|The Convair NB-36 in flight, with a B-50 Superfortress|
|Status||Canceled in 1961|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
|Developed from||Convair B-36|
|Developed into||Convair X-6|
The Convair NB-36H was an experimental aircraft that carried a nuclear reactor. It was also known as the "Crusader".It was created for the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program, or the ANP, to show the feasibility of a nuclear-powered bomber. Its development ended with the cancellation of the ANP program.
A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for electricity generation and in propulsion of ships. Heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid, which in turn runs through steam turbines. These either drive a ship's propellers or turn electrical generators' shafts. Nuclear generated steam in principle can be used for industrial process heat or for district heating. Some reactors are used to produce isotopes for medical and industrial use, or for production of weapons-grade plutonium. Some are run only for research. As of early 2019, the IAEA reports there are 454 nuclear power reactors and 226 nuclear research reactors in operation around the world.
The Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program and the preceding Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project worked to develop a nuclear propulsion system for aircraft. The United States Army Air Forces initiated Project NEPA on May 28, 1946. After funding of $10 million in 1947, NEPA operated until May 1951, when the project was transferred to the joint Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)/USAF ANP. The USAF pursued two different systems for nuclear-powered jet engines, the Direct Air Cycle concept, which was developed by General Electric, and Indirect Air Cycle, which was assigned to Pratt & Whitney. The program was intended to develop and test the Convair X-6, but was cancelled in 1961 before that aircraft was built.
A nuclear-powered aircraft is a concept for an aircraft intended to be powered by nuclear energy. The intention was to produce a jet engine that would heat compressed air with heat from fission, instead of heat from burning fuel. During the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union researched nuclear-powered bomber aircraft, the greater endurance of which could enhance nuclear deterrence, but neither country created any such operational aircraft.
The Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program, and the preceding Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project, worked to develop a nuclear propulsion system for aircraft. The United States Army Air Forces initiated Project NEPA on May 28, 1946.After funding of $10 million in 1947, NEPA operated until May 1951, when the project was transferred to the joint Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)/USAF ANP. The USAF pursued two different systems for nuclear-powered jet engines, the Direct Air Cycle concept, which was developed by General Electric, and Indirect Air Cycle, which was assigned to Pratt & Whitney. The program was intended to develop and test the Convair X-6, a planned prototype for a fully functional nuclear-powered plane.
The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force,or United States Army Air Force, was the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.
The United States Atomic Energy Commission, commonly known as the AEC, was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by U.S. Congress to foster and control the peacetime development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S. Truman signed the McMahon/Atomic Energy Act on August 1, 1946, transferring the control of atomic energy from military to civilian hands, effective on January 1, 1947. This shift gave the members of the AEC complete control of the plants, laboratories, equipment, and personnel assembled during the war to produce the atomic bomb.
General Electric Company (GE) is an American multinational conglomerate incorporated in New York and headquartered in Boston. As of 2018, the company operates through the following segments: aviation, healthcare, power, renewable energy, digital industry, additive manufacturing, venture capital and finance, lighting, and oil and gas.
In 1952, the Carswell Air Force Base in Texas was hit by a tornado, severely damaging a number of aircraft.One of the damaged planes was a B-36 bomber, and Convair suggested to the Air Force that it should be converted into an early prototype for the X-6, instead of being repaired. The Air Force agreed to this plan, and provided funding for an overhaul of the plane. The intention was to test flying a plane with a functioning nuclear engine on board, but with it not yet powering the plane at this stage.
Carswell Air Force Base is a former United States Air Force (USAF) base, located northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. For most of its operational lifetime, the base's mission was to train and support heavy strategic bombing groups and wings.
The original crew and avionics cabin was replaced by a massive lead- and rubber-lined 11 ton crew section for a pilot, copilot, flight engineer and two nuclear engineers. Even the small windows had 25–30 centimetres (10–12 in) thick lead glass. The aircraft was fitted with a 1-megawatt air-cooled reactor, with a weight of 35,000 pounds (16,000 kg). This was hung on a hook in the middle bomb bay to allow for easy loading and unloading, so that the radioactive source could be kept safely underground between the test flights. A monitoring system dubbed "Project Halitosis" measured radioactive gases from the reactor.
