A manned reusable space plane operating in the late 1960s would have had a tremendous long-range impact on both the military’s access to space and NASA’s efforts. Essentially the U.S. would have possessed the flexibility to operate at will in space, monitor ground sites and protect U.S. assets already in orbit – a capability that we still need and do not have.
In late 1959, Boeing was given the go-ahead to develop a manned reusable space plane, called Dyna-Soar (Dynamic Soaring). Designated X-20, the vehicle would be placed into orbit by a newly developed Titan III booster. Constructed of several new exotic alloys, including Rene 41, molybdenum and columbium, the blunt-winged, delta-shaped vehicle would have a length of 35 feet, a span of 20 feet and weight of approximately 10,000 pounds.
Despite an excellent government review of the program and inspection of the full-scale engineering mockup on Sept. 22, 1961, on Dec. 10, 1963, Secretary of Defense McNamara announced the Dyna-Soar program was canceled. His rationale was that the Dyna-Soar had no viable military mission and was too expensive for a research article. The truth was just the opposite: it had numerous military missions and could have done enormous amounts of research. The partially completed X-20 prototype and the mockup were scrapped, as well as the initial tooling set up for the production line for 10 space planes at Boeing’s Missile Production Center. McNamara’s uninformed decision was thus one of the great missed opportunities of the 1960s.
Lockheed F-12B Interceptor
In 1970, the United States was faced with a tremendous nuclear threat. It could have possessed 93 Mach-3-plus F-12B Interceptors armed with AIM-47A Falcons serving with Air Defense Command. The F-12B’s superior speed and range would have kept any potential threat of nuclear-armed bombers far from our borders.
During the early 1960s the YF-12A variant of the A-12 was routinely establishing world records in performance, and conducting air-to-air missile intercept tests against drones, as the government had “once again” indicated a need for a new air defense system. Lockheed was hopeful that an interceptor version of the YF-12 could be produced, and was bolstered by two $500,000 contracts issued for engineering work on such an aircraft during May and November 1965. However, on Jan. 5, 1968, all work on the F-12B version was ordered shut down.
Through the guise of budgetary constraints, Sec. McNamara had engaged the XB-70 and YF-12A/F-12B programs against each other, while actually favoring the development of ICBMs. The flaw in that strategy for the United States was that both the XB-70 and the F-12B were lost. An active F-12B production line would have necessitated keeping the tooling intact, at least until a new administration could have carried out a proper evaluation. Fortunately, the superb efforts of Kelly Johnson brought the SR-71 reconnaissance variant to fruition. There is no question that both the F-12 and the SR-71 were expensive programs, but both aircraft provided a performance found nowhere else in the world, before or since.
NASA, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other companies are initiating a study of second-generation SST (QSP) concepts that will negate the sonic boom and offer supersonic flights without any flight restrictions over populated areas. Other problems, including takeoff/landing noise levels and the threat to the atmosphere’s ozone layer are under consideration. Yet we would be far ahead of the game if Boeing had been permitted to proceed after being selected as a prime contractor for the SST in December 1966. A full-scale engineering mockup was unveiled in June 1970, and it was stunning. The Boeing SST (Model 2107-300) had a length of 286.8 feet, a wingspan of 141.8 feet, and would have carried more than 300 passengers at Mach 2.7 at 65,000 feet. That’s 400 mph faster and twice the passenger capacity as the British/French Concorde SST, which first entered service in 1974.
Some 4,800 people were working on the program at Boeing, and by June 1970, orders for 122 SSTs from 26 airlines had been secured. Ultimately, Congressional concerns about the expense of the project and possible effects on the environment resulted in its cancellation on March 24, 1971.
Some 4,800 people were working on the program at Boeing, and by June 1970, orders for 122 SSTs from 26 airlines had been secured. Ultimately, Congressional concerns about the expense of the project and possible effects on the environment resulted in its cancellation on March 24, 1971. Had the program been allowed to continue, progress would have been made that would have solved many of the problems that still face supersonic transport flight.