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Navaho vs Burya
Navaho vs Burya

Credit: © Mark Wade. 10,772 bytes. 530 x 475 pixels.

Tsiolkovskiy pointed out in 1929 that the altitude of an aircraft does not have to be limited to the atmosphere if rocket propulsion was used. This article inspired numerous Soviet designers, and led to development of experimental and military rocketplanes in the Soviet Union during the 1930's and 1940's. German developments of rocketplanes, air-breathing cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles during World War II resulted in a reconsideration of some of Tsiolkovskiy's conclusions, however.

Initially German engineers studied similar concepts, such as the Saenger-Bredt antipodal bomber. This futuristic missile would use a rocket sled for initial acceleration of a 100 tonne manned vehicle. The winged rocket second stage would fly a suborbital trajectory half way around the world, skipping off the earth