed in 1909 by Igo Etrich of Austria-Hungary. The aircraft first flew in 1910 and proved to be very stable. A number of manufacturers purchased licenses to build copies, and Rumpler probably produced the most. The Taube was a monoplane with a mostly wooden frame. The front of the aircraft and back to the cockpit was covered in metal, but the rest of the aircraft was fabric-covered. The Taube used wing warping for roll control.

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube front

This drawing of the Loutzkoy-Taube illustrates the aircraft’s similarity to a standard Taube. The obvious differences include the double propellers and two main gear wheels.

The Loutzkoy-modified aircraft was named the Rumpler-Loutzkoy-Taube. Changes from a standard Taube included a slightly modified and strengthened airframe, strengthened landing gear (including double wheels), and a slightly larger wing. These changes were made to handle the extra weight and power of a second engine. The approximate dimensions of the Loutzkoy-Taube were a wingspan of 49 ft 10 in (14.3 m) and a length of 34 ft 1 in (10.4 m). The aircraft weighed around 1,764 lb (800 kg) empty. The Loutzkoy-Taube had a top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h), about 31 mph (50 km/h) more than a standard Rumpler Taube.

Powering the Loutzkoy-Taube were two Argus Type 4 engines. The Type 4 was an inline, four-cylinder, water-cooled engine with a 5.51 in (140 mm) bore and stroke. The engine displaced 526 cu in (8.62 L) and produced 100 hp (75 kW) at 1,300 rpm. The two engines drove separate propellers that were mounted on a common shaft: the front engine drove the front propeller, and the second engine drove the second propeller. Both sets of propellers had two blades.

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube engines

A basic drawing of the engine installation in the Loutzkoy-Taube.

The front engine was positioned in its normal location, in the nose of the aircraft. However, rather than having its propeller mounted directly to the engine, a short extension shaft was used. The second engine was mounted behind and below the front engine. Power from the second engine was transferred to the front of the aircraft via an extension shaft that ran under the front engine. A sprocket on the end of the extension shaft was connected via a chain to the second propeller, which was positioned between the first propeller and the front engine.

Although the propellers turned the same direction, the second propeller was a larger diameter, turned at a slower rpm, and had a coarser pitch. The first propeller was 8 ft 2 in (2.5 m) in diameter, direct drive, and turned about 1,300 rpm. The second propeller was 9 ft 10 in (3.0 m) in diameter, had a .615 reduction through the chain-drive, and turned around 800 rpm. The aircraft could be flown on either engine if a failure occurred, but the intention was to have both engines operating at all times.

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube patent

A drawing from Loutzkoy’s patent shows the basic engine layout that was used in the Loutzkoy-Taube aircraft and includes a change-over gearbox. The gearbox was meant to provide braking after touchdown by reversing the rotation of the second propeller. However, such a gearbox was never installed in the aircraft.

In his German patent no. 263,059 (granted 29 October 1911), Loutzkoy explained how a change-over gearbox could be used to reverse the rotation of the second propeller. This feature would be used for braking after the aircraft landed. In flight, shortly before landing, the second engine would be stopped and the change-over gearbox engaged. The second engine could then be started on touchdown. Its propeller rotating in the opposite direction would slow the aircraft down. Most aircraft at the time did not have any brakes, and using the propeller as a brake would become common with turboprops. However, the reversing propeller idea was never implemented on the Loutzkoy-Taube aircraft.

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube Argus engines

Detailed right and left views of the Loutzkoy-Taube’s twin-Argus engine installation. Note the size difference of the propellers. The extension shaft and chain drive from the second engine to the larger propeller can clearly be seen.

The Loutzkoy-Taube was first flown in early 1912, possibly in February, at Johannisthal airfield, near Berlin. With a combined rating of 200 hp (149 kW), the Loutzkoy-Taube was one of the most powerful and fastest aircraft of its time. A number of subsequent flights were made, and Hellmuth Hirth was the pilot for most of the Loutzkoy-Taube’s flights. The aircraft passed an inspection test for the Russian Army on 8 March 1912, achieving a speed of 81 mph (130 km/h). The Loutzkoy-Taube was displayed at the Berlin Airshow in April 1912. However, engine drive issues continued to plague the aircraft. By 1913, Loutzkoy had moved on to another aircraft project. Nothing more was heard of the twin-engine Loutzkoy-Taube and its coaxial propellers.

