The Lockheed Martin P-175 Polecat was a worthy successor to the reconnaissance aircraft projects that had come to Groom Lake from the Skunk Works through the decades.

The first X-45A, with its weapons bay door open, dropped its first bomb in March 2004.


The Phantom Ray, the successor to the X-45C J-UCAS, made its first flight in 2011.

In the world of popular interest in aviation, the first decade of the twenty-first century could be called the Decade of the Drone. Certainly the drone has become synonymous with clandestine military operations in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. These aircraft, called RPVs in the third quarter of the last century and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) more recently, were first widely used for aerial reconnaissance missions during the war in Southeast Asia and for combat operations since the turn of the century.

However, drones have been around for almost a century. The first military drone designed for combat, the Kettering Bug, was being tested in 1918 and might have played a role in World War I had that conflict not ended when it did. By midcentury, the hobby of flying remotely controlled airplanes was widespread. During World War II, an enterprising Californian named Reginald Denny started a company called Radioplane, which sold thousands of scaled-up radio-controlled models to the US Army and US Navy as target drones. Northrop later bought Radioplane and continued building both piston-engine and jet target drones.

After World War II, as discussed in chapter 12, Ryan Aeronautical (later Teledyne Ryan) developed a line of jet-propelled target drones that were called Firebees. In turn, these were adapted for reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam, Laos, and elsewhere during the 1960s, propelling the company down a path toward more sophisticated RPV reconnaissance aircraft such as Compass, Compass Cope, and Patent Number 4019699.

By the 1990s, as RPVs were now being called UAVs, they were growing in sophistication. Many surveillance drones in service then, as now, such as the RQ-2 Pioneer, RQ-5 Hunter, or Boeing Insitu ScanEagle, were small, slow, piston-engine aircraft. Others are larger and much more sophisticated. Teledyne Ryan’s experience with the Compass Cope, for example, led to the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a large jet aircraft that can operate at 60,000 feet and stay aloft for more than 24 hours.

Drones captured the headlines after 2001, not only for their reconnaissance capability, but also for their offensive capabilities. Arming the General Atomics RQ-1 Predator with Hellfire missiles to take out terrorists and insurgents came as an afterthought to its original concept. However, when operations were watching the enemy in real-time video feeds, there was a natural inclination to attack the enemy that could be seen. The reconnaissance RQ-1 became the armed, multimission MQ-1, and General Atomics developed the much larger and more capable MQ-9 Reaper, which was capable of carrying more and varied offensive ordnance.

In the meantime, in 1998, DARPA and the US Air Force had initiated the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) program, aimed at demonstrating unmanned stealth aircraft that could be flown on deep penetration missions, such as suppression of enemy air defenses, into heavily defended air space. This led to the Boeing Phantom Works X-45A, first flown in 2002, and the Northrop Grumman X-47A Pegasus, which made its debut in 2003.

Under the program, the Phantom Works project utilized technology from the Bird of Prey, while the X-47A would have benefited from the obscure Teledyne Ryan 4019699 research.

The UCAV program later became the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS). The “J” was inserted when the US Navy expressed keen interest in the previously US Air Force program, specifically in the X-47A. Meanwhile, UCAV became UCAS when the DOD decided to consider the overall system developed within a program, not just the vehicle. Meanwhile the term UAS was introduced to supersede UAV, although in practice the UAV acronym continued to prevail.

The “white world” X-45A and X-47A never inhabited that arcane world where their existence was denied and are not known to have been tested in the skies over Area 51. However both projects involved technology that suggests that they may have “black world” cousins whose existence may not be disclosed for decades.

One unmanned aircraft definitely straddles that line in the Lockheed Martin RQ-3 DarkStar, which brings the narrative full circle and back to the Skunk Works. Indeed, the DarkStar has evolved into programs that are known to have been seen over Area 51 and to others that simply remain unknown.

The DarkStar originated as Lockheed’s entry in DARPA’s High Altitude Endurance (HAE) UAV advanced airborne reconnaissance program, which was initiated in 1993 and which DARPA managed on behalf of the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO). HAE had evolved out of DARPA’s High-Altitude, Long-Endurance (HALE) program of the 1980s that led to the development of the Boeing Condor, a huge UAV with a service ceiling of 67,000 feet.

During the 1990s, each of the armed services developed a complicated and confusing taxonomy of “tiers” to define its UAV program, but this practice fell out of use in later years, probably because the respective nomenclature of the services did not align, and within the services, the drones themselves did not conform precisely to the tiers. The two complementary US Air Force aircraft developed under HAE were described not as Tier II and Tier III, but as Tier II Plus and Tier III Minus. Tier II Plus identified a strategic UAV operating up to 65,000 feet with a range of 3,000 miles, slightly beyond the performance envelope of Tier II. Tier III Minus UAVs were strategic HAE vehicles embodying LO characteristics, but they had a shorter endurance than Tier II Plus or Tier III aircraft.

Under HAE, the Tier II Plus aircraft was the RQ-4 Global Hawk, while the Tier III Minus was the RQ-3 DarkStar. Both were intended to be reconnaissance aircraft, not UCAVs. The DarkStar first flew in 1996, while the RQ-4 Global Hawk first flew in 1998. The Global Hawk was a longer endurance, higher flying aircraft, while the DarkStar was designed as a stealth aircraft capable of operating in hostile environments.

While elements of the Global Hawk’s ongoing twenty-first century operational career remain classified, it has been widely photographed and was never a black program. The DarkStar, meanwhile, came and went quickly, leaving much speculation about follow-on aircraft.

Resembling a “flying saucer” from the front, the DarkStar airframe was composed primarily of nonmetal composites, and it had no vertical tail surfaces. It was only 15 feet from front to back, but its wing spanned 69 feet. The DarkStar had a gross weight of 8,600 pounds and was powered by a single Williams FJ-44-1 turbofan engine. It had an endurance of 12.7 hours, or eight hours above 45,000 feet.

The first DarkStar prototype made a successful debut flight in March 1996 at Edwards AFB but crashed on its second flight a month later. After twenty-six months of reworking, the second DarkStar made a forty-four-minute fully autonomous first flight in June 1998, but the Defense Department officially terminated the Tier III Minus program in January 1999. By this time, it seemed that there was more interest in the potential usefulness of a long range Global Hawk than a stealthy DarkStar.

This aircraft, which could possibly be considered a “nephew of DarkStar,” was developed by Lockheed Martin as Unmanned System P-175 and named Polecat. This is a term that describes a member of the weasel family but is also synonymous with “skunk” in American slang, therefore suggesting a reference to the Skunk Works. Polecat could also be a reference to the pole that is used to hold a model of an aircraft aloft when evaluating the RCS of its airframe shape. Whatever the origin of the moniker, the P-175 was first flown in 2005 and disclosed to the media in July 2006 at the Farnborough International Air Show in England. The aircraft itself made no appearance, remaining safely beyond public gaze within the confines of Area 51.

Lockheed Martin announced that it had developed the new aircraft to demonstrate that the Skunk Works still had the “right stuff” to compete in the advanced technology world where the principal players had been Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Frank Mauro, the company’s director of unmanned systems, told Amy Butler of Aviation Week and Space Technology that the company undertook the project against the backdrop of a perception within the industry that it had abandoned unmanned aerial vehicle technology after DarkStar. “We’ve taken some hard shots in the past three or four years that [we were] not in the UAS game,” he said, “and there is a perception that our future is at risk. We are putting our money where our mouth is.”

Indeed, the company had spent $27 million of its own money on the program, which Mauro described as a “significant” proportion of the company’s research aircraft budget during the period. However, it is also significant that the Polecat was developed in a year and a half, a very short time to bring an aircraft that involves innovative technology from initial concept to first flight.

Only one Polecat was built, constructed of 98 percent composite materials, and with a wingspan of 90 feet. The company acknowledged having pioneered a low-temperature curing process for composites used in the aircraft. In this case, the composites were cured at 150 degrees Fahrenheit rather that the 350 degrees of a conventional autoclave. The idea was cost savings. The Polecat had a gross weight of 9,000 pounds and was designed with a payload bay between the wings that could accommodate a half ton of sensors, reconnaissance gear, or weapons. It was powered by two FJ44-3E Williams International engines.

Frank Cappuccio, the executive vice president and general manager of Advanced Development Programs and Strategic Planning at Lockheed Martin later said that “no one has ever developed in this configuration a high lift-to-drag ratio, and we are going to do it higher than anyone has done it.… [The Polecat] was specifically designed to verify three things: new, cost-effective rapid prototyping and manufacturing techniques of composite materials; projected aerodynamic performance required for sustained high altitude operations; and flight autonomy attributes. In addition, the company investment and the resulting successful flights are proof positive of our commitment to developing the next inflection point in unmanned systems.”

He added that the engine intakes were masked to deflect radar and explained that without vertical structures and a tail, the aircraft was “inherently low-observable” though it had not been “coated” with radar-reflecting material because “it is not expected to fly operationally.”

An innovative “twisting strut” inside the Polecat’s wings had, according to Lockheed Martin, been designed to “flex in air and improve the laminar flow over its swept wings, propelling the UAV to high altitudes.” The intended operational altitude of the Polecat was specified at 60,000 feet, much greater than that of the UCAV/UCAS demonstrators.

An important design feature that the DarkStar and Polecat shared with the X-45 and the X-47, as well as with the B-2, is the absence of vertical tail surfaces. This design feature, which helps to reduce the RCS, is still considered to be very leading edge technology in the twenty-first century. However, recall that this innovation had been pioneered a half century earlier in Germany by Walter and Reimer Horten.

Lockheed Martin intended to continue flying the Polecat in an ambitious series of high-altitude test flights, but on December 18, 2006, over the Nellis Range, the sole Polecat prototype suffered what Lockheed Martin characterized as an “irreversible unintentional failure in the flight termination ground equipment, which caused the aircraft’s automatic fail-safe flight termination mode to activate.” The aircraft was destroyed in the ensuing crash.

In March 2007, Flight International reported that the notion of “building a replacement” for the Polecat was under consideration.

When a Lockheed Martin statement affirmed that a Polecaat replacement was “certainly being discussed,” few outside the Skunk Works and the shadowy corners of the world of Tonopah and Groom Lake realized that something else was already in development. Nor was there any indication that such a thing might be afoot until a tailless flying wing very similar to the Polecat was observed in the skies over Afghanistan later in 2007.

This aircraft was Lockheed Martin’s Sentinel, a UAV that bore the designation RQ-170. Assigned for no reason that was then apparent, this designation was far out of sequence with the US Air Force reconnaissance drone nomenclature that then topped out at just eighteen with the Boeing YMQ-18A Hummingbird, a rotorcraft UAV. The higher number suggests that the RQ-170 designation was that used by the CIA, where manufacturer model numbers, rather than military designations, are used. The Lockheed A-12 and the Ryan Model 147 are examples of such aircraft. The Polecat did bear the nearby company designator, P-175. It is possible that Sentinels were operated by both the US Air Force and the CIA, as are Predator drones.

The Air Force Sentinels were based inside the deep black world of the Nellis Range and the Tonopah Test Range, where they were assigned to the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron. This unit dated back to World War II and was operational until inactivated in 1976. Reactivated in 2005, the 30th was assigned first to the 57th Operations Group at Nellis AFB and then to the 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Creech AFB, the umbrella organization for UAVs, such as the Predator and Reaper, that were active over southwest Asia.

Before its existence and its designation were officially acknowledged in 2009, the RQ-170 was glimpsed as it operated out of Kandahar AB in Afghanistan. For want of an official name or designation, the mysterious UAV came to be known as the “Beast of Kandahar.”

The revelation to the media, also identifying Lockheed Martin as the manufacturer, came on December 4, 2009, after which little further information was released. It was stated that the US Air Force was “developing a stealthy unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to forward deployed combat forces.… The fielding of the RQ-170 aligns with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s request for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to the Combatant Commanders and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz’s vision for an increased US Air Force reliance on unmanned aircraft.”

