Jul 062017

“Liberty” was a short-lived ATK launch vehicle concept. This design arose in 2011, following after the Ares 1. Where Ares 1 was a single 5-segment Shuttle booster derivative topped by an all-new hydrogen/oxygen second stage, Liberty used the same booster but topped by the core stage of an Ariane V. ATK believed that they could get one of these flying with astronauts as soon as 2015, but NASA decided to not fund the effort and ATK abandoned the project in 2012.

ATK handed out some promotional cards a few years back at one of the big Shuttle motor tests, scanned in below. I’ve posted the high-rez versions of the scans to the APR Patreon Dropbox (in the 2017-04 APR Extras folder, because I forgot to mention that here months ago).

If you are interested in accessing these and other aerospace historical goodies, consider signing up for the APR Patreon.




 Posted by at 8:36 pm
Jul 042017

Around 1960, the USAF had high hopes for the development of ASP: “AeroSpace Plane.” ASP was a program to develop an airbreather one- or two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. The first stage would use some form of Liquid Air Cycle Engine; the inlet would be actively cooled by the liquid hydrogen fuel so that the incoming air would be condensed to liquid, which would allow the liquified air to be stored and fed into high chamber pressure rocket engines. ASP was extremely ambitious, and obviously – since no airbreathing system has made it to orbit (not counting simple turbojet-powered aircraft carrying otherwise conventional rockets such as Pegasus) – it did not work. A fair chunk of change was spent on the concept, but it faded away after a few years. The basic idea of ASP would arise a quarter century later with NASP, to similar levels of success.

A good, well-illustrated article on ASP was published some time back in issue v2N5 of Aerospace Projects Review.

Most of the known ASP designs were produced by Convair. It seems that Convair jumped into the program with both feet, producing not only detailed diagrams of a whole range of vehicles but also artwork and display models. And the latter category included some beautiful see-through models made from Plexiglas. It shows some interior details such as the complex plumbing of the Liquid Air Cycle Engines, as well as the winged second stage tucked into the lower fuselage of the very large hypersonic first stage. In an era long before computer animation, models such a this would be very useful in illustrating complex concepts to customers and bosses.

I have uploaded the full-rez version of this photo to the 2017-07 APR Extras Dropbox folder, available to all APR Patrons at the $4 level and above. If you are interested in accessing these and other aerospace historical goodies, consider signing up for the APR Patreon.




 Posted by at 2:36 am
Jul 012017

The Pluto nuclear ramjet is often considered one of the crazier (or perhaps more accurately, “badass”) weapons systems ever considered by serious people. In short, it used a nuclear reactor as the heat source for an airbreathing ramjet; it would fly at a few hundred feet altitude at Mach 3 with nearly unlimited range. Several American aerospace corporations vied for the contract; LTV won the contract to build the airframe in 1961. The “Tory” nuclear ramjet was static ground tested with some success, but the program was cancelled in 1964.

Convair gave the concept considerable study from the beginning of the program in 1957 until at least 1961. Their “Big Stick” concept has been reasonably well known, but they had another idea that was somewhat further from the basic idea. It was mentioned in at least two briefings that I’ve come across; some amount of serious work was done on it, but the information I have is fragmentary. The concept was called simply the “Submersible Nuclear Ramjet.”

Pluto and Big Stick were unmanned cruise missiles. They would be launched from the ground with solid rocket boosters (some though was given to launching from ships, subs and aircraft) and would fly “grand tours” of the Soviet Union, spitting out a number of individual nuclear bombs. They would leave in their wake a line of ruin… the shockwaves from their passage would likely shake apart civilian structures, and the reactors would constantly spit out radioactive particles. At the end of the mission the missiles would crash into one final target.

But the Submersible Nuclear Ramjet would work a little differently. For starters… it was manned. There would be a crew on board throughout the mission.

Rather than starting off at some Air Force base, the Submersible Nuclear Ramjet would actually start off as a submarine, floating around on its own in the ocean. Propulsion would be provided by the nuclear reactor, serving as a “water ramjet” by heating seawater and expelling it. Feeding salt water, diatoms, kelp, fish and all the rest of the junk  the ocean has to offer directly through a nuclear reactor seems a bit dubious.

When the order to begin an actual mission comes in, the propulsion system would be reconfigured from seawater-burning ramjet to seawater-burning rocket. The vehicle would expel stored seawater through the reactor, generating a large amount of thrust, enough to launch the craft vertically out of the water and up to high speed. The craft would then angle over towards the horizontal; the propulsion system would reconfigure once again, this time to an airbreathing nuclear ramjet. The vehicle would then fly a mission essentially similar to Plutos… low altitude, screamingly high speed, ejecting nuclear weapons as it goes. At the end of the mission, unlike Pluto it would *not* crash itself into one final target. Instead, the manned vehicle would return to secure waters and slow to subsonic speed. It would enter a vertical climb and slow to a stop; the ramjet would again reconfigure, this time back to rocket mode. Four drag brakes would deploy around the nose and the vehicle would back down into the water for a soft “splashdown.” It would of course land with nearly empty tanks, so it would be quite buoyant; until the tanks refill, it would likely sit tail-down in the water.

