Aircraft carriers: "airfields" in the skies

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Aircraft carriers: "airfields" in the skies
Aircraft carriers: "airfields" in the skies
Anonim

The fighter pilot animated film Yukikaze, well known in narrow circles, features, among other things, huge flying ships. But we are unlikely to see something like this in real life. At the same time, the very concept of a flying aircraft carrier may still be implemented.

Flying aircraft carrier

Airplanes and airships

The outbreak of world wars pushed developers from different countries to the most incredible solutions. The engineers were not afraid of any difficulties. It’s hard to believe, but aircraft carriers appeared during the First World War. However, first, let's define what a flying aircraft carrier is. In the most general sense, it is an aircraft that carries (or in itself) other aircraft. Why is this needed? The military faced and continues to face the problem of the limited range of aircraft. This issue was especially acute until the appearance of tanker aircraft. Let's take an example: the range of the famous British fighter of the First World Sopwith Camel was 485 km. Naturally, this limited the range of its application.

By the way, the British were among the first to experiment with "sky airfields". The threat from German airships during the First World War was more than real and His Majesty's gloomy genius came up with the idea of ​​equipping the Felixstowe Porte Baby flying boat with a Bristol Scout aircraft, which was attached to the upper wing. The Bristol Scout airplane had one Lewis machine gun: so it could, if not shoot down the airship, then at least frighten the crew of the aircraft. In 1916, at an altitude of 305 meters, the Bristol Scout separated from the flying boat, after which it successfully landed at a ground airfield. The experiment was recognized as successful, but the matter did not go further and the project was closed.

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In 1917, the Germans decided to use aircraft carriers. True, in the Kaiser's army, their role was played not by airplanes, but by airships. An Albatross D.III fighter was attached to the bottom of the L-35 airship. In January 1918, this concept was successfully tested, but the war was already coming to an end by that time, so that the aircraft carriers did not have time to prove themselves in all their glory. Zeppelin airships were rigid airships created by Count Zeppelin and the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH. Of all the hard type airships, they are considered perfect. In total for the period 1899-1938. 119 zeppelin were built, of which about 100 were delivered to the German fleet and ground forces.

After the war, in the 1920s and 1930s, "airship" was very common. Many countries wanted to create the most advanced flying cigars. Soon, specialists of the future world hegemon - the United States - began to claim the palm. It was the engineers of the United States in the interwar years that created two of the largest aircraft carriers in history, both in the interests of the naval forces. The first to take off in 1931 was the reconnaissance USS Akron (ZRS-4). In 1933, his fellow USS Macon (ZRS-5) made its maiden flight. These were very large aircraft: the length of the Akron, for example, was almost 240 meters, and the crew was 89 people. But the main feature of the airship was its ability to carry up to five small aircraft, which could conduct reconnaissance or defend the aircraft. The airship proved its ability to carry airplanes, and the planes could not only "take off", but also "board" an aircraft carrier. In 1932, the N2Y trainer trainer and the F9C Sparrowhawk fighter, using a special device, were able to catch on the USS Akron in flight.It is important to say that during off-hours the aircraft were not mounted on external holders, but in the inner hangars of the airship. So Akron was a real flying military base. It was an incredibly complex apparatus from a technical point of view.

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The fate of the Akron and Macon airships was tragic: both crashed. Insufficient structural strength became the cause of the disasters. But the most terrible blow for the supporters of airships was not these accidents, but the disaster of the German civilian "Hindenburg" in 1937. It was the largest airship of those years, and its de facto disaster marked the end of the airship era. Interestingly, this did not stop the Germans: in 1941, they wanted to build a huge airship-aircraft carrier that could carry 12 bombers. But the outbreak of the Second World War very quickly showed that such developments are a dead-end path.

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The first soft aircraft to test the aircraft carrier concept was the American S-1 airship. On December 12, 1918, he lifted the Curtiss Jenny airplane to an altitude of 760 meters and launched it. In total, the Americans built ten class C airships: all of them were operated by the naval forces.

In the heat of World War II

But the aircraft carriers had a chance to show themselves in the war. In the 1930s, the "Link" project was developed in the USSR. Was offered a lot of modifications of the complex, but in the end the choice fell on the option "Composite dive bomber". It included a heavy TB-3 bomber and two I-16 fighters that were suspended under its wing. Each of the fighters could carry two FAB-250 bombs - a rather serious argument by the standards of the beginning of the war. Usually fighters did not carry such a bomb load. The first successful operation with the participation of "Link" was carried out in 1941. Then aircraft carriers bombed oil storage facilities in the Romanian Constanta. The I-16s detached from the "mother" aircraft at a distance of 40 km from the target, and after hitting the ground, they returned on their own to the Odessa airfield.

