Challenge: Make The Flying Aircraft Carrier Happen

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by jkay, Jul 6, 2008.

  1. jkay MY world, my world

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    Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to make the Flying Aircraft Carrier a reality. It must both have seen serious use and at least one fight.

    Bonus points for making it the only kind of aircraft carrier in use.
     
  2. Markus Banned

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    *whistle*

    Gives the phrase "air recon" a whole new meaning.
     
  3. danielb1 Well-Known Member

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    In OTL, there were plans for modified B-36s to carry either a single F-84 fighter or 3-4 of the never-entered-service YF-85, one of the smallest jet fighters possible. These could be done, if there ever is reason to believe that the US will primarily use the B-36s outside of fighter range from regular aircraft carriers or mainland base.

    I've personally wondered about ekranoplan aircraft carriers - massive flat-topped seaplanes that act like aircraft carriers, only they fly less than a hundred feet above the sea and can go 60+ knots. Big energy guzzlers, I imagine (though less than a conventional aircraft of similar size). Ekranoplans - seaplanes that use near-water effects that I don't really understand to enhance lift - never got off the ground, really; the Soviets experimented with them a bit but only one entered service. In any event, that particular craft wasn't an aircraft carrier but used for anti-submarine warfare.
     
  4. NHBL Member

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  5. Ferrell Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, those were Airships. The problem was that the trapize-type capture appreratise didn't work very well, so that planes had a great deal of trouble being recovered by the carrier airship. If those problems could be overcome, or if a different design for recovery of airplanes were used, then maybe we could have seen airship aircraft carriers in WWII. I could see them being used for convoy escort and shore/anti-submarine patrol. If these ships were successful in combat, then their use might be continued after the war.
     
  6. Zyzzyva Was a Teenage Swine-Flu Vector

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    Now, if only there were some way of basing the Macon off the Habbakuk... :cool:
     
  7. Derek Jackson Member

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    What about an airship, mainly using its engines directly into the wind so as to hold position carrying a number of fighters any time from 1915 to say 1940?
     
  8. MUC Member

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  9. Markus Banned

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  10. Wanderlust I practically AM the military.

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    Ah yes, the Valiant. But what aircraft does she carry? I've not yet seen the Sontaran episodes (links appreciated :) ), but I've never actually seen her deploying aircraft :confused:.

    Ace Combat seems to feature a new Airborne Aircraft Carrier every game; the best one so far IMO is AC3's Sphyrna airship, which recovers jet fighters using a Harrier Carrier style Skyhook.
     
  11. Thande Gold! Always believe in your so-oul!

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    Weird, I had an idea to post this thread this morning :confused:

    Anyway, I always thought those Cloudbase/Valiant/Helicarrier things had to be nuclear-powered. After all, in OTL they tried it with heavy nuclear bombers in the 1950s so they would be able to remain on station for weeks at a time, but suffered from the fact that the plane had to be very large to fit a reactor in safely. But a Cloudbase built around a reactor with it hooked up to all those turbine things...

    Another possibility is where you have a space-based anchor facility in orbit and a skybase connected using a space elevator-type cable plumbed down into the atmosphere, at an altitude which conventional aircraft can reach. Obviously there would be atmospheric drag, but this can be corrected by using solar panels on the upper station to power ion engines (a system already in use by some European satellites). It would also, of course, act as a gateway to space via conventional aircraft.
     
  12. FlyingDutchman Well-Known Member

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    The B-36 with parasite fighters is just one of a kind.
    Others were the B-52 which carried several of the X-planes and the Russian TB-3 which carried I-16 fighters.

    The ekranoplan is very cool but extremely limited in it's deployment. It can only be used on very calm sea, thus limiting it's use to the Baltic and the Black Sea IIRC. Not sure if airborne carriers are needed there when there's an abundance of landbases around.

    A scenario in which parasite fighters play a role is 'The big one'. In that timeline the Germans do somewhat better and the Americans eventually nuke the entire German dominated continent with B-36's. IIRC he also has several B-36's with Goblin's in that.
     
  13. wolfstar Runs with the StarWolves

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    With the coming of unmanned airplanes you probably could create a bomber small enough to lunch and land on another airplane. We may actually see this in the next 20 years.
     
  14. Michael B Doomfarer

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    In the Proceeding of the US Naval Institute, August 1982 such a proposal was made. The flying carriers were to be powered by lasers fed by geosynchronous solar power satellites with kerosene for take off and landing.

    Some of the carriers would carry Tomcats, other missiles or drone or act as AWACS. It was also suggested that a fleet of cargo carriers was built

    I will admit to having never seen the original, but read a report on it in There will be War III, Day of the Tyrant by Jerry Pournelle.
     
  15. jkay MY world, my world

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    Macon doesn't crash

    I'd read the naval report on the Macon's crash, and knew it was the last time the American armed forces had tried to do anything serious with airships, but didn't know it had also been used to carry planes.

    It was a shock for me to see the words "Sontaran" and "aircraft carrier" in close conjunction. To me, Sontarans bring back cool Baker episodes having nothing to do with carriers.

    Yeah, an ekranoplan would satisfy the speed requirement, and probably be easier to scale up. Though it wouldn't have the high-ground and quick and easy launch advantages of an airborne carrier.

    OK, so, one POD might be that the poor Macon commander, Frank McCord, is hurt so badly on the way from Sunnyvale, CA, following Pacific Fleet trials on the way to Lakehurst, NJ, that he has to request relief there. His replacement is a more dynamic man, less inclined to just live with problems. He reads the logs, and about the event that hurt his predecessor so, and decides to get some help. He travels to Princeton, and asks around until he finds a professor clueful on aerodynamic engineering and interested in helping.

