The end of the Second World War should have heralded the long promised “Peace in our Time”, but all was not well with the wartime alliance that had stopped, and then defeated the advance of German National Socialism. Churchill had long suspected that Stalin had a hidden design & implementation of high speed carry select adder, not coming as a liberator but as a dictator, and spreading the word of Communism throughout the eastern areas of Europe with an Iron Heel.
It was known that the Germans had developed several methods of waging war which where highly technologically advanced – the V1, and particularly the V2, being good cases in point. With the scientists and engineers “disappeared” both East and West, and given budgets and facilities to expand their research, a host of new ideas practical, impractical and some just down right dangerous came to the fore The most successful of these in the public gaze being the United states and Soviets Union’s space race. A vast amount of money was pumped into the expected battleground for the next conflict, West Germany. Stores, provisions, fuel and troops were all placed in garrisons within Germany to withstand any attack by the Soviet Warsaw Pact forces. Many were positioned close to the barbed wire and watch towers of the Iron Curtain, along the eastern Federal Republic border. The ability to take off and land vertically was almost science fiction to all but a few lateral thinkers. This was a rocket powered interceptor with the ability to rise vertically on a rocket motor, and after a period of time gliding, was recovered by parachute.
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Headway had been made with helicopter technology which also gave a vertical take off capability but with the engines of the day, the power to weight ratio was poor meaning only a small payload could be carried. It was not until the use of gas turbine engines in helicopters that improved power to weight ratios meant greater weights could be carried. Speeds for survivability remained a problem, however, that all but negated them from being considered. British attempts to overcome the requirement for a shorter take off run centred on a converted Meteor which could deflect its thrust downwards to boost the aircraft into the air. The results were not that satisfactory and the idea was shelved. There was success however, when Rolls Royce utilising the “Flying Bedstead” and Shorts with the Shorts SC.
In 1956 the Ryan Company, who built Lindbergh’s ‘Spirit of St Louis’, produced the X-13 ‘Vertijet’ powered by a Rolls Royce Avon. This idea had an aircraft taking off and landing on a tilting platform built into a trailer. This suffered piloting problems during the transition from vertical to horizontal flight, and from a lack of ‘overload capability’ whereby wing lift assists the jet lift in raising a heavier load. The Bell Company also entered the fray with the Bell X-14A powered by a pair of Armstrong Siddeley Viper 8 axial flow turbo jets. It utilised these engines, which were manoeuvrable and mounted one either side of the nose to provide vectored thrust.
An air-bleed stabilisation system like the ‘Bedstead and SC. This aircraft achieved transition from the hover and back again demonstrating this capability for the first time on 24th May 1958. Several attempts to utilise buried fans were made, such as the Ryan XV-5A vertifan, however, technology at the time precluded the use of these fans as they imposed severe volumetric and weight penalties upon the airframe. They also contributed to a high level of drag which compromised any short take off capability. It is remarkable that with the passing of some fifty years, technology has finally caught up with imagination. At the same time as the XV-5, Lockheed were experimenting with the XV-4A “Hummingbird”.
Rather than the buried fan concept, Lockheed utilised the notion of buried jet augmenters – basically jet engines mounted in the fuselage that pointed down to give a column of powerful hot air to lift the aircraft. Hawker project engineers studied Rolls Royce lift jet proposals, and it was for a time the preferred option of the MoD being ‘the sensible way ahead’, which basically meant other ideas would not receive funding! This did not bank on Sir Sydney Camm, however. Camm was convinced that his colleagues at Derby had designed a system that was far too complex, and not compatible with the requirements of front line operations. STOL then his ‘Young gentlemen of the project office’ would have to come up with a far simpler solution. The first USAF supersonic F-100 slammed on to the precious, vulnerable concrete at Bitburg on 12th March 1956.
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A week before an elderly Frenchman had climbed the steps of the French Air Ministry in Paris. He was Michel Wibault an aging aircraft designer, once famous for his all metal monoplane designs that were every bit as cutting edge as the F-100 for their time. The contents of his briefcase were exciting as contained within were designs for a new fighter with a novel design twist. The aircraft was designed to be lifted from the ground using four nozzles, which were powered fans, driven by a Bristol BE25 Orion turbojet.
The moveable fan nozzles were evenly spaced around the centre of gravity of the aircraft giving it a level of inherent stability that had been sadly, and dangerously, lacking in other designs. Colonel Willis of the MWDP had the idea evaluated fully. The concept was never refuted, nor was the need for the survivability that it would bring dismissed. Its main problem was the engineering. Wibault required assistance and with the help of Col Bill Chapman, Wilbault was introduced to one of Britain’s foremost Aero Engine designers, Sir Stanley Hooker who had changed suits and on leaving Rolls Royce joined Bristol as Technical Director.
