Author Topic: Supersonic Spats  (Read 1082 times)

Offline apophenia

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Supersonic Spats
« on: July 03, 2020, 10:15:50 AM »
Through the Sound Barrier Wot, Wot! - E.24/43 and the Miles M.52 Saga

At the end of 1945, design staff at Miles Aircraft Limited (Woodley, Berks) were hearing disconcerting news. In 1943, Miles had been contracted to construct three prototypes of its M.52 high-speed research aircraft. Late in 1944, Miles had been instructed to share M.52 details - including its novel, stability-enhancing 'all-flying' stabilizers - with a visiting American delegation. However, no corresponding US data was reciprocated by Bell Aircraft Corporation. Now, in December 1944, it was said that Bell's Model 44 supersonic record aircraft had been accepted for development by NACA and the US Army Air Force.

Assigned the official designation XS-1, the Bell's Model 44 rocket plane sounded very much like Miles' unmanned concept vehicle for the M.52 - the 3/10 scale RAE-Vickers Rocket Model. [1] As the name suggested, this "flying mock-up" (as F.G. Miles preferred to call it) was also rocket-propelled. And it was intended to be dropped from a bomber flying at altitude - again, exactly what was being proposed for the Bell Model 44/XS-1 aircraft. Miles' concept had been poached and the Yanks were looking for the easy route to supersonic flight. (And where was the challenge in that?)

Being British, the Miles team were determined to make things as difficult as possible for themselves. They would not be disappointed. The jet-propelled Miles M.52 was intended to be pushed through the 'Sound Barrier' with the assistance of 'reheat' - that is adding and igniting fuel in an extended jetpipe. Now, Power Jets - makers of the planned turbojet engine - were admitting that their 'reheated' engine could not be made available on time. [2] Instead, Miles would have to make due with the unreheated W.2/700 turbojet for the M.52. The standard W.2/700 would generate 2,000 lbf at 16,700 rpm. If the aircraft was put into a shallow dive, it was calculated that the M.52 should still be able to break the 'Sound Barrier'.

Bottom As envisioned - the Miles M.52 with 'reheat' in its extended jetpipe.

As work progressed on the first prototype M.52, the Miles team faced additional hurdles. The first was political. The incoming Labour government viewed the entire M.52 project with a jaundiced eye. After a costly war, did Britain want to risk another of its sons in what Whitehall saw as a costly stunt? It aided Miles' case that construction costs had already been budgeted and paid-for. Successful telemetered flight tests by the RAE-Vickers Rocket Models also helped. As political anxiety over the project rose, F.G. Miles proposed a simple and straightforward compromise.

In F.G.'s scheme, the prototype Miles M.52 would be flown by autopilot - just like the successful RAE-Vickers Rocket Models. The flight would be labelled as a working-up of the Miles research aircraft. If the flight was a failure, it would be announced that more development work was needed. If the flight was a success, Clement Attlee could announce a British triumph. Appealing to the Prime Minister's ego proved the right move and a nervous Cabinet approved funds to continue the programme. This included the conversion of facilities at RAF Trebelzue in Cornwall - an idea location being close to active RAF St Eval but far enough away from prying eyes.

The Miles airframe had a number of novel features. Largely unnoticed (except by the Americans who were briefed on the concept in 1944) were stability-enhancing 'all-flying' stabilizers. In concept, these new tail surfaces had been flight-tested in 1944 on a Spitfire flown by planned future M.52 pilot, then-Lieutenant (N) E.M. 'Winkle' Brown of the Royal Aircraft Establishment. A more obvious feature was that the cockpit was situated within a structure which also acted as a shock-cone for the turbojet engine air intake. This section was also design to separate from the rest of the airframe in the event of an emergency. That separateness would make simpler any alterations need to adapt the nose cone to accommodate the enlarged autopilot and data-relay transmitter.

Centre The Miles M.52 nose cone shown separate from the airframe as in an emergency.

"An excellent and inventive suggestion, Sir, with just two tiny drawbacks ..."

Returns from both relayed Rocket Model data and Professor W.F. Hilton's RAE wind tunnel results suggested that the M.52 without reheat might struggle to break the 'Sound Barrier' even in a shallow dive. This was a crisis. One option was an air-dropped and rocket-powered M.52 variant. This was quickly abandoned. RAE results suggested that a simultaneous reduction of all-up weight and better aerodynamics was a solution. Any schoolboy of the times could have told Miles that the solution was spats. That was obvious. F.G. took that answer to the extreme. The revised M.52A would have spats ... but they would be fully-retractable rocket-spats! Everything had now fallen into place for Miles Aircraft and the poor blokes over Bell didn't stand a chance.