While it was not the first twin-engine aircraft to fly, the Loutzkoy-Taube was certainly the first aircraft to fly using coaxial, non-contra-rotating propellers. A very small number of aircraft have used this method of propulsion, as it really does not have many advantages over a single propeller and has disadvantages over contra-rotating propellers. Still, Loutzkoy’s ideas demonstrate innovation and creativity in the early days of aviation.

Rumpler Loutzkoy-Taube rear

This rear view of the Loutzkoy-Taube illustrates the aircraft’s similarity, with the exception of the double propellers, to a standard Taube. Note the fuel tanks attached to the cabane strut above the cockpit.

“The Loutzkoy 200-Horsepower Monoplane” Daily Consular and Trade Reports (29 May 1912)
“Rumpler-Taube mit Zwei-Motoren-Anlage System Loutzkoy” Flugsport (13 March 1912)
“Polytechnische Rundschau: Rumpler-Taube mit Motoranlage nach System Loutzkoy” Dinglers Polytechnisches Journal (16 March 1912)
“Flugzeug mit zwei gleichachsig und unmittelbar hintereinander angeordnetem Propellern” German patent no. 263,059 by Boris Loutzkoy (granted 29 October 1911)
Rumpler: zehn jahre deutsche Flugtechnik (1919)
Typenhandbuch der deutschen Luftfahrttechnik by Bruno Lange (1986)
Argus – Flugmotoren und Mehr by Wulf Kisselmann (2012)

Fokker Dekker CI front

Dekker-Fokker C.I Rotary Propellers

By William Pearce

In the 1920s, Adriaan Jan Dekker helped redesign windmill sails in the Netherlands to improve their efficiency. His modified sails were streamlined and acted more as airfoils than the traditional sails in use. Dekker’s first sail was tested briefly in 1927, with more expansive tests in 1928. By 1930, 31 windmills were using Dekker’s sails, and the number increased to 75 by 1935.

Dekker patent rotary propellers

Drawings from Adriaan Dekker’s rotary propellers patent (US 2,186,064). The direction of rotation was actually opposite of the unit that was built and installed on a Fokker C.I. Note the airfoil sections of the blades.

In the 1930s, Dekker began to focus on improving aircraft propellers. In 1934, Dekker filed for a patent on a new type of turbine rotor blade for aircraft use. British patent 450,990 was awarded on 27 July 1936, and it outlined the use of a single rotation, four-blade rotary propeller. However, Dekker found that a single set of rotors caused a divergent airflow that virtually bypassed an aircraft’s tail. This caused control issues because it decreased airflow over the aircraft’s rudder and elevator.

Dekker continued to develop his design and applied for another patent in June 1936, before the first patent was awarded. The new British patent (476,226) was awarded on 3 December 1937 and outlined the use of contra-rotating rotors. Strangely, the gearing for the propellers was not included in the British patent but was included in the US (and French) patent filed on 19 May 1937 and granted patent 2,186,064 on 9 January 1940.

Dekker propeller construction

Construction images of the Dekker rotary propeller. The images are mainly the hub and blades of the front set of rotors. ( image)

Almost all of the information contained in the British patent was also in the US patent. However, the US patent was more detailed and included additional information. The patents illustrate a large, streamlined hub from which two sets of four-blade rotors protrude. The original patent stated that the ideal blade length was one third of the hub diameter. The fixed-pitch blades were highly curved airfoils of a complex shape. The angle of the blade decreased from 40 degrees at the root to 5 degrees at the tip. In addition, the blade’s cord (length from leading edge to trailing edge) steadily increased from its root to its tip.

The two sets of blades were contra-rotating. The rear set of blades served to straighten the airflow from the front set, providing additional thrust and increasing efficiency. The contra-rotation of the blades also helped eliminate torque reactions. Through a gear reduction, the rear set of blades only turned at two-thirds the speed of the front set of blades. Dekker also noted that the rotary blades would be quieter than conventional propellers.