Writing in Aviation Week, David Fulghum and Bill Sweetman observed, “Visible details that suggest a moderate degree of stealth (including a blunt leading edge, simple nozzle and overwing sensor pods) suggests that the Sentinel is a tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design. Many questions remain about the aircraft’s use. If it is a high-altitude aircraft it is painted an unusual color—medium grey overall, like Predator or Reaper, rather then the dark gray or overall black that provides the best concealment at very high altitudes.… The wingspan appears to be about 65 feet, about the same as an MQ-9 Reaper. With only a few images to judge from, all taken from the left side, the impression is of a rather deep, fat centerbody blended into the outer wings. With its low-observable design, the aircraft could be useful for flying the borders of Iran and peering into China, India and Pakistan for useful data about missile tests and telemetry, as well as gathering signals and multi-spectral intelligence.”

Two months later, in February 2010, Bill Sweetman reported in Aviation Week that an unidentified aircraft matching the description of the Beast, had been seen over Korea. He wrote, “The Beast of Kandahar gets around. The hitherto-classified Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned air vehicle (UAV), its existence disclosed after our inquiries in December, has been sighted outside Afghanistan. A Korean newspaper report—overlooked when it appeared in December—has now surfaced and states that the UAV had been flying for several months from a South Korean base—probably Osan, where the US Air Force currently operates U-2s—before it was disclosed. This revelation points directly to an answer to one of the puzzling questions about the Beast: why would you use a stealthy aircraft to spy on the Taliban? The answer is that you don’t, but Afghanistan and South Korea have a common feature: they are next door to nations with missile development programs.”

In August 2010, David Fulghum reported that “the latest twist is that the US Air Force’s stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel flying wing either has returned or is returning to operations in Afghanistan, this time with a full motion video (FMV) capability that ground commanders have been demanding as part of the continuing ISR buildup in the country. What’s not clear is whether the Sentinel’s stealth enables the conduct of unobserved surveillance missions near or over the borders with Iran and Pakistan.”

It was no secret that American UAVs had been operating routinely over Pakistan for years, and Sentinels were probably also active. Numerous RQ-170 missions were reportedly flown in preparation for Operation Neptune Spear, the successful effort to take out Osama bin Laden, who was killed at his compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, by US Navy SEALs.

On this subject, David Fulghum wrote that the RQ-170 then carried a full-motion video (FMV) payload, noting that “FMV is the key to activity-based, intelligence analysis, the same discipline that revealed Osama bin Laden’s hiding place. Both the CIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) see activity-based intelligence as the path to better monitoring of areas of concern, and they are busy expanding that capability.… The single-channel, FMV capability is being multiplied up to 65 times in new systems being packaged for carriage by unmanned aircraft and airships. An Air Force version of the capability is Gorgon Stare. An Army system is called Argus-IS.… Gorgon Stare, developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation and the Air Force’s Big Safari program, has been flying over Afghanistan on MQ-9 Reapers since December 2010. The current payload is in two pods. One carries a sensor ball produced by subcontractor ITT Defense. The ball contains five EO [electro-optical] cameras for daytime and four IR [infrared] cameras for nighttime ISR, positioned at different angles for maximum ground coverage. The pod also houses a computer processor. Images from the five EO cameras are stitched together by the computer to create an 80-megapixel image.”

Both Sweetman and Fulghum were on the mark in suggesting that the Beast’s primary mission was to snoop on places such as Iran. This intent became painfully clear on December 4, 2011, when one of the stealthy aircraft fell into the hands of the Iranian government near the city of Kashmar in northeastern Iran, 140 miles from the Afghan border.

Western news media reported that it had been “shot down,” although when the Iranians put the RQ-170 on display it was clear that it had not been hit by a surface-to-air missile. The Iranians claimed that their cyber warfare experts took over the control telemetry channel and landed the aircraft. The US DOD said it was “flying a mission over western Afghanistan” when control was lost, adding that the aircraft had crash-landed.

Questions arose over whether the RQ-170 was being operated by the Defense Department, as initial comments suggested, or by the CIA. In the Washington Post of December 6, Greg Miller wrote that “CIA press officials declined to comment on the downed drone and reporters were directed toward a statement from the military. And sure enough, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force seemed to step up to take the blame. ‘The UAV to which the Iranians are referring may be a US unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week,’ ISAF said in a statement. Mystery solved. The US military operates plenty of drones as part of the war effort in Afghanistan, and this one just veered off course. But the wording of the ISAF statement was curiously ambiguous, particularly on the question of who was really flying the drone. Some senior US officials seemed troubled by the attempt at deception from the start. On Sunday, a senior defense official voiced skepticism about the idea that a precious stealth drone would be doing surveillance work in western Afghanistan. By Monday, the story had changed. The CIA and the Pentagon continued to deny comment, but other US officials confirmed that the drone belonged to the CIA.”

“Accurate information was provided in the statement,” a “senior US official” told Miller. “There’s no obligation to disclose all the details of sensitive reconnaissance missions. If that’s the test, then we may as well knock on the doors of our adversaries, wherever they may be, and ask them to answer our questions.”

With this, the United States predictably asked that the RQ-170 be returned, and the Iranians, just as predictably, refused. Also as could have been expected, the Iranians insisted that they were going to build a copy of the aircraft. As of February 2013, when Iran first released FMV footage downloaded from the RQ-170, the reverse-engineered replica had not yet appeared.

Back in the United States, a window into the future of twenty-first century black airplanes continued to be found in a look at industry-funded projects such as the Bird of Prey and the Polecat. Boeing and Lockheed Martin had not funded these programs internally on a whim, but under the assumption that the technology being developed would evolve into a salable future product—such as the RQ-170 and who knows what else.

Another company-financed program is the Boeing Phantom Ray, named in part for the company’s Phantom Works and in part for its shape. The Phantom Ray evolved from the X-45C J-UCAS, which was to have followed the X-45A UCAV but had been cancelled in 2006. In 2009, the same year that the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 was formally revealed, Boeing announced the decision to revive the X-45C as the company-funded Phantom Ray. “We will incorporate the latest technologies into the superb X-45C airframe design,” said Dave Koopersmith, vice president of Boeing Advanced Military Aircraft, a division of Phantom Works. “Phantom Ray will pick up where the UCAS program left off in 2006 by further demonstrating Boeing’s unmanned systems development capabilities in a fighter-sized, state-of-the-art aerospace system.”

As Graham Warwick of Aviation Week wrote in May 2009, “If the [Phantom Ray] aircraft looks familiar, that’s because it is—it’s the X-45C that was completed, but never flown, when the [J-UCAS] program was cancelled back in 2006.… Unveiling of the Phantom Ray comes hard on the heels of US defense secretary Robert Gates’ April 7 announcement that the [Next Generation Bomber] program is to be deferred and his comments that perhaps the next Air Force bomber could be unmanned. In effect, we are back to where we were before March 2006, when the J-UCAS program was planning to demonstrate technology for future unmanned strike/surveillance platforms.”

The Phantom Ray entered its flight test program with a seventeen-minute first flight from Edwards AFB on April 27, 2011. While this first flight was announced, and it took place at an officially acknowledged facility rather than at Groom Lake, little more has been said officially, so it is hard to know the nature of the black world iceberg of which the Phantom Ray is the tip.

“The fact of the matter is that we have a stealthy, remotely piloted aircraft that’s out there,” General David Deptula, the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, told reporters back in 2010 when he was asked about the secrecy surrounding the RQ-170.

He then went on to provide some insight into the next generation beyond the stealthy black world aircraft that now exist—or that are known to exist. “We can’t do business in a serial fashion like we have before. We’re not looking for the next version of the MQ-9 that can fly faster and go higher. Can we physically change the characteristics of an aircraft to adapt it to different roles by making it more survivable through shape and treatments?”

There are other ongoing, but little heralded, programs that provide tantalizing clues into what might be going on at Area 51 and the other areas about which we know even less. There is DARPA’s Vulture program, aimed at developing a solar-powered UAV that can stay aloft for five years. The Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle is a UAV spaceplane that has already been operational in space on missions lasting more than a year.

Speed, as well as duration, has always been the hallmark of the black programs at Area 51. An indication of what might be going on in the black world is indicated by the Boeing X-51 Waverider. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet engine, it rides its own shockwave to hypersonic flight. By 2012, the Waverider had demonstrated speeds up to Mach 4.88.

The speed of the Waverider is eclipsed by that of Lockheed Martin’s Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2), developed for a DARPA research and development effort known as Force Application and Launch from the Continental United States (FALCON). First test flown in 2011, it is, as DARPA explains, “an unmanned, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft that glides through the earth’s atmosphere at incredibly fast speeds—Mach 20 (approximately 13,000 miles per hour). At HTV-2 speeds, flight time between New York City and Los Angeles would be less than 12 minutes.”

The only certain thing about the skies over Area 51 are shapes and treatments that will keep black airplane speculators and aviation enthusiasts busy well into the twenty-first century.


Caspian Sea Monsters I

Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeyev

Wing-in-ground-effect craft making use of a dynamic air cushion are vehicles operating in close proximity to a supporting surface. This is usually water, but basically it makes no difference whether a WIG craft is operating over water or over land – provided that the ground surface is sufficiently even and flat.

A feature common to an aircraft and a WIG craft is wings generating lift due to aerodynamic forces. However, in the case of the WIG craft this lift is augmented owing to the ground effect created by compression of the ram air stream between the wings and the supporting surface. A higher lift/drag ratio enables a WIG craft to obtain the same lift at lower speeds and lower engine power compared to aircraft. As a result, the WIG craft are, in principle, more fuel-efficient compared to aircraft.

Since large flat areas on land are not a common occurrence, WIG craft are in most cases intended for use over water. Operation from the surface of lakes, rivers or seas of necessity introduces some features of waterborne vessels into the design of WIG vehicles. Historically, a number of WIGs emerged as a kind of attempt to lift water-borne craft out of the water for the purpose of achieving greater speeds, and in many cases WIG craft were built at shipyards. Small wonder that the question is posed sometimes whether one should regard these new craft as very low-flying aircraft or as ships that have lifted themselves out of the water.

It would appear that both definitions might be appropriate, since the concept of WIG vehicles embraces a wide variety of craft featuring quite substantial differences. They may tend to be closer to one or the other of the two extremes, but, generally speaking, they are always something of a hybrid. On the one hand, a WIG vehicle in cruise flight is subjected to aerodynamic forces, much in common with conventional aircraft, while the hydrodynamic forces act on it only during take-off and landing – or rather alighting. On the other hand, WIG craft operating in close proximity to the water surface in a marine environment have to be subjected to the same rules and requirements as conventional marine vessels in terms of traffic safety.

The latter consideration has played an important role when it came to establishing a formal classification of WIG vehicles with a view to adopting rules concerning their certification and safety regulations. Three basic categories have been formally adopted for this purpose.

The first of them (Type A) encompasses vehicles that can be operated only within the height of the surface effect. They usually feature wings of low aspect ratio (up to 1) and are fitted only with a rudder, there being no elevator; the ‘driver’ (or should we say helmsman?) does not have to possess piloting skills and steers the vehicle in much the same way as an ordinary speedboat. In Russian parlance, such vehicles are termed Dynamic Air Cushion Vessels, or WIG vessels (ekranoplan boats). Among Russian designs, such examples may be cited as the Volga-2, Amphistar and Raketa-2.

The second category (Type B) includes vehicles which are capable of leaving the surface effect zone for a short while and making brief ‘hops’. The altitude of such a ‘hop’ shall not exceed the minimum safe altitude of flight for aircraft, as prescribed by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations (150 m/500 ft). In Russian parlance such vehicles are regarded as WIG craft (ekranoplans) proper; they feature wings with an aspect ratio of up to 3 and are provided with elevators. They are controlled by pilots. Among Russian designs this category is represented by the Orlyonok, KM, Strizh, ESKA-1 etc.

The third category (Type C) covers WIG vehicles capable of flying outside the surface effect zone for a considerable time and of climbing to altitudes in excess of the minimum safe flight altitude for aircraft, as prescribed by ICAO regulations.

