The Air Force’s Crazy 747 Aircraft Carrier Concept
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The Air Force’s Crazy 747 Aircraft Carrier Concept

September 8, 2019

This video was made possible by SkillShare,
home to over 26 thousand classes that’ll teach you just about anything. This is the Boeing 747. More than twice the size of any airliner before
it, the ‘jumbo jet’ revolutionized air travel. And it impressed more than just the flying
public. Because as crazy as it sounds, in 1973, the
U.S. Air Force considered turning airliners into airborne aircraft carriers. These once classified documents detail how
a 747 could be used to launch and recover fighter jets in mid-air. And how by the 1980s, airborne aircraft carriers
stationed around the world would bring airpower to anywhere in just hours. In 1968, Boeing unveiled the 747. Two and half times the size of any jetliner
before it, the so-called ‘jumbo jet’ transformed the way we fly. And at least part of the plane’s existence
is thanks to this man; Juan Trippe, the President of Pan American Airways, and a bit of a visionary. Because Trippe foresaw how a plane this big
could help decongest overcrowded airports and bring down the cost of flying opening
up air travel to the middle class. And when Trippe’s airline put in the first
order 747s, he boasted how the plane would become “a great weapon for peace” because
it would connect the world and bring people together. But it turns out, the Air Force had other
ideas. The 747, along with the newly introduced Lockheed
C-5 were a new kind of aircraft. With their enormous size, power, and range,
these planes opened up some intriguing possibilities. The Navy’s seaborne carrier force could already
move airpower across oceans. But an airborne equivalent would have the
ability to reach deep inland areas and be in any part of the world in just hours. And the idea for an airborne carrier force
wasn’t totally out of left field. Because the Navy once had airborne aircraft
carriers, two of them. When launched in the early 1930s, the airships
USS Akron and USS Macon were the size of battleships. Crewed by sixty men and protected by eight
machine guns, the enormous airships were just 5 meters short of being the largest objects
to ever take to the skies. But these were no ordinary airships. Designed as long range scouts for the U.S.
Navy, each had an internal hanger housing up to five planes called parasite fighters,
which extended the airship’s scouting range, and could even help defended it. A trapeze system below the carrier would deploy
and recover the fighters while in flight. The problem was, while the parasite fighters
worked, the massive airships didn’t. Both were destroyed in weather related accidents
less than three years of their introduction. And that helped put an end to airships, but
not the idea of flying aircraft carriers. Because a decade and a half later, the Air
Force was again experimenting with the concept. For the first time ever, intercontinental
bombers could fly halfway around the world, but their fighter escorts couldn’t. One promising solution was to have bombers
carry their escorts along for the ride. But sticking a full sized fighter jet underneath
a bomber would limit its range due to extra drag. So the new escort fighter would have to be
small enough to fit entirely inside the bomb bay. And so this what they came up with, the world’s
tiniest fighter jet. The Air Force planned to have B-36 bombers
carry anywhere from one to four these small jets, depending on the mission. This time the carrier worked, but the fighter
jets didn’t. The tiny egg-shaped jets were so sensitive
to turbulence while docking, test pilots only ever managed to do it three times. It proved far too dangerous. But the efforts continued into the 1950s,
including experimenting with a way to dock full size fighters to bombers by linking their
wing-tips. The idea was to not only extend the range
of the fighter jets, but the bombers as well, by effectively giving them a large glider-like
wings. But docking using this system proved even
more difficult and dangerous. Really the only successful implementation
of the idea was to carry a single reconnaissance or nuclear strike fighter half tucked under
a B-36, and just accept the extra drag. And by the mid-1950s, it was clear that newly
perfected aerial refueling was a far safer and more sensible way to extend aircraft range. But the air force took yet another look in
in 1973 because the landscape had changed entirely. The newly introduced 747 and C-5 were large
and powerful enough to not only deploy and recover fighter escorts mid-air…but also
refuel and rearm in mid-flight. So the Air Force commissioned Boeing to study
the concept. And not surprisingly, Boeing focused on using
a 747, citing superior range and cruising speed. And it would have worked something like this. Housed inside the 747’s pressurized hold
would be 10 unique fighter jets called micro-fighters. With each fighter suspended from an overhead
conveyor system, they could be positioned over one of two launch bays. To launch a fighter, a set of arms would lower
it into a bay, which would then be sealed and depressurized. The jet would then be lowered, and away it
would go. By Boeing’s estimates, it would take as
little as eighty seconds to deploy two micro-fighters. To recover a fighter, it would first dock
with a refueling boom, and if it needed rearming, the jet would be brought back inside. The carrier crew could turn around a micro-fighter
for new mission in as little as ten minutes. Also crammed into the 747 would be fuel, armament
and spare parts and a crew of 44. 12 carrier crew, 14 squadron pilots, and another
18 mission specialists. On top of that, the 747 would also be fitted
with sleeping quarters and a crew lounge. That seems like a lot to jam inside one 747,
but the viability of the concept hinged not so much on the carrier, but the fighters,
which would have to be miniaturized to fit inside a carrier aircraft. With a wingspan just over 5 meters and about
1/3rd the weight of a conventional fighter. The micro-fighters would be armed with a pair
of 20mm cannons, and could be fitted with air-to-air missiles or bombs. Boeing was confident these little guys could
stand toe to toe with something like a MiG-21. Airborne carriers could operate out of anywhere
with a big enough airfield and function as a battle group with supporting aerial refuelers
and radar pickets, giving the Air Force the ability to be anywhere in the world, within
hours, when a typical seaborne carrier force would need days or weeks. Of course, 747 aircraft carriers were never
built and you’d need a lot more than a sixty page study to get something like this to work. And while Boeing’s engineers were confident
that with further development airborne aircraft carriers could enter service by late 1980s,
the Air Force didn’t pursue the idea. With air combat evolving so dramatically throughout
the 1960s and 1970s, developing a 747 carrier with special micro-fighters would likely prove
to be a dead end. Because light-weight micro-fighters might
have made sense in the 1970s. By the late 1980s, they would have been hopelessly
out classes against fourth generation fighters. But the Air Force isn’t done with the concept. Over the next couple few years, the Department
of Defence will unveil a new carrier system. But this time, they’ll deploy unmanned drones,
which in comparison, doesn’t quite stir the imagination. 3D modelling is a great way to communicate
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  2. they should just deploy more aircraft carriers, that all have repair teams with parts and fuel and medical supplies and ammo and anything else needed, so if your about to go down just land at the nearest carrier