Fokker Dekker CI front

Dekker’s finished C.I with its large rotary propellers. Note the complex airfoil shape of the blades.

The drive for the rotors consisted of a sun gear mounted on the engine’s crankshaft that turned planetary gears against a fixed, internally-toothed ring gear. The planetary gears were mounted in a carrier from which a shaft extended to power the front set of blades. These blades rotated in the same direction as the engine and at an unspecified reduction. Attached to the shaft powering the front set of blades was another sun gear. This sun gear turned three idler gears that turned three planetary gears against another fixed, internally-toothed ring gear. This gear train reduced the rotation speed by 66% from the sun gear (and front set of blades). A hollow shaft extended from the planetary gear carrier to power the rear set of blades. Inside the hollow shaft was the propeller shaft for the front set of blades. The rear set of blades rotated the opposite direction of the engine.

To turn theory to reality, Dekker formed a company, Syndicaat Dekker Octrooien (Dekker Patents Syndicate), and acquired a Fokker C.I trainer aircraft around 28 March 1936. The C.I was a late World War I era biplane reconnaissance aircraft powered by a 185 hp BMW IIIa engine. As the aircraft’s design aged, transport and trainer versions were built. Dekker’s C.I was registered PH-APL on 15 April 1937.

Fokker Dekker CI taxi

Registered PH-APL, Dekker’s heavily modified Fokker C.I bears little resemblance to a standard C.I; the wings and tail are about all the aircraft have in common. Note how the fuselage shape tapers the diameter of the large propeller hub back to the tail. With its contra-rotating rotary propellers spinning, the aircraft is shown before taxi tests at Ypenburg airfield.

To accommodate the rotary propellers, Dekker’s aircraft was so heavily modified that it was nearly unrecognizable as a C.I. The aircraft retained the BMW engine but had the contra-rotating rotary propellers mounted to its front. The fuselage of the aircraft was modified and tapered from the very large propeller hub back to the tail. The fuselage was metal-covered immediately behind the propellers, but the rest of the fuselage was covered with fabric.

The rotary propellers differed from those illustrated in the patents in that six blades made up the front set of rotors, and seven blades made up the rear set. Construction of the individual blades was similar to that of a wing. The blades were made of a shaped aluminum sleeve fitted around three spars. The spars passed into and were connected to the hub. The roots of the blades were also attached to the hub. The hub was formed of an aluminum frame and covered with aluminum sheeting. Video indicates that the rear set of blades had roughly a 66% speed reduction compared to the front set—which matches what was stated in the patent.

Fokker Dekker CI captured Germans

Two views of Dekker’s C.I after it was captured by German forces. The right image clearly shows six blades on the front rotor and seven blades on the rear rotor.

The aircraft’s completion date is unknown, but Dekker’s C.I underwent taxi tests at Ypenburg airfield, near The Hauge, Netherlands. The aircraft reportedly made a few hops into the air, but no true flight was achieved. It is not clear if there was an issue with the rotary propellers (such as insufficient thrust or excessive vibrations) or if the project simply ran out of time. Dekker’s C.I was moved to Waalhaven Airport, where it was captured by German forces on 18 May 1940, eight days after the Germans started their invasion of the Netherlands at the start of World War II. Reportedly, the aircraft was taken to Johannisthal airfield near Berlin, Germany for testing. Some sources state the aircraft crashed on its first test flight and that its remains were later destroyed as Russian troops advanced late in the war. However, exactly what happened to Dekker’s C.I and its rotary propellers is not known.

Below is video uploaded to YouTube of the Fokker Dekker C.I undergoing taxi tests. Note the stroboscopic effect of the rotors turning at different speeds. Adriaan Dekker is shown at the end of the video. It is interesting to contemplate how much weight the rotary propellers added to the nose of the aircraft. Unfortunately, the date of the tests is not known.