This classification subdividing the WIG vehicles into types A, B and C was formulated by Russian organisations and submitted by Russia to the International Marine Organisation (IMO) and ICAO for their consideration. Thanks in no small degree to determined efforts of the Russian side it has proved possible to reach within the framework of IMO an agreement on a number of basic issues pertaining to legal, technical and operational aspects of WIG craft. For the first time international documents were evolved that provide rules for commercial operation of WIG craft and for their safety. These documents represent an important milestone. For the first time they have given an expression at a high level for an international recognition of WIG craft as a new and promising means of maritime transport and provided a legal basis for its further development and commercial operation on international sea routes.

The early research on ground effect and of efforts aimed at creating practicable WIG vehicles dates back to the 1920s and 1930s when work in this field was started in several countries (as is well known, the first self-propelled WIG vehicle was built by T. Kaario, a Finnish engineer, in 1935). The Soviet Union was among these countries. Theoretical and experimental work in this direction was started in the USSR in the 1920s (experimental work by B. N. Yur’yev, 1923). Further work followed in the late 1930s, when a whole set of theoretical studies and experiments in the field of ground effect research was performed by Yakov M. Serebriyskiy and Sh. A. Biyachuyev. The results of this work were published in specialised literature.

In the late 1930s the first steps in practical design of WIG craft in the USSR were made by Pavellgnat’yevich Grokhovsky, an aviation engineer and inventor renowned for his energy and innovative ideas.

However, it is Rostislav Yevgen’yevich Alexeyev (1916-1980), an outstanding scientist and designer, who must be credited with having played a paramount, decisive role in shaping the course of research, design and construction of WIG vehicles in Russia. His was the conceptual approach and design philosophy; he may truly be regarded as the founder of the Russian wingship construction. Alexeyev started his activities as a builder of hydrofoil ships in his capacity of the chief of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau (TsKB po SPK – Tsenfrahl’noye konsfrooktorskoye byuro po soodahm na podvodnykh kry/’yakh) set up in Nizhniy Novgorod. An impressive range of highly successful hydrofoil vessels designed under his guidance was developed 4 and put into operational service. Yet, it was precisely his work on WIG craft – work veiled in utmost secrecy for many years – that was destined to become the most prominent and significant part of his creative activities and represented a major contribution to the world’s technical progress.

The Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau has been actively engaged in WIG craft design since the early 1960s. The work was based on the concept of autostabilisation of the wing of a WIG vehicle relative to the interface between the supporting water surface and the air. This concept proved sound and was subsequently incorporated in all WIG projects issued by the design bureau. On its basis a search was initiated for suitable aero-hydrodynamicallayouts; initially, one of these featured two sets of wings arranged in tandem. The first 3-ton (6,600-lb) ekranoplan built in 1961 was fitted with two sets of wings. Research revealed that the tandem layout is practicable only in a very close proximity to the surface and is unable to ensure the necessary measure of stability and safety, once the craft leaves this close proximity. Experiments with one of these tandem-wing machines ended in a crash. R. Alexeyev arrived at the decision to make use of a classic aircraft layout (one set of wings and a tail unit) which was to be subjected to modifications designed to ensure stability and controllability during cruise flight in ground effect. In particular, low-set or mid-set wings of much lower aspect ratio (around 3) were adopted. An important feature was the use of an outsize horizontal tail; it was to be placed sufficiently far aft and high up relative to the main wings so as to minimise the influence of downwash induced by the wings depending on the flight altitude and pitch angle. Ten experimental WIG vehicles featuring this layout were built by the Central Hydrofoil design Bureau, their weight and dimensions growing with every successive machine. These were the machines in the SM series (SM stands for samokhodnaya model’ – self-propelled model), with an all-up weight of up to 5 tonnes (11,000Ib).

Design experience gained by R. Alexeyev in developing these machines enabled him to take a bold decision to initiate the design of gigantic WIG vehicles with an all-up weight of more than 400 t (880,000 Ib). In 1962 the Central Design Bureau was engaged in project work on a combat WIG craft intended for ASW weighing 450 t (990,000 Ib); two years later the design team in Nizhniy Novgorod started designing the T-1 troop transport and assault WIG craft.

It should be noted that the very considerable scope attained by the activities of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau was due to the fact that the new means of transport had attracted much interest on the part of the military. As a consequence, for many years this work was highly classified. Thus, construction of WIG vehicles in the Soviet Union got a boost from military programmes. In the opinion of military specialists both in the Soviet Union (and nowadays in Russia) and in the West, large WIG vehicles can be employed for a wide range of missions in the armed forces, notably in the Navy. These include troop transportation, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-shipping strikes with guided missiles etc. The most ambitious projects envisaged the use of WIG craft as flying aircraft carriers! An inherent advantage of WIG vehicles when used in warfare is their ability to remain undetected by enemy radar thanks to the low altitude of their flight; the lack of contact with the sea surface makes them undetectable by acoustic means (sonar devices). WIG vehicles are capable of operating not only over water expanses but also over snow-covered stretches of land and over ice fields. This makes them eminently suitable for use in Polar regions. Their high speed ensures their quick response to the changing battlefield situation, and their high load-carrying capacity enhances their capability for accomplishing various missions and carrying a wide range of weapons.

In assessing the suitability of WIG craft for ASW, one should bear in mind that, owing to their low flight altitude, WIG vehicles cannot be equipped with sonobuoys. However, they possess a wider range of capabilities for making use of a dunking sonar when afloat. Moreover, thanks to their big dimensions they can, in principle, be fitted with ASW weapons normally carried by surface ships, to be used without getting airborne.

WIG vehicles are superior to amphibious aircraft in sea-going capabilities and endurance; they can be armed with more potent missiles possessing longer range. However, they have their limitations associated with the need for target designation from an external source (amphibious seaplanes can provide target designation for their weapons when flying at high altitude).

The projects of an ASW WIG vehicle and the T-1 troop-carrying WIG vehicle never left the drawing board. On the other hand, in 1966 the Design Bureau built, in response to an order from the Navy, the KM WIG craft (KM stands korahbl’-makef – a ‘mock-up’, ie, prototype ship). With its fuselage length of nearly 100 m (330 ft), wing span of nearly 40 m (130 ft) and all-up weight of 430 t (948,000 Ib), this gigantic machine was a unique piece of engineering. In a record-setting flight its weight reached 540 t (1,190,000 Ib), which was an unofficial world record for flying machines at the time. The KM ekranoplan, dubbed ‘Caspian Sea Monster’ in the West, underwent comprehensive testing in the course of 15 years of operation. It marked the completion of a whole range of research and practical design tasks associated with approbation of the WIG concept as a whole and evolving the scientific basis for their design, construction and testing. The results of this work made it possible to create a theoretical and methodological basis for designing and building practicable examples of WIG vehicles.

One of these was the Orlyonok (Eaglet) troop transport/assault ekranoplan with a take-off weight of 140 t (309,000Ib). It was capable of transporting a 20-tonne (44,000-Ib) cargo at a speed of 400 km/h (248 mph) to a distance of up to 1,500 km (930 miles). Three examples of the Orlyonok (Project 904) were delivered to the Navy for evaluation. Their service career proved to be far from an unqualified success. Normal operation was hampered, above all, by circumstances of bureaucratic nature. The WIG machines were operated by the Navy, yet their crews had to include pilots because in certain operational modes they had to be piloted like aircraft. However, neither the Air Force nor the Naval Aviation showed any enthusiasm for these machines and sought to ‘prove’ in every possible way that they could not be regarded as flying machines – unabashed by the fact that provision was made for operating them also out of surface effect and there were plans for long-range ferrying flights at high altitude. Yielding to this pressure, the Navy top brass then decided that WIG craft should be classed as ‘ships with aircraft-like properties’. In turn, the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau clearly underestimated the ‘aviation’ aspect of 6 the matter and had failed to consult the Air Force on the methods of testing, which gave rise to justifiable complaints. Arrangements required to facilitate operational use of the machines delivered to the Navy suffered setbacks and delays. Series production of WIG craft for the Navy was expected to amount to several dozens of examples, but these plans failed to materialise. Introduction of new types of weaponry in the USSR, following a pattern common to many countries, depended heavily on lobbying on the part of this or that person in the top echelon. The Soviet Minister of Defence, Marshal of the Soviet Union Dmitriy F. Ustinov supported the idea of WIG vehicle construction, but he died in 1985. Sergey L. Sokolov, the new Minister of Defence, influenced by the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy V. N. Chernavin , ordered that all the funds available to the Navy be used for the construction of submarines. A crash suffered in 1992 by one of the Orlyonok machines was hardly conducive to improving the atmosphere around their integration into the armed forces. This was further aggravated by the transfer of the WIG machines from ordinary Naval units to the Naval Aviation – airmen were not overly enthusiastic about the new hardware. Deprived of the necessary attention and supplies, the base where the WIG craft were stationed began to fall into decay. Eventually the three surviving machines (two Orlyonoks and one Loon’) were struck off charge on the pretext of difficulties associated with maintenance and repairs. That marked, for the time being, the end of operational use of transport and combat WIG vehicles in the Russian Navy.

There is an episode in the story of the Orlyonok which eloquently bears witness to the character of both the machine and its creator, Rostislav Alexeyev. During one of the test flights Alexeyev was on board. The pilot, who had little experience with this type of vehicles, impacted the machine heavily right on the crest of a wave. The crew did not grasp the situation. Only Alexeyev, who had taken a look from the upper hatch, knew what had happened. Without a word, he took over the controls, gave full throttle to the nose-mounted booster engines and steered the machine to its base which was situated 40 km (25 miles) away. Only then could the crew take a look at the machine. They were stunned by the sight: the vehicle had lost its tail! The rear fuselage complete with the tail unit and main engine had simply broken off on impact and sunk! The fact that the Orlyonok still made it safely back to base bore witness both to the designer’s presence of mind and to the machine’s qualities. However, this episode placed a welcome tool in the hands of Alexeyev’s detractors and those who were intent on closing down the work on WIG vehicles. The episode was followed by ‘administrative measures’ (ie, repercussions) which boiled down to victimising the designer. He was deprived of the possibility to make full use of his creative potential, which affected very adversely the development of the WIG-vehicle construction in the USSR and present-day Russia.

An important stage in the activities of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau was marked the creation of the Loon’ (Hen harrier) – a 400- tonne missile carrier armed with Moskit (Mosquito) anti-shipping missiles. It was launched in 1987. Construction of a second example of this machine was envisaged, but the collapse of the Soviet Union drastically affected the programme. The second example, already under construction, was to be completed as a search-and-rescue machine. Accordingly, conversion work was started (progress reports appeared in the press in 1994), but this project, too, stranded for a long time due to various political and economic reasons. Only quite recently was the conversion work resumed and, hopefully, has a prospect of successful completion which would result in creating an unorthodox and highly effective maritime SAR vehicle.

Rostislav Alexeyev died in 1980. Earlier, after the crash of the prototype Orlyonok, he had to relinquish the post of chief of the Central Design Bureau of Hydrofoils, and then of Chief Designer.

Caspian Sea Monsters II


The SM-8 [ekranoplans, or wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) craft] WIG vehicle built in 1967 became the second 1/4th scale analogue of the KM ekranoplan; it reflected the changes introduced into the layout of the KM in the course of its design. The SM-8 became the last in the family of SM experimental flying vehicles, the tests of which furnished results essential for the creation of theory and for evolving the methods of designing and developing new models of heavy WIG vehicles for military and civil applications. The testing of the SM-8 proceeded in parallel with the testing of the KM; the analogue served for checking the methods of testing its bigger stablemate.

The SM-8, having an all-up weight of 8,100 kg (17,860 lb), was powered by one turbojet located in the upper part of the fuselage ahead of the fin. Its air intake was protected from spray by a special U-shaped guard. To emulate the blowing (booster) engines of the KM, the SM-8 was provided with a special nozzle device in the front fuselage intended to direct part of the gases bled from the engine under the wings. The vehicle had a cruising speed of 220 km/h (137 mph).

