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Sometimes an aircraft is built for mundane reasons, like the progressive development of a series – the Douglas DC-7c airliner would be a prime example; sometimes out of sheer desperation – the Miles M.20 fighter prototype, constructed at the height of the Battle of Britain seems to fit this bill; but rarely, very rarely, is an aircraft built as the result of an argument!

English Electric’s ‘weaponization’ of their P.1 supersonic research aircraft, into a Mach 2 interceptor (the Lightning), only survived because the process was too far along for the U.K.’s appalling 1957 Defence White Paper – authored by Duncan Sandys, who should have been sacked on the spot for single-handedly destroying the British military aircraft industry – to take effect. I have written in an earlier piece, how there were constant arguments about the whole project, and how it came close to cancellation on several occasions. One rather contentious point involved the wing. The Royal Aeronautical Establishment disagreed with the projected figures from English Electric, who maintained that even with a wing of 60 degrees sweep, the intended fighter would perform quite satisfactorily at the relatively low-speeds encountered during the landing phase of flight.

Much to the displeasure of English Electric (who stood by their data), in 1950 the RAE persuaded the Air Ministry to issue Specification ER.100, to cover the construction of one research aircraft to explore the low-speed handling characteristics of highly-swept wings in a jet aircraft. The wing planform was to closely resemble that of the projected English Electric fighter, but would be capable of being mounted at various angles of sweep (adjusted on the ground, not in flight) and, as an added bonus, would have either a T-tail, mounted on top of the vertical fin, or a low-set tailplane, as was being used by the E.E. P.1 research aircraft, which had been flying since 1954. The contract, ’6/Aircraft/5347/CB.7(a)’ was granted to Short Brothers & Harland Ltd, of Belfast, Northern Ireland on 2nd August, 1950, and the RAF allocated the serial ‘WG768′ to what became known as the Short SB.5.

The fuselage construction was conventional, stressed skin aluminium alloy, but made in such a way as that the whole rear fuselage could be detached. Also, the wing had alloy leading edges, but plywood skinning behind that. The undercarriage was fixed (most unusual in a jet aircraft) as the maximum speed wasn’t expected to be above 400 mph (403mph, in actuality). The wings could be removed and refitted at 50°, 60° or 69° sweep between different phases of the mission. Despite having a small triangular tailplane fitted at the top of the raked fin, it was found that the only practical way to compare that to a low-set tailplane was to construct a whole new rear fuselage, then fit that unit when the time came.

Power was supplied by a Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 centrifugal compressor turbojet of 3,600 lbs thrust; it turned out that this left the aircraft somewhat underpowered. The completed aircraft was sent via ship and road transport to the Aircraft & Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. After re-assembly, it made its first flight on the 2nd December, 1952, piloted by Tom Broooke-Smith. The initial configuration was with the wing at 50°, with the triangular tailplane on top of the fin. Changes came in 1953, when following a spell in the Short’s factory in Belfast, WG768 emerged with its wings set at 60°; it was at this time that a photograph was released to the public, the SB.5 being described as ‘a slow-speed research aircraft….the machine abounds in unorthodox features’. It was in August 1953, that the famous WW2 ‘ace’ and test pilot, Wing Commander Roland Prosper “Bee” Beamont CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, who was in charge of the English Electric P.1 test programme, first flew the S.B.5. “Bee” was apparently less than impressed with the tail, as it was set up at the time. Tom Brooke-Smith flew the SB.5 at the annual Society of British Aerospace Companies Airshow at Farnborough, where it demonstrated excellent manoeuverability and low-speed handling with the 60° wing. Once again a trip to Belfast gave rise to a new configuration, this time with the alternate rear fuselage and low-mounted tailplane.

Starting in 1954, there began a couple of years handling work with the Royal Aircraft Establishment, first at Farnborough, and then RAE Bedford; a final configuration change was initiated in 1958, when the aircraft was dismantled. The fuselage was placed on a 40 foot long RAF ‘Queen Mary’ semi-trailer (built by Taskers Trailers Ltd), and the SB.5 wings on a 33 foot long Lancaster trailer, and driven to Preston, where the road convoy embarked on the M.V. ‘Bardic Ferry’ and departed for Belfast once more.

Arriving at Short’s, the SB.5 was virtually rebuilt. The lack of power was addressed by swapping the Derwent for a Bristol Siddeley Orpheus BE.26 axial-flow turbojet of 4,520 lbs thrust to match the new 69° sweep wing – this made it the most highly swept wing flying at this time. A Martin-Baker ‘zero-level’ ejection seat was fitted along with extra cockpit instrumentation. By the time the SB.5 arrived back at RAE Bedford, it had also received a new coat of paint – bright blue! The last phase of the aircraft’s testing life was probably the most significant. In May 1964, ‘Flight’ magazine, described it thus, ‘The venerable SB.5, having long ago finished its low-speed work for the Lightning, is once again active in the hands of Flight Lieutenant Farley. The tufted, 69° sweep wing is investigating leading edge flow patterns as part of the low-speed testing for the Concord wing’.