“Screw Propeller, Turbine Rotor, and Like Device” US patent 2,068,792 by Adriaan Jan Dekker (granted 26 January 1937)
“Rotary Propeller and the Like Device” US patent 2,186,064 by Adriaan Jan Dekker (granted 9 January 1940)
Power from Wind: A History of Windmill Technology by Richard L. Hills (1996)

CTA - ITA Heliconair Convertiplano drawing

CTA / ITA Heliconair HC-I Convertiplano

By William Pearce

In 1923, Henrich Focke partnered with Georg Wulf to create Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau (Aircraft Company) in Bremen, Germany. Focke became fascinated with helicopters and other rotorcraft in the 1930s. This interest led to what is considered the first practical helicopter, the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, which first flew in 1936. That same year, Focke was ousted from Focke-Wulf due to internal disagreements about allocating company resources. In 1937, Focke partnered with Gerd Achgelis, the Fw 61’s lead designer, to create Focke-Achgelis & Co in Hoykenkamp, Germany. The new company would focus on helicopter and rotorcraft designs.

CTA - ITA Convertiplano side

The Heliconair HC-Ib Convertiplano sits nearly finished in a hangar. The slit behind the cockpit was the intake for air used to cool the fuselage-mounted R-3350 engine. The scoop on the upper fuselage brought air to the engine’s carburetor. Note the Spitfire wings and main gear.

In 1941, the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium or Germany Air Ministry) requested that Focke-Achgelis design a fighter capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL). Focke-Achgelis responded with the Fa 269 design, which was a tiltrotor convertiplane. The Fa 269 had two rotors—one placed near the tip of each wing in a pusher configuration. The rotors were powered by an engine housed in the aircraft’s fuselage via extension shafts and gearboxes. The rotors and extension shafts leading from the right-angle gearboxes mounted in the aircraft’s wings rotated down to “push” the Fa 269 into the air, achieving vertical flight. Once airborne, the rotors and shafts would slowly translate back into the wing to propel the aircraft forward, allowing the aircraft’s wings to provide lift. The project moved forward until 1944, when much of the developmental work, including models, a mock-up, and gearboxes, was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid.

CTA - ITA Heliconair Convertiplano

Drawings of how the completed HC-Ib was anticipated to look reveal a pretty compact aircraft, considering the engine installation and associated shafting. The R-3350 engine took up the space intended for a passenger compartment in the Double Mamba-powered HC-I. The Double Mamba would have been installed aft of the passenger compartment.

Immediately following World War II, Germany was prohibited from designing and manufacturing aircraft. Post war, Focke assisted with helicopter development in France and worked for a car company in Germany. He also spent some time in the Netherlands, where he began to design a VTOL aircraft that was capable of relatively high speeds. In 1952, Focke was recruited by the CTA (Centro Técnico de Aeronáutica or Technical Center of Aeronautics) to work in the recently established ITA (Instituto Técnico de Aeronáutica or Technical Institute of Aeronautics). The ITA was the first of four institutes formed by the CTA, all of which were located in São José dos Campos, Brazil. Brazil was working on building an aeronautics and aerospace industry and was actively recruiting German engineers. In addition to Focke, many of his associates and former co-workers were also recruited.

The CTA was impressed with Focke’s VTOL aircraft design and approved its construction. The CTA believed that the aircraft’s capabilities would allow it to reach remote parts of Brazil. Focke set to work on the aircraft—a tiltrotor convertiplane design that was partially inspired by the Fa 269. The aircraft was known as the Heliconair HC-I Convertiplano. Its fuselage and wings were fairly conventional for an aircraft, but it had of two sets of rotors. One pair of rotors was placed near the nose of the aircraft, and the other pair was placed between the wings and tail. All of the rotors were of a tractor configuration and rotated up for vertical flight. The HC-I accommodated two pilots in the cockpit and four passengers in the fuselage. The aircraft’s estimated performance included a top speed of 311 mph (500 km/h) and a range of 943 miles (1,517 km).

CTA - ITA Convertiplano engine test rig

The test rig for the engine, transmission, gearboxes, shafts, right-angle drives, and rotors illustrates the complexity of the HC-Ib’s power system. The R-3350 engine did not have any Power Recovery Turbines, which means it was not a Turbo Compound engine.

