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Beating Gravity

The war against gravity has been fought on various battlefields. On one, designers try to get heavier-than-air machines off the ground vertically, or at least in a very short space. On the other, designers strive to achieve, regardless of the length of takeoff, the greatest altitude possible.

VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) demands both vertical and horizontal thrust components. With a few exceptions these components have been provided by the same power plants, either by tilting wings (and usually their attached engines), diverting or ducting engine thrust, or tilting the entire aircraft to a vertical takeoff and landing position.

As for high altitude, the heavier-than-air achievers in that field have been military designs - 'black', or highly secret, at that - very different from the VTOL types, and uniquely advanced for their time.


RYAN X-13 VERTIJET - Ryan's 1947 investigations of tail-sitting VTOL jet designs led to the delta-winged X-13 which flew in 1955 and made its first transitional flight in 1957.

LOCKHEED XFV-1 - The XFV-1 Salmon was a competitor with Convair's XFY-1 Pogo in a 1950 competition to design a VTOL fighter with performance superior to existing fighters. The program ended before the Salmon achieved vertical takeoff.

CONVAIR XFY-1 POGO - Convair's tail-sitter was their 1954 offering to achievement of vertical takeoff for fighter aircraft. It was discarded when it was recognised it would never compete with the performance of contemporary fighter aircraft.

SNECMA C.450-01 - The French acquired rights to a tail-sitting annular wing design in 1952, and the unusually configured aircraft flew successfully in 1959.


BELL MODEL 200 / XV-3 - Bell's early interest in the VTOL concept is embodied in the 1950 XV-3 project. The powerplant resided in the fuselage, driving tiltable wing-tip rotor units.

BELL MODEL 65 ATV - The Bell Model 65 was a test aircraft built mainly of components of various existing civil types in 1952, testing the concept of rotating turbojet power plants for VTOL.

CURTISS-WRIGHT X-19 - An unusual entry into VTOL by Curtiss-Wright was the 1963 X-19, with tilting rotors on the tips of both the wings and the extended tailplane. It explored the use of 'radial lift' from the rotors to provide lift even when tilted forward, thus allowing for smaller wings.

L.T.V. XC-142 - Developed in 1964 by Vought-Hiller-Ryan (later Ling-Temco-Vought) the XC-142 was a tilt-wing tactical transport.

BELL X-22 - In 1965 Bell produced the X-22, another design with tilting rotors. It was an unusual configuration, two engines mounted close in to the forward fuselage, and two on a mainplane mounted near the rear of the aircraft.

BELL MODEL 301 / XV-15 - Bell's 1973 experimental tilt-rotor aircraft is a developmental link between the company's Model 200 of 1950 and the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey of today, and draws on Bell's extensive experience with rotor aircraft.

BELL BOEING MODEL 901 / V-22 OSPREY - The Osprey was built to serve a US multi-service requirement, and first flew in 1989. It is one tilting-rotor design which is actually entering production and service deployment.


SHORTS SC.1 - A British entry into the VTOL arena was the 1957 Shorts SC.1, which used a composite system of five separate engines for vertical and horizontal thrust.

DORNIER DO.31 - A German design of 1964, the DO.31 prototype's approach to VTOL was to have separate detachable engine pods on the wing tips to provide hover and low speed lift. The second prototype used thrust deflection from the two main engines, with the lift pods as optional attachments.


BELL MODEL 68 / X-14 - The X-14 was another Bell test aircraft patched together from bits of civilian aircraft, this time for 1957 tests of thrust diversion in VTOL aircraft.

Bell X-22A - The X-22A joint-service research design was sponsored by the US Navy to investigate the feasibility of an arrangement of four tilting duct power plants for VTOL aircraft.

RYAN MODEL 92 VERTIPLANE - Ryan's 1958 VTOL test bed, also known as the VZ-3RY, employed a different source of takeoff lift. Rather than tilting wings, engines or nozzles, it used oversized wing flaps to deflect and contain the airflow from its twin propellors.

HAWKER SIDDELEY P.1127 - The design which broke through and produced the Kestrel and the Harrier, the first successful VTOL jet fighters to enter full scale production in both Britain and the USA. Its descendants have seen action on many occasions.

YAKOVLEV YAK-36 FREEHAND - The Russian entry into early VTOL research was the Yak-36 of the mid-1960s, powered by two turbojets in the fuselage whose thrust could be deflected by external nozzles.


BRISTOL TYPE 138 - In the 1930s, the piston-powered Bristol 138 carried a pilot in a special pressure suit to the ten-mile mark above the earth.

LOCKHEED U-2 and TR-1 - The Lockheed U-2 was so secret that early sightings of an aircraft at impossible altitudes in the 1950s were allowed to remain as 'UFO reports'. It flew high enough to be thought of as untouchable, until Russia downed one. Originally used by the CIA, it has soldiered into the 1990s as the TR-1A reconnaissance aircraft.

LOCKHEED A-11, A-12, YF-12 and SR-71 BLACKBIRD - Considered to be one of the most impressive military jets ever built, the SR-71 of the 1960s remained officially the world's fastest air-breathing aircraft into the 1990s. The A-12 and SR-71 were superb intelligence gathering aircraft, though the YF-12 interceptor variant was not developed.

AURORA - possibly the widest rumoured of all present-day black aircraft projects, Aurora remains the one about which the least is known. It has therefore been the subject of the wildest speculations.


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