Hooker looked over the proposals and gave it to Gordon Lewis, a Bristol engineer who within a week or two had redefined the concept, and circumvented some of Wibaults more clumsy features. Further study demonstrated that the Orion engine could be removed and replaced by the lighter Orpheus turbojet which supplied the same shaft horsepower and was cheaper. Furthermore the Orpheus matched ideally with the fan and it was found that by fitting a low pressure turbine into the Orpheus through the existing tubular high pressure shaft. This allowed the reduction gear of the BE. 48 to be removed and created the BE.
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In late 1956 Hooker began talking with the Ministry of Supply and with the Board of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Both showed interest but with no written service requirement there was little the Ministry could do, although Hooker felt that should industry grasp the nettle and go ahead, this would be welcomed. Things now developed into that typical British farcical passion with committees all of which held very official meetings all of which seemed to have little or no objective. The famous company from Kingston-upon-Thames had had considerable success with previous aircraft and was revelling in the global success of its ‘Hunter’ Fighter, and spending large amounts of its own money developing a larger Mach 2 capable successor to the Hunter, known as the P. The proposal, however, made to the Chief of the Air Staff was not well received when put to him by Hawker’s senior technical director, Sir Sydney Camm. Camm and the rest of the Hawker Board big guns, like Sir Frank Sprigg, and Sir Roy Dobson, were in no mans’ land.
It was at this moment that the brochure for the BS. Ralph Hooper shared an office with John Fozard, who at the time was the former Project Engineer on the P. 1121 and now suffering sleepless nights on the P. On reviewing the brochure on the BE. The thrust from the rear of the engine was cancelled by rotating nozzles forward well past 100 degrees to blow forwards, reducing the power available to lift in the vertical.
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In a moment of inspiration that took the design closer to Wibaults original four nozzle concept than he perhaps realised, Fozard hit on the idea of bifurcating, or splitting, the jet pipe as had been done on the Hawker Sea Hawk. The idea was simplicity itself, no more two nozzles and a jet pipe, just four nozzles that all rotate in unison. Fozard also knew that the nozzles could also be smaller and lighter if they contained vanes to turn the flow. The suggestion was put more vociferously, and this time they explained they felt that it would be a good idea if the Low Pressure and High Pressure spools counter-rotated to reduce if not cancel out the gyroscopic effect of the engines torque. This time there was a reply, and the Bristol engineers said the bearings would not take the strain.
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In early 1958 things were still far from certain for the P. The Bristol board decided that while the venture was still fraught with uncertainty, they would go ahead with the BE. Camm gradually allowed more engineers to work on the P. 1127 project, although he still tended to show less enthusiasm for this project than any other. Hawkers funded research and development and engineering design out of their own pocket. By now a fundamental change had been affected to the engine to ensure control was maintained while in VTOL flight. Official interest was still not forthcoming and Hawker Siddeley, as they now were, took the brave decision to commit funds to the construction of two prototypes, and drawings arrived at Kinston that same month.
The design was simple but very recognisable. To meet the demand for more bleed air, Bristol came up with the BE. Pegasus2, which featured a re-matched two stage HP compressor. The engine first ran in February of 1960 and delivered 11,000lbs of thrust. A new problem then reared its head which could have had serious repercussions. Wind tunnel testing and theoretical calculus had shown that the aircraft may be prone to being unstable.
The problem appeared to be during the transition from jet borne to wing borne flight. There was a possibility that the aircraft would run into an uncontrollable divergence of pitch and the aircraft then tumble out of control nose over tail. Perhaps it was all this positive assistance from the opposite side of the Atlantic, but at last the British Ministries were shamed into helping out. XP831 was completed with a set of temporary ‘bell mouth’ intakes to ensure a good smooth airflow. In spite of this the margin between the thrust provided, and the gross weight was very small and even the radio was removed, and replaced with a ground intercom link, in an attempt to save weight. The aircraft was wheeled out onto a metal mesh grid which was flush with the surrounding surface and then tethered by the outriggers and the nose gear to weights under the mesh surface.
Both remarked that it was clear that the real thing did not handle with the same hair raising qualities that the NASA simulator displayed. Mereweather described the learning of the controls to maintain an even keel as akin “to being a child trying to master learning to ride a bicycle in a corridor”. The Sandys Defence white paper continued to draw a long shadow over the whole programme. It initially made starting the venture extremely difficult, it eliminated the possibility of normal attitudes to funding except on a research basis, and the very thought that there should be contact between the manufacturer and potential customers such as the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy was tantamount to treason in certain circles. Back at Kingston there had been a lot of discussion as to whether the P.