To save time and money, the decision was made to build the HC-I using the wings and the horizontal stabilizer from a Supermarine Spitfire. A Spitfire XIVe (RM874) was purchased without its Rolls-Royce Griffon 65 engine from Britain by the Brazilian Air Attaché on 19 December 1952. A new fuselage was built to house a 3,000 hp (2,237 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Double Mamba turboprop engine behind the passenger compartment. However, Armstrong Siddeley and the British did not want one of their new, advanced engines being used in such a radical project and declined selling a Double Mamba engine to Brazil.

Focke and the Convertiplano team changed the HC-I’s design to accommodate a 2,200 hp (1,641 kW) Wright R-3350 radial engine and redesignated the aircraft HC-Ib. The R-3350 was larger and heavier than the Double Mamba, and it produced less power. Some sources state a Turbo Compound R-3350-DA3 (3,250 hp / 2,424 kW) was used, but images show that there are no Power Recovery Turbines on the engine installed in a test rig. Extensive modifications to the aircraft’s fuselage were required to accommodate the air-cooled engine. The passenger compartment was omitted, and the R-3350 was installed in the middle of the fuselage. An annular slit behind the cockpit was added to bring in cooling air for the engine. After passing through the engine’s cylinders, the air exited via a jet-like duct at the rear of the aircraft. The Spitfire’s landing gear was strengthened to compensate for the R-3350’s weight.

CTA - ITA Convertiplano components

The HC-Ib sits in the background with the front and rear gearboxes and rotor drives in the foreground. The rotor blades, the only surviving component of the Convertiplano project, are not seen in the image. Note the opening at the rear of the fuselage, which was the exit for engine cooling air.

A gearbox transmission mounted to the front of the R-3350 split the engine’s power to two shafts. The front shaft extended from the engine to the front gearbox. The front gearbox had shafts that extended to the left and right. These shafts led to right-angle gearboxes that powered the front rotors. Power delivery for the rear rotors was more complex. A shaft extended vertically from the transmission on the front of the engine and met a right-angle gearbox positioned directly above the engine. From the right-angle gearbox, a shaft extended back to the rear gearbox. The rear gearbox had the same shafts and right-angle drives for the rear rotors as the front gearbox. The transmission and gearboxes were designed by Willi Bussmann and built by BMW in Germany. Bussmann was a former BMW employee and had worked with Focke on several Focke-Achgelis projects.

Each rotor consisted of three blades. The blades were built in Sweden and made of a steel frame that was covered with wood. The blades’ pitch automatically adjusted and had collective and cyclic control. The rotors were counter-rotating, with the right rotors turning counterclockwise and the left rotors turning clockwise. The HC-Ib had a 37 ft 6 in (11.42 m) wingspan and was 35 ft 3 in (10.74 m) long.

CTA - ITA Convertiplano engine hoist

Given the state of the aircraft and the surrounding unchecked growth of vegetation, it can be assumed this image is of the R-3350 engine being removed sometime after the HC-Ib project was cancelled. The image does give proof that the engine was installed in the airframe at one point.

A rig was built, and tests of the engine, gearboxes, shafts, right-angle drives, and rotors began in late 1953. However, vibrations from the radial engine caused some issues that took time to resolve. The HC-Ib airframe was almost completely constructed and had its engine installed when the project was cancelled in 1955. The aircraft was more expensive than anticipated, and interest in the HC-1b had steadily declined after the switch to the R-3350 engine. To make matters worse, many of the Germans returned to Europe or went to the United States as their contracts with the CTA expired. Some Germans did stay and ultimately became part of Embraer. After the project was cancelled, the HC-Ib Convertiplano was left to rot in outside storage for some time and was eventually scrapped in the 1970s. There are some reports that the rotor blades are the only part of the aircraft that survived.

A follow up Convertiplano project was considered. Designated HC-II, the aircraft would be powered by four 1,400 hp General Electric T58 turboshaft engines and reincorporate a four to six passenger cabin. The HC-II never progressed beyond the initial design phase.

CTA - ITA Convertiplano HC-II

The C-II Convertiplano had a GE T58 engine mounted directly to each of its four rotors. Otherwise, it retained the configuration of the original HC-I.