The second prototype Miles Mite (as the M.52 had now been named) was completed first but was not the first to fly. [3] Construction of the first prototype was too far advanced to accommodate the new rocket-spats undercarriage. Instead, the first M.52 (RT133) was completed without any undercarriage at all. This aircraft took off from a rocket-assisted sled which was jettisoned at take-off. This prototype would make only one flight. The purpose was to test 'George' - the autopilot and data-relay system. Once a maximum speed had been recorded, the M.52 was programmed to dive into the sea. This one-way flight was made from RAF Trebelzue on 16 July 1947. Just west of the Scilly Isles, the M.52 recorded the phenomenal speed of 615 mph while in a shallow-dive - well short of Mach 1 but the flight was judged a success nonetheless. Its core mission accomplished, the aircraft came down into the Atlantic just over 100 miles due west of Old Grimsby.

In the meantime, wheel-less rocket-spats had been flown extended from the former bomb-bay of the Rocket Model trials Mosquito. The trial provided "an excess of excitement" - propelling the Mosquito close to its VNE speed while scorching of the aircraft's undersides. But the rocket-spats worked as designed for the duration of their 55-second 'burst'. A modus operandi was established for the rocket-assisted Miles M.52A - as the second prototype Miles had now been re-designated. The record flight would delayed until hot weather in Europe provided a rare easterly tail wind. [4] To many, this was counter-intuitive. Hotter, low-density air has a deleterious effect on both lift and jet engine performance. Miles staff were counting on cooler temperatures at altitude and the assisting push of that rare tail wind.

'Well, blow me down!' - A Helping Hand from Continental Thermals

By the middle of August, temperatures were soaring across northern Europe. Following the weather forecast, the call was made for the M.52A flight to take place on the afternoon of 16 August 1947. At 11:45 am, the aircraft was rolled out of its hangar for final preparations. The cockpit transparencies were shrouded by a reflective screen cloth to help cool the avionics within. A white tarpaulin was erected above the entire M.52A to further reduce its airframe temperatures as much as possible while technicians performed final checks on 'George' and prepared the liquid-fuelled rocket-spats. By 12:10, the small ship was ready for its record flight and the tarp was removed. Towed into its take-off position, the M.52A's temperamental Power Jets W.2/700 turbojet was spooled up, brakes released, and the Miles aircraft rolled forward towards its place in the history. [5]

Did bathers escaping the heat at Mawgan Porth and other Cornwall beaches notice the contrail streaks formed by the M.52A and its Gloster Meteor jet escorts? Even if they did, only a handful of people in England could have known the significance of what was unfolding. Before reaching the Scilly Isles, the M.52A's 79 gallon belly slipper tank was 'punched off' and the little ship began to leave its escorts behind. Speeds were in excess of 585 mph over the Scilly Isles [6] Passing over St. Martin's, the flight reached 40,000 feet. Air temperatures registered as -60°F with a steady tail wing from the east. Just beyond Bryher, the M.52A pitched into a shallow dive. As indicated airspeed picked up, the spat rocket motors were ignited. The record attempt had commenced in earnest.

Speed was tracked by radar from a ground station on St. Agnes and from HMS Rosamund (J439) positioned 100 miles to the west. Data transmissions began to indicate vibrations and wing flutter. This was not unexpected - F.G. had intentionally kept the span short (26.87 feet) and applied to these wings all available knowledge about compressibility effects on propeller tips. But, as speed continued to increase, the M.52A was entering the realm of the unknown. At 37,000 feet, air temperature was recorded as -39°F. At 34,900 feet, an airspeed of 694.3 mph was indicated and the rocket-spats power cut. The 'Sound Barrier' had been broken but, before that thought could even be registered, a loud bang was heard aboard HMS Rosamund. Had the M.52A come apart?

"BdB ... Repeat, Miles Mite is BdB!"

As staff and official observers back at RAF Trebelzue held their collective breaths, the Tannoy loudspeakers crackled to life with an R/T message. A tinny-sounding voice announced: "BdB ... Repeat, Miles Mite is BdB!". While both military and civilian officials were left befuddled, an unexpected cheer erupted from Miles staff. Rocking on his heels and grinning like the proverbial cat who'd got the cream, F.G. Miles turned to George Oliver, MP - the top government official on site. [7] "Under-Secretary," F.G. said, "BdB stands for 'Beyond detectable Barrier'." The Miles Mite had done it! The M.52A had reached the 'Sound Barrier' and then exceeded it. The 'Supersonic Age' had arrived.