The construction and testing of the SM series (SM-1 through SM-8) were directly connected with the creation of designs that marked the apex of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau’s achievements – the vehicles known as KM, Loon’ and Orlyonok.


In 1963, in response to an order placed by the Navy, construction was started at the ‘Volga’ shipyard near Gor’kiy (now Nizhny Novgorod) of a gigantic WIG vehicle which was designated KM (korahbl’-maket – ‘mock-up ship’, or rather prototype ship). It was a machine of staggering dimensions, the length of the hull exceeding 90 m (295 tt). It was launched in March 1966 and the first flight took place on 18th October of that year. Further testing of the WIG vehicle took place on the Caspian Sea. Its optimum flight altitude in ground effect proved to be 4 to 14 m (13 to 46 tt). At that time the KM (sometimes referred to as KM-1 in Western sources) was the biggest flying vehicle in the world – its weight in one of the flights reached 544 tonnes (1,299,300 Ib)! Small wonder that it was nicknamed ‘Caspian Sea Monster’ in the West (later some Russian journalists, too, deciphered KM as Kaspeeyskiy monstr). This huge machine was powered by 10 Dobrynin VD-7 turbojets with a thrust of 13,000 kgp apiece; of these, two engines located at the fin leading edge served as cruise engines, while the remaining eight engines were mounted in two packages of four on the forward fuselage sides, performing the role of booster engines for power-augmented takeoff. The machine reached a maximum speed of 500 km/h (310 mph), the cruising speed being 430 km/h (267 mph).

The KM had good manoeuvrability, stability and controllability; it could perform tight turns with large bank angles, the wingtip float touching the sea surface. This machine flew for 15 years and earned a reputation for being a very reliable means of transport. Unfortunately, in 1980 the KM crashed due to pilot error. The pilot, who had not been at the controls of the big machine for a long time, overdid the pitching-up at take-off. The machine began to rise steeply. Losing his head, the pilot throttled back abruptly and applied the elevator in a fashion contrary to flight manual. The winged ship started banking to port, impacted the water surface and sank; the crew escaped unhurt.

In the course of its testing the KM underwent a number of modifications some of which were rather substantial. For example, in 1979 the cruise engines placed on the fin were transferred to a pylon mounted over the forward fuselage so as to lessen spray ingestion. The cruise engines were provided with spray deflectors on the intakes.

 Orlyonok (Project 904)


A Soviet BTR-60PB eight-wheel armoured personnel carrier is about to roll off the Orlyonok. This view shows the design of the double-hinged loading ramps, the overhead actuating cylinder and the many securing clamps around the hatch perimeter; the latter is natural, considering the high stresses in the area.

This troop-carrier/assault WIG vehicle designed in response to an order from the Navy made its first flight from one of the channels of the Volga river in 1972. After this, disguised as a Tupolev Tu-134 airliner, the prototype was transported on a barge to Kaspiysk (a naval base on the Caspian Sea) to be tested in sea conditions. It was the first WIG vehicle intended for speedy transportation of troops and materiel. Its cargo hold measuring 21 m (68 ft 11 in) in length, 3.2 m (10ft 6 in) in height and 3.0 m (9 ft 10 in) in width made it possible to transport self-propelled vehicles that were on the strength of the Soviet Marines.

The Orlyonok features an aircraft layout. It is an all-metal cantilever monoplane with a fuselage provided with hydrodynamic elements in its lower portion (planing steps, hydroskis etc.); it has low-set wings and a T-tail with a horizontal tail of considerable dimensions. Its powerplant comprises two Kuznetsov NK-8-4K booster turbofans rated at 10,500 kgp (23,148 Ib st) for take-off (provision was made for their eventual replacement with 13,000-kgp/28,660-lb st NK-87 turbofans) and one 15,000-ehp NK-12MK cruise turboprop (a version of the NK-12M used on the Tu-95 bomber) driving AV-90 eight-blade contra-rotating propellers. All the engines are maritime versions of the respective aircraft engines. The booster engines are fitted with special pivoting nozzles and used not only for creating an air cushion on take-off by directing their efflux under the wings (blowing mode) but also for acceleration to cruising speed. The air intakes of the NK-8-4K engines are blended into the contours of the forward fuselage, which reduces drag and helps protect the engines from corrosive sea spray. The cruise engine is located at the junction of the fin and horizontal tail; being placed so high, it is less vulnerable to spray ingestion at take-off and landing and to salt contamination from aerosols whose density depends on the height over the sea surface.

The fuselage of the Orlyonok is of beam-and-stringer construction; it is divided into three sections – forward, centre and aft. The centre fuselage accommodates the cargo hold accessed by swinging the hinged forward fuselage 92° to starboard. The hinged part of the fuselage houses the flight deck, the booster engines and a radar in a ‘thimble’ radome. The aft fuselage houses a compartment for auxiliary power units and accessories required for starting the main engines and operating the vehicle’s electrical and hydraulic systems. Placed dorsally on the hull are a turret with twin cannons, the antenna of a navigation radar, direction finder aerials, communication and navigation equipment aerials. To reduce shock loads in the take-off and landing mode the designers introduced hydroskis shaped as simple deflectable panels. The craft is equipped with a wheeled undercarriage intended for beaching the machine and rolling it along paved taxiways on the shore.

The low-set wings of trapezoidal planform comprising an integral centre section and outer wing panels of torsion-box construction are fitted with flaperons. The lower surface of the wings along the leading edge, closer to the wing tips, incorporates special hinged panels which are deflected 70° during takeoff. The wingtips carry floats doubling as endplates. The wing high-lift devices are used for creating an air cushion which lifts the vehicle out of the water. During take-off the efflux of the jet engines is directed under the wings; the pilot lowers the flaps and leading-edge panels, thus barring the way for the gas tending to escape fore and aft. The increased gas pressure under the wings lifts the machine out of the water. The main part of the wings, with the exception of the flaps and leading-edge panels, is manufactured watertight. The wing is divided into 14 watertight bays, two of which are used for fuel.

The sharply swept T-tail comprises a fin/rudder assembly and large-span stabilisers with elevators.

Here are some basic characteristics and performance figures: the machine measures 58.1 m (190 ft 7 in) in length and 31.5 m (103 ft 4 in) in wing span, the width and height of the hull being 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in) and 5.2 m (17 ft) respectively; it has an all-up weight of 125,000 kg (275,600 Ib) and an empty weight of 100,000 kg (220,500 Ib). The Orlyonok’s maximum speed is 400 km/h (249 mph), the cruising speed being 360 km/h (224 mph). The height of flight over the supporting surface can vary from 0.5 m to 5 m (1 ft 8 in to 16 ft), the optimum height being 2 m (6 ft).

To relieve the crew workload in flight, provision is made for automatic stabilisation of the altitude (by deflecting the flaps), the pitch angle (by deflecting the elevators), the heading (by deflecting the rudder) and the bank angle (by deflecting the ailerons). In addition to the first prototype which crashed in 1975, an initial batch of three Orlyonoks was manufactured; they were adopted for squadron service by the Navy and underwent evaluation from 1979 onwards. Each of the three examples had its own factory designation; these three Project 904 machines were designated 8-21, 8-25 and 8-26 (as can be seen on photos, the machines were serialled 21 White, 25 White and 26 White for the greater part of their service career). In the Navy they were known as the MDE-150, MDE-155 and MDE-160 respectively (MDE presumably means morskoy desahnfnyy ekranoplahn – seagoing transport and assault WIG vehicle). They were taken on charge by the Navy on 3rd November 1979, 27th October 1981 and 30th December 1981 respectively. The Naval Command presumed that the WIG vehicles would demonstrate high effectiveness (considerable speed and ensuing capability for surprise actions, capability for overcoming anti-assault obstacles and minefields) and would ensure the seizure of bridgeheads at a coastline defended by the enemy. There were plans in hand for manufacturing 11 Orlyonok (Project 904) machines during the 12th and 13th five-year plan periods (1981-1990), to be followed by the construction of transport and assault WIG craft of a new type (with a new project number) possessing greater cargo carrying capacity. Preparations were made for establishing a WIG vehicle-operating unit in the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. However, for several reasons these plans did not come to fruition. The Orlyonok WIG craft were doomed never to leave the Caspian Sea.

Initially they were operated by the specially established 236th Squadron of WIG vehicles within the brigade of transport and assault ships of the Red Banner Caspian Flotilla. Later an idea cropped up of transferring the WIG vehicles under the authority of headquarters of the Naval Aviation, but these plans met with much opposition on the part of the latter. An end to these disputes was formally put by Order No. 0256 issued by the Minister of Defence on 12th November 1986 under the terms of which ekranoplans became part of the aviation element of the Navy’s Fleets. The document prescribed that WIG vehicles, as well as aircraft and helicopters, must be regarded as a class of the Naval Aviation’s weaponry. In accordance with directive No. DF-035 dated 21st April 1987 the WIG craft operating unit, renamed 11th Air Group, was formally placed under the command of the Black Sea Fleet, albeit it retained its former base on the Caspian Sea the town of Kaspiysk.

The incorporation of the WIG vehicles into the normal activities of the armed forces was not trouble-free and was not pursued all too vigorously. Much time was spent on repairs and modernisation (albeit the machines were almost brand-new!). There were difficulties with crew training. By 1983 four crew captains had received sufficient training; all of them had previously flown the Beriyev Be-12 Chaika ASW amphibian. Up to 1984 crew training was undertaken in accordance with the ‘Temporary course for training the crews of ekranaplan ships’ prepared by the combat training section of the Navy. Later the manual was reworked with participation of the combat training section of the Naval Aviation.

In 1983 GNII-8 VVS (State Research Institute NO. 8 of the Air Force) joined in the test-pulled up a second time and impacted again, sustaining severe damage. Of the ten crew on board nine persons survived, albeit with injuries, and were eventually rescued. The tenth crew member – a flight engineer – was killed. The crippled Orlyonok drifted 110 km (60 nm) and was eventually blown up – the Russian Navy could not afford the price asked for its retrieval by salvage companies. It was presumed that the crash had been caused by a failure of the automatic stability system, although pilot error is also cited.

After this the remaining WIG complement of the Navy came to include two Project 904 machines (Orlyonok) and one Project 903 craft (Loon’). Quite clearly, for many they were a thorn in their flesh. Gradually, the ekranoplans began to sink into oblivion – there were many other things to think of. The vehicles gradually fell into disrepair to the point of no longer being airworthy. Finally, in 1998 the command of the Russian Navy issued an order requiring the Orlyonok WIG vehicles to be written off on account of their alleged unsuitability for repairs and refurbishment. The Orlyonok served as a basis for several versions intended for civil applications.


In the late 1980s the work of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau on WIG vehicles intended for military application led to the creation of a unique machine – a missile strike ekranoplan. Bearing the manufacturer’s designation ‘Project 903′, it was subsequently named Loon’, which means ‘hen-harrier’ (according to some sources, it was initially named Ootka – ‘duck’, but this sounded totally unwarlike and could also be interpreted as ‘canard’, ie, something bogus). This machine with an all-up weight of 380 t (838,000 Ib), a hull length of 73 m (240 ft) and a wing span of 45 m (148 ft) was launched in 1987. Its design was based on the layout which had already been tried and tested on such vehicles as the KM and the Orlyonok, that is to say, the ‘aircraft’ layout – that of a monoplane with wings of trapezoidal planform and aT-tail.

The Loon’, however, differed a lot from its predecessors – the entire powerplant comprising eight 13,000-kgp (28,660-lb st) Kuznetsov NK-87 turbofans was located on the forward fuselage. Thus, the engines served both as booster (blower) engines and cruise engines. This was apparently associated with another special feature of the machine – the placement of its offensive armament. Mounted dorsally on the fuselage were six launch containers for 3M80 Moskit (Mosquito) supersonic anti-shipping missiles (NATO code name SS-N-22) developed under the guidance of Aleksandr Va. Berezniak. During the launch of these missiles there was a risk of the combustion products being ingested by engines previously placed high on the tail unit, which could cause the engines to flame out. Transferring all the engines into the forward fuselage eliminated this danger.