Axis Aircraft in Latin America by Amaru Tincopa and Santiago Rivas (2016)
“Uma Breve História das Atividades do Prof. Focke no Brasil” by Joseph Kovacs, ABCM Engenharia Volume 9 Número 2 (April–September 2003)


Vought XF5U Flying Flapjack

By William Pearce

Following the successful wind tunnel tests of the Vought V-173 low-aspect ratio, flying wing aircraft in late 1941, the US Navy asked Vought to propose a fighter built along similar lines. Charles H. Zimmerman had been working on such a design as early as 1940. He and his team at Vought quickly finalized their fighter design for the Navy as VS-315. On 17 September 1942, before the V-173 had flown, the Navy issued a letter of intent for two VS-315 fighters, designated XF5U-1. One aircraft was a static test airframe, and the other aircraft was a flight test article.


Charles Zimmerman’s fighter aircraft from a patent application submitted in 1940. Although the drawing shows fixed horizontal stabilizers (45/50) and skewed ailerons (34/36), the patent also covered the configuration used on the Vought XF5U. Note the prone position of the pilot, and the guns around the cockpit.

The Vought XF5U was comprised of a rigid aluminum airframe covered with Metalite. Metalite was light and strong and formed by a layer of balsa wood bonded between two thin layers of aluminum. The XF5U had the same basic configuration as the V-173 but was much heavier and more complex.

The XF5U’s entire disk-shaped fuselage provided lift. The aircraft had a short wingspan, and large counter-rotating propellers were placed at the wingtips. At the rear of the aircraft were two vertical tails, and between them were two stabilizing flaps. When the aircraft was near the ground, air loads acted on spring-loaded struts to automatically deflect the stabilizing flaps up and allow air to escape from under the aircraft. The stabilizing flaps enhanced aircraft control during landing. On the sides of the XF5U were hydraulically-boosted, all-moving ailavators (combination ailerons and elevators). The ailavators had a straight leading edge, rather than the swept leading edge used on the V-173’s ailavators. Two large balance weights projected forward of each ailavator’s leading edge.


The XF5U mockup was finished in June 1943. Note the gun ports by the cockpit. The mockup had three-blade propellers and single main gear doors, items that differed from what was ultimately used on the prototype. The acrylic panel under the nose was most likely to improve ground visibility, like the glazing on the V-173. However, test pilots reported that the glazing was not useful.

Zimmerman originally proposed a prone position for the pilot, but a conventional seating position was chosen. The pilot was situated just in front of the leading edge and enclosed in a bubble canopy. Some sources state that an ejection seat was to be used, but no mention of one has been found in Vought documents, and an ejection seat does not appear to have been installed in the XF5U-1 prototype. The cockpit was accessed via a series of recessed steps that led up the back of the aircraft. The acrylic nose of the XF5U housed the gun camera and had provisions for landing and approach lights.

The aircraft’s landing gear was fully retractable, including the double-wheeled tailwheel. The main gear had a track of 15 ft 11.5 in (4.9 m). A small hump in the outer gear doors covered the outboard double main gear wheel. The long gear gave the aircraft an 18.7 degree ground angle. A catapult bridle could be attached to the aircraft’s main gear to facilitate catapult-assisted launches from aircraft carriers. For carrier landings, an arresting hook deployed from the XF5U’s upper surface and hung over the rear of the aircraft. Armament for the XF5U consisted of six .50-cal machine guns—three guns stacked on each side of the cockpit—with 400 rpg. The lower four guns were interchangeable with 20 mm cannons, but the proposed rpg for the cannons has not been found. Two hardpoints under the aircraft could each accommodate a 1,000 lb (454 kg) bomb. No armament was installed on the prototype.


The two XF5Us under construction. The left airframe was used for static testing, and the right airframe was the test flight aircraft. The engine cooling fans and oil tanks can be seen on the right airframe.

Originally, the XF5U was to be powered by two 14-cylinder, 1,600 hp (1,193 kW) Pratt & Whitney (P&W) R-2000-2 engines. It appears P&W stopped development of the -2 engine, and the 1,350 hp (1,007 kW) R-2000-7 was substituted sometime in 1945. The engines were buried in the aircraft’s fuselage, and engine-driven cooling fans brought in air through intakes in the aircraft’s leading edge. Cooling air exit flaps were located on the engine nacelles on both the upper and lower fuselage. An exit flap for intercooler air was located farther back on the top side of each nacelle.