The senior military officer on site was flabbergasted. At once, Gp Capt Roberts of Technical Branch demanded to know the source of this wireless transmission. "It came from the M.52A, 'Silyn'" replied F.G. Miles, quickly adding "from Lieutenant Commander Brown, the onboard observer." The Group Captain's jaw dropped momentarily before replying icely, "I might have known ... it was the bloody Navy!" Roberts was seething. It was the RAF which was hosting this show, providing facilities, technical support and a jetplane escort. But it was Lt Cdr Eric 'Winkle' Bloody Brown of the Fleet Air Arm who would be remembered as the first man to fly faster than the 'Speed of Sound'! [8]

George Oliver was already on the telephone. His first call was to the Secretary of State for Air - A/Cdre W.W. Benn, 1st Viscount Stansgate, DSO, DFC, PC. And the Viscount was not best pleased. "Yes My Lord," replied Oliver, "it was also my understanding that this should be an unmanned flight ... but, apparently Lieutenant Commander Brown was along solely as an observer." For a moment, Oliver listened with lips twisting into a series of grimaces. As a SecState, Benn could over-rule a mere Under-Secretary but it was all a bit much. Loud complaints about 'unnecessary risk of lives' when His Lordship had flown his last combat mission aged 67. The cheek of the man!

Meanwhile, Miles ground team were in direct radio contact with Brown in the cockpit of the M.52A. Taking control from 'George', Brown had commenced a gentle but very high-speed turn. Not an easy feat with the M.52A with its net wing area of only 108 square feet. Brown had chosen not to deploy the M.52A's dive-recovery flaps in order to retain as much airspeed as possible. He knew that what remained of the little airplanes' 170 Imperial Gallons of internal fuel would be exhausted shortly after he passed over the Scilly Isles. And, unfortunately, the M.52's tiny wings gave the craft the glide ratio of a brick. An unpowered flight home would be no simple task.

With a wing loading of 55.4 lb/sq ft and wings optimised for high-speed flight, Brown had his hands full. As expected, the W.2/700 engine flamed out a dozen miles east of St. Martin's. The M.52A was still above 26,000 feet but would now start sinking fast. The drill, should the M.52A's glideslope fall short of the Cornish coast, Brown was to jettison his cockpit capsule and take to the silk before the aircraft had dropped below 1,500 feet. If the aircraft reached Cornwall but could not get to RAF Trebelzue, the backup recovery field was at Portreath. Fortunately, RAF Portreath had been ordered to cease flying activities as soon as the M.52A was airborne. It was becoming obvious that Brown had no chance whatever of regaining RAF Trebelzue.

It was puzzled radar operators at RAF Drytree on the Lizard Penninsula which reported a sudden increase in air speed by their 'plot'. 'Winkle' Brown had elected to risk relighting the spat-rockets. Those liquid-fuelled motors had a total burn time of 55 seconds but only half of that fuel was used in the record-making power dive. The motors relit, Brown was able to gain some much-need altitude. As it was, the M.52A now had just enough height to make a straight-in approach to the cleared runway at RAF Portreath. Fortunately, to accommodate Ferry and Maritime Command flights, that runway was long. The retractable spats functioned as promised but the brakes quickly overheated and faded out. Nonetheless, the overworked Mite came to a dignified rest at the far eastern end of the runway.

The 'Sound Barrier' had been broken, a manned Miles M.52A flight was vindicated, and Lt Cdr Eric 'Winkle' Brown, DSC, MBE, OBE, AFC, had just become the faster man alive. And it was all because of spats!

________________________________

[1] Although cause for alarm at Woodley, these similarities probably had more to do with 'convergent evolution' in design processes than with any theft of Miles' concepts. The bullet shape was a 'known commodity' for streamlining and rocket power an obvious route to rapid acceleration.

[2] The back-up plan for adding a No.4 Augmentor - ie: an aft-mounted ducted-fan - to the W.2/700 engine had also been delayed. A combination of reheat and ducted fan were thought necessary for speeds over 600 mph (with 700 mph at 40,000 feet thought achievable). As installed, the unreheated W.2/700 featured a simple, 18-inch diameter jet exhaust nozzle.

[3] Emphasis had turned to completing the second prototype M.52 when it was realized that modifying that less complete airframe to M.52A standards would be both simpler and quicker.

[4] The prevailing wind is from the Atlantic for both coastal of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

[5] The planned take-off run for the M.52 was 4,560 feet (over a 50 foot obstacle). However, to conserve fuel, the M.52A was programmed to stay on the tarmac for 7,800 feet (the main runway at RAF Trebelzue being 9,000 feet long).

