Spiral Air-Orbital Plane (VOS): 2nd to none.

Designed by a Mikoyan OKB-155 design team headed by Gleb Evgeniyevich Lozino-Lozinskiy, the Spiral (aerospace system) was a Soviet project created as a military orbital spaceplane in response to the American Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar. Ironically by the time the design was started (1965) the American project was already cancelled so after four years it was also stopped….to be initiated in the middle 1970s as a possible answer to the Space Shuttle. The project reached the hardware state with sub-scale orbital test models and a manned test vehicle to explore low-speed behavior, the MiG-105.

To no avail, in the end the Spiral was cancelled when the Soviet authorities decided to follow closely the American Space Shuttle concept. The Buran project was the result.

This clever GIF gives us an idea of its audacious configuration. The Spiral spaceplane with its attached  liquid fuel booster stage seats atop hypersonic jet mothership designed by the Tupolev OKB. That reusable mothership acted as the complex’s first stage which launched Spiral and its booster at high altitude.


Nord 600/6000: Very Heavy-Paper Aircraft.

The 1960s USAF CX-LHS (Cargo Experimental Heavy Logistics System) requirement -and the eventual winner, the 100t C-5 Galaxy- created a little commotion in the aviation industry. To keep abreast of the new technological arena, aircraft design teams around the world became involved in studies of giant cargo aircraft. The Nord Aviation company was one of them. Their 1965 original Nord 600 was conceived as a horizontal bilobe fuselage airliner soon developed into different heavy cargo airlifters. With the Nord 6000 they just went ballistic. Only a “style exercise”, in fact, under the Nord 6000 designation a plethora variables were considered. One of them a sixteen-engined, 120m long/113m wingspan cargo behemoth which leaves the 84m long Antonov An-224 in tatters.

Drew by Fernand Rajau, this is an original design (nº 04-51) of one of the various Nord 600 iterations.  It gives us an idea of the whole concept. Of note its bilobe fuselage section, tiny human-reference figures and one of its four magnificent engine nacelle. No high specific thrust turbofans here. Each individual nacelle was intended to house four jet engines, a total sixteen. And remember, the 600 was tiny in comparison with the 6000.

Junkers Ju 187: Mueve la colita.

One of the lesson learned by the Germans of Battle of Britain was the vulnerability of the Ju 87 to enemy fighters and the need of a replacement. It was soon obvious that something better than a cleaned out up-powered Ju 87 was needed. The daring Ju 187 was Junkers’ answer. While keeping the basic Ju 87 shape -gull-wing included-, Junkers added to their design a remote control defensive turret, a retractable landing gear and, the best for last, a rotating vertical tail to improve the gunner field of fire.
As we can see in this somehow funny GIF, the Ju 187 would have looked quite weird. Anyway, the whole project was cancelled by the RLM in 1943: its performances didn’t seem to offer a real advantage over its fixed-undercarriage predecessor.

Couzinet RC.360: Daddy Cool (XI).

René Couzinet was without doubt one of aviation greats, and also a bit of an enfant terrible. In the early 1950s, after a troublesome and peripatetic professional life (Brazil included), Couzinet began to considered the possibilities of a VTOL flying saucer design…,under the spell of the UFO era, no doubt. After filling some patents, he produced a 3/5th-scale Aerodyne engineering model which was presented to the press the fall of 1955. Sadly, after some initial interest in his “soucoupe volante” the project soon died down. The horrid thing is that, disillusioned by that lack of interest in his work, Couzinet and his wife committed suicide at the very end of 1956.

Magnificent Maurice Jarnoux’s portrait, part of a “Paris Match”  1955 article. The engineer is seen here gazing at the gorgeous wooden scale model of his RC.360. This model represented his proposed flying model. An aerodyne equipped with six Lycoming piston engines to drive the two contra-rotating discs which provide the VTOL performances (it had fifty adjustable vanes) and an AS Viper jet engine (in the nacelle above the body) to provide forward propulsion. Utterly “Couzinet” all.

Bristol Brabazon: The Greatest Flop.

The magnificent aircraft in this neat Qantas poster looks like the predecessor of the Bristol Brabazon. Bristol proposed in 1942 a “100-Ton” bomber which was turned down by the RAF who preferred then their war-proved Lancasters and Halifaxes. The work already done was not lost because Bristol based its proposal to the Brabazon Committee’s Type I airliner in it.

The aircraft concept depicted here shows the pusher engines and gorgeous V-tail (direct for the “100-Ton” bomber) early considered yet also displays the wing platform adopted in the end by the actual Brabazon airliner built.

Stroop SP-7: Incom T-65’s prequel.

This amazing idea was Robert C. Stroop’s brainchild, an obscure American designer of the Depression era. Stroop proposed his aircraft concept  to the USAAC in 1935 as a way to convine high maximum speed with decent low landing speeds. As we can observe in this drawing, it was a beautiful idea for a convertible aircraft. In cruising flight the machine worked just as any conventional monoplane of the era. The SP-7 wing was split in two halves in flight for take-off and landing, the upper part went upwards while the lower part downwards to form a sort of “X” biplane. The project was, maybe, too bold and was rejected by the USAAC. It seems it never left the Stroop’s drawing board.

By the way, SP-7 had a flying predecesor: the SP-6. More “X-winged” than the SP-7, the SP-6 was mentioned in Stroop’s USAAC letter, photos included. Glorious, my friends.

General Dynamics LEM: Do you read me, HAL?

A wonderfully convincing view of the General Dynamics’ Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) proposal mock-up/simulator. They sure tried hard, but in the end Grumman won the laurels.
The Commander and the LEM Pilot at that early stage of the LEM development still enjoyed the luxury of a seat. The “LEM pilot” here is wearing the ubiquitous BF Goodrich MK.IV pressure suit while he plays “docking” in the simulator. This US Navy full-pressure suit were usually employed in those days for this kind of work. In fact, the Mercury space suit was developed from it.

Destination Clavius?.

Photo: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.