    The professor suggests adding several gyroscopes for stability and moveable banks of fans to resist winds. The commander also asks if the professor would be willing to enter a consulting arrangement, if he can arrange one. It takes 7 months to become official and start paying out, but he succeeds, and after he gets unofficial approval alot sooner, the professor is willing to help out in advance and look at the modifications and how they're working and how they need tuning.

    After a few rounds of these kinds of changes, Macon becomes stable enough for serious use. The Akron's also fixed to reflect the sorts of changes Macon ended up with.

    Neither crashes.

    ...More to come...
     
  16. David S Poepoe Banned

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    I believe that the long term 'Achilles Heel' for the Akron and Macon design are their tails. The Good Year-Zeppelin Company adopted a different design than that of the Zeppelin Company and it was basically flawed from the start. There had also be damage to Macon's tail and that portion and be replaced and reinforced - but the portion it was attached to was not. It was at the joint between the two pieces that the tail fin failed.

    The idea of the 'moveable fans' sounds good, but the Macon did have swiveling propellers already to assist her. The problem with adding addition motors is the added weight.
     
  17. zoomar Curmudgeon

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    To me the term "flying aircraft carrier" implys something analogous to a ship, but in the air, not just a big airplane which carriies a parasite fighter. The vehicle must have an endurance significantly greater than normally provided by a conventional airplane or ground effects craft - and be capable or servicing and (to at least a limited extent) repairing the aircraft it carries, launches, and retrieves in flight. I suppose the endurance problem for an HTA craft could be solved by providing continuous air-to-air refueling or a nuclear (or solar?)powerplant, but it is hard to imagine an airplane large enough to provide service and repairs facilities for a squadron of aircraft. Perhaps a surface effect craft could do this, but I really don't consider these true aircraft.

    As others have said, only the USS Akron and USS Macon, as well as the aborted ZRCV designs, qualify as true flying aircraft carriers, and the utility of airships in this role would become limited as performance and stalling speeds of the airplanes it would carry increase. The carrier planes would have to match the speed of the airship to be hooked and brought aboard. Since the theoretical maximum speed of a large rigid airship is barely 100mph, this would limit you to piston-engined planes. No high performance jets. Thus the weapon system would meet its technological dead-end by the end of WW2, if not before.

    As to how "flying aircraft carriers" might become the only type of aircraft carriers, you would have to significantly retard development and acceptance of airplanes by at least 15 years or speed up the development of airships by that same amount. Perhaps, in this TL, if the efficiency and utility of large rigid airships as the key naval scouts had already been proven, and 10-15 years of operational experience had clearly defined their roles, it is possible that airplanes, when developed, would be seen naturally as adjuncts to airships - not competitors. Airplanes would be added to increase the airships' scouting abilities and provide some sort of limited stand-off offensive capability. Perhaps, just perhaps, this might eliminate consideration on investing gobs of dollars in a "new technology" such as airplane carrying ships.

    This is highly unlikely, however, since so many of the technologies which made effective rigid airships possible the early 1900's (development of cheap light alloys and light internal combustion engines) were the same developments which helped make the modern airplane possible. Once it is appreciated that airplanes could carry bombs and torpedos and be launched from real ships, there is no way an aircraft carrying airship could match the offensive punch of even a small full-deck carrier. Plus it would have nowhere the endurance of a surface ship. What the airship gains by its greater speed (80 kt vs 30 kt), it loses by its greater vulnerability to weather conditions. Even if it can't operate its planes, a ship can stay on station during all but the worst storms and be ready to resume operations as soon as weather permits; an airship would either be confined to base or forced to leave its assigned station when weather was risky or dangerous.

    The only long-term role for a airplane carrying airships would probably be in ASW warfare
     
  18. zoomar Curmudgeon

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    It is by no means agreed that there was anything essentially wrong with the ZRS-4 and 5 tail designs. Akron flew (was forced) into the sea during a violent storm...no proof or evidence that its tail fins failed before that happened. Macon's upper fin failed in a sharp gust because the earlier repairs were limited in scope.

    If there was a flaw, it had to do with the attachment points of the fin leading edge to the mainframes. In the approved design (which was also not standard cruciform Zeppelin practice), the leading edge would have been attached securely to a main frame. Because this made it impossible to see the rear fin control station from the command gondola, the fins were shortened and deepened, resulting in a the leading edge being bolted to a much weaker intermediate frame. This was not a flaw in the basic design, but a poor decision made in final design and construction. You are right, it may well have been a factor leading to the separation of Macon's upper fin from the hull.

    It should also be pointed out that, had the Macon's commanders known exactly what had happened when the upper fin ripped away, they probably could have saved the ship by doing essentially nothing. Only a few gas cells had been damaged. As it was, they believed the damage to the stern gas cells was much worse than it was and gave hasty orders to drop ballast, thinking only to slow what they believed would be an immediate fall to the sea. However, this actually made the ship shoot up past its pressure height and automatically valve gas. Only then, did the ship loose so much lifting gas that its loss became inevitable.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2008
  19. David S Poepoe Banned

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    Maybe an effective way to lengthen the lifespan would be to figure out how to deploy helicopters - over even better autogyros. One would have to be very careful boarding the autogyro, but is there any particular reason that they could not alite from the back of the airship?

    Granted a real sort of flat top would have to be developed.
     
  20. jkay MY world, my world

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    Take 2 on Part 1

    Thanks for the steer, zoomar.

    OK, so, here's take 2 on the first bit. From where the new Macon commander has found his Princeton prof:

    changes to:

    Oh, and, zoomar, when you write about "attachment points of the fin leading edge to the mainframes," I think of a huge pile of expensive computers on the fin. No wonder they had problems! :)