Tailless aircraft and flying wings

A Tailless Aircraft Advisory Committee had been established in 1943 to press forward with research on what was perceived to be the most promising layout for fast aircraft. Work was carried out at the low end of the spectrum with gliders and at the faster end through the de Havilland 108 Swallow. Research on tailless aircraft had begun in the early years of flight but in Britain the work of J W Dunne was developed by Geoffrey Hill with the Westland-Hill Pterodactyl which flew in 1924 in glider form. There followed a number of powered versions. Two types were tested during the war and were still just flying early in 1946. The Mark I and Mark IV are illustrated. The Handley Page HP.75 Manx had a span of 39ft 10ins and was powered by two Gipsy Major II engines of 140hp. Class B registration H0222 was applied. The Baynes Bat Carrier Wing was a 'model' glider, built by Slingsby with a 33ft 4in wing span and weighing just 963 lbs. Given the serial RA809 it was intended to prove the concept of towing a tank under a 100ft wing-span glider.

General Aircraft GAL56 and GAL61

To test the low end of the speed range of flying wings a series of gliders was commissioned from General Aircraft Limited. Six gliders were originally intended but the order was reduced to three which for most of their lives were tested for the RAE by GAL pilots and observers. These three, all designated GAL 56, comprised a short fuselage with accommodation for pilot and engineer, a swept wing of between 45 and 51 ft span with wingtip fin and rudders. The first, GAL56/01 TS507 had a medium V wing of 28.4° sweep. It flew at Farnborough on 13 November 1944 and was used for a series of trials until 12 February 1948 when the glider crashed after spinning, killing the pilot, the well-known glider expert Robert Kronfeld. The second aircraft was GAL56/04 TS510D with a complex wing of straight centre section and swept outer section described as a medium U. It first flew on 27 February 1946 finally being scrapped early in 1950. The third GAL56/03 was TS513B the so-called maximum V glider with a swept wing of 36.4° sweep. It flew on 30 May 1946 and like TS510D I ended its days being scrapped at the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment at Beaulieu in 1950. The GAL61, TS515, was a different design. It had no fuselage nacelle, featuring a raised cosckpit in the wing centre section with provision for an observer lying prone in the wing. It also lacked end-plate fin and rudders. These tailless gliders were extremely difficult to fly and in the light of the accident to GAL56/01 the programme was terminated without the GAL61 flying.

de Havilland DH.108 Swallow

The DH.108 was a single seat research aircraft built to specification E.18/45 and intended to provide data for the Comet airliner and DH.110 fighter. The type was based on a standard Vampire fuselage, with a Goblin 2 engine, but with a new 43° swept wing and single fin and rudder. Elevons, outboard of the flaps, combined the functions of ailerons and elevators. The first prototype, TG283, flew at Woodbridge, with its long runway, on 15 May 1946. After a number of flights it crashed at Hartley Wintney in May 1950, killing the pilot. The second machine, TG306, was intended to assess the high speed characteristics of the design and sweep was increased to 45°. The first flight was in June 1946, but the aircraft broke up on 27 September that year over the Thames estuary flying at a speed in excess of Mach 0.9. Geoffrey de Havilland, the son of the Company founder, was killed. A third Swallow, VW120, was first flown on 24 July 1947 with a revised cockpit. After setting a new speed record it exceeded the speed of sound on 9 September 1948 flown by John Derry - the first time the barrier had been broken in Britain. Like the other machines it was destroyed in a crash in 1950 while flying fast.

Armstrong Whitworth AW52G and AW52

Through being involved in laminar-flow wing development Armstrong Whitworth was keen to put its experience to practical application and proposed a jet-powered four-engined 120ft span laminar flow flying wing bomber. The design was to be evaluated through the use of a 1/3 scale glider. The end of the war brought an end to the project but not before work had started on the AW52G glider. It was completed as RG324 and first flew at Bitteswell, towed behind a Whitley, on 2 March 1945. Like the GAL gliders it went to AFEE then to the AAEE until 1953. Armstrong Whitworth, after cancellation of the bomber project, maintained its interest in a large flying wing and was eventually given a contract to produce two large prototypes to specification E.9/44 as the AW52. To give some point to the project beyond research the type was designed to carry 4,000lbs of mail. The first Nene-powered aircraft, TS363, flew on 13 November 1947 and eventually achieved speeds of around 500mph. It crashed on 30 May 1949 through control problems and the pilot, John Lancaster, made the first emergency ejection in Britain. The second AW52, TS368, was powered by the Derwent and it flew on 1 September 1948, later on trials with the RAE until May 1954 when it was scrapped.

Captured German aircraft

In the aftermath of the war various aircraft were recovered by the allies and tested before being scrapped or placed in store. Two in particular related to the flying wing 'programme' and were held on charge by the RAE. Between them they reflected the work of the foremost German designers, Alexander Lippisch and the Horten brothers. The latter had been working on a range of powered and unpowered flying wings and one glider, the Horten HoIV, with a high-aspect ratio (21.8) gently swept wing was taken to Farnborough where it was accorded the serial VP543 and tested by the RAE. It was later sold in the United States. A second HoIV was used in Germany by BAFO Gliding Club until around 1950. A number of Hortens of various types went direct to the United States where flying wing developments were being pioneered by Northrop. The rocket powered Me163B Komet designed by Lippisch was retrieved in large numbers, no fewer than 24 examples being given British serials, mostly in the AM range. One or two were used for tests but most were soon scrapped or placed in Museums (at least seven survive). VF241 was secured before the end of hostilities and was flown by the RAE between 1945 and 1947 as as a glider, towed by a Spitfire, usually from Wisley. 191614 preserved at Cosford is illustrated with details of 191660 preserved at Duxford also shown.

Short SB.1 and SB.4 Sherpa

Short's involvement in tailless research was stimulated through Geoffrey Hill of Pterodactyl fame. A particular concern with swept wings was distortion at speed, starting from the tips, and the SB.1 glider was designed to test waht amounted to rotating wingtip controls. With the Class B marks G-14-5 it first flew from Aldergrove under winch tow on 14 July 1951. After several flights it crashed in the wake of the tow aircraft and the wings were recoverd as the basis for a powered aircraft. The SB.4, G-14-1, was powered by two Turbomeca Palas turbojets of just 353 lbs thrust and it flew on 4 October 1953. Although valauble data were obtained conventional wing design had improved and the Sherpa finished its days at Cranfield, eventually being preserved with the IWM at Duxford.

ML Utility

The ML Utility was a forerunner of the microlight using an inflatable wing designed and built by R&DE Cardington. Three examples were tested from 1957 for possible use by officers at company commander level for observation. The type needed calm weather and trials were eventually abandoned in 1961 after a number of wing desgins ahd been tried. The two Mark 1 aircraft XK776 and XK784 were powered by the Walter Mikron engine while the Mark 2 (XK781) was powered by a JAP J.99.