After a year of discussion with aviation companies beginning in the late summer of 1956, CIA focused its attention on building a jet that could fly at extremely high speeds and altitudes while incorporating state-of-the-art techniques in radar absorption or deflection.
This effort was codenamed GUSTO. Bissell had collected so many ideas for a successor to the U-2 that Bissell asked DCI Dulles for permission to establish an advisory committee to assist in the selection process. Bissell also felt that the support of a committee of prominent scientists and engineers would prove useful when it came time to ask for funding for such an expensive project. Polaroid chief executive Edwin Land became the chairman of the new committee which included some of the scientists and engineers who had served on previous advisory bodies for overhead reconnaissance: Edward Purcell, Allen F. Donovan. H.Guyford Stever, and Eugene P. Kiefer. The Air Force's chief scientist. Courtland D. Perkins, was also a member. The committee first met in November 1957 and held six more meetings between July 1958 and the late summer of 1959. The meetings usually took place in Land's Boston office and almost always included the Air Force's Assistant Secretary for Research and Development, Dr. Joseph V. Charyk, and his Navy counterpart, Garrison Norton.
Designers from several aircraft manufacturers also attended some of the meetings. The two most prominent firms involved in the process were Lockheed, which already was investigating designs for the U-2’s replacement, and Convair, which was building a supersonic bomber for the Air Force, the B-58 Hustler.
Lockheed’s chief engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, said that “It makes no sense to just take this one or two steps ahead, because we’d be buying only a couple of years before the Russians would be able to nail us again…. I want us to come up with an airplane that can rule the skies for a decade or more.”
On 21 April 1958, Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects component, jokingly nicknamed the “Skunk Works” after the backwoods moonshine still in the comic strip Li’l Abner and already responsible for so many cutting-edge aviation achievements, began designing an aircraft that would cruise at Mach 3.0 at altitudes above 90,000 feet. “The higher and faster we fly, the harder it will be to spot us, much less stop us,” Johnson asserted.
On 23 July 1958, Johnson presented his concept to Land’s committee, which expressed interest in the approach. By September 1958, the Skunk Works had studied various configurations called “Archangel-1,” “Archangel-2,” and so forth—a carryover from the original moniker of “Angel” given to the U-2 during its development. The nomenclature soon became simply “A-1,” “A-2,” etc.
In September 1958, the Land committee met again to review all the concepts then under consideration and to winnow out the few that were most practicable. Among the concepts rejected were the Navy‘s proposal for an in?atable, ramjet-powered aircraft, a Boeing proposal for a 190-foot-long hydrogen-powered inflatable aircraft, and a Lockheed design for a hydrogen-powered aircraft (the CL-400). The committee examined two other Kelly Johnson designs at this meeting - a tailless subsonic aircraft with a very-low-radar cross section and a new Supersonic design (the A-2) — and did not accept either one, the former because of its slow speed and the latter because of its dependence on exotic fuels for its ramjets and its high cost. The committee approved the continuation of Convair's work on a ramjet-powered Mach 4.0 "parasite" aircraft that would be launched from a specially configured version of the B-58B bomber. The design was termed a parasite because it could not take off on its own but needed a larger aircraft to carry it aloft and accelerate it to the speed required’to start the ramjct engine. The Convair design was called the FISH.
Two months later, after reviewing the Convair proposal and yet another Lockheed design for a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft (the A-3), the Land committee concluded in late November 1958 that it would indeed be feasible to build an aircraft whose speed and altitude would make radar tracking difficult or impossible. The committee, therefore; recommended that DCI Dulles ask President Eisenhower to approve further pursuit of the project and to provide funds for additional studies and tests.
On 17 December 1958, Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell briefed the President on the progress toward a successor to the U-2. Also present were Land and Purcell from the advisory committee. Presidential Science Adviser James Killian. and Air Force Secretary Donald Quarles. DCI Dulles reviewed the results of the U—2 missions to date and stated his belief that a successor to the U-2 could be used all over the world and “would have a much greater invulnerability to detection." Bissell then described the two competing projects by Lockheed and Convair, noting that the chief question at the moment was whether to use air launch or ground takeoff. The next phase, he added, would be detailed engineering, at the end of which it was propsed that 12 aircraft be ordered at a cost of about $100 million.
Although President Eisenhower supported the purchase of this type of aircraft, he questioned the plan to procure any before they had been tested. Promising that more thought would be given to the matter before such an order was placed, Secretary Quarles noted that CIA, the Defense Department, and the Bureau of the Budget were working on a funding plan for the project. The President suggested that the Air Force “could support the project by transferring some reconnaissance money." At the close of the meeting, Eisenhower asked the group to return after completing the next work phase to discuss further stages of the project with him.
Cold-War radar systems were far from perfect. The Blip/Scan Ratio, but also referred to as “the single scan probability of detection”, involved three elements: the strength of a radar return, the altitude of the object being illuminated by the radar, and the persistence of the radar-retum on the radar screen (Pulse-Position Indicator display). Most tracking radars in the late 1950s swept a band of sky 30° to 45° wide and 360° in circumference. Any object encountered in this area re?ected the radar pulse in a manner directly proportional to its size — the larger the object, the stronger the returning radar signal. This return appeared on the cathode-ray tube of the radar screen as a spot or blip, and the persistence of this blip on the radar screen also depended on the strength of the radar return, with blips from larger objects remaining on the screen longer. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a human radar operator watched the radar screen and kept track of the blips that indicated aircraft within the radar‘s field of view.
A high-altitude object moving two to three times as fast as a normal aircraft would produce such a small blip with so little persistence that the radar operator would have great difficulty tracking it, if indeed he could even see it. It was estimated that for an aircraft to take advantage of this Blip/Scan Ratio phenomenon it must fly at altitudes approaching 90,000 feet and have a radar cross section of less than l0 square meters, preferably not much ever 5 square meters. However, for a Mach 3.0 aircraft to achieve such a small radar cross section, its designers would have to make many concessions in its structural design and aerodynamics.
Exploratory work was conducted over the first six months of 1959, utilizing the $6.5 million made available by the President. Two aircraft had been investigated. The first, studied in greater detail, was the Super-Hustler, a small ramjet to be carried aloft by a B-58 and air launched; the second is a very advanced turbojet, The former was evaluated to be feasible; it would have a radar cross-section so low that the probability of hostile detection and successful tracking Would be very low. It would have a 4000-mi1e range at mach 4, with 90, 000 feet altitude. The Lockheed proposal was for a vehicle using a J-58 engine; it would have a larger radar cross-section than the Super-Hustler, but the cross-section will still be about 1/20th of that of a B-47.
If a decision to go ahead with development were taken in July 1959, the first flight for each of these could take place in January 1961. The costs for development and production of twelve aircraft, including engines and flight testing, would run about $170 million for the Lockheed aircraft and $160 million (including cost of conversion of B-58s) for the Super-Hustler. In FY-60, $100 million in obligational authority would be needed, $75 million had been earmarked and was available in Department of Defense funds; $25 million could be drawn from CIA.
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