Lead glass, commonly called crystal, is a variety of glass in which lead replaces the calcium content of a typical potash glass. Lead glass contains typically 18–40% lead(II) oxide (PbO), while modern lead crystal, historically also known as flint glass due to the original silica source, contains a minimum of 24% PbO. Lead glass is desirable owing to its decorative properties.
Project Halitosis was a 1965 undertaking by the United States Air Force to study the amount of radioactive gases released from their experimental nuclear-powered bomber program. The heavily modified NB-36H bomber contained a small, open-circuit nuclear reactor to test the physical and radiological stresses it placed on the airframe and was not used for power. The radioactive gases released from the air-cooled reactor gave the program its "bad breath" reference. The project was part of the U.S. Air Force's Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion project which operated between 1950 and 1967.
The NB-36H completed 47 test flights and 215 hours of flight time (during 89 of which the reactor was operated) between September 17, 1955, and March 1957over New Mexico and Texas. The test flights revealed, that with the shielding used, the crew would not be endangered by radiation from the reactor, including with low-altitude flights, but that there was a risk of radioactive contamination in the event of an accident.
New Mexico is a state in the Southwestern region of the United States of America; its capital and cultural center is Santa Fe, which was founded in 1610 as capital of Nuevo México, while its largest city is Albuquerque with its accompanying metropolitan area. It is one of the Mountain States and shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and Arizona; its other neighboring states are Oklahoma to the northeast, Texas to the east-southeast, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua to the south and Sonora to the southwest. With a population around two million, New Mexico is the 36th state by population. With a total area of 121,590 sq mi (314,900 km2), it is the fifth-largest and sixth-least densely populated of the 50 states. Due to their geographic locations, northern and eastern New Mexico exhibit a colder, alpine climate, while western and southern New Mexico exhibit a warmer, arid climate.
Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, while the Gulf of Mexico is to the southeast.
In 1957, at the end of its run of flight tests, the NB-36H was decommissioned and scrapped at Carswell.The nuclear reactor was removed. With Cold War tensions increasing in the late 1950s, the US government pushed for development of a heavy bomber with jet engines. Parallel programs of nuclear and conventional aircraft development sought to achieve this goal, but progress on the nuclear plane was slow. President Dwight Eisenhower was not convinced of the need for the program, and he did not assign any urgency to it, although he did maintain funding. By the late 1950s the concept of nuclear-powered planes was increasingly seen by Congress as redundant, given the ongoing advances in supersonic aviation and ballistic missile development.
The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union with its satellite states, and the United States with its allies after World War II. A common historiography of the conflict begins between 1946, the year U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram" from Moscow cemented a U.S. foreign policy of containment of Soviet expansionism threatening strategically vital regions, and the Truman Doctrine of 1947, and ending between the Revolutions of 1989 and the 1991 collapse of the USSR, which ended communism in Eastern Europe. The term "cold" is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two sides, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars.
A ballistic missile follows a ballistic trajectory to deliver one or more warheads on a predetermined target. These weapons are only guided during relatively brief periods of flight—most of their trajectory is unpowered, being governed by gravity and air resistance if in the atmosphere. Shorter range ballistic missiles stay within the Earth's atmosphere, while longer-ranged intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are launched on a sub-orbital flight trajectory and spend most of their flight out of the atmosphere.
In March 1961, shortly after he took office, President John F. Kennedy canceled the program.In his statement, Kennedy commented that the prospect of nuclear-powered planes was still very remote, despite 15 years of development and expenditure of around $1 billion. The Convair X-6 was never built, and the NB-36H is to date the only American aircraft to carry an operational nuclear reactor. The scientific work carried out for the project did have some lasting value however, including methods for handling liquid metals and fused salts, which aided the development of nuclear generators and reactors used by NASA.
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" is a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959. The B-36 is the largest mass-produced piston-engined aircraft ever built. It had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built, at 230 ft (70.1 m). The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering any of the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal from inside its four bomb bays without aircraft modifications. With a range of 10,000 mi (16,000 km) and a maximum payload of 87,200 lb (39,600 kg), the B-36 was capable of intercontinental flight without refuelling.
The Convair YB-60 was an American prototype bomber aircraft for the United States Air Force, canceled on 14 August 1952.
Nuclear propulsion includes a wide variety of propulsion methods that fulfill the promise of the Atomic Age by using some form of nuclear reaction as their primary power source. The idea of using nuclear material for propulsion dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1903 it was hypothesised that radioactive material, radium, might be a suitable fuel for engines to propel cars, boats, and planes. H. G. Wells picked up this idea in his 1914 fiction work The World Set Free.
The Northrop XB-35 and YB-35 were experimental heavy bomber aircraft developed by the Northrop Corporation for the United States Army Air Forces during and shortly after World War II. The airplane used the radical and potentially very efficient flying wing design, in which the tail section and fuselage are eliminated and all payload is carried in a thick wing. Only prototype and pre-production aircraft were built, although interest remained strong enough to warrant further development of the design as a jet bomber, under the designation YB-49.
The Northrop YB-49 was a prototype jet-powered heavy bomber developed by Northrop Corporation shortly after World War II for service with the U.S. Air Force. The YB-49 featured a flying wing design and was a turbojet-powered development of the earlier, piston-engined Northrop XB-35 and YB-35. The two YB-49s actually built were both converted YB-35 test aircraft.
The Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM was a U.S. Air Force nuclear weapons project conceived around 1955, and cancelled in 1964. SLAMs were conceived of as unmanned nuclear-powered ramjets capable of delivering thermonuclear warheads deep into enemy territory. The development of ICBMs in the 1950s rendered the concept of SLAMs obsolete. Advances in defensive ground radar also made the stratagem of low-altitude evasion ineffective. Although it never proceeded beyond the initial design and testing phase before being declared obsolete, the design contained several radical innovations as a nuclear delivery system.
The Convair X-6 was a proposed experimental aircraft project to develop and evaluate a nuclear-powered jet aircraft. The project was to use a Convair B-36 bomber as a testbed aircraft, and though one NB-36H was modified during the early stages of the project, the program was canceled before the actual X-6 and its nuclear reactor engines were completed. The X-6 was part of a larger series of programs, costing US$7 billion in all, that ran from 1946 through 1961. Because such an aircraft's range would not have been limited by liquid jet fuel, it was theorized that nuclear-powered strategic bombers would be able to stay airborne for weeks at a time.
The Myasishchev M-50 is a Soviet prototype four-jet engine supersonic strategic bomber, which never attained service. Only one flightworthy prototype was built, which was first flown in October 1959. The M-50 was constructed by the Myasishchev design bureau.
The development of the Convair B-36 strategic bomber began in 1941 with the XB-36, which was intended to meet the strategic needs of the US Army Air Forces, and later of the United States Air Force with its Strategic Air Command. In 1948, the B-36 become a mainstay of the American nuclear deterrent. It underwent a number of design changes before being withdrawn from service in 1959. It was also well suited to high altitude very long range reconnaissance missions, and several alterations were made with this mission profile in mind.
The Tupolev Tu-95LAL,, was an experimental aircraft that was a modified Tupolev Tu-95 Soviet bomber aircraft, which flew from 1961 to 1965, analogous to the United States' earlier Convair NB-36H. It was intended to see whether a nuclear reactor could be used to power an aircraft, primarily testing airborne operation of a reactor and shielding for components and crew.
The WS-125 was an American super long-range strategic bomber project during the Cold War to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft, which was scheduled to be designated the B-72.
The General Electric J87 was a nuclear-powered turbojet engine designed to power the proposed WS-125 long-range bomber. The program was started in 1955 in conjunction with Convair for a joint engine/airframe proposal for the WS-125. It was one of two nuclear-powered gas turbine projects undertaken by GE, the other one being the X39 project.
Project Rover was an American project to develop a nuclear thermal rocket. The program ran at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory from 1955 through 1972 and involved the Atomic Energy Commission, and NASA. The project was managed by the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office.
James C. Nance is an American scientist who served as the Orion Project's director. Nance worked alongside Ted Taylor to declassify papers on Orion to ensure the military could adopt the project.
The Convair Model 23 was a 1950s design for an American nuclear-powered seaplane for the United States Navy. Like the Air Force's WS-125, the Model 23 never left the drawing board due to risks posed by operations of nuclear-powered aircraft.
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