X-Files: XC142A

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In today’s Sydney Flyer article we are delighted to welcome back author Anthony Coleiro and the most recent instalment of his X-Files series. For those of you not aware, Anthony has written 129 articles under the ‘X-Files’ series for the club magazine, with this one making it 130. What a record!

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FILE X130: VOUGHT-HILLER-RYAN XC142A VTOL

For as long as time immemorial, humans have observed in wonderment at the ability of birds to fly and dreamt of doing the same. The ability of humanity to do this seemingly miraculous feat only arrived in recent history, first by gliding flight and then early last century, powered sustained flight was finally achieved.

Most birds can launch themselves into the air from a standing start and land back again in a distance shorter or no longer than their own body length. Early dreamers of flight envisaged doing the same but aircraft need to run for a distance before they can take-off and then run for a distance after they land, so vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) was just a dream. The advent of the gyrocopter and then the helicopter finally over came this but these did have limitations. What was needed was an aircraft that combined the versatility of a helicopter with the capacity of an aircraft.

There have been many attempts to achieve this throughout the history of powered flight with varying levels of success. The military have always desired this, placing boots on the ground into a specific spot that arrived by air, flying over the defences of the enemy. First there was the paratrooper, men scattered inaccurately over a wide area, then small groups of soldiers dropped in by helicopter more accurately than the hazardous parachute drop to finally a larger cohort in a V-22 Osprey. The predecessors of the Osprey are many and one of these was the XC-142A.

The XC-142A was a tri-service (army, navy and air force) project to investigate the suitability of a Vertical/Short Take off and Landing (V/STOL) tilt-wing transport for the rapid deployment of troops and supplies as well as the evacuation of stretcher cases in all-weather conditions and from unprepared strips. Not only was it tri-service but it was also tri-company with Vought, Hiller and Ryan all pitching in to the project.

All three companies had experience with tilt-wing technologies. Hiller with the X-18 (See X-File X121 September/August 2016), Ryan with the VZ-3 Vertiplane and the XV-5, and Vought with its F-8 Crusader shipboard naval fighter which had a wing that could tilt through 10° for slow speed flight. Of all the VTOL aircraft that appeared up until the time of the XC-142A, this particular aircraft showed the best operational potential, while all the others were purely experimental. Consequently this aircraft was given the ‘C’ designation for transporter.

 

Specifications went out to industry in February 1961 for a VTOL transporter and by September of that year, the joint Vought, Hiller and Ryan proposal had won. First flight was achieved on 29 September 1964 with the first transitional flight taking place on 11 January 1965.

Except for the provision of a tail rotor to allow pitching while the aircraft is stationary or moving slowly in the air, the aircraft had a conventional aeroplane lay out with a semi-monocoque fuselage, high set wing and four General Electric (GE) T64-1 3080 hp turboprop engines. It had a rear ramp to facilitate loading and retractable under carriage. It had a twin-spar wing that could tilt through 100°, giving the aircraft the capability of flying backwards at 51 km/h!

The four engines were all inter-linked to provide engine-out safety so that should an engine fail, thrust would still be symmetrically applied across the wing. It was able to carry 3,600 kg of cargo or 32 troops, much more than what helicopters of the day could do. The short stumpy wing fell completely under the influence of the slipstream of the four propellers maximising controllability.

Five prototypes were built and the aircraft’s performance was encouraging with a speed of 692 km/h being achieved and a ceiling of 25,000 feet. The transitional flight that took place on 11 January 1965 had the aircraft take-off vertically, transition to horizontal flight and then landing vertically, exactly what the military wanted for the speedy insertion and then extraction of troops in tight positions with no need for any ground support or preparation. Runways were redundant with such an aircraft.

The fourth prototype in the series was painted up in VIP markings like the president’s aeroplane to try to obtain orders for a 52-seat ‘down-town’ airliner to operate from city centres (Uber is now exploring this idea again except with not that many people). NASA conducted these tests to examine the viability of city centre airports. No orders were received and at an inopportune time on 10 May 1967, the first prototype crashed due to tail rotor failure with fatal results.

The project collapsed when no production orders were received from any of the services. The last flight took place on 4 May 1970 using the fifth prototype; it was then handed to the Wright Field museum of Dallas Texas none of the other four aircraft exist today. It would be years later before this dream became a reality.

Acknowledgments

The Illustrated Ency. of Aircraft, Orbis Publication

Vertical Flight Aircraft of the World, F. G. Swanborough, 

United States Air Force Museum, Air Force Museum Foundation Inc.

Aircraft, May 1965, The Royal Aeronautical Society

Aircraft, June 1970, The Royal Aeronautical Society

Air Progress, April 1965, Conde Nast Publications

 

Anthony Coleiro

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