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At the same time, it cannot be said that the "Link" was used very actively: for the entire 42nd year, about 30 sorties were performed (a drop in the ocean by the standards of the great war). The fact is that by the 41st year, the TB-3 bomber and the I-16 fighter were very outdated. By that time, the Germans had a new modification of the Messer - Bf.109F. Its main trump card in the fight against "donkeys" (as the I-16 was nicknamed) was speed. The Bf.109F-4 variant could reach a maximum speed of 610 km / h at altitude. At the same time, the maximum speed of the I-16 type 24, which was used as part of the Link project, did not exceed 462 km / h. The Soviets did not use newer fighters for the aircraft carrier, such as the Yak-1 or LaGG-3 - they were needed to solve other problems.

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The idea of ​​an aircraft carrier was taken up by the Japanese at the end of the war. Their concept was very … original. With an eye to the local mentality. She looked like this. A Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka missile projectile controlled by a kamikaze pilot was suspended from a G4M twin-engined bomber. Not far from the target, the projectile was separated from the carrier and went on its last flight. From the 44th to the 45th, the Japanese managed to build 850 Ohka, but they did not have much success. The Americans even nicknamed this apparatus baka (in Japanese "fool"). The problem was that the American ships had very powerful air defenses. And by the end of the war, the United States had almost complete dominance in the skies. So the Yankees often shot down not only Ohka himself, but also the carrier plane.

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The Germans also presented their vision of an aircraft carrier during the Second World War. Their development was called Arado E.381. The aircraft carrier was an Ar 234 jet bomber and a relatively simple interceptor with a liquid propellant rocket engine suspended under it. It was armed with one 30mm cannon and unguided rockets. In this way, the Germans wanted to fight against Allied air raids. The Arado E.381 project was not implemented.

America vs Tips

The aircraft carrier was remembered during the Cold War.First of all, the Americans were interested in such developments. It is important to remember that up to the time of the creation of advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles, the main means of delivering an atomic charge to enemy territory was a strategic bomber. At the start of the Cold War, the Americans solidified their leadership in this direction by building the giant Convair B-36. For self-defense, the aircraft had as many as 16 20 mm cannons, but this, according to military experts, was not enough. Therefore, the B-36 decided to give the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter, which would be based on it and protect the bomber from the attacks of "Stalin's falcons". The Goblin made its first flight in 1948. The XF-85 was located inside the carrier aircraft and was released outside using a special docking device. The Americans assumed that each B-36 squadron would have several aircraft carriers carrying up to four fighters.

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The Goblin itself was a miniature jet fighter armed with four machine guns of 12, 7 caliber. It could reach a good speed - up to 1043 km / h, but in terms of the sum of characteristics it was much inferior to the best fighters of the USA and the Soviet Union. Actually, this was one of the reasons for abandoning the concept of the XF-85. A total of two prototypes of the Goblin were built.

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Another similar idea was Tom-Tom. This project involved attachment to the wingtips of B-29 and B-36 bombers of F-84 fighters. The latter was a more formidable machine than the "Goblin", however, this project of an aircraft carrier went into oblivion. On the way to implementation, there was a security issue. Coming off the wingtips of the bomber, powerful turbulences caused the strongest rolls of the fighters. So it was not entirely clear to the US fighter pilots who was more dangerous for them - the enemy or the bomber they were supposed to defend. Aircraft carrier could appear in the USSR. The concept assumed the use of a Tu-95N bomber as a carrier aircraft. It was supposed to house a supersonic bomber PC, developed by OKB-256, chief designer P.V. Tsybin, in a semi-submerged position. The plane carried the atomic bomb 244N. In the 50s, she abandoned the project due to the complexity of its implementation.

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As incredible as the Goblin and Tom-Tom projects seem, they are no match for the idea of ​​the US aircraft manufacturer Grover Loening, which was presented in September 1955 in LIVE magazine. It was about creating a flying boat with a length of 100 meters and a wingspan of more than 90 meters. To make it clear, the length of the Soviet An-225 "Mriya" is 84 m. Such dimensions were needed by the flying boat for a reason: it was assumed that the upper part of its fuselage would act as a runway. At the same time, during off-hours, the aircraft were inside the carrier. Under the landing deck, it was proposed to place a system of powerful magnets designed to dampen the landing speed of aircraft, as well as keep them from shifting during takeoff. By the way, the planes could take off and land at a time when the boat itself was in the air … In total, it is assumed that the creation of Grover Loening could carry up to 20 jet fighters. Why was all this necessary? The project was designed to quickly ensure air superiority anywhere on Earth. In the context of the Cold War, this seemed very important.

