Back to the drawing board: The Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon

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It could hardly have been the ambition of the Salmon’s creators that it should end up as an exhibit at Florida’s Sun ’n Fun Campus Museum. This, after all, was a US aircraft prototype designed to show the world that fighter aircraft could take off and land without needing a runway. Vast, expensive aircraft carriers were soon to be a thing of the past, and it would all be thanks to the Salmon!

At least, that is what scientists at the Lockheed Corporation hoped when they beat rivals Convair and won the contract to produce an aircraft capable of evolving into a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) convoy-escort fighter.

On 19 April 1951, the US Navy ordered two prototypes from Lockheed. Soon after, the Lockheed XFV-1 (nicknamed the Salmon after the prototype’s test pilot, Herman ‘Fish’ Salmon) was produced, powered by a 5,332hp Allison YT40-A-14 turboprop engine, which drove the three-bladed contra-rotating propellers. The aircraft’s awkward appearance and strange-looking makeshift fixed landing gear did not instil immediate confidence, and various other nicknames were soon assigned to the XFV-1.

However, initial success came in the form of a small (albeit unintentional) hop in 1953. Flight testing had started by affixing a temporary undercarriage with braced V-legs to the fuselage, and fixed tail wheels to the lower fins. This unsteady contraption was then ferried to Edwards Air Force Base where – even before the aft section of the large spinner had been fitted – Chief Test Pilot ‘Fish’ Salmon managed to taxi the aircraft past the lift-off speed and achieve a brief hop on 22 December 1953. Under a year later, the aircraft made its first official flight on 16 June 1954.

Full of beans, Lockheed decided that the next step was to test the Salmon’s full VTOL capability. However, when a specific engine required to reach this next stage failed to materialise, progress was delayed. Despite making a total of 32 flights, briefly holding a hover at altitude, and managing a few transitions in-flight from the conventional to the vertical flight mode and back again, the project was doomed to be cancelled in June 1955.

The XFV-1 had not made a single vertical take-off or landing (save for ‘Fish’ Salmon’s accidental leap), and only the most experienced pilots were able to fly the aircraft. The final straw was the Navy’s realisation that even if the XFV-1 had been able to take off vertically, its speed would never have matched those reached contemporary fighters.

Convair, meanwhile, despite not being contracted, had not been disheartened and had gone about creating a prototype of its own: the XFY-1 Pogo. However, due to the Pogo’s lightweight design, and the lack of spoilers and air brakes, the aircraft lacked the ability to slow down and stop efficiently after moving at high speeds. After some test flights at the hands of Test Pilot ‘Skeets’ Coleman, this project was also concluded in 1955.


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