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1127 should have a helicopter style twist grip throttle, but ultimately the decision was made to go with a conventional throttle arrangement working in a ratchet box, which contained a hydraulic dashpot and spring. In the July of 1961 XP836 joined the programme. This aircraft made conventional take offs and brought the speed down close to the stall at about 90kts, the pilots cracking the art of vectoring the nozzles. On 12 September 1961 the two sets of tests coincided with each other, and both Bedford and Mereweather made accelerating and decelerating transitions. The Ministry were not impressed and a stern letter was sent rebuking them for carrying out the manoeuvres without the Ministry’s permission. The Ministry of Supply funded a further four aircraft and for the first time did not call them ‘research’ but ‘development’ aircraft.
This gave the impression that there might be a military aircraft somewhere in the distant future coming from the programme. NATO staff had been busying themselves, as military staff tend to do, by writing up wish lists of future hardware, for short-sighted politicians to ignore. One of the early changes made to the Pegasus by BSEL was the deletion of the Glass Reinforced Plastic front nozzles and there replacement with steel items. This was brought about after the loss of a nozzle in flight which in turn caused the loss of an aircraft when control was lost at low speed on the approach to Yeovilton where an emergency landing was being attempted. Far more public was the failure of the nozzle motor control system during a display at the Paris Air Show of 1963, in front of around 11000 people.
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All four nozzles moved to the rear, quite slowly, but too fast to allow the aircraft to gain wing borne flight. The aircraft slumped to the ground hard enough for it to be a called a crash. STOL light weight strike fighter based on the P. The United States watched closely as well as this was an area where patents were held by British companies that may compete directly with American companies.
Hawker whereby they would build the aircraft under licence in the event of an American order. Things seemingly moved in several directions at once from now on. The paper study of the ultimate P. From the very beginning of flight testing 12000lbs of thrust was seen as inadequate for the task, but Bristol were on the ball and up to the task, and they developed the Pegasus 3 which ran for the first time as a bench test item in 1961, and first flew in 1962. The main modification was a new High Pressure spool with an eighth stage added at the rear of the compressor and a second stage added to the turbine. The leading edge of the intake received a lot of attention and was fitted with an inflatable rubber lip, designed to lie flat in the cruise but inflate in the jet borne VTOL mode.
This was far from successful, as during the cruise phase they ripped and tore. The ministry of Aviation issued FGA. This required the aircraft to fly with some military load, and be able to operate under all weather conditions that were practicable for a basic VFR aircraft. Bristol Siddeley once again turned to the Pegasus in the search for more thrust. The Pegasus 5 first ran ‘on the bench’ in June 1962, an occurrence that marked the beginning of the final, but most important phase, of thrust development. The new fan was no longer based on the Olympus, but was a completely new unit with three stages with no inlet guide vanes – a bold innovation for the time. Major changes to the appearance of the aircraft took place as the aircraft evolved in to the Kestrel.
The most important was a new thicker swept plan form wing. The fuselage was extended, splicing in extra bays above the front and below the rear nozzles. The engine was given a sharper bifurcation to move the ‘Hot’ nozzles forward which gave a better relationship between centre of gravity, wing centre of pressure and the engine nozzles. 1 flew on March 7th 1964, right on the heels of the last P. 1127, which by now was a Kestrel in all but name, following all the modifications that it embodied.
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In December 1964 the Kestrel received a full release to service. STOL aircraft, the nearest comparison being those aircraft employing rotary wings. The TES formed at Dunsfold on 15th October 1964 under the stewardship of the Commanding Officer Wing Commander D. They received all nine Kestrels and the final production P. After completing their initial training on type the TES moved lock, stock and rotating nozzles to RAF West Raynham in Norfolk. Something of the order of 600 hours were flown during 938 missions during the formal TES Missions which ceased in November 1965. Further flying was carried out utilising the aircraft until April 1966 when six airframes were transferred to the United States, after being purchased for a nominal ‘used goods’ sum that had been written into the original agreement.
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Germany did not take up her option on its three allotted aircraft and these were in the batch en route to the USA. The aircraft delivered to the USA were designated XV-6A and were used and abused as research aircraft and general hacks. A lot of flight time was accomplished with the airframes but very little of useful substance came from it. The USAF did little to find a niche for the XV-6A or any derivative and in fact was actively dismissive of the concept in favour of protecting, in 1966, its world beating, go anywhere, do anything, at any time, F-111 which was, expected to sell around the world with Air Forces queuing around the block to get their hands on it. At this point we must consider the implications of an aircraft that would never enter service.