A three-view drawing of the North American Rockwell FX, dated June 1969, with a good deal of dimensional and other data. Note the large ventral fins which fold out of the way for takeoff and landing.

A kinda-high resolution version of the diagram can be downloaded HERE.

In 1947, NACA-Langley conducted ditching tests on a  1/20 scale model of the XB-36. This involved accelerating the model under a rail system and releasing it over water, letting it glide down to a landing. In order to more accurately represent the configuration of the aircraft, panels were removed from the underside… landing gear doors, bomb bay doors, skin panels, etc. Obviously, a B-36 would not land in the water without good reason; and battle damage would rank way up there. While the plane remains stable during these battle-damage-landings, it sure does grind to a halt in a hell of a hurry. In suspect a real-life ditching like this would involve the aircraft breaking into several chunks.

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DARPA is looking at air launch options… but instead of giant, world-record carrier aircraft, they are also interested in the possibility of using fighters and/or small corporate jets as the carrier aircraft in order to launch 100 pound payloads. The goal is a mission cost of one million dollars or less… equating to $10,000/pound, which is the equal of the most expensive large launchers. But the benefit for such high per-pound cost launch systems will be, it is hoped, the ability to launch on short notice, from innumerable airfields, and with high annual launch rates.
One design not mentioned but that springs to mind anyway is the XCOR Lynx. It’s a two-seat rocketplane designed to carry a small payload on its back; payload deliverable to LEO is not  given, but with a dorsal payload of 650 kilos, it’s probably in the range of  20 kilos or so. The targeted price of a ticket on Lynx is just shy of $100 grand; so based just on that, Lynx would haul payload for the equivalent of $5000/kilo, or about $11,000 per pound. This, sadly, does not include the cost of the upper stages, which likely will be substantial, and probably expendable (although I wouldn’t rule out reusability here). This indicates that reaching that $10K/lb launch price at this scale may be a bit tricky, but is at least within the range of the possible.

The Lockheed CL-1317, a 1977 design for a hydrogen fueled jetliner. Done for NASA, this was one of a large number of jetliners designed to use cryogenic fuels… hydrogen mainly, with several methane designs. For those who don’t remember 1977, it *sucked.* The era of petroleum seemed like it would probably end tomorrow, and so non-fossil-fuel system studies (such as Solar Power Satellites) were all the rage. A hydrogen fueled jetliner would seem obvious, but as can be seen from the diagram, the extremely low density of liquid hydrogen meant extremely large fuel tanks.

A giant descendant of the White Knight/SpaceShip 2 system seems to be under development. Paul Allen and Burt Rutan are behind “Stratolaunch Systems,” which would develop the worlds largest aircraft to carry a derivative of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher.


Carrier Aircraft

The carrier aircraft, built by Scaled Composites, weighs more than 1.2 million pounds and has a wingspan of 385 feet – greater than the length of a football field. Using six 747 engines, the carrier aircraft will be the largest aircraft ever constructed. The air-launch system requires a takeoff and landing runway that is, at minimum, 12,000 feet long. The carrier aircraft can fly over 1,300 nautical miles to reach an optimal launch point.

Multi-Stage Booster

SpaceX’s multi-stage booster is derived from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. At approximately 120 feet long, the booster is designed to loft the payload into low earth orbit. After release of the booster from the aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet, the first stage engines ignite and the spacecraft begins its journey into space. After the first stage burn and a short coast period, the second stage ignites and the orbital payload proceeds to its planned mission.

The carrier aircraft is a twin-body design to be built – or at least designed – by Scaled Composites. The design is very much a Scaled Composites design, though rather slab-sided compared to usual Scaled designs. Payload would be on the order of a half-million pounds, and propulsion would be provided by six “747 engines.” The Falcon 9 rocket would be given a Pegasus-like delta wing, located very far aft. Payload delivered to LEO is 13,500 pounds, and could include the manned Dragon space capsule.

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Some images:

It’s unclear as yet what the actual status of the program is… whether it’s in the conceptual design stage, advanced design or maybe even construction (unlikely, that).

Round Two in ExcessRez is available HERE.

Posted a medium-rez version of this a while back. But I’ve made a full-rez 4 megabyte version available Over Yonder.

The Iranians have put on display what appears to be the RQ170 that went down. The color is odd, though. Could be a mockup. If it is the real thing, it’s in really good shape… indicating less of a shootdown and a crash than, perhaps, a hacking and rough landing.

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Given that the Obama administration has shown itself willing to send weapons to the enemies of the US so that they can be used against the interests of the US in order to push the administrations social-change-ideology… one can be forgiven for wondering if perhaps this high-tech stealth aircraft was essentially “given” to the Iranians, who can be relied upon to share the technology with the Chinese and perhaps Russians. This would reduce Americas military technology lead… just the thing if your goals include knocking the US down a peg or three.

An informational poster from Rockwell International showing the configuration of the Space Shuttle dating from, I believe, February 1983. Provides geometric data as well as coloration, mission profile and subcontractor data.

You can download a 9 megabyte ZIP file with 300 DPI scans of both front and back of this poster. The 1/200 scale drawings are particularly nice. The link to the high-rez is HERE.

My next project for Fantastic Plastic: a revival of the previously-released 1/72 scale “Whispercraft” helicopter. As originally released, it had no interior; the re-release will have a full interior, re-worked surface detailing and additional parts to make dedicated military versions.

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