The CL-400 'Suntan' Jul 13, 2007 9:14:17 GMT -5
Post by watchtherocks on Jul 13, 2007 9:14:17 GMT -5
Everyone knows about the U-2 and the SR-71. Both amazing spyplanes, far ahead of their time in all respects. They put the Skunk Works on the map in a big way.
But the Skunk Works came up with a few other 'out there' planes as well. After the success of the U-2 Dragonlady, they started on a project called Suntan. The plan was to design a mach 2+ plane with a range of 2, 500 miles. For comparison, the U-2 and SR-71 had 3, 500 and 2, 900 mile combat ranges respectively. It was to be propelled by liquid hydrogen, which makes me wonder why on earth there is no hydrogen technology evident in todays aircraft.
The Suntan was a huge plane. It was 3 metres wide and 49 long. It could carry almost 10 tons of liquid hydrogen, along with 1 and a half thousand pounds of payload, i.e. cameras. It had a retractable ventral fin in the belly of the plane which could be deployed at supersonic speeds to help improve directional stability. Its ceiling was a hair under 100, 000 feet, which was a good 20 - 30, 000 feet higher than the U-2.
In the few short years the project seemed like it might be able to spawn a great plane, it is feasible that the USAF might have spent up to a quarter of a billion dollars on it, which is a good deal of money no matter what the decade.
The range of the aircraft was of major concern for the Air Force, who wanted something that could surpass the CIA-owned U-2 in all respects. When the Air Force upped the range requirements by 800 miles, it became evident that the airframe would not be able to support the fuel requirements. Any longer ranges and the size of the airframe would have to drastically increase out from its already large size.
It would have been interesting to see the Suntan in action, considering its unconventional design and alternate fuel, but ultimately money got in the way - or lack of USAF willingness to part with it. The failure of the Suntan project led to the A-12, which was the prototype version of the SR-71 Blackbird.
So, Skunk Works ain't perfect after all!