In the Avengers movies, the secret group SHIELD used a massive full-size aircraft carrier called a helicarrier. This mammoth ship contained four gigantic fans that provided enough lift to help hide the carrier amongst the clouds. From the carrier, SHIELD could launch missions from anywhere around the world as long as those gigantic fans continued to turn despite wear and tear or even sabotage, which almost led to its demise.
As awesome as the helicarrier was, it’s still just a movie. But, in real life, could an airborne aircraft carrier really be developed? If so, how much faster could one deliver a fleet of aircraft around the world to a hot spot than by a traditional carrier?
Long before the helicarrier, the United States was already investigating to see if it was feasible. In the 1930s, they built the U.S.S. Akron and U.S.S. Macon to be an airborne aircraft carrier. Not only could the Akron carry 120 passengers and crew, but it also launched and recovered the five F9C Sparrowhawk fighter planes it carried. Following a few high profile fatal crashes of lighter-than-air dirigibles like the Hindenburg and Akron, the U.S. military would move away from these balloon aircraft.
The interest of an airborne aircraft carrier would not end with the Akron and Macon. In the early 1970s, the United States Air Force began a study centered around converting a Boeing 747 into a flying aircraft carrier. They would research whether this 747 could not only carry up to 10 micro fighters but could also launch and recover them while in the air. The 747 would refuel the micro fighter aircraft and carry enough materials to conduct three sorties per fighter.
The concept is a really great idea, even if it never develops past just the investigation. The tiny fighter aircraft that would be designed to fit in the 1970s would have been outclassed by the 4th generation aircraft that came along in the 1980s. Today, the military still has plans for an airborne aircraft carrier. The difference is these newer concept aircraft will be smaller unmanned drones that will be launched and recovered and piloted by the crew on board the carrier aircraft.
To learn more about the Air Force’s study on the Boeing 747 Mothership, watch the video below. If you enjoy it, please share it with friends and colleagues. Enjoy this #JetFriday video and have a great Friday! See all our Jet Friday posts.