They wanted to equip the flying boat with 20 turbojet engines: with their help, the aircraft could reach speeds of up to 900 km / h. And the Grover Loening project was supposed to receive advanced defensive weapons. Whatever it was, the idea remained "paper" forever. In the 50s, it could hardly have been otherwise: the giant plane looks too expensive and complicated. And its survivability was very doubtful.

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Aircraft carrier of the future

Now there are no aircraft carriers, but this does not mean that they will not appear in the future. In 2015, Boeing patented an unusual aircraft that can be called an "aircraft carrier".As part of the project, an aircraft-type drone is attached to the bottom of a military transport helicopter. It then detaches and continues to fly on its own. Due to the two engines on the UAV, the helicopter can reach a higher speed. On the other hand, the unmanned vehicle itself can be delivered to its destination faster than its counterparts. This feature is very important, since the low speed of modern military UAVs is perhaps their main drawback. It is difficult to say if this idea will come true. Aircraft manufacturers often patent ideas just to play it safe against their competitors.

Earlier, the defense research agency DARPA was engaged in the study of its own concept of an aircraft carrier. She got the name "Gremlins". In this case, the carrier should not be a helicopter, but an airplane. Possible options include the B-52H and B-1B strategic bombers, as well as the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. Another idea involves the ability to launch drones from a fighter jet. The F-15E seems to be the most suitable option here, although theoretically fifth generation fighters can also claim the role of carriers.

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The carrier aircraft will be able to pick up the Gremlin in flight and then return it to the airfield. The drone will be ready for the next flight in 24 hours. Each of these UAVs will perform up to 20 flights in its lifetime. As in the case with the Boeing idea, the main advantage of such a step will be a high speed of response, because the drones will not have to fly halfway across the world. A large carrier aircraft will be able to stay over the combat area for a long time and release unmanned aerial vehicles as needed. What kind of UAVs they will be is another question: perhaps we can talk about reconnaissance and strike drones.

Be that as it may, the project does not stand still. In 2016, DARPA, as part of the first phase of the program, entered into agreements with Composite Engineering, Dynetics, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Lockheed Martin. So we may soon be able to see the first modern aircraft carrier.

A much more specific concept of a flying aircraft carrier was presented at the 2012 Farnborough Aviation Show by the British company MBDA, one of the world's most famous weapons manufacturers. The concept was named Vigilus. The Europeans decided to return to the idea of ​​using airships as aircraft carriers. In the case of the MBDA idea, we are talking about a rather large twin airship with four internal compartments in which the UAV is located.

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Each compartment contains one Caelus UAV weighing 100 kg. This unit will receive advanced reconnaissance equipment and will be able to stay in the air for up to two hours. The UAV will transmit to the headquarters a "picture" of the battlefield, after which it will be possible to make a decision on further actions. The airship-aircraft carrier will have many opportunities, because in addition to reconnaissance UAVs, it must carry many Gladius subsonic guided missiles. The mass of each of the missiles is 7 kg. With the help of these products, it will be possible to hit moving and stationary targets with high accuracy. In this case, Caelus will be able to return back to the aircraft carrier and wait for the next task. The Soviet aerospace system "Spiral" can be considered as a kind of aircraft carrier. This project began to be implemented in the 60s. It was assumed that the booster plane would launch an orbital plane using the "air launch" concept. A flight subsonic analogue of the orbital interceptor aircraft, the MiG-105.11, was created. Subsequently, the project was closed, including due to its high price.

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The main advantage of this concept is the reduction in the number of bases required for the operation of the UAV. It should also be noted that an unmanned airship will be able to stay in the air for an almost unlimited (in comparison with manned aircraft) time. So, given the growing role of UAVs, the Vigilus project has every chance of being implemented.

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Overall, it is likely that aircraft carriers will appear in the foreseeable future.Not all announced projects will find a start in life, but some of them may see the light of day in the coming years. Why? It is the aircraft carriers that are capable of fully unleashing all the capabilities of modern UAVs. "Sky airfields" can be very useful in local conflicts: especially when the enemy does not have fighters or modern anti-aircraft systems. Otherwise, the aircraft carrier will be very vulnerable and "classic" aircraft will better cope with the task.

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