Engine power was delivered to the propellers via a complex set of shafts and right angle gear drives. A two-speed gear reduction provided a .403 speed reduction for takeoff and a .177 reduction for cruising and high-speed flight. With the engines operating at 2,700 rpm (1,350 hp / 1,077 kW) at maximum takeoff power, the propellers turned at 1,088 rpm. At maximum cruise with the engines at 2,350 rpm (735 hp / 548 kW), the propellers turned at 416 rpm.


The complex power drive of the XF5U was the aircraft’s downfall. The system was unlikely to work flawlessly, and the Navy chose to use its post-war budget on jet aircraft rather than testing the XF5U. The inset drawing is from Zimmerman’s patent outlining the propeller drive.

A power cross shaft was mounted between the gearboxes on the front of the engines. In the event of an engine failure, the dead engine would be automatically declutched, and the cross shaft would distribute power from the functioning engine to both propellers. The two engines were declutched from the propeller drive at startup. The clutches were hydraulically engaged, and a loss of fluid pressure caused the clutch to disengage. The engines were controlled by a single throttle lever and could not be operated independently (except at startup).

By November 1943, the ongoing flight tests of the V-173 indicated that special articulating (or flapping) propellers would be needed on the XF5U. Propeller articulation was incorporated into the hub by positioning one two-blade pair of propellers in front of the second two-blade pair. The extra room provided the space needed for the 10 degrees of articulation and the linkages for propeller control. As one blade of a pair articulated forward, the opposite blade of the pair moved aft. To relieve the load and minimize vibrations, the propeller hub mechanism caused the blade pitch to decrease as the blade articulated forward and to increase as the blade moved aft. The XF5U’s wide-cord propellers were 16 ft (4.9 m) in diameter, made from Pregwood (plastic-impregnated wood), and built by Vought. The propellers were finished with a black cuff, a woodgrain blade, and a yellow tip. The pitch of the propellers was controlled by a single lever and could not be independently controlled; the set pitch of all blades changed simultaneously. If both engines failed, the propellers would feather automatically. Construction of the special propellers was delayed, and propellers from a F4U-4 Corsair were temporarily fitted to enable ground testing to begin.


The completed XF5U ready for primary engine runs with F4U-4 propellers. The aircraft was completed over a year before the articulating propellers were finished. Had the propellers been ready sooner, it is likely the XF5U would have been transported to Edwards Air Force Base for testing in late 1945.

The XF5U had a wingspan of 23 ft 4 in (7.1 m) but was 32 ft 6 in (9.9 m) wide from ailavator to ailavator and 36 ft 5 in (8.1 m) from propeller tip to propeller tip. Each ailavator had a span of about 8 ft 4 in (2.5 m). The aircraft was 28 ft 7.5 in (8.7 m) long and 14 ft 9 in (4.5 m) tall. The XF5U could take off in 710 ft (216 m) with no headwind and in 300 ft (91 m) with a 35 mph (56 km/h) headwind. The aircraft had a top speed of 425 mph (684 km/h) and a slow flight speed of 40 mph (64 km/h). Initial rate of climb was 3,000 fpm (15.2 m/s) at 175 mph (282 km/h), and the XF5U had a ceiling of 32,000 ft (9,754 m). A single tank located in the middle of the aircraft carried 261 gallons (988 L) of fuel. The internal fuel gave the XF5U a range of 597 miles (961 km), but with two 150-gallon (568-L) drop tanks added to the aircraft’s hardpoints, range increased to 1,152 miles (1,854 km). The XF5U had an empty weight of 14,550 lb (6,600), a normal weight of 16,802 lb (7,621 kg), and a maximum weight of 18,917 lb (8,581 kg).


The XF5U with its special, wide-cord, articulating propellers installed. Note the winged Vought logo on the propellers. The purpose of the bottles under the fuselage is not clear. The aircraft used compressed air for emergency extension of the landing gear and tail hook. Perhaps that system was being tested. Note that the inner main gear doors have been removed.