  3. Jumbo jets were made to load as much people as possible to take them all to a single destination in Juan Trippe.

  4. I was about to comment that the concept could be revived with drones but the video at the end and everyone in the comments already said it..

  5. How about a space station that could launch high altitude fighter jets into the atmosphere via rail gun style accelerators, the power for said magnetic acelerators could come from solar panels and thermo couples.

  6. People in the 1970s : let's fucking put fighter jets inside a Jumbojet.
    People in 2019:she didn't like my Instagram photo ,my life is over!! cries like a baby

  7. What if these thicc 747-acc where really created and used?? Think about it: the fighters disappears over the Bermuda triangle, that could be their fault…

  8. I wish they built something similar to that big mothership thing from the cartoon Tailspin. The big flying base where Lord Carnage had his pirates.

  9. The sort of hypothetical and only conceptual advancements such as this (big planes, interacting with smaller planes, and people involved in the process) seems like it is way cooler than a super bomb or an ICBM. Seems much more culturally relevant long term than the impersonal long range weapons. But, ok.

  10. 747: "Yo, Ruskies! What's up?"
    MiG fighters: "Hey, how are you doing, mate?"
    747: "Nothing, really"
    747's little fighters: "SURPRISE MOTHERF**KAS"

  11. What we pay for with our taxes boggles the mind. I'm still unclear as to why U.S. forces need to be anywhere but defending U.S. soil. Oh, I remember to protect countries that we exploit for mining and deforestation and greed.

  12. We are in 2019 here and we have Airbus A380s, why cant they use that , sure a 747 works but an A380 would work better

  13. Wisang :can you play strike fighters modern combat ?
    USAF : uuuuuuh
    Wisang : please please please
    USAF :how do we play it ?
    Wisang :like flying a plane

  14. Something like this WILL happen for UAVs that can be small without a pilot but would waste fuel getting to its target.

  15. Hey. Try to keep military and civilian aircraft seperate. I dont want my ass to be mistaken for an aircraft carrier when I am flying.

  16. Boeing: “a great weapon . . .”

    Air Force: ?

    Boeing: “. . . for peace”

    Air Force: “? dominate the skies you say?”

    Other Countries: “? do we mean nothing to you?!”

  17. Glad this Boeing does not use MCAS, we all know what will happen. this is 2019 just one S400 will solve the problem.

  18. The days of combat airplanes are over. Hypersonic missiles will win battles. Launch 200 of them at a time and exhaust your enemy’s defenses.

  19. I like the concept ! The problem with our fighters is they have thin wings for speed thus reducing fuel capacity and range. What is needed is a fighter with a 1200 mile range to protect spy planes that are easy picking for fighters based on the lands/islands being spied on. There was a aircraft developed years ago in Canada that was ideal but canceled due to political pressure.

  20. Why not just fill the plane up with guided missiles a? you can fit a lot more of those inside of his jetliner then fighter jets .

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