There was nearly a radical end to the aircraft’s career; it was offered to the Australian Aeronautical Research Laboratory, but, finally, it was decided that the SB.5 would not be useful ‘Down Under’. As an alternative, in 1965, it was sent to the Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down, to enable students to gain low-speed handling experience in highly-swept aircraft.

When finally withdrawn from use in 1967, the SB.5 was slated for eventual display at the RAF Museum, but was flown to RAF Finningley and placed in storage for a period; whilst there it received the ‘silver over very dark blue’ finish you can see above. After shuttling between various RAF units, it finally ended up in the ‘Test Flight’ section of the RAF Museum at Cosford; you can just make out the triangular fin of the ‘spare rear fuselage’ displayed behind the SB.5.

As Wing Commander Beamont had predicted, the SB.5 was a waste of time, as the data English Electric provided was proved right and the RAE's suggestion proved wrong, in that the P.1′s low-set tailplane turned out to be the correct solution. However, the aircraft DID render valuable service to the Concord testing program, so all was not lost.

One more thing. The British have a peculiar talent for choosing inappropriate names for their aircraft. Who can forget that the Spitfire was going to be called the Shrew, for example? Then there was the whole business about the Hawker Hedgehog! When the SB.5 was announced there was a debate over what the ‘fighter’ that was to be developed from the P.1B was to be called. Here are some of the names that were suggested (and published!) Arrow, Assegai, Fiend, Wraith, Terror, Excalibur, Champion, Strongbow, Crossbow, Virago, Warrior and Paladin. I can only suggest that someone had a Royal Navy fixation, as all but ONE of these were names – at one time or another – of RN ships. Not only that, but one is also the name of a model of Rolls-Royce, and yet another the name of a brand of strong cider! Thank goodness they finally selected the English Electric Lightning!

The Short SB.5 – a initial failure, but very useful in the end.

http://peoplesmosquito.org.uk

Originally posted to shortfinals on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 08:22 PM PDT.

Also republished by Aviation & Pilots, Kossack Air Force, SciTech, and History for Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  As many videos as there are online (10+ / 0-)

    I could not find a single one in motion, either on the ground or in the air. Not even a scale model, and model builders are often attracted to orphan airplanes.

    Interesting airplane. I seem to have heard of it vaguely when it was being evaluated. Probably in Air Trails magazine.

    What I want to know is what Duncan Sandys problem was. I know that in those days everyone thought missiles would replace airplanes, but to decimate a whole industry and a  portion of the nation's GDP on the basis of an untested technology that was in its infancy is crazy.

    He was an accident waiting to happen, because it was not the first time he demonstrated ;a monumental lack of judgement.

    Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

    by Otteray Scribe on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 08:41:29 PM PDT

  •  Got it! In a compilation video... (11+ / 0-)

    ....from the 1953 Farnborough Show. 2.49 to 3.12 - just a few seconds of air to air...VERY rare!

  •  I thought Fairey Flycatcher (6+ / 0-)

    was a joke, but it's real Flycatcher

    You's mentioned Sandys before, but I missed the Churchill connection.  I guess we lucked out that FDR's and Eisenhower's relatives were nominally competent, not so much GHWB's kid...

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 10:23:15 PM PDT

  •  The Lightning could beat anything (5+ / 0-)

    as long as the dogfight took place directly over the Lightning's airfield.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 02:54:19 AM PDT

  •  I always thought it strange that the Lightning.... (4+ / 0-)

    design with its highly swept, squared-off wings and stacked engines was an extremely successful aerodynamic design, yet no other aircraft of the cold war era tried the same layout.

    U.S. fighters of the same era tried all sorts of radical designs, with the T-tails on the F-101 and F-104 proving to be abject failures in maneuvering flight, the tiny wings on the F-104 and F-105 likewise severely impairing the agility of these aircraft. My understanding is that the early F-100 had vicious stabililty/spin characteristics leading to a very high attrition rate in service. And the the freakish F-103 design wrapped around a giant ramjet with the pilot using a periscope (!?!) to see forward.

    The English Electric/BAC Lightning was by all accounts fast and agile yet relatively docile, with a modest range and poor weapons its only real shortcomings. I find it odd that no one else tried the same basic aerodynamic formula.

    •  The F-100 was unforgiving on landing. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Jay C

      Several planes and pilots were lost when they tried to abort landings, add power and go around. On a missed approach, it was too easy to get behind the power curve even with afterburner. The result was dubbed, "The Sabre Dance." One of those incidents was caught on film.

      Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

      by Otteray Scribe on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 07:36:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The F-100 could be quite dangerous (4+ / 0-)

        Way back when I was a student pilot my squadron commander told me the story about how he was supposed to fly F-100s after pilot training.

        Because so many inexperienced Lieutenants had crashed F-100s the command said "No more Lieutenants in F-100s".

        Instead of his original F-100 he ended up being sent to C-130s.

        If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

        by Major Kong on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 05:39:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There's a story about the F-100 and landing (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, shortfinals

          If I recall the story correctly, North American sent Bob Hoover on tour to bases flying the F-100. He'd take off, do some maneuvers, and demonstrate how to really fly the F-100 by flying just above the runway and alternately touching the left and right wheels - then he'd come around again and land. The tires were painted, and when the plane rolled to a stop, the paint wouldn't even have been worn off by his 'waltzing' down the runway.