I’m going to try to find out more about this concept, but I have minimal hopes. I’ve gone all this time without hearing about it until just a few weeks ago.

Because why no, I’ve made a basic model of the concept. Complete accuracy is not assured… I have a top view and an inboard profile; as with a distressing number of concept aircraft diagrams, the views seem to conflict on things such as the cockpit canopy, and the inlet configuration is only partially shown. Still, it’s a really interesting concept.

If you’re interested in Pluto, take a look at Aerospace Projects Review issue V2N1. There is a very large, highly illustrated article on Pluto in that issue. If you are interested in the Submersible Nuclear Ramjet, keep an eye on US Bomber Projects… it will show up in the next issue or two.

The renders below show the Convair Submersible Nuclear Ramjet to scale with the LTV Pluto.

 Posted by at 12:36 am
Jun 282017

This was Convairs idea for the Pluto project… a nuclear ramjet cruise missile. Capable of Mach 3 flight at an altitude of 500 feet, it would be virtually impossible to intercept, and would have virtually unlimited range. The YouTube video:

There is more on the Big Stick, including diagrams, in issue V2N1 of Aerospace Projects Review:


 Posted by at 12:50 am
Jun 282017

A 1948 USAF film documenting JATO units – liquid propellant rocket packs – for use on the B-29. four such units, two under each wing, would give the B-29 some substantial additional get up and go, along with giving it a spectacularly firey takeoff roll.

 Posted by at 12:38 am
Jun 182017

Here’s an interesting one: a detailed large-format diagram of the US Space Shuttle orbiter… as drawn up by Soviet draftsmen in 1976. Interestingly, the top view includes, in red, the basic outline of the Soviet “Buran” shuttle orbiter. A surprisingly high-rez version of this diagram can be FOUND HERE.

The diagram is not entirely accurate, especially with regards to the OMS pod. The rear end of the pod in the side view is distinctly inaccurate. But note the faint lines just ahead of the OMS pods in the top and side views. One of the last noticeable changes to the Orbiters configuration was the change to the forward end of the OMS pod; originally, the pods continued forward onto the cargo bay doors. This continuation was just an aerodynamic fairing; all the equipment an tanks were in the pod aft of the doors.


 Posted by at 2:12 am
Jun 162017

Dating from about 1963-63, this is a depiction of a high-altitude research aircraft equipped with “composite air-augmented turbo-jets” for launch and rockets for “near-space operations.” The general configuration was used many times over the decade, typically for scramjet powered aircraft. This was painted by Pat Shealy, chief of the Presentations Division, Air For Office of Scientific Research at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

 Posted by at 10:31 am
Jun 132017

From the very early 1960’s, this piece of Hughes artwork depicts a hot-cycle “Helibus.” The “hot-cycle” was a briefly studied form of helicopter that did not mechanically drive the rotor, but instead ducted hot exhaust gas from a turbojet up into the rotor hub and then down through ducts in the rotors, exhausting out nozzles near the tips of the rotors. The exhaust gas would then push the rotor blades directly. The advantage was that since there was no direct mechanical linkage between the rotors and the fuselage, the torque that a helicopter normally needs to counter with a tail rotor would be largely eliminated. Thus this “Helibus” has no tail rotor, but it would still need to have some sort of reaction control thrusters at the tail to provide directional control at low speed.

Note that every row of passenger seats has its own door. This would greatly facilitate passenger loading and unloading, at some considerable weight and cost penalty. it would also firmly lock in seat pitch… as the engines are swapped out for newer, better, lighter, more powerful and less fuel hungry versions, the airlines drive would be, as we’ve seen, to pack more and more passengers onboard. But here the doors on the side have to precisely match the seat rows.

A vehicle like this would probably be used mostly to transport office drones from rooftop heliports in urban city centers to transport hubs out in the burbs or the sticks.

 Posted by at 5:23 am
Jun 112017

An old (1962 or before) piece of concept art from Kaman illustrating their “ROMAR,” a helicopter meant for Mars exploration. It appears to be powered by rotortip rockets, a decent enough approach for this sort of thing. However, this was before Mariner mars ’64, when the understood density of the Martian atmosphere dropped by more than a factor of ten. As a result, a helicopter like this would need to be made fabulously low-weight in order to fly, something improbable given the needs of a manned vehicle.

 Posted by at 7:42 pm