Gloster Rocket

The development of the jet engine revolutionized the design of both military and civilian aircraft, but it was the former, particularly the fighter platform, which benefited first. Frank Whittle’s achievement in developing the jet has been well covered, but the task of producing the first generation of aircraft designed to use his engines, mainly by the Gloster Aircraft Company, is not so well documented, especially some of its most obscure, early projects. One of those ‘block’ projects was the little know Gloster Rocket fighter.

The ‘Rocket’ proposal was briefly mentioned in an August 1943 declaration paper. In it, the company stated that “it marked the introduction of a new design for a fighter and shows the possibility of a future important advance along the road towards ultimate development. It outlines the prospect of achieving a low-level speed of 550 miles per hour and a climb rate, commencing at sea level, of around 9,000 feet per minute’.

The original Rocket design was similar in scope as the Gloster E.5/42 Ace, which although popular in many circles, never passed out of the mock-up stages. The main difference between the two proposals was the Rocket’s twin side-by-side engine installation which served almost as a single operating unit. Two prototypes Rolls-Royce B.37s occupied the same position in the rear fuselage area as the Halford engine had occupied in the original E.5/42 Ace. Of course, the air frame’s width was modified in order to accommodate the new format. The extra width was just about the level necessary to duct the air intakes on either side of the frontal frame section. Gloster engineers believed that the combine thrust of the two units, when fully developed, would be around 5,000lb. This increase on power was much more than could be effectively utilized from a single power plant in a similar aircraft-type.

Nevertheless, there were no profound differences between the E.5/42 and the Rocket. Those which could actually be seen were basically that of the fuselage length and the center wing structure. The frontal part of the airplane, outer wing sections, the undercarriage and tailplane were almost identically. The front part design was one of the first ergonomically concepts ever conceived. Besides housing the all important pressure cockpit, the section was filled with state of the art sensors and other related materials. The Rocket model was expected to use the newly high speed wing structure developed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment for the E.28/39 project.

Model of the Gloster Rocket. (photo, via author)

Because it similarities with the E.5/42, Gloster expected that full production, if ordered, would had been shift and relative, easy. The Rocket would have been fitted with B.37 engines. Each of them would supply around 2,200 pounds of thrust given the aircraft a top speed of 545mph at sea level. Climb rate was to be 7,650′ per minute. Operational ceiling was estimated to be at 55,000 feet.

On the morning of August 31st 1943, Gloster’s managers reported to Whittle about the possibility of installing the vaunted W4.100 engine on the E.5/42 platform. The idea was quickly nixed because it was ‘not a very suitable solution’ according to Whittle. Still, the inventor was reluctant to accept the tandem configuration. Early on the program life, the RAE and Gloster estimated that the Rocket pure, raw speed would be at around 449mph at sea leave. Impressive, but far below what the Royal Air Force desired.

On October 9th, Frank Whittle meet with Dr. Roxbee Cox and several high members of the RAE at Ministry of Aircraft Production. The conference centered on a new project, the M.52 supersonic research airplane and the Rocket. Whittle, now a full doubter of the whole twin engine configuration on the Rocket concept, stated that ‘if they (RAE) are going for a super fighter (Rocket), an aero plane which has not yet gone beyond the drawing stage, they should make a proper job and put it the most suited power plant, instead of fiddling with several units’.

No definitely conclusion was reach in the meeting. Engineers at Gloster would continued to work on the drawing for several more months before the whole idea was shelved in favor of a similar, but vastly more promising one: the E.1/44 Ace.

– Raul Colon

Gloster Aircraft since 1917, Derek James, Putnam Books 1971
Interceptor, James Goulding, Ian Allan 1986

South Korean’s Stealth Fighter Takes Shape

As the year 2008 comes to a close, the South Korean government will be faced with a major decision. This decision could alter the balance of power in the Korean peninsula for the next three decades. At the heart of the “cross road” is to continued the developmental stage of the country’s first independent and indigenous produced stealth fighter. In late 2000, President Kim Dea-Jung’s government concluded that after years of an intense lobbying campaign in the United States Congress for the opportunity to acquire first generation F-22 Raptor stealth fighters from the United States, an effort that proved unsuccessful; South Korean would need to develop its own program if they were to have an operational stealth aircraft by the middle of the century. On may 2001 he proceeded to order a Feasibility Study regarding the ability of the country to produce its own stealth platform. The Korean Aerospace Industry (KF) immediately began research into the platform’s characteristics and profile. This study eventually concluded that such aircraft could in fact be designed and developed in-country. The first phase of the program, the Definition Study began in the spring of 2006 and concluded in December 2006. The second part, the Feasibility Study commenced in January 2007. The task was a join effort between KF, the Korean Development Institute, the Teal Group of aerospace consultants and a government-ran think tank. The study phase was finished in February of this year. During the feasibility phase, KF and its partners visited all the major US aircraft manufactures as well as its European counterparts. The visits were intended to gather support for a transoceanic venture involving one or more of the world’s biggest aircraft design and development companies. As of today, only SAAB has demonstrated profound interest in KF effort.

The KFX concept, as outlined by the Definition Study, would be a twin engine fighter with an all internal weapons carriage mechanism similar to the one on board the F-22. The internal carriage limited the aircraft’s cross radar signature. The KFX would have a performance envelop in the vicinity of the Boeing’s F-15K and the Lockheed Martin F-16C-D Block 52 air superiority fighters. The plane’s profile would also mimic that of the two mentioned US fighters.

As a technology “bridge” between South Korea’s Air Force current air inventory of F-15K and F-16C-D Block 52 and the new KFX, KF in partnership with Lockheed Martin, developed the FA-50 Light Attack aircraft. The FA-50 is a de facto upgraded version of the KF-Lockheed Martin join ventured TA-50 advance training airplane. The TA-50 is a light weigh and extremely maneuverable aircraft weight in at just above 6.5 metric tons (without its full weapons and fuel complement). The T-50 version took to the air for the first time on August 20th 2002 and became operational in February 2005. Over one hundred units of the T-50 had been delivered to the South Korean AF.

But South Korean “bridge” is getting closer to cross. The Korean government estimated that the $ 12 billion program should produce a workable air vehicle by 2017 with the first units entering frontal service four years later. So, if the decision to move forward is made, South Korea could very well field the forth stealth tactical squadron (Russia, Great Britain and France are working on their own stealth platforms) in the world. A truly remarkable achievement by any standards.

– Raul Colon