As distinct from the low-wing Orlyonok, the Loon’ had mid-set wings; otherwise, they were similar to those of its predecessor and were of multi-spar metal construction which was made watertight. Placed on the bottom of the hull was a hydroski device intended to cushion the impact when alighting on water.

The Loon’ was equipped with a radar for air and surface targets detection and with a navigation radar, as well as with an ECM suite. The defensive armament consisted of two gunner’s stations borrowed directly from the II’yushin IL-76M military transport, each with a UKU-9K-502 turret mounting two 23-mm (.90 calibre) Gryazev/Shipoonov GSh-23 double-barrelled cannons.

The machine’s performance included a maximum speed of 500 km/h (310 mph), a cruising altitude of 5 m (15 ft) and a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles). It had an endurance of 5 days when afloat. The vehicle had a crew of 15.

Armed with Moskit anti-shipping missiles, the WIG vehicle flying at ultra-low level at a speed of 350-400 km/h (218-249 mph) could deal a devastating blow to the potential enemy’s naval units and leave the scene unimpeded. According to Russian press reports, ‘the Project 903 ekranoplan No. 5-31 underwent operational testing in 1990-1991′. In the course of this trial operation live missile launches were made from the onboard launch tubes, as testified by available photos. The machine met the design requirements, but it was ill-fated. Initially, in line with the provisions of directive No. 252-73 issued by the Communist Party Central Committee and the Soviet Council of Ministers on 26th March 1980, the programme of warship construction envisaged the completion of four Project 903 machines in the 12th and 13th five-year plan periods (1981-1990); later the planned figures were increased. Plans were in hand for the construction of six Project 903 WIG vehicles up to 1995 and another four machines of this type before 2000, However, in the late 1980s there came a change of heart towards the WIG vehicles in the command of the Navy. In 1989 it was decided to limit the construction of the attack WIG machines to just one example. A decision was taken to convert the second example of the Loon’, then under construction, into a SAR vehicle.

As for the sole example of the Loon’ combat ekranoplan, it was withdrawn from service and is stored in Kaspiysk. According to one document, ‘in order to preserve the missile-armed ekranoplan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy took a decision providing for its preservation at the territory of the 11th Air Group and for transforming it into an air base (for storage of the ekranoplan), with one crew complement to be retained at the base’.

Flight Lt. Nicholas Cooke, Cpl. Albert Lippett

“Lanky” Cooke (2nd from left), Phil Hunter DSO (3rd left) standing, with No. 264 Squadron

At 14.45hr on 29 May 1940 Sqn Ldr Hunter took off with eleven other Defiants and headed for the Dunkirk pocket. They were flying at about 6,000ft (1 ,800m) with three Hurricane squadrons- 56, 151 and 213 – flying above them. As they approached Dunkirk they were most aware of the great column of smoke rising from the harbour, and the many ships in the Channel below them. The Hurricanes began to engage some Bf 110s escorting some Ju 87s.

Six Bf 109s dived on the Defiants, coming out of the sun in the classic fighter tactic. Hunter saw them coming, but for the time being kept his four Vics of three flying in line astern. As the first Bf 109 came within 300yd, Hunter’s gunner, LAC King, opened fire, and it soon burst into flames. As the other Bf 109s shot overhead, Pit Off Welch’s gunner, LAC Hayden, hit one and it fell away out of control. The crews of Plt Off Young/LAC Johnson and Fit Lt Cooke/Cpl Lippett each also sent Bf 109s down in flames, the latter shot down right off the tail of another Defiant – probably that of Plt Off Kay/LAC Jones. His Defiant (L6957) was badly hit in the attack, the hydraulics being damaged and the starboard aileron and turret hit; and LAC Jones must have been under the impression that the aircraft was lost, because he baled out. Kay, however, was in fact able to return to Manston and land successfully. Jones’ body was later washed up on a French beach.

Eric Barwell’s gunner Plt Off Williams also fired on a Bf 109 attacking Kay’s Defiant, and saw it going down in flames; this was probably the same aircraft claimed by Young’s gunner. Although the squadron believed it had shot down five of the six attacking Bf 109s, it seems likely that the true score was four or even fewer. It was an inherent problem with the Defiant that different gunners could be firing at the same target from different directions, and all claimed it destroyed when it fell. Hunter now saw a Heinkel He III approaching Dunkirk and turned to attack it – but then he saw an even juicier target, a formation of Ju 87s. Sergeant Thorn/LAC Barker saw an isolated Ju 87 and broke away to attack: the Stuka did not see them coming, and was shot down with a burst of fire. Thorn rejoined the squadron as they turned to attack the main force of Ju 87s, but the dive bombers’ escort of Bf 110s dived on the Defiants. Hunter ordered the squadron into a line astern spiral dive, and as the German twin-engined fighters attacked, they were always faced with accurate fire from the Defiants’ turrets. Six of the Defiant crews claimed the destruction of a Bf 110, PIt Off Stokes and his gunner claiming two. More Bf 109s joined in the frantic battle, and three more of these were also claimed.

Hunter led his men back to Manston, where they landed cock-a-hoop, though their elation was inevitably modified by the news that the thirty-one-year-old Canadian gunner, LAC Jones, was missing. They claimed a total of seventeen fighters shot down, plus the odd Stuka. Refuelled and re-armed, they took off for a second patrol at 18.55hr, Plt Off Kay in a replacement aircraft, L696I, and with a new gunner, LAC Cox.

Once more they had Hurricane squadrons flying above them, and this time the Hurricanes kept the Bf 109s off their backs. Hunter saw large numbers of Ju 87s approaching the beaches from all directions, and wisely did not try to follow them down in their bombing dives, but went to low level to wait for them to pull out. The Defiants then eagerly closed in on the slower Stukas, pouring accurate fire into one aircraft after another, and sending them crashing into the sea. Ten of the crews were able to claim Ju 87s destroyed, four of them two Ju 87s, and Flt Lt Cooke and his gunner an incredible five. It was a massacre, the slow Ju 87s almost sitting ducks at low level, and the Defiants able to take up position on each in turn, slightly below so that their gunners could shoot them down at will.

With the Stukas shot from the skies, the Defiants closed on some Ju 88s, sending one down in flames with their combined fire, and damaging another. They turned for home nearly out of ammunition, and landed having experienced an incredible day’s fighting. They claimed thirty-seven German aircraft shot down, and three more probables, the only loss being of one gunner, and Sgt Thorn’s Defiant that over- shot while landing at Manston with leaking fuel tanks and only one wheel. Flt Lt Nicholas Cooke/Cpl Albert Lippett had claimed an incredible eight victories in one afternoon: three Bf 109s and five Ju 87s.

It was the best day a British fighter squadron has ever had, and many myths have grown around it. Wg Cdr Harry Broadhurst, the station commander at Wittering, but who happened to be at Manston when they landed, was the first to suggest that the Germans had mistaken them for Hurricanes, and therefore attacked from the rear. This ignores the fact that more than half the victories claimed that day were bombers, and it was the Defiants doing the attacking. It also ignores the fact that when they were attacked by fighters in the first sortie, the squadron adopted its proven defensive tactic, a spiral dive, and it did not matter which direction the Germans came from, they faced accurate, defensive fire.

Of course, as already seen, there is little doubt that No. 264 Squadron unintentionally over-claimed. More than one gunner claimed the same aircraft destroyed, though without realizing it, and many of the German aircraft were not actually destroyed. Over-claiming is a feature of all air fighting. Nevertheless, it was clear that the Defiant had had a good day, and back at the Boulton Paul factory, newspaper accounts of the day were soon pinned on notice boards with the words ‘Our work’ scrawled across them. Nicholas Cooke, who had claimed eight aircraft and a share in the Ju 88, that day told one newspaper reporter: ‘It was like knocking apples off a tree.’

By 20.22hr on 29 May 1940, No. 264 squadron had claimed eight Bf 109s, seven Bf 110s, one Ju 88 and twenty-one Ju 87s shot down, for the loss of one gunner killed, and one aircraft crash-landed back at Manston. Their reward was a host of publicity photographs, and by the end of May a clutch of medals. Sqn Ldr Hunter received the DSO, and there was also a DFC for Flt Lt Nicholas Cooke, who, with his gunner Cpl Lippett, had shot down eight aircraft in one day; there were also four DFMs for non-commissioned members of the squadron, Corporal Lippett, Sgt E. R. Thorn, LAC FJ. Barker, and LAC FH. King.

Final Sorties

On 31 May the Defiants were back in action, taking off at 14.00hr and crossing the French coast at 10,000ft (3,000m) around 14.20hr. With the Hurricanes of 213 Squadron at 15,000ft, and the Spitfires of 609 Squadron above them at 20,000ft (6,000m), Hunter saw a large formation of around seventy Bf 109s at altitude, and about twenty Heinkel He IIIs approaching from the south-east. He turned towards the bombers, but they jettisoned their bombs and scattered.

Hunter saw the Bf 109s coming down out of the sun, and called the squadron into a defensive circle. His gunner, LAC King, gave one Bf 109 a burst, and it spun away towards the sea; soon after, PIt Off Young’s gunner, LAC Johnson, opened Fire on one of the attackers, and it, too, fell away – Young saw just one parachute emerge From the stricken aircraft. But then disaster truck: Johnson yelled that there was another Defiant almost on top of them, and with that, PIt OFF Whitley’s aircraft crashed into them, and Young’s Defiant disintegrated. The other crews watched in horror as piece of the aircraft fluttered down towards the sea – and again, only one parachute opened. Whitley’s aircraft was badly damaged, but he was able to nurse it down and crash-land near Dunkirk. Whitley and Turner salvaged their Four guns and then set the Defiant on fire before making their escape; they Found their own way back across the Channel.

The attacking Messerschmitts had also shot down PIt Off Hickman’s Defiant, but he and his gunner, LAC Fidler, were able to parachute to safety. As Hunter maintained the defensive circle with the nine surviving aircraft, he counted eight parachute in the air below them, as well as the plummetting remains of Young’s Defiant. Plt Off Barwell, who was leading Green Section, had watched a LAC Fidler had shot down one of their attackers, and had then seen their Defiant fall with smoke and fuel pouring from it. Suddenly Barwell’s own gunner, Plt Off Williams, shout- ed a warning that a Fighter was right on them, and tracers flashed around their aircraft. Barwell pulled the Defiant in a tight turn to the right as Williams hit the BF 109, which fell away in flames.

No. 264 squadron claimed Four BF 109s shot down and another damaged for the loss of three Defiant, two of them in the collision. Only LAC Johnson did not return. Yet again they had proved they were capable of defending themselves against superior numbers of single-seat Fighters. At 18.40hr they took off for a second patrol, this time at 27,000ft (8,230m), with the Hurricane of No. 111 Squadron behind them and the Spitfires of 609 Squadron at 30,000ft (9,144m). Over Dunkirk they saw a Formation of Heinkel He IIIs 2,000ft (610m) below them, and the Defiants and Spitfires dived to the attack.

In a classic turret-Fighter Formation attack, Four Defiant gunner all opened Fire in a devastating assault on one of the bombers, which Fell away into the sea. The Defiant then began individual attacks on the Heinkels, and both Sqn Ldr Hunter’s and Plt Off Hackwood’s gunner sent their targets down in flame. Another Heinkel flew right above Eric Barwell’s Defiant, and his gunner Fired straight up into its cockpit and centre fuselage: the enemy bomber Fell to the sea, just two of its crew escaping to parachute down.

Barwell and Williams then attacked another bomber, but return Fire hit the Defiant’s glycol tank, and Barwell had to turn for home, nursing his rapidly overheating engine. As he slowly lost height it became clear he would not reach the English coast, and so he asked his gunner, PIt Off Williams, if he preferred to bale out or ditch. Despite the fact that ‘Bruce’ Williams had been a stunt man before the war and had made several hundred parachute jumps at air shows, he would not state his preference. Barwell chose to ditch between two destroyers, going in opposite directions. Against standard procedure, Barwell undid his straps and sat on the seat back, operating the aircraft with only the control column. Williams sat on the fuselage with only his legs inside the turret. As the engine topped completely Barwell tailed the aircraft onto the water. Both he and Williams were thrown clear, but his gunner was knocked unconscious; however, Barwell supported him until they were picked up by a boat from one of the destroyers. Imagine their delight to meet Plt Off Young on this vessel: he had managed to get clear of his aircraft when it broke up during the earlier sortie.

