posted on Jul, 28 2004 @ 12:10 PM
The Miles M.52 is an aircraft that you may or may not have heard of but it was Britains entry in the race for supersonic flight, it never crossed the
finishing line but there are some similarites and some direct links to the aircraft that did, the Bell X-1.
It would be wrong to say that the X-1 ripped off the M.52, as there can be no doubt that the X-1 was underway before Bell even knew the M.52 existed
as it wasn't revealed by the air ministry until after it had already been cancelled. Despite this the overall shape of the two aircraft are
remarkably similar. Both types feature (literally) bullet shaped fuselage's which were the result of entirely separate research on both sides of the
Atlantic, they also featured mid mounted unswept wings of extremely thin section and totally blended cockpit canopies, again separately arrived at by
each design team.
The differences between them were that the X-1 was an air launched rocket powered type whilst the M.52 was to have been powered by the worlds first
afterburning jet engine which was fed by an annular intake that went right around the fuselage aft of the cockpit. Although it was designed to be
capable of taking off under its own power for general flight testing it is likely that the test runs for the attempt on the sound barrier would have
been carried out with the M.52 being launched from a converted Lincloln or Windsor bomber, the only British aircraft capable of the task.
Another difference was in the tail design. The X-1 featured a conventional tailplane mounted part way up the vertical fin while the M.52 had a
revoltionary 'all flying tail' with the tailplanes mounted directly on the fuselage. This arrangement had been test flown on a converted Miles
Falcon trainer. The British Government cancelled the M.52 in 1945 with the prototype at an advanced stage of construction and only then was the
project, which had been begun in 1943, revealed publicly with the astonishing explanation that "The discovery of German research into swept wings
leads us to believe that the unswept M.52 will not work and that in any case man will not fly supersonically for at least ten years, if at all".
Naturally, Miles Aircraft were furious and vehemently disagreed but the deed was done. High level contact was then made with the US ( in order to
revive the project with US backing) at which point it was discovered that Bell were already working on a supersonic programme of their own, exchange
visits were quickly organised and the level to which both types were alike astonished both companies and convinced the already confident Bell team
that they were on the right lines, taking as evidence the fact that an entirely separate design team working in the same area (an area that was
completely unknown) was coming up with the same answers that they were.
The one area where the British team brought something entirely new to the X-1 was when the problems of high speed control were discussed and Bell saw
immediately that the all flying tail of the M'52 was the answer. This was incorporated into the X-1 without changing the position or shape of the
tail and wind tunnel tests proved it to be the only workable solution. As a result it has been almost universally applied to supersonic aircraft ever
since. Also Bell decided to stick with rocket power as using the jet engine would require a redesign to incorporate air intakes that would delay the
programme for no real benefit and the rest is history.
The stupidity of the decision to cancel the M.52 was shown when more than a decade later Cranwell college, working from the original programme, proved
that the M.52 would have worked perfectly although it would have topped out with the W.2-700 (reheat) at 800mph when its design speed was 1,000mph
later engines would have allowed this speed to surpassed comfortably with the existing aerodynamics and structure.
Having passed up this perfectly workable research aircraft Britain was forced to muddle along with unmanned rocket models (which all failed) and the
converted Vampire that was the DH 108 which although successful in flying supersonically was about two years later (and after the X-1) and also
crashed, killing Geoffrey De Havilland Jnr who was flying it . Ironically the cause of this crash was traced to wing flutter caused by the long SWEPT
wing of the 108!
[edit on 28-7-2004 by waynos]