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FR Fireball

The Ryan FR Fireball was a fighter built by the Ryan Aeronautical Company with both a reciprocating prop engine as well as a jet engine. It was no secret that jet and rocket aircraft were being developed in Europe. Once fully developed, these would be of superior performance to piston engine aircraft. The Navy initiated investigations into alternative solutions to counter these new jets. By late 1942, the had Navy decided upon a composite-powered fighter. In December, ADM John S. McCain released the proposal to nine manufacturers, including Ryan. The Ryan proposal was accepted and a contract for three prototypes and one static test article was placed on 11 February 1943.

On November 6, 1945, while in the groove for a carrier landing, the pilot of an FR-1 noticed a rapid decrease in rpm and manifold pressure in his reciprocating engine. Realizing he had little time to find and correct the trouble, he quickly started his jet engine. With the jet engine developing full power, he managed to complete the landing but, due to a faster approach speed than usual, the planner overshot slightly, engaging the last wire and the #2 barrier. Congratulations to the pilot for his quick thinking and skillful handling of an unusual emergency that surely prevented a much more serious accident. Another noteworthy fact about this incident is that, according to available information, it was the first jet-powered landing aboard a carrier.

In March 1946, the Fireball joined elements of Air Group 74 aboard USS Midway off the coast of Labrador during Operation Frostbite. The FR-1 operated in frigid weather along with other wing aircraft including the relatively new Grumman F8F Bearcat and the HNS-1 helicopter by Sikorsky.

Ryan Aeronautics' FR-1 Fireball was an interesting attempt to combine the high thrust of a jet engine with the acceleration and fuel economy of a reciprocating engine into a single airframe. The high power of the little hybrid fighter encouraged the company to think about the possibilities of developing a pure jet plane with a more thrust than its own weight - i.e., a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than 1:1.

Based on the Ryan Aeronautical Company's successful combination jet-and-piston engine FR-1 Fireball fighter for the Navy, and impressed with the company's interest in developing higher thrust levels, the Air Force signed a contract for a pure-jet VTOL research aircraft on 28 July, 1954. The project expanded with the Navy and NACA joining as sponsors during various phases of the effort. The X-13 Vertijet which resulted was to be a proof-of-concept vehicle only and, in spite of overheated enthusiasm in some quarters, in no way was it ever a prototype fighter.

A fighter that could bull its way into the air without the need of a runway or a long flight deck could furnish small warships or auxiliary vessels with their own air protection. Accordingly, in the spring of 1947 the Navy gave Ryan a contract to study and develop reaction control systems. Within a year, the company had a workable system operating on a vertical test stand and a contract to develop an air vehicle was soon forthcoming.

The airplane had to be small and simple. Constructed around a Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet capable of 10,000 pounds of thrust for short periods, its gross weight obviously had to remain below that figure. Ryan solved that problem with a design that would be no larger than Northrop's diminutive X-4 Bantam. A shoulder-mounted delta wing provided 191 square feet of wing surface with a short span, and its internal fuel tank held only 271 gallons - enough for no more than 20 minutes of flight. The greatest innovation, though, was in the reaction control system. Bleed air from the engine's compression section could be ducted out through wingtip orifices, allowing effective control in a hover at zero airspeed.

Before actual construction could begin, however, the Navy backed out. Reduced budgets at the end of the Korean War forced the Navy to cancel many of its more esoteric projects, and the notion of a submarine with its own air cover had lost its appeal. Undaunted, Ryan approached the Air Force and in July 1954 a contract was signed for two research VTOL jets to be designated the X-13.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:32:15 ZULU