[6] Up to this point, the M.52A had been flying well short of its capabilities to conserve fuel (which totalled some 250 Imperial Gallons including the belly-mounted slipper tank).

[7] A lawyer and an engineer, George Oliver was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. In his earlier life, Oliver had worked at Rolls-Royce, Derby. But here at RAF Trebelzue, Oliver was out of his depth and he knew it. (In reality, Oliver had only accepted the Trebelzue trip to give his family an opportunity to holiday on Cornish beaches.)

[8] Roberts' ire did not last, nor was it aimed at Brown personally. Years later, as the Director-General of Engineering, 'Silyn' Roberts became 'Winkle' Brown's C.O. and the two men shared a laugh over past skullduggery at Trebelzue.
"Auferstanden aus Ruinen, Glück für Menschen und Maschinen"

Offline Robomog

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2020, 06:43:13 PM »
Genius, simply genius. I think Brian would have been chuffed to bits with this one. :icon_alabanza: :icon_alabanza: :icon_alabanza:

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Offline Frank3k

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #2 on: July 03, 2020, 11:47:18 PM »
It reminds me of the Flash Gordon rocketship! ...only better.

Offline GTX_Admin

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2020, 03:49:52 AM »
 :smiley:
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

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But you can make the Bastard work for it.

Offline jcf

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2020, 04:53:04 AM »
 :smiley: :smiley:

I like how you retained the M.52 mythology in the backstory.  ;D

In particular the infamous "Bell visit" of which no one has been able to find records, on either side of the Atlantic,
the 'evidence' being repetition of the same anecdotes.
 ;D :icon_fsm:
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conspiracy.”
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Offline Dr. YoKai

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #5 on: July 04, 2020, 06:37:18 AM »
Simply superb. And Super B.

Offline buzzbomb

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2020, 07:10:48 AM »
Just Genius.

Terrific work on all of that

Offline apophenia

  • Patterns? What patterns?
Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2020, 11:40:34 AM »
Thanks folks! I'm thinking of following the M.52 story further ... but without spats (Brian, you didn't hear that buddy!).

... the 'evidence' being repetition of the same anecdotes...

Sssh! Jon, Jon, ... you've just 'outed' about half the 'sources' on Wikipedia!  :o

It reminds me of the Flash Gordon rocketship! ...only better.

Oooo, what lovely spats you've got there Mr. Gordon!  :-*
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Offline GTX_Admin

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2020, 03:04:40 AM »
Thanks folks! I'm thinking of following the M.52 story further ... but without spats (Brian, you didn't hear that buddy!).

Maybe a submarine turned into an airship...?
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it.

Offline apophenia

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2020, 03:11:20 AM »
Maybe a submarine turned into an airship...?

Yup, Brian would love that! And the Miles is almost chubby enough to pull it off  ;D
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Offline jcf

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2020, 12:46:13 AM »
Maybe a submarine turned into an airship...?

Yup, Brian would love that! And the Miles is almost chubby enough to pull it off  ;D

The Vickers Transoceanic design was fairly svelte.


Ralph Currel has a free card model you can download.
https://currell.net/models/vickers.htm
“Conspiracy theory’s got to be simple.
Sense doesn’t come into it. People are
more scared of how complicated shit
actually is than they ever are about
whatever’s supposed to be behind the
conspiracy.”
-The Peripheral, William Gibson 2014

Offline Volkodav

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2020, 07:45:19 PM »
An airship M.52 carrier?

Offline jcf

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2020, 01:02:36 AM »
Later in life the M.52A had it's wings removed, the main gear spats were moved aft and this 'car'
version was used to set new Land Speed Records. But that's a story for another day.
“Conspiracy theory’s got to be simple.
Sense doesn’t come into it. People are
more scared of how complicated shit
actually is than they ever are about
whatever’s supposed to be behind the
conspiracy.”
-The Peripheral, William Gibson 2014

Offline apophenia

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #13 on: July 08, 2020, 04:15:13 AM »
Later in life the M.52A had it's wings removed, the main gear spats were moved aft and this 'car'
version was used to set new Land Speed Records. But that's a story for another day.

Hmmm. The Vickers Transoceanic design is impressive - love the pax accommodations and elevator to the observation deck  ;D - but your Land Speed Record car may be too tempting to resist  :-*
"Auferstanden aus Ruinen, Glück für Menschen und Maschinen"

Offline The Rat

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Re: Supersonic Spats
« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2020, 08:28:58 AM »
 ;D ;D ;D ;D Good one!
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