In this DAKOTA HUNTER BLOG, you will read about the concept of the Post-War Airborne Aircraft Carriers. During WWII, the flight range of the USAAF long-distance bombers made huge leaps forward with every new model that came out.
Rapid technological development in Aero Engine Power output allowed upscaling to unprecedented dimensions of the airframe, wings, and internal fuel tanks. All that extra fuel stretched the flight range to well over 10.000 miles!
While the mid-war (1943) launched B-29 Flying Fortress had a max flight range of almost 6000 miles, the post-war B-36 Peacemaker (operational from 1948-1958) could perform with a max flight range of 10.000 miles/ 16.000 kms.
In contrast to that development, the first generations of (post-war) Jet Fighters were reputed as “Gas-Guzzlers” and therefore had extremely short flight ranges. Even the mounting of wing-tip and/or belly tanks did hardly bring any relief that could help those fighters to escort the strategic Bombers during the Cold War on their long intercontinental flights (read to Soviet Union and back).
This novel concept was tested with the good old Douglas C-47 Skytrain. As from Aug 1949, Major Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson did remarkable experiments with a system of wing tip coupling of 2 aircraft while in flight. The smaller single-seater airplane Culver Q-14 Cadet had a pointed lance mounted on its wingtip and flew that into a ring, mounted on the C-47 wing tip, as such making a coupled pair (see photos on top and below).
The basic idea behind the in-air coupling was to increase the aspect ratio of a wing with more wing surface from another plane, offsetting the additional drag of the smaller plane. I.e. the smaller plane could fly ‘for free’ with its engine shut-off, as a parasite, coupled with the larger plane.
If one would extend this inventive plan to a Long Distance Bomber, such plane could tow 2 fighters on both wingtips, flying as “freewheeling” escorts with their own engines shut off and only “awakening to action” when needed with an imminent enemy threat. The mothership hardly sacrificed on its max range and speed with the towing, while it had two fighters in direct close support, just in case hell might break loose with Migs showing up at the horizon.
The “bodyguard” Jets would simply start their engines, uncouple from the Master, execute the interception and beat the Iwans out of their airspace. After the pounding, they could return to hook on again for a drink or two, a free refill of their tanks (and oxygen) via the mothership.
But in the end, all wingtip-coupling tests came to no avail, as the larger long-distance Airborne Tankers based on the modern heavy Bomber designs arrived on the scene. It was this Tanker-converted Bomber aircraft that could provide in a simpler way the much-wanted flight-range extension to the thirsty escorting Jet Fighters, by means of a much less risky coupling and refueling system with a basket-shaped ‘nipple’ that flies behind the Tanker aircraft on a long tube or boom.
Nowadays, in Aerial refueling, also referred to as air refueling, in-flight refueling (IFR), air-to-air refueling (AAR), there are two main refueling systems: The probe-and-drogue, which is simpler to adapt to existing aircraft, and the flying boom, which offers faster fuel transfer, but requires a boom operator’s supervision.
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