          It got awfully hard for a pilot to claim the F-100 was impossible to land after that.

          I also recall another F-100 story from the biography of Colonel Boyd - he was in a flight of F-100s carrying a full load of bombs, etc. on one end, and guy leading the flight told Boyd to move to the opposite side of the formation. He about had a heart attack when Boyd calmly rolled his plane on its back, slid over above the formation, and calmly rolled the plane into its new slot on the other end...

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 04:10:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Unforgiving is probably the best description (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, xaxnar

            All the Century-series fighters had some handling quirks that could bite you if you didn't watch what you were doing.

            If you got on the back side of the lift/drag curve, the slower you went the more power it took. You could get into a situation where you couldn't accelerate out of it. If you were close to the ground when it happened you couldn't trade altitude for airspeed either.

            Student pilots coming out of T-33s were frequently in over their heads with something like an F-100 or F-104.

            That's why the T-38 was developed. It was designed to fly like a tamer version of a Century-series aircraft. It wouldn't kill you quite as easily but it could still kill you.

            If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

            by Major Kong on Thu Oct 10, 2013 at 11:22:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Boyd's justification of why he did that move... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, Major Kong

              ...was that he knew the airplane thoroughly and how it would handle under any conditions - so there was no more risk in that move for him than in any other maneuver he might do with the airplane - he knew where the limits were.

              Of course Boyd is also the pilot who trashed an F-100 with a move (IIRC) he called "sweeping the cockpit". While in flight, he moved the stick in a box pattern - back, to the side, all the way forward, to the other side, all the way back. At that point the hydraulics blew out and he had to bail out.

              He was facing a court martial for destroying the aircraft - his defense was that he had found a design flaw and should be thanked for it! They put another F-100 up on jacks, pressurized the hydraulics (without starting the engine), and he repeated the control movements. Hydraulic fluid started pouring out of the plane in front of everybody. North American said "Hmmm!" and came out with a fix shortly thereafter.

              "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

              by xaxnar on Thu Oct 10, 2013 at 02:04:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely terrible, OS..... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        The F-100 was a killer to start with.......

        'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

        by shortfinals on Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 08:34:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Mirage III (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Jay C

      Fast, relatively agile, slightly better weapons load and range than the Lightning.

      I'd also put the Saab Draken in the same category.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 05:44:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Draken was way cool; my understanding... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        is that its long intake/wing root extensions mitigated the worst characteristics of plain deltas, unlike the Mirage, which retained them...

        namely, rapidly bleeding off energy in tight turns until helplessly slow; and high nose-up landing attitude.

      •  ...still the Lightning acceleration through... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest

        ....Mach 1 was incredible. As a point defence interceptor (the ultimate Me163 successor) it was magnificent

        'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

        by shortfinals on Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 08:37:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Quite (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest

          How good were the Red Top and Firestreak missiles?

          I've played with the Lightning in Strike Fighters 2 and the game designers have given the Red Top pretty awesome capabilities. It's practically a guaranteed kill if you get it within parameters.

          I'm just wondering if it was that good in real life.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Thu Oct 10, 2013 at 10:11:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  F-101 and F-105 weren't really "fighters" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, xaxnar

      The F-101 was a pure interceptor. Maneuverability wasn't really an issue. It just had to go fast in a straight line and shoot down a bomber.

      Speed, rate of climb and range (the US has a lot of airspace to defend) were more important than maneuverability.

      Similarly the F-105 was a strike/interdiction aircraft. It was originally designed to go fast at low altitude and deliver a nuclear weapon.

      It was optimized for straight-line speed, range and stability at low altitudes.

      Probably the best pure day-fighter fielded by the US in those days was the Navy's F-8 Crusader.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 07:34:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The final export versions of the Lightning... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      ....had a large ventral fuel tank with two 30mm ADEN cannon in the front, PLUS overwing fuel tanks and better missiles....a bit better anyway!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 08:32:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  a really interesting diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, RiveroftheWest

    ...and one that, like all truly interesting things, raises more questions than it answers.

    Are negative results a waste of time?  How far can you take engineering to validate a hypothesis?  At what stage of maturity can a technology reconfigure itself to answer questions with both technical and social (in the context of engineering development) dimensions?  All great stuff.

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 08:02:17 AM PDT

    •  The experiment with the adjustable wings... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, shortfinals

      reminds me of a toy I encountered too many years ago. It was a "design your own jet" kit with a couple of modular fuselages, wings, noses, tails, etc. that you could mix and match. Pity it's not still around.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 04:13:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  In some respects, the early research undertaken by (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      ....the SB.5 was a waste of time....

      HOWEVER, the accidental similarity of its wing platform to the leading edge profile of Concord, meant that the last stages of its working life gave valuable data about the low speed characteristics of the supersonic airliner.

      Aviation serendipity!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Wed Oct 09, 2013 at 08:41:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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