Junkers J21: Squaredly handsome, squarely deceiving.

The Treaty of Versailles and its consequences to any meaningful German aviation production demanded drastic measures. In Junkers’ case was the settling of a factory at the Fili western suburb of Moscow. The J21 (Russian designation) was design conceived in 1922-23 by Ernst Zindel as a recon parasol monoplane for the Soviets. Being a Junkers, it was built in Duraluminium, corrugated, of course. The Dessau-built prototype made its maiden flight in June 1923. The development in Germany included a considerable reduction of wing area for structural reasons among other things. Transported to Fili, the two German prototypes opened the road to series production there. That production amounted to around 120 units, the last one delivered on 1926. However, the Soviet forces found their J21s lacking: the only 240hp of the BMW IVa engine left them underpowered. On account of that some of them ended in the less demanding civil airline sector. Junkers tried some of their more powerful engines (L2 and L5) through to no avail.

One of the more curious feature of the J21 was the two jettisonable fuel tanks at either side of the fuselage. Pretty neat it was, methinks.

Capricorn One (1977): Lest We Forget.

With all the “noise” generated by NASA Mars InSight lander landing, I think it’s time to remember these almost Mars heroes. Granted, the plot is at least tenuous and the idea of flying with Apollo hardware to Mars was simply silly, but the damn cool Stearman vs. OH-6 dogfight was just plain awesome. All in all, the whole package was entertaining enough for a very young kid then and a rusty old one now.

Boy, those hilariously oversized bubble helmets and the puffy unshapely spacesuits. El cheapo effort, at its worst.

Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama: Over the top and beyond.

The history of nowadays very successful Airbus Helicopters began with the trend setting Aérospatiale Alouette family. Those turbine helicopters produced in huge numbers were with the Mirage III the aviation products which put France again where it belongs. The Lama was the overpowered high-altitude variant. At the control of one of them, Aérospatiale Chief Test Pilot Jean Boulet set a absolute world record, on 21 June 1972, for the highest altitude reached by a helicopter (all categories). He reached 12,442 meters, a record still unsurpassed. Furthermore, that feat was not a piece of cake. When he reduced power to begin he descend, because of the extreme cold and high altitude, the engine flamed out, and Boulet had to perform the highest ever power off autorotation landing flying blind because the cockpit bubble iced over. As a plus, that autorotation also set a new world record. By the way, it seems the unpowered fly down credited him also with the highest altitude ever reached with an autogyro…, sort of.

Boulet on oxygen in the stripped out cockpit of his Lama. Less weight more height.

Messerschmitt Me P.1101 V1: Spoils go to the victor.

The original P.1101 design was Messerschmitt’s answer to the Luftwaffe July 1944 Emergency Fighter Program. That program was looking for a second generation single-seat/single-engined jet fighter to replace the Me 262. A subject of constant development, in the end the P.1101 came nevertheless second best behind the Ta 183. Not wanting to waste the design work, the RLM chose to turn it into a experimental prototype for high-speed testing . In order to do that the resulting P.1101 prototype had a wing which sweep angle could be changed (35, 40, and 45 degrees) on the ground. War events put and end to all that,…in Germany.

A charming group of United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) personnel and their unlikely companion.  When the US Army entered Messerschmitt’s Oberammergau complex they seized, among other things, the Me P.1101 V1 incomplete prototype. Too vandalised to be made airworthy, it was shipped to the Bell Aircraft Works in Buffalo where it served as the obvious basis from the company X-5 aircraft. Sadly, it was scrapped in the early 1950s.

Gemini Spacecraft: Fire in the holes!!

The two-seat Gemini capsule, unlike the Mercury and Apollo and their rocket-powered escape towers, employed ejection seats to allow the astronauts to escape in an emergency. Made by Weber Aircraft, those ejection seats had to function from the launch pad (zero velocity) up to 40,000ft. at high Mach number.

A boilerplate Gemini during a simulated pad-abort test. The open doors were important.

It could have been even more startling.

Antonov An-22: Daddy Cool (XIII).

The Russian master of transport aircraft Oleg K. Antonov and a pretty model of the first of his famous “heavylifters.” The huge An-22 with its cavernous fuselage, idiosyncratic tail feathers and mighty Kuznetsov NK-12 turbines.

In a 1984 television interview Antonov was asked why all his aircraft (the An-2 apart) had a high-wing configuration. Antonov calmly answered: “Have you ever seen a low-wing aircraft? There were, obviously, more practical reasons for his choice, but he sure had elan. (source Y. Gordon & D. Komissarov).