Skip to comments.Cancelled: The Navy's SeaMaster
Posted on 03/09/2012 9:11:02 PM PST by U-238
In the early days of the cold war, the U.S. Navy was feeling left out. The future was nuclear, and the Air Forces Strategic Air Command seemed to have a lock on the delivery systems. The Navys first bid for a piece of the strategic pie, the supercarrier USS United States, was killed by the Pentagon in favor of the Air Forces B-36 bomber, so the admirals came up with a plan for a force of nuclear-armed seaplanes.
The Seaplane Striking Force would comprise jet-powered flying boats capable of long-range strategic nuclear attack and more mundane tasks such as conventional bombing, mine-laying, and reconnaissance. From the get-go, the Martin P6M SeaMaster (chosen over a competing design from Convair) was something of a contradiction in terms. Seaplanes need to be adept at low-altitude, low-speed flyingtasks not usually associated with high-power jet engines. The first of two prototypes, designated the XP6M-1, made its first flight on July 14, 1955. It featured four Allison J71-A-4 turbojet engines mounted in two nacelles on top of the fuselage near the wing roots,
For stability on the water, the wings, swept 40 degrees, had a distinct anhedralthey drooped, allowing the wingtip tanks to sit on the water and serve as stabilizing floats, with no struts to induce drag. Initial testing, conducted in secret on the Chesapeake Bay near Martins Baltimore headquarters, revealed that the jet exhausts were too close to the fuselage and scorched it when the afterburners were used.
Here is a link to some video for all my old salty shipmates to enjoy.
As impractical and expensive as this was going to be, still the ‘Thunderbirds’ kid in me thinks that this was a cool concept. Imagine, fleets of jetboats leaping into the air to battle the bad guys! The stuff of Saturday morning matinees!
You know there were some highly improbable weapon systems developed in the 50’s and 60’s.
This sure was one of them.
The Vigilante did have a short life later as a recon bird, but never saw one up close.
Impractical in what way? Compare it to the B-52 bases that required a significant portion of the force to remain airborne at all times to avoid nuclear obliteration at the beginning of a conflict. With the Sea Master, any port could become a base - even any Navy ship at sea with refueling capability could be used.
The old SeaMaster was one of the most beautiful planes ever designed.
SO what if it couldn’t fly? Neither could the Spruce Goose, and we junked the B-58, another great piece of aviation work.
I agree, but it was competing with the SLBMs,it was significantly over budget and behind schedule,and was competing with aircraft carriers for funding. The Navy had another nuclear strike system waiting in the wings, the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine.
Impractical in that huge seaplanes can only land on water that is calm. nature is rarely going to provide that when most needed.
As you noted, the Viggie had a unique linear bomb bay from which the nuclear “shape” could be ejected while the pilot flew various maneuvers. During the initial trials the equipment & ejection methods were not reliable - the bomb bay was never used as such in the fleet. One unconfirmed story was that whenever the test pilot executed a certain release maneuver the shape followed the flight path of the aircraft almost exactly, forcing the pilot to do an unplanned maneuver to “shake the shape”.
It's career as a bomber basically over before it really began the Vigilante ended up as a very capable recce platform from about 1964 until the end of the 1970s. The sensors were state of the art, and replacing the Viggie’s package with the TARPS pod for the F14 was considered by many in the recce community as a step backwards.
IIRC the plane had the dubious distinction of having the highest combat loss-to-total aircraft deployed ratio of the Vietnam War. This was due to the mission profile and the relatively small number of aircraft involved, not the performance of the aircraft/crews themselves. Those post-strike assessment missions were brutal...
In the end, the Viggie was removed from service due to its large size (& carrier deck multiple) and high maintenance cost. The big problem towards the end was a lack of tail hooks - North American was willing to restart a production line, but it was cost prohibitive. On the last deployments the aircraft spent as much time as possible shore based to save wear & tear on the hooks.
Interesting point. Yes, dispersal of forces would have been no problem. And imagine the air support a task force could have gotten, in addition to their own aircraft.
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I was thinking more time to get to a SOSUS contact due to the P6M’s speed - much greater than the P-3 Orion. The only other maritime patrol aircraft in the west with such a characteristic was the Nimrod.
any port could become a base - even any Navy ship at sea with refueling capability could be used.
It truly would have made the Navy many dimensional from the sea - on over and under - who needs dry land? probably either the forerunner or result of the LVT’s the Navy/Marine team used
Anyone out there remember the ‘car boat’? I seem to recall either Willy’s or Kaiser making it and not sure I put an actual eyeball on one, seem to remember them from newsreels at the movies...(Pre TV)....
Squirting out the nuke aft had major problems, no bomb was ever dropped that way. The main problem with the plane was that its high landing speed and other flight characteristics made is really hard to land on a carrier...even in the best of conditions...bad weather or nighttime operations would have been very dicey..The main reason the Navy dropped the plane was the rapid development of missiles launched from subs..
“...more time to get to a SOSUS contact due to the P6Ms speed-”
Especially in the Pacific. An air group of these in Micronesia would have been golden either during the Cold War, or now monitoring the Red Chinese.
No argument there. Still my favorite jet design ever.