A wooden mockup of the XF5U was inspected by the Navy in June 1943. At this time, the mockup had narrow, three-blade propellers that were very similar to those used on the V-173. The XF5U’s complex systems and unconventional layout delayed its construction, which was further stagnated by higher priority work during World War II. The aircraft was rolled out on 20 August 1945 with the F4U-4 propellers installed. Some ground runs were undertaken, but more serious tests had to wait until Vought finished the special articulating propellers in late 1946.

The aircraft started taxi tests on 3 February 1947, but concerns over the XF5U’s propeller drive quickly surfaced. Vought’s chief test pilot Boone T. Guyton made at least one small hop into the air, but no serious test flights were attempted. The test pilots and Vought felt that the only suitable place for test flying the radical aircraft with its unproven gearboxes and propellers was at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Given the XF5U’s construction, the aircraft could not be disassembled, and it was too large to be transported over roads. The only option was to ship the XF5U to California via the Panama Canal. Faced with the expensive transportation request, no urgent need for the XF5U, questions about propeller drive reliability, and the emergence of jet aircraft, the Navy cancelled all further XF5U project activity on 17 March 1947.


This side view of the XF5U shows how the propeller blades were staggered. Note the balance weights on the ailavator, the hump on the gear door, and the slightly open engine cooling air exit flap on the upper fuselage. Strangely, the tail markings appear to have been removed from the photo.

With the original 1,600 hp (1,193 kW) P&W R-2000-2 engines, the XF5U had a forecasted top speed of 460 mph (740 km/h) and a slow speed of 20 mph (32 km/h). The aircraft had a 3,590 fpm (18.2 m/s) initial rate of climb and a service ceiling of 34,500 ft (10,516 m). With a fuel load listed at 300 gallons (1,136 L), the aircraft would have a 710-mile (1,143-km) range. To increase the XF5U’s performance and try to keep the program alive, Vought proposed a turbine-powered model to the Navy, designated VS-341 (or V-341). While it is not entirely clear which engine was selected, the engine depicted in a technical drawing closely resembles the 2,200 hp (1,641 kW) General Electric T31 (TG-100) turboprop. The estimated performance of the VS-341 was a top speed of 550 mph (885 km/h) and a slow speed of 0 mph (0 km/h)—figures that would allow the VS-341 to achieve Zimmerman’s dream of a high-speed, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.


Rear view of the XF5U shows padding taped to the aircraft to protect its Metalite surface. The engine cooling air exit flaps are open. The intercooler doors have been removed, which aided engine cooling during ground runs. Note the tail markings on the aircraft.

The XF5U intended for flight testing (BuNo 33958) was smashed by a wrecking ball shortly after the program was cancelled. The XF5U’s rigid airframe withstood the initial blows, but there was no saving the aircraft; its remains were sold for scrap. At the time, the second XF5U (BuNo 33959) had already been destroyed during static tests.

Zimmerman’s aircraft were given several nicknames during their development: Zimmer’s-Skimmer, Flying Flapjack, and Flying Pancake. It is unfortunate that a radical aircraft so close to flight testing was not actually flown. Zimmerman continued to work on VTOL aircraft for the rest of his career.


To bring the XF5U into the jet age, Vought designed the turbine-powered VS-341. The aircraft had the same basic layout as the XF5U. Note the power cross shaft extending from the gearbox toward the other engine.

Chance Vought V-173 and XF5U-1 Flying Pancakes by Art Schoeni and Steve Ginter (1992)
Aeroplanes Vought 1917–1977 by Gerard P. Morgan (1978)
XF5U-1 Preliminary Pilot’s Handbook by Chance Vought Aircraft (30 September 1946)
XF5U-1 Illustrated Assembly Breakdown by Chance Vought Aircraft (1 January 1945)
Langley Full-Scale Tunnel Investigation of a 1/3-scale Model of the Chance Vought XF5U-1 Airplane by Roy H. Lange, Bennie W. Cocke Jr., and Anthony J. Proterra (1946)
“Airplane of Low Aspect Ratio” US patent 2,431,293 by Charles H. Zimmerman (applied 18 December 1940)
“Single or Multiengined Drive for Plural Airscrews” US patent 2,462,824 by Charles H. Zimmerman (applied 3 November 1944)
“The Flying Flapjack” by Gilbert Paust Mechanix Illustrated (May 1947)