Convair NB-36H

NB-36H
NB-36H with B-50, 1955 - DF-SC-83-09332.jpeg
The Convair NB-36 in flight, with a B-50 Superfortress
RoleExperimental aircraft
ManufacturerConvair
First flight1955
StatusCanceled
Primary userUnited States Air Force
Number built1
Developed fromConvair B-36
Developed intoConvair X-6
Serial51-5712

The Convair NB-36H was an experimental aircraft that carried a nuclear reactor. It was also known as the "Crusader".[1] It was created for the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program, or the ANP, to show the feasibility of a nuclear-powered bomber. Its development ended with the cancellation of the ANP program.

Design and development

The Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program, and the preceding Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project, worked to develop a nuclear propulsion system for aircraft. The United States Army Air Forces initiated Project NEPA on May 28, 1946.[2] After funding of $10 million in 1947,[3] NEPA operated until May 1951, when the project was transferred to the joint Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)/USAF ANP.[4] The USAF pursued two different systems for nuclear-powered jet engines, the Direct Air Cycle concept, which was developed by General Electric, and Indirect Air Cycle, which was assigned to Pratt & Whitney. The program was intended to develop and test the Convair X-6, a planned prototype for a fully functional nuclear-powered plane.[5]

In 1952, the Carswell Air Force Base in Texas was hit by a tornado, severely damaging a number of aircraft.[6] One of the damaged planes was a B-36 bomber, and Convair suggested to the Air Force that it should be converted into an early prototype for the X-6, instead of being repaired.[6] The Air Force agreed to this plan, and provided funding for an overhaul of the plane.[6] The intention was to test flying a plane with a functioning nuclear engine on board, but with it not yet powering the plane at this stage.[5]

The original crew and avionics cabin was replaced by a massive lead- and rubber-lined 11 ton crew section for a pilot, copilot, flight engineer and two nuclear engineers. Even the small windows had 25–30 centimetres (10–12 in) thick lead glass.[1][7][8][9] The aircraft was fitted with a 1-megawatt air-cooled reactor, with a weight of 35,000 pounds (16,000 kg).[10] This was hung on a hook in the middle bomb bay to allow for easy loading and unloading, so that the radioactive source could be kept safely underground between the test flights.[6] A monitoring system dubbed "Project Halitosis" measured radioactive gases from the reactor.[11]

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