Piaggio P.23M: “Uomo avvisato, mezzo salvato”.

The middle 1930’s P.23M was the prototype of a commercial airliner/transport specifically designed to operate above the North Atlantic. A really cool feature of this outstanding push-pull tandem four-engined  (900hp Isotta-Fraschini Asso XI’s) monoplane was its fuselage; shaped like a boat hull to allow it to ditch at sea in case of emergency. As conceived the P.23M was really an ambitious project: 400 km/h maximum speed and a maximum range of 5,100 km while flying at 300 km/h.
All very promising, but first flown in 1935 the aircraft never ever saw the Atlantic Ocean. Besides, no real data is available about its performance or potential. It was soon forgotten.

Chyetverikov MDR-6B-1: In full Bloom.

The few MBR-6’s built were the only real success of designer Igor V. Chyetverikov. A little more than 50 of these highly advanced long range flying boats were produced in the late 1930’s-early 1940’s. The MDR-6’s of the main variant were powered by a pair of radial engines (Shvetsov M-25, M-62 and M-63) and served with the Baltic, Black Sea and Far East fleets until late 1942. Structural defects and faulty fuel system caused their hasty retirement. War then was going badly for the USSR and there was no time to spare in these small production assets…..and there were Lend-Lease Catalinas to burn.

Very beautiful aircraft in their more pedestrian form, the MDR-6 became just gorgeous in its later prototype iterations. In this photo, the first -and prettiest- of those prototypes. The B1 was a total redesign. Slicker and smaller, its designer cleaned it out thoroughly -retracting floats included- and replaced the radial engines with a pair of Klimov M-105 liquid-cooled engines. Add to those features a gorgeous twin-finned tail and the result was just irresistible. It was test flown, crash included, during late 1940-1941.

BAC TSR.2: Chiaroscuro.

The TSR.2 is a still bleeding wound to a lot of people in the UK, just like the previous M.52. This incredible design was a world beating tactical, strike and reconnaissance aircraft (T.S.R) years ahead of its time when it saw the light in the middle 1960’s. Utterly sophisticated, it was conceived with multiple on-board digital computers to process the data available by its innovative radar and sensors. Those gizmos were placed inside a superb airframe capable of long distance weapon delivery (to a target 1000 nautical miles away) with relatively short take-off/landing performances. Very fast, it was conceived for supersonic flight at ultra low level to pass under Soviet radar/air defence screen. All in all, potentially one of the most powerful weapon for the NATO arsenal to have. And yet it was destined never to see service. The reasons?. Well, there were various, all intricate and still controversial….and they’ve been discussed and re-discussed endlessly.

This wonderful photo of the only complete survivor (XR220) depicts magnificently the awesomeness of the TRS.2. Such an elegant piece of machinery.

Photo: © Mike Freer.

Baker MB-1 “Delta Kitten”: Puuuuuuuuur…..

This lovely little thing was built by Marion Baker of Akron, Ohio, in the late 1950’s. The basic design owns a lot to Lippish DM.1 and, maybe, the Payenne Katy. To build his dream Baker took some parts of a wrecked Cessna 140 (the an 85 hp Continental engine, prop and wheels). The result was this rare, then, all-metal homebuilt first flown in 1960. A decent, no-nonsense flyer it achieved a very descent maximum speed of 135 mph. Baker made the plans available for homebuilt construction. There were not takers, if my sources are right.

It’s delta day, it seems.

Papin-Rouilly Gyroptère: So sterile yet so stimulating.

Can you imagine a huge one-bladed rotor air-jet helicopter powered by a 80hp Le Rhône rotary engine?…., well, that was precisely the idea patented in 1911 by A. Papin and D. Rouilly. This pair of French gentlemen based their idea on the sycamore seed which turns while it falls to ground.
The basic configuration of their Gyroptère is quite evident in this gorgeously clear photo. The beautifully built rotor blade at the right counterbalanced by the engine and its fan which is sightly to one side of the axis of rotation. The pilot “drum-cockpit”, over the peculiar round float,  was placed on the axis of rotation and mounted on ball-bearing and was centered against 4 horizontal rollers. The long tube near our intrepid pilot is the swiveling air-duct employed to to keep his “drum-cockpit” from moving with the blade and to provide the necessary forward thrust.
Tested in 31st March 1915 on Lake Cercey (Cote d’Or), the Gyroptère proved to be wildly unstable and sank without even achieving flight.

Dassault Mirage IIIV: Tout à fait Froggy.

The IIIV was the French VTOL tour the force of the 1960’s produced to fulfil a NATO VTOL strike fighter specification. Preceded by the smaller Balzac, the supersonic Mirage IIIV was twice as big, but shared the same basic engine configuration with 8 lifting turbofan and a main engine. The two prototypes built started its test program in early 1965. Sadly, the second prototype was lost in Nov. 1966 and that, with the previous Balzac accidents, put an end to this bold and risky program. It never reached its full potential, a pity.

The magnificent first prototype here in the good company of two of its illustrious fellow “countrymen”: an early AZU Fourgonnette and the always precious Citroën DS “Déesse”.

A-90 Orlyonok: Under its ground effect’s spell.

The “Eaglet” was, maybe, not the more espectacular of the Soviet ekranoplans (ground effect aircraft), but in my humble opinion is the sleekest and the more charming. This amphibious ekranoplan was designed as transport, specially for beach assault operations. Sadly, like others of its gender only a few (5) were built.

This drawing depicts beautifully the engine configuration of the A-90. Cruise power was provided by the mighty Kuznetsov NK-12MV turboprop placed high in the tail. The aircraft also carried a pair of Kuznetsov NK-8-4K turbofan engines inside the forward fuselage fed by a pair of nose intakes. The exhaust of those turbofans were along the side of the fuselage and its thrust was defected under the wings to produce the necessary increased lift and power for take-offs.

Arwork from “The Threat In The 1980s” DIA exhibit.