The Ryan X-13 Vertijet was an experimental aircraft designed to further explore the idea of VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) flight. The Ryan X-13 Vertijet was born out of a previous project conducted by Ryan at the behest of the United States Navy. Just after WWII the Navy had been studying the feasibility of submarine-based aircraft, and from 1947 to 1951 Ryan conducted a series of tethered flight tests with unmanned VTOL aircraft. Based on that project, in 1953, the company was awarded a USAAF contract to develop two prototypes of a full-size, manned VTOL aircraft – these aircraft were designated the X-13 Vertifan.
The chubby dimensions of the Ryan X-13 Vertijet meant it wasn’t the most beautiful aircraft the world had ever seen. It’s compact dimensions were necessary to keep the weight to a minimum. There was just enough room within the aircraft’s fuselage for a single seat cockpit, and a 10,000 lbf (45kN) Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet engine. The wings were mounted at the very peak of the fuselage, and they had a pronounced Delta-wing shape. The high position of the wings was intended to improve stability in horizontal flight.
The nose of the Ryan X-13 had a hook on the underside and a short pole for gauging distance from the trailer. The hook was used to hang the aircraft from the vertical trailer bed landing platform. After the aircraft was secured vertically, the trailer was lowered to the horizontal position and then used to transport the aircraft on the ground.
On December 10th, 1955, after the first prototype X-13 Vertijet (#54-1619) had been fitted with temporary landing gear, the aircraft made its first horizontal flight – using a conventional runway for take-off and landing. Later, the same aircraft made horizontal flight to vertical flight conversions and back again. For safety reasons, these initial flight attitude conversion tests were conducted at higher altitudes than would be normal for landing. The first prototype then had the landing gear replaced with a tail mounted framework that held it in a vertical position on the ground. Using this rig, hooking practice was conducted.
The second prototype (#54-1620), on April 11, 1957, made a vertical take-off from the vertically raised trailer, transitioned to horizontal flight and back again. It then returned to the vertical trailer and landed by hooking the landing wire.
Flight tests of the Ryan X-13 Vertijet were performed by two test pilots: Ryan’s Chief Test Pilot Peter F. ‘Pete’ Girard, and Ryan Test Pilot W. L. “Lou” Everett.
In the end, despite the successes of the aircraft, the US Air Force chose not to continue development of the X-13 Vertijet because of the lack of an operational requirement.
Both Ryan X-13 Vertijet prototypes are preserved and on public display. Serial number 54-1619, the first prototype, can be found at the Gillespie Field Annex of the San Diego Air and Space Museum. While the second aircraft (54-1620), is on display in the Research and Development Hangar at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio.