Although Boeing 747 AAC didn’t get built entirely, yet it proved that flying aircraft could be possible technically. Are flying aircraft carriers just a thing of science fiction, or could they possibly become a part of reality in the not so far in the future? With the arrival of hypersonic missiles, drones, and supposedly designed carrier killer ballistic, some have speculated that the age of the ocean-going aircraft carrier could be going downwards.
This is because these missiles sufficiently provide an “area denial bubble” that contributes aircraft carriers unguarded like never before. But there could be a way to check this threat — flying aircraft carriers. While this may seem like it is right out of the pages of a sci-fi novel, a lot of research and development has been accomplished in the past and present, and it is not a purely modern concept.
During World War I, The United Kingdom tested this idea. Back in 1917, an airship, HM Airship No. 23, was created with the capacity to set in motion the aircraft mid-air. Using revised Sop with Camel bi-planes, multiple triumphant launches were made. In the decades that followed, other militaries worldwide started experimenting with their airship-based aircraft carrier solutions. A famous example was the U.S. Akron-class airship. Eventually, all of these ideas were dropped in favor of the now-iconic seaborne carriers—more recent examples in DARPA’s Gremlins program. This Progressed to provide a way of positioning combat drones from the air; the program conducted a victorious launch in January of this year.
The test used an altered Lockheed Martin C-130A cargo plane to start a Dynetics X-61A Gremlin UAV from its cargo bay. However, the drone tore down when its parachute malfunctioned to deploy. This sort of program’s primary attraction is that it could supply low-cost deployment and retrieval of combat-capable drones into combat zones where traditional aircraft carriers might be too disclosed.
The concept would be for the cargo plane to start the drone at the outer side of the enemy’s air defense range, hit the target with the drone, and carefully retrieve it once finished. All sounds good, but what about setting in motion more advanced and competent fighters? As it appears, the United States has also gone on trial with this concept in history. Some noteworthy examples include a modified B-36 “Peacemaker.” Designed as a standard bomber during WW2, it dominated even the mighty B52 Strat fortress, which is still used today. The bomber never took off an operational mission but was thought to be used as a flying aircraft carrier.
The notion saw the bomber carrying multiple Republic YRF-84F “Fiction” parasitic fighters that could be put in and launched from the bomber’s gigantic payload bay. The fighter craft would be launched and retrieved, with the help of an extendable boom from the aircraft’s underside. The emergence of mid-air refueling elater did away with this idea.
Another brilliant concept for flying aircraft carriers came in the shape of the Lockheed CL-1201. A massive, nuclear-powered aircraft, the scheme predicted a 5,265 ton, 1,120-foot (340 mt) wingspan, 560-foot (170 mt) long fuselage aircraft that could remain in the air for approximately a month and a half. It would be host a crew of almost 850 and could, in concept, hold over 20 multirole fighters on docking pylons attached to its gigantic wings. The proposal even permitted a small internal hanger to make repairs and do maintenance.
Unfortunately, the concept never made it ahead of the drawing board. But maybe, a fascinating idea for an airborne aircraft carrier came from Boeing 747 AAC. Way back in the 1970s, Boeing was asked by the USAF to design and build an exclusive aircraft capable of carrying up to 10 aircraft. The intention was to create a platform that could launch, rearm, refuel, and retrieve several Model 985-121 “Microfighters” in parts of the world where seaborne aircraft carriers couldn’t get to.
The 747 was the clear option and had so far proven itself as a very able passenger plane, Space Shuttle transporter, and cargo plane. Boeing expected to change the design of these huge planes to hold fighters inside their fuselage and release them from a specifically designed boom deployment system. Aircraft could also be refueled mid-air and retrieved through a little hanger to the back of the airplane, landing using a specific “inflatable skid.”
Boeing suggested specially-designed fighters compact enough actually to be held within the 747’s body. Other than the technical challenges of building this type of a plane, matters like turbulence from the enormous planes and issues around the fighting capability of the “micro-fighters” eventually led to the dropping of the program. However, the exercise happens to have set an interesting example for the future of aircraft carriers. Based on the report,
Boeing concluded that the concept of a flying aircraft carrier to be “technically achievable” using the previous 1970’s technology.