The Convair NC-131H might look like one airplane violently eating another, but it is in fact a very useful one-of-a-kind aircraft which was used by the US Air Force as a “total in-flight simulator” – or TIFS for short. The Convair NC-131H was only retired in 2008, after decades of service.
The aircraft first flew in 1970. It was designed to allow pilots and engineers to study how different aircraft would fly – before moving on to building extremely costly prototypes. Originally a USAF C-131B transport aircraft, the NC-131H underwent extensive modifications. Its original piston engines were replaced by Allison 501-D22G turboprop engines with nearly twice the horsepower, but the most noticeable modifications were the second cockpit on the nose and the vertical fins on the wings.
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The Convair F2Y Sea Dart was a fascinating experimental aircraft which was built to fulfil a 1948 US Navy request for a supersonic jet seaplane. The F2Y Sea Dart featured a delta-wing layout, watertight hull and two retractable hydro-skis which were deployed for takeoff and landing. When the aircraft was stationary, or moving at under 10 mph in the water, the skis were retracted. This meant the Sea Dart sat so low in the water that the trailing edge of the wings actually touched the surface of the water.
The US Navy were impressed with the initial results of the F2Y Sea Dart project, and after the two prototypes were ordered in 1951, a further twelve production aircraft were ordered even before the first flight had been made. No Sea Dart was ever fitted with armaments, but the plan was to fit the aircraft with four 20mm cannons, and number of unguided rockets.
There was also an interesting Navy proposal which suggested that some submarines could be built which carried a trio of Sea Darts within their hull. The aircraft would be raised by a port side elevator just behind the conning tower. They could then takeoff on their own on smooth seas, or be fired from a catapult in rougher seas. This idea didn’t get very far though, as there were a number of engineering problems with the submarine/elevator/catapult combination which would have been extremely difficult and costly to resolve.
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