THE LAST ROCKET FIGHTER
A British aviation project of the 1950's to design and build a supersonic, high altitude fighter-interceptor. A prototype version, the Saunders Roe SR-53 was designed, and two test aircraft were built. These showed that a rocket-powered aircraft was a fundamentally sound concept, and that a plane using rocket propulsion could reliably intercept high-flying Soviet bombers. The production version, the SR-177 was eventually cancelled, due to losing out on valuable NATO orders to the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Events, however, later showed that Lockheed had only secured these orders through corrupt practices and the use of bribes.
THE AMERICAN SUPERSONIC TRANSPORT
An aviation project initiated by President Kennedy in the early 1960's, and supported by US Government funding. The brief was to design and build a commercial passenger airliner that would fly at Mach 3, nearly 800 miles per hour faster than the Anglo-French Concorde. The Boeing design team tasked with building a prototype, the Boeing 2707, faced a number of challenges. Among these were the limitations of standard construction materials in an environment of unnaturally high surface temperatures created by friction at Mach 3 velocities, the complex and heavy control mechanisms to make the aircraft safe to fly, and the political and environmental problems associated with supersonic passenger flight. These problems proved impossible to solve with the technology then available, and the project was killed, but not before several aircraft design breakthroughs were made that would eventually transform commercial aviation.
AMERICA'S FIRST JET FIGHTER
The L-133 was a design study for a revolutionary jet fighter by the Lockheed Company. Design of the aircraft, which was intended to fly at supersonic speeds, was completed as early as 1940. Elements of the plane were actually built, including the engine - an axial flow jet engine which incorporated features decades in advance of tis time. The L-133 established Lockheed, and its team of gifted and now legendary engineers, as the most innovative and dynamic aviation concern of its day. Although the L-133 never flew, it laid the foundations for the famous Lockheed 'Skunkworks,' and its legacy can be seen in the many remarkable Lockheed aircraft that came after it; aircrafts such as the F-104 'Starfighter,' the SR-71 'Blackbird,' and the F-22 'Raptor.'
THE ATOMIC BOMBER
The WS-125 was one of the most remarkable aircraft ever conceived. Powered by nuclear jet engines, it would be capable of remaining airborne indefinitely and was intended as a bomber, armed with nuclear weapons. Most of the technological challenges were overcome in secret tests conducted by the US military in the 1950s. A test aircraft was flown with a working reactor in the bomb bay, and a nuclear jet engine was built. The atomic Bomber never flew, mercifully perhaps, because the environmental hazards associated with nuclear powered flight, and which were potentially catastrophic, were never completely eliminated. The WS-125 serves today as a memorial to the darkest days of the Cold War, when nuclear Armageddon was not only conceivable, but actively planned for.