Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Atomic Bomber

Today on Far Future Horizons we present an episode from the acclaimed documentary series Planes that Never Flew- The Atomic Bomber. This episode examines the WS-125, an attempt by the United States Air Force to develop a nuclear powered strategic bomber which could fly non-stop without refuelling. It was eventually cancelled in 1961 as unfeasible.

The Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program researched and developed two main systems of nuclear powered jet engines. The Direct Air Cycle program was the first of these. Developed by General Electric, this facet of the program was based in Evendale, Ohio.

The Direct Air Cycle program was popular because it was simple, reliable and suitable and the engines were able to start quickly. It worked by letting compressed air run through the reactor of a conventional jet engine where it could be heated before being exhausted through the turbine.

The X-39 engine was produced by this program and it proved to be highly successful with several upgrades made to the system at later stages. The final HTRE-3 would have most likely been used to power the X-6 nuclear propulsion aircraft if the project hadn’t been scrapped.

As recently as December 5th, 2008 Scientific American Magazine publish an article titled: “Resuscitating the Atomic Airplane” about the possibility of using nuclear reactors to power aircraft.

Will this Cold War–era proposal ever become a reality? In the wake of what happened Fukushima, Japan I sincerely hope not. 

Planes that Never Flew is available on DVD from That Never Flew is a Discovery Channel documentary series about experimental aircraft projects that never flew. Over four one-hour episodes, the series examined the history behind aborted projects to build two jet fighters, a supersonic transport (SST), and a nuclear powered long range bomber.

Planes Planes That Never Flew - The Atomic Bomber 
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