Pilot Officer Stokes’ Defiant had also been hit by the Heinkel’ defensive fire, and his gunner LAC Fairbrother was wounded. Stokes ordered him to bale out, but then managed to nurse the crippled Defiant back to Manston, and made a successful crash-landing. A crew who did not return were the squadron’s top scorers, Fit Lt Nicholas Cooke and Cpl Albert Lippet, who had claimed ten German aircraft destroyed up to that point.

Avro Lancaster Part I

No one would dispute the statement that the Avro 683 Lancaster was the finest British heavy bomber of World War II. A few would even argue that it was the finest heavy bomber serving on any side during the conflict, and it is therefore strange to recall that it had its genesis in the unsuccessful twin-engined Avro 679 Manchester.

However, it is not entirely true to say that the Lancaster was virtually a four-engined Manchester; a four-engined installation in the basic airframe had been proposed before Manchester deliveries to the RAF began. But the prototype Lancaster was, in fact, a converted Manchester airframe with an enlarged wing centre section and four 1,145 hp (854 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin Xs. This prototype initially retained the Manchester’s triple tail assembly but was later modified to the twin fin and rudder assembly which became standard on production Lancasters.

The BT308 prototype flew on 9 January 1941 and later that month went to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, to begin intensive flying trials. The second prototype DG595, with some modifications and Merlin XX engines rated at 1,280 hp (955 kW) for take-off , flew on 13 May 1941. In September of the same year the first prototype and several Manchester pilots were transferred to No.44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at Waddington for crew training and evaluation. The first three production aircraft were not delivered to the unit until Christmas Eve with another four aircraft arriving on December 28. No. 97 Squadron was the next unit to get the Lancaster in January 1942 followed by No. 207 Squadron in March 1942. The new bomber was an immediate success, and large production orders were placed. Such was the speed of development in wartime that the first production Lancaster was flown in October 1941, a number of partially completed Manchester airframes being converted on the line to emerge as Lancaster Is (from 1942 redesignated Lancaster B.Mk Is).

Avro’s first contract was for 1,070 Lancasters, but others soon followed, and when it became obvious that the parent company’s Chadderton and Yeadon production facilities would be unable to cope with the demand, other companies took on the task of building complete aircraft. They included Armstrong Whitworth at Coventry, Austin Motors at Birmingham, Metropolitan Vickers at Manchester and Vickers Armstrong at Chester and Castle Bromwich. Additionally, a large number of sub-contractors were involved in various parts of the country.

Lancasters soon began to replace Manchesters, and such was the impetus of production that a shortage of Merlin engines was threatened. This was countered by licence-production by Packard in the USA of the Merlin engine not only for Lancasters but also for other types.

An additional insurance was effected in another way, by the use of Bristol Hercules VI or XVI 14-cylinder sleeve-valve radial engines driving Rotal airscrews which in contrast to the Merlin airscrews, rotated counter-clockwise. Both engines were rated at 1,615 hp (1205 kW) for take-off. In this form, known as the Lancaster B.Mk II, prototype BT310 was flown on 26 November 1941 and results were sufficiently encouraging to warrant this version going into production by Armstrong Whitworth at Coventry. Delays were caused by the Ministry of Aircraft Production’s insistence on maintaining construction of Whitley bombers, but in May 1942 the changeover to Lancaster B.II production began, only to be halted for four months as a result of air-raid damage.

The first two Hercules-powered Lancasters were completed in September 1942 and went to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment, where they were later joined by the third. Other Mk lIs from this first production batch were delivered to No. 61 Squadron at Syerston, Nottingham, the service trials unit for this version and a former Lancaster B.Mk I squadron. Early use of the Lancaster B.Mk II by No. 61 Squadron was plagued with minor problems, but during its six months of operations the squadron did not lose a single B.Mk II aircraft and in February 1943 was able to hand over the full complement of nine aircraft to No. 115 Squadron at East Wretham, a Wellington unit in No.3 Group.

Gradually Lancaster B.Mk IIs began to re-equip other squadrons, but the B.Mk II was never to achieve the success of the Merlin-engined Lancasters. It could not attain so high an altitude, was slightly slower, and had a bomb load 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) less than the other marks. Production ceased after 301 had been built, and the Armstrong Whitworth factory changed over to Lancaster B.Mk ls. It has been said that the phasing out of the Lancaster B.Mk II was in order to effect standardization, for the Handley Page Halifax B.III with Hercules engines was able to offer equal if not better possibilities, and with Lancaster B.Mk Is, Short Stirling’s and Halifax’s all in service, variations in spares requirements needed to be cut as much as possible.

The final Lancaster B.Mk II operation was flown by No. 514 Squadron on 23 September 1944, but a few continued in service for a short while into the postwar era, mainly as test-beds, until the last survivor was scrapped in 1950. Although overshadowed by its Merlin-engined contemporaries, the Lancaster B.Mk II did not disgrace itself and achieved on average more than 150 flying hours per aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Merlin Lancasters were going from strength to strength. The prototype’s engines gave way to 1,280 hp (954 kW) Merlin XXs and XXlIs, or 1,620 hp (1209 kW) for take-off Merlin XXIVs in production aircraft. Early thoughts of fitting a ventral turret were soon discarded, and the Lancaster B.Mk I had three Frazer-Nash hydraulically operated turrets with eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine-guns: two each in the nose and mid-upper dorsal positions and four in the tail turret. The bomb-bay, designed originally to carry 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) of bombs, was enlarged progressively to carry bigger and bigger bombs: up to 8,000 and 12,000 lbs (3629 and 5443 kg) and eventually to the enormous 22,000 lbs (9979 kg) ‘Grand Slam’, the heaviest bomb carried by any aircraft in World War II.

Production of the Lancaster was a comparatively simple affair considering its size. It had been designed for ease of construction and this undoubtedly contributed to the high rate of production. Lancasters were built to the total of 7,377 all marks. As mentioned earlier, No. 44 Squadron was the first to receive a Lancaster when the prototype arrived for trials and this squadron was also the first to be fully equipped with Lancasters, notching up another ‘first’ when it used the type operationally on 3 March 1942 to lay mines in “Operation Gardening” against Heligoland Bight on the German coast.

The Lancaster’s existence was not revealed to the public until 17 April of that year, when 12 aircraft from Nos. 44 and 97 Squadrons carried out an unescorted daylight raid on Augsburg, near Munich. Flown at low level, the raid inflicted considerable damage on the MAN factory producing U-boat diesel engines, but the cost was high, seven aircraft being lost. Squadron Leaders Nettleton and Sherwood each received the Victoria Cross, the latter posthumously, for leading the operation which perhaps confirmed to the Air Staff that unescorted daylight raids by heavy bombers were not a practicable proposition and it was to be more than two years before the US Army Air Force was to resume such attacks.

As Packard-built Merlins became available, so the Lancaster B.Mk III appeared with these engines, although the B.Mk I remained in production alongside the Packard-engined B.Mk III. Externally the B.Mk III was distinguishable by an enlarged bomb aimer’s ‘bubble’ in the nose but there were few other differences other than in minor equipment changes.

To swell the UK production lines, Victory Aircraft in Canada was chosen in 1942 to build Lancasters, and these were known as B.Mk Xs. Powered by Packard-built Merlins, the Canadian Lancasters were delivered by air across the Atlantic and had their armament fitted on arrival in the UK. The first B.Mk X was handed over on 6 August 1943, and 430 were built before production was completed.

Mention must be made of the Lancaster B.Mk VI, production of which was proposed using Merlin 85 or 87 engines, of 1,635 hp (1219 kW). Nine airframes were converted by Rolls Royce for comparative tests. No. 635 Squadron used several operationally on pathfinder work with nose and dorsal turrets removed. and fitted with improved H2S radar bombing aid and early electronic countermeasure equipment, but although performance was superior to the earlier marks no production aircraft were built.

It would be true to say that development of the Lancaster went hand-in-hand with development of bombs. The early Lancasters carried their bomb loads in normal flush-fitting bomb bays, but as bombs got larger it became necessary, in order to be able to close the bomb doors, to make the bays deeper so that they protruded slightly below the fuselage line. Eventually, with other developments, the bomb doors were omitted altogether for certain specialist types of bomb.

In this connection the most drastic changes suffered by the Lancaster were made to enable Dr Barnes Wallis’s ‘bouncing bombs’ to be carried to the Ruhr by No. 617 Squadron in its attacks on the Mohne, Ederand Sorpe dams, probably the best known raid made by either side in the European theatre during World War II. For this operation, the Lancaster B.Mk IIIs had their bomb doors and front turrets removed and spotlights fitted beneath the wings arranged in such a way that the beams merged at exactly 60 feet (18.3 m) below the aircraft, the altitude from which the bombs had to be dropped if they were to be effective. Nineteen Lancasters took part in the attack on the night of 17 May 1943, the attackers breaching the Mohne and Eder dams for the loss of eight aircraft.

The German battleship Tirpitz was attacked on several occasions by Lancasters until, on 12 November 1944, a combined force from Nos. 9 and 617 Squadrons found the battleship in Tromso Fjord, Norway, and sank her with the 12,000 lbs (5443 kg) ‘Tallboy’ bombs, also designed by Barnes Wallis. The ultimate in conventional high explosive bombs was reached with the 22,000 lbs (9979 kg) ‘Grand Slam’, a weapon designed to penetrate concrete and explode some distance beneath the surface, so creating an earthquake effect. No. 617 Squadron first used the ‘Grand Slam’ operationally against the Bielefeld Viaduct on 14 March 1945, causing considerable destruction amongst its spans.

Final production version of the Lancaster was the B.Mk VII, which had an American Martin dorsal turret with two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine-guns in place of the normal Frazer-Nash turret. The new turret was also located further forward.

In spite of the other variants built from time to time, the Lancaster B.Mk I (B.Mk 1 from 1945) remained in production throughout the war, and the last was delivered by Armstrong Whitworth on 2 February 1946. Production had encompassed two Mk I prototypes, 3,425 Mk Is, 301 Mk lIs, 3,039 Mk Ills, 180 Mk VIIs and 430 Mk Xs, a total of 7,377 aircraft. These were built by Avro (3,673), Armstrong Whitworth (1,329), Austin Motors (330), Metropolitan Vickers (1,080), Vickers Armstrong (535) and Victory Aircraft (430). Some conversions between different mark numbers took place.

Statistics show that at least 59 Bomber Command squadrons operated Lancasters, which flew more than 156,000 sorties and dropped, in addition to 608,612 tons (618380 tonnes) of high explosive bombs, more than 51 million incendiaries. As the war in Europe was drawing to its close, plans were being made to modify Lancasters for operation in the Far East as part of Bomber Command’s contribution to ‘Tiger Force’, but Japan surrendered before this could take place. A number of Lancasters were used to bring home prisoners of war from Europe, and various aircraft were modified for test flying in the UK and other European countries. Some were supplied to the French navy and others were converted for temporary use as civil transports, with faired in nose and tail areas, under the name Lancastrian. The Avro York transport used Lancaster wings and engines, plus a central fin in addition to the twin endplate fins.

A few Lancasters still survive, notably one airworthy example with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and another used by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Canada.

Avro Lancaster Part II

Specifications (Avro 683 Lancaster B.Mk I & III)

Type: Seven or Eight Seat Heavy Bomber

Accommodation/Crew: A crew of seven consisting of the Pilot, Flight Engineer, Observer/Nose Gunner/Bomb-aimer, Navigator, Radio/Wireless Operator, Mid-Upper Gunner, and Tail Gunner. The Bomb-aimer was in the nose position below the front turret. Above and behind and to the port is the Pilot’s position in a raised canopy with good all-round vision and armour plating on the back of the seat and armour protection behind his head. Inside the canopy immediately aft of the pilot’s seat is the Fighting Controller’s position and is provided with special bullet-proof glass. Slightly aft of this position is the Navigator’s position, with table, chart stowage and astral done in the roof. At the rear end of the navigator’s table and just forward of the front spar is the Radio Operator’s station. Within the centre-section is a restroom with a bed. Aft of the rear spar is the mid-upper and mid-lower turrets, together with various equipment stowage for flares, emergency rations, etc. A dinghy is carried in the centre-section trailing-edge portion of the wing and is automatically deployed and inflated upon impact with water. It can also be operated by hand. In the extreme tail is the rear turret. A walkway is provided along the entire length of the fuselage and the main entrance door is situated on the starboard side just forward of the tailplane.

Design: Chief Designer Roy Chadwick and Managing Director Roy Dobson of A. V. Roe Aircraft Company Limited based on the Avro 679 Manchester design.

Manufacturer: Alexander V. Roe (Avro) Aircraft Company Limited based in Greengate, Middleton (Chadderton), Manchester with another production facility located at Yeadon. Prior to 1938, the main plant was located in Newton Heath, but in the spring of 1939 the company moved its main office to the new, much larger facility in Greengate. In order to further expand production capability, Metropolitan Vickers Limited of Trafford Park (Manchester), Armstrong Whitworth Limited of Baginton and Bitteswell (Coventry), Austin Motors of Longbridge (Birmingham), Vickers Armstrong of Chester and Castle Bromwich and Victory Aircraft of Canada (Malton, Ontario) also built the aircraft. A large number of sub-contractors were also involved in component manufacture.

Powerplant: (B.Mk I) Initially four Rolls-Royce Merlin XX or 22 Vee 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines each rated at 1,280 hp (955 kW) for take-off and 1,240 hp (925 kW) at 2,850 rpm at 10,000 ft (3050 m) with a maximum power rating of 1,480 hp (1104 kW) at 3,000 rpm at 6,000 ft (1830 m). Late production B.Mk I aircraft being equipped with four Rolls-Royce Merlin 24 Vee 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines rated at 1,620 hp (1209 kW) for take-off and 1,240 hp (925 kW) at 2,850 rpm at 10,000 ft (3050 m) with a maximum power rating of 1,640 hp (1223 kW) at 3,000 rpm at 2,000 ft (610 m). (B.Mk II) Four Bristol Hercules VI 14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial engines rated at 1,615 hp (1205 kW) for take-off and 1,675 hp (1250 kW) at 2,900 rpm at 4,500 ft (1370 m) with a maximum power rating of 1,675 hp (1250 kW) at 2,900 rpm at 4,500 ft (1450 m). The radial engined Lancasters had a higher top speed but also had a higher fuel consumption. (B.Mk III) Four American-built Packard Merlin 28 Vee 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines each rated at 1,300 hp (970 kW) for take-off, or four American-built Packard Merlin 38 (Merlin 22) Vee 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines each rated at 1,390 hp (1037 kW) for take-off. Some later B.Mk III aircraft had the American-built Packard Merlin 224 (Merlin 24) Vee 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engines each rated at 1,620 hp (1209 kW) for take-off. All Merlin engines used a mechanically driven, two-speed, single stage, centrifugal supercharger. Note: Rolls-Royce engine marks up to XX (twenty) are distinguished by Roman numbers, while marks above that were distinguished by Arabic numericals.

Propellers: Hamilton-Standard or Rotol propellers. In later aircraft paddle-bladed Nash-Kelvinator propellers were used increasing the cruising speed by 8 mph (12.9 km/h) and the service ceiling by 1,500 ft (457 m). The airscrew shaft was a SBAC No. 5 type with a reduction gear ratio of 0.42:1.

Performance: (Early B.Mk I) Maximum speed 275 mph (443 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4572 m). (Late B.Mk I) Maximum speed 287 mph (462 km/h) at 11,500 ft (3505 m), 275 mph (443 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4572 m), 260 mph (419 km/h) at 19,400 ft (5913 m); cruising speed 234 mph (377 km/h) at 21,000 ft (6401 m), 200 mph (322 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4572 m); stalling speed (clean) 95 mph (153 km/h) at 60,000 lbs (27211 kg); normal service ceiling 23,000 ft (7010 m), nominal service ceiling 24,500 ft (7468 m); absolute service ceiling 24,671 ft (7500 m); climb to 20,000 ft (6096 m) in 41 minutes and 40 seconds; initial rate of climb 250 ft (76 m) per minute with full bombload. In a hard dive the prototype aircraft achieved speeds reaching almost 400 mph (644 km/h) with production aircraft (operational loadout) being limited to 360 mph (578 km/h).

Carburetion (Merlin): SU float carburettor, type AVT 40 / 241 / 216 / 224 / 227. American built Packard Merlins had the Bendix Stromberg pressure-injected type.

Ignition (Merlin): Two BTH C.5 SE12-S or Rotax NSE12-4 magnetos.

Fuel Capacity / Specification: A total of six fuel tanks consisting of two 580 Imperial gallon (703 US gallon or 2637 litre) inboard tanks, two 383 Imperial gallon (464 US gallon or 1740 litre) intermediate tanks and two 114 Imperial gallon (138 US gallon or 518 litre) outboard tanks giving the aircraft a total fuel capacity of 2,154 Imperial gallons (2,610.6 US gallons or 9790 litres). Provisions for one or two overload fuel tanks of 400 Imperial gallons (485 US gallons or 1818 litres) each could be carried in the bomb bay. Fuel specification 100 / 130 Grade DED 2475 (AN-F-28).

Coolant Capacity / Specification: 5 Imperial gallons (6 US gallons or 22.7 litres) per engine made up of 70 percent water + 30 percent ethylene glycol to specification DTD 344 A.

Oil Capacity / Specification: Each engine had its own oil tank in the nacelle with a capacity of 37.5 Imperial gallons (45.4 US gallons or 170.25 litres) for a total of 150 Imperial gallons (181.6 US gallons or 681 litres). Oil specification DED 2472 / B / O.

Range (typical): 2,530 miles (4072 km) with a bombload of 7,000 lbs (1795 kg); 1,730 miles (2786 km) with a bombload of 12,000 lbs (5442 km); 1,550 miles with a bombload of 22,000 lbs (9977 kg).

Weights & Loadings: Empty (clean) 39,600 lbs (16740 kg), empty (equipped) 53,300 lbs (24040 kg) with a maximum take-off weight of 65,000 lbs (29480 kg). The B.Mk I Special had a maximum take-off weight of 70,000 lbs (31751 kg) while carrying a 22,000 lbs (9980 kg) Grand Slam bomb. Wing loading 52.7 lbs/sq ft (258 kg/sq m); power loading 13.3 lbs/hp (6.35 kg/hp).

Dimensions: Span 102 ft 0 in (31.09 m); length 69 ft 6 in (21.18 m); height 20 ft 6 in (6.25 m); wing area 1,297.0 sq ft (120.49 sq m); tailplane area: 237.0 sq.ft (22.0 sq m); tail fin and rudder area: 111.40 sq ft (10.35 sq m); aileron span 17 ft 3 in (5.3 m).

Gunsights: The main gunsight used in Lancaster turrets was the Barr & Stroud G Mk Ill reflector sight. In use the screen was mounted at a 45 degree angle showed an illuminated orange circle with a central dot, both focused at infinity. A brightness control adjusted it according to conditions; bright in sunlight, dim at night. The radius of the circle was approximately equal to the wingspan of a single-engined fighter at a range of 1,200 ft (365 m), while the radius of the circle gave the deflection (the amount of aiming ahead) needed to hit a target with a relative crossing speed of 50 mph (80 km/h). In 1944, the Mk llc gyroscopic sight entered service as a turret sight. This could actually predict the point of aim, if the approaching fighter could be tracked for a short while, and its wingspan set on a dial.

Defensive Armament: A total of ten 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning machine-guns in a nose, mid-upper, tail and ventral position. The ventral position was soon deleted on most RAF Lancasters as it was thought unnecessary and took the same position as the H2S radome. Where possible, and unofficially, many crews installed a single 7.7 mm (0.303 in) or 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Browning machine-gun on aircraft lacking the ventral turret in order to deal with the ever increasing ‘behind and below’ attacks of German night fighters using Schräge Musik, which interesting, did not use tracer ammunition. These were hastily installed configurations usually consisting of the gunner sitting on a bicycle type seat with the ammunition box being bolted to the floor and the gun mounted in a hole cut into the floor. The British would eventually re-introduce the F.N.64 turret on aircraft equipped with G-H radar (an improved version of Gee) since that type of radar did not have the large radome as the H2S required. During 1943/1944 when the use of Schräge Musik on german Nachtjagd (night fighters) became widespread, the new twin-gun F.N.64 power-operated turrets became the most important gun position on the bomber. On aircraft that were modified to carry the “Tall Boy” or “Grand Slam” bombs, most had the nose and mid-upper turrets were removed and the tail turret reduced to a single pair of 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning machine-guns in order to reduce weight. The 7.7 mm (0.303 in) ammo consisted of Ball, Tracer, Armour Piercing and Incendiary.

2 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning Mk II trainable forward-firing machine-guns in the power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N.5A nose turret with 1,000 rounds per gun using a Barr & Stroud G Mk III reflector sight.

2 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning Mk II trainable machine-guns in the power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N.50 (Boulton-Paul) dorsal turret with 1,000 rounds per gun using a Barr & Stroud G Mk IIIA reflector sight.

4 × 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning Mk II trainable rearward-firing machine-guns in the power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N.20A tail turret with 2,500 rounds per gun using a Barr & Stroud G Mk III reflector or Gyro Mk IIc sight.

2 x 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Browning Mk II trainable rearward firing machine-guns in a power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N.64 ventral turret with 500 rounds per gun using a periscopic sight. (This position did not have a dedicated gunner).

Offensive Ordnance: Up to 8,000 lbs (3629 kg) of bombs carried in a 33 ft (10.0 m) long under fuselage internal bomb bay. While capable of carrying much more weight, early aircraft were limited to 8 x 1,000 lbs (454 kg) GP/MC (General Purpose Medium Capacity) bombs due to the physical restrictions of the bomb bay, but continued improvements enabled later production aircraft to carry up to 14,000 lbs (6350 kg) of bombs normally, including 2,000 lbs (907 kg) AP (Armour Piercing) or HE/SAP (High Explosive Semi-Armour Piercing) bombs, 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) HE/HC (High Explosive High Capacity) ‘Block Buster’ (also called a “Cookie”) and a single 8,000 lbs (3628 kg) HE/HC (High Explosive High Capacity) bomb. Some aircraft underwent special modifications to allow them to carry the 12,000 lbs (5443 kg) HE/DP (High Explosive Deep Penetration) ‘Tall Boy’, the 12,000 lbs (5443 kg) HE/HC (High Explosive High Capacity) ‘Factory Buster’ and the 22,000 lbs (9979 kg) HE/DP (High Explosive Deep Penetration) ‘Grand Slam’ bombs. The 12,000 lbs (5443 kg) HE/HC ‘Factory Buster’ was actually three 4,000 lbs (1800 kg) HC High Explosive “Cookies” bolted together given the bomb a total of 5,200 lbs (2358.7 kg) of Torpex ‘cemented’ within a 1 inch (25.4 mm) jacket of TNT. Aircraft capable of carrying the larger 4,000 lbs (1800 kg) and 8,000 lbs (3629 kg) bombs can easily be identified by the use of a bulged bomb bay door. Standard loadouts were as follows:

Blast & Demolition – 1 x 8,000 lbs (3628 kg) HE plus up to 6 x 500 lbs (227 kg) HE bombs.

Blast & Demolition – 14 x 1,000 lbs (454 kg) bombs.

Blast, Demolition & Fire – 1 x 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) HE ‘Cookie’ plus 3 x 1,000 lbs (454 kg) HE bombs plus up to 6 SBC (Small Bomb Cannisters) each holding either 236 x 4 lbs (1.8 kg) or 24 x 30 lbs (13.6 kg) incendiaries.

Blast, Demolition & Fire – 1 x 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) HE ‘Cookie’ plus up to 12 SBC (Small Bomb Cannisters) each holding either 236 x 4 lbs (1.8 kg) or 24 x 30 lbs (13.6 kg) incendiaries.

Maximum incendiary – 14 SBC (Small Bomb Cannisters) each holding either 236 x 4 lbs (1.8 kg) or 24 x 30 lbs (13.6 kg) incendiaries.

Deployed Tactical Target – 1 x 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) HE ‘Cookie’ plus up to 18 x 500 lbs (227 kg) HE bombs.

Low Level Attack – 6 x 1,000 lbs (454 kg) HE bombs with delayed action fuses.

Hardened Targets & Ships – 6 x 2,000 lbs (907 kg) AP bombs with very short fuses.

Mine Laying – Up to 6 x 1,500 lbs (680 kg) or 1,850 lbs (839 kg) parachute sea mines which could be either acoustic or magnetic. First used on the night of 3/4 March 1942.

Variants: BT308 (first prototype), DG595 (second prototype), B.Mk I, B.Mk I Special (Grand Slam), B.Mk I FE (Far East), B.Mk II (Hercules engines), B.Mk III, B.Mk III Type 464 Special (Dambuster), B.Mk IV (renamed Lincoln Mk I), B.Mk V (renamed Lincoln Mk II), B.Mk VI, B.Mk VII, B.Mk VIII FE (Far East), B.Mk X (Canadian Built).

Equipment/Avionics: The Mark IXA Course-Setting Bomb Sight (CSBS) and the Mark XIV Computing Bomb Sight (CBS) were standard. The Radio section is complete with a Marconi Transmitter T.1154 and Receiver R.1155 with a Morse key on the right of the wireless operators table. The operator was also provided with a switching gear to connect crew positions to the receiver or transmitter if required. H2S “Fishpond” Indicator 182 aircraft detection display plus all the auxiliary equipment. The Navigators section contains the Gee & Oboe radio guidance navigation equipment, H2S main blind bombing/mapping radar with the PPI (Plan Position Indicator) plus all the navigation aids used prior to the introduction of the Gee, Oboe & H2S radars. An improved H2X radar would replace the older H2S radar after German FuG 350 Naxos Z radar equipped night fighters could home in on the H2S radar transmissions. Some aircraft used the “Monica” tail mounted early warning radar which was effective to a range of about 1,000 yards, but had no IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) capability. Monica was discontinued in use when it was discovered that German FuG 227 Flensburg radar equipped night fighters could actually home in on the transmission signal given out by the Monica radar. Rebecca navigation radar was also used on small numbers of aircraft. Boozer early warning radar (ground and air) was also used and considered better than Monica. Tinsel was an electronic warfare jamming device which in its early use was successful, but German response to the device limited later effectiveness. An automatic gun-laying apparatus (A.G.L.T) code-named ‘Village Inn’ was fitted to the F.N.121 tail turret to allow radar guided beyond visual range firing. The device although potentially devastating, it originally lacked the ability to distinguish between Friend or Foe. The aircraft is also fully equipped for night flying. An F.24 camera was standard equipment for vertical photography to confirm bombing accuracy.

Wings/Fuselage/Tail Unit: The wings are of a mid-wing cantilever monoplane type. The wing is made up of five main sections, comprising a centre-section of parallel chord and thickness which is integral with the fuselage centre-section, two tapering outer sections and two semi-circular wing-tips. Subsidiary wing units consist of detachable leading and trailing-edge sections of outer wings and centre-section, flaps and ailerons. All units are built up individually with all fittings and equipment before assembly. Two-spar wing structure, each spar consisting of a top and bottom extruded boom bolted on to a single thick gauge webplate. Ribs are aluminium-alloy pressings suitably flanged and swaged for stiffness. The entire wing is covered with a smooth aluminium-alloy skin. Ailerons on outer wing sections have metal noses and are fabric covered aft of the hinges. Trimming tabs in ailerons. Split trailing-edge flaps between ailerons and fuselage. The fuselage in an oval all-metal structure in five separately assembled main sections. The fuselage backbone is formed by pairs of extruded longerons located halfway down the cross-section of the three middle sections. Cross beams between these longerons support the floor and form the roof of the bomb compartment. “U”-frames and formers bolted to the longerons carry the smooth skin plating. The remaining sections are built up of oval frames and formers and longitudinal stringers, covered with flush riveted metal skin. All equipment and fittings are installed before final assembly of the separate units. The tail unit is a cantilever monoplane type with twin oval fins and rudders. Tailplane in two sections built up in similar manner to the wings, the tailplane spars being joined together within the fuselage on the centreline. Tailplane, fins and rudders are metal covered with the elevators covered in fabric. Trimming tabs in elevators and rudders.

Landing Gear: The main landing gear was retractable with a fixed tailwheel. Main wheels are hydraulically retracted into the inboard engine nacelles and hinged doors connected to the retracting gear close the apertures when the wheels are raised. The main landing wheels have a track of 23 ft 9 in (7.24 m).

History: First flight (prototype BT308) 9 January 1941; first flight (prototype DG595) 13 May 1941; first flight (Mk II prototype BT310) 26 November 1941; first flight (Canadian B.Mk X) 6 August 1943; last new delivery (Mk I (FE) serial TW910) 2 February 1946; last aircraft retired from RAF service (MR.Mk III) February 1954.

Operators: United Kingdom (RAF & BOAC), Canada (RCAF), Australia (RAAF), New Zealand (RNZAF), Poland (Free Polish Squadron serving with the RAF). Post-war operators included Argentina, France (Aéronavale), Egypt and Sweden.

Units: The Lancaster equipped Nos. 7, 9, 12, 15, 35 (Madras Presidency), 44 (Rhodesia), 49, 50, 57, 61, 83, 90, 97 (Straits Settlements), 100, 101, 103, 106, 109, 115, 138, 149 (East India), 150, 153, 156, 166, 170, 186, 189, 195, 207, 218 (Gold Coast), 227, 514, 550, 576, 582, 617 (Dambuster), 619, 622, 625, 626, 630 & 635 RAF Bomber Command Squadrons. The Lancaster initially entered service with No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron based at Waddington followed by No. 97 Squadron and then No. 207 Squadron. No. 300 (Masovian) was an all Polish Squadron serving with the RAF. Squadron No. 101 was a special unit whose aircraft could be distinguished externally by three large aerials on top of the fuselage. They carried the top-secret ABC (Air-Borne Cigar) from October 1943 onwards. ABC was a jammer working on the German night fighter frequency and required an additional member of the crew to operate it. Lancasters of No. 101 Squadron carried a full load of bombs and scattered throughout the bomber streams, accompanied the Main Force on nearly every raid. In the later stage of the war, with multi-pronged raids becoming the norm, 101 Squadron would become the largest Lancaster squadron of all, with a final complement of 42 aircraft.

Royal Canadian Air Force Squadrons No. 405 (Vancouver), 408 (Goose), 419 (Moose), 424 (Tiger), 426 (Thunderbird), 427 (Lion), 428 (Ghost), 429 (Bison), 431 (Iroquois), 432 (Leaside), 433 (Porcupine), 434 (Bluenose) Squadrons all equipped the Lancaster. The Royal Australian Air Force equipped three squadrons Nos. 460, 463 & 467 and the Royal New Zealand Air Force equipped No. 75 Squadron with Lancasters.

Number Built: 7,366


Grigorovich M.11

By 1900 the Russian Imperial Navy had adopted balloons to enhance scouting of enemy vessels. In the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Russo–Japanese War of 1904–1905, during which its Pacific and Baltic Fleets had been virtually annihilated, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, an admiral in the navy and cousin to Tsar Nicholas II, saw aircraft as a means of rebuilding Russian naval power. Impressed by Louis Blériot’s cross-Channel flight, Alexander reallocated funds that had been raised for building warships during the Russo–Japanese War to purchase airplanes from France, to train Russian pilots, and to build a naval air school in the Crimea. By 1912, the Russian Navy had organized air services for its Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

By the time the war broke out in 1914, the Russians possessed a small number of Sikorsky S-10 Hydro floatplanes, which had entered service with the Baltic Fleet in the summer of 1913. The S-10 Hydro was based on a land-based racing prototype, but it had a slightly larger wingspan of 44 ft 11.3 in. (the top wing was approximately 16 ft longer than the bottom wing), a length of 26 ft 3 in., and a loaded weight of 2,381 lbs. Its 100 hp Argus inline motor could produce a maximum speed of 62 mph. They were used primarily for unarmed reconnaissance in the Baltic. Only sixteen were produced because the Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zaved placed a heavier priority on producing the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets.

Even though Sikorsky had developed only one seaplane that entered production, one of his leading rivals, Dimitry Pavlovich Grigorovich, would build a series of flying boats while serving as chief engineer of the Shchetinin works in St. Petersburg. At first Shchetinin produced licensed-built Farman and Nieuport aircraft, but after making repairs to a Donnet-Leveque Type A flying boat, Grigorovich designed a version of his own that closely resembled it. After the Grigorovich M.5 flying boat was introduced in the spring of 1915, production moved beyond the prototype stage with approximately 100 M.5s being constructed. The M.5 had a wingspan of 44 ft 8 in., a length of 28 ft 3.25 in., and a loaded weight of 2,116 lbs. Powered by either a 100 hp Clerget rotary engine or 100 hp Gnôme Monosoupape rotary engine set in a pusher configuration, the M.5 could reach a maximum speed of 65 mph and climb to a service ceiling of 3,300 m (10,826 ft). It had an endurance of 4 hours. The observer sat in the front cockpit in the nose of the hull and operated a free-firing machine gun (various types were used). Small bombs were also carried onboard. It was used primarily with the Russian Black Sea Fleet, operating out of Russian coastal bases or from Russian seaplane carriers, the hydrocruisers Imperator Nikolai I and Imperator Alexandr I, both of which could carry six to eight M.5s. Its slow speed made in vulnerable to enemy fighters, ultimately forcing it to be reallocated for service as a trainer. It would continue in this latter role until 1925.

Introduced in early 1916, the M.9 was by far the most successful of Grigorovich’s flying boats, with approximately 500 produced. With a wingspan of 52 ft 6 in., a length of 29 ft 6.25 in., and a loaded weight of 3,395 lbs, the M.9 was larger and heavier than the M.5. Because of Russia’s chronic shortage of engines, a variety were used on the M.9. The most common was the 150 hp Salmson Canton-Unné radial motor, which was set in a pusher configuration. Although it could reach a maximum speed of just 68 mph and it had a service ceiling of just 3,000 m (9,843 ft), the M.9 was extremely seaworthy and proved to be highly effective for reconnaissance, patrolling, and light bombing duties. It saw service in both the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, either operating from naval bases or from seaplane carriers. Although designed for a three-man crew, it normally carried just a pilot and one observer. It was protected with a pivot-mounted machine gun (a great variety were used) in the nose compartment, and it also carried small bombs. After the war, the M.9 was used effectively by the Red Army along the Volga during the Russian Civil War.

In 1917 Grigorovich introduced the M.11, which proved to be his last flying boat to be produced in great numbers. With a wingspan of 28 ft 8.4 in., a length of 24 ft 11 in., and a loaded weight of 2,041 lbs, the M.11 also provided some armor protection around the hull. Its 110 hp Le Rhône rotary engine, which was set in a pusher configuration, provided a maximum speed of 92 mph and an endurance of 2 hours 40 minutes. It would see service with both the Baltic Sea Fleet and the Black Sea Fleet. In addition, a few were modified with skis for use on frozen lakes. Approximately 75 were produced before the Russian Revolution disrupted production.

An upgraded version of the F.B.A Type C flying boat, powered by a 130 hp Clerget 9B rotary motor, entered production in early 1916. Most of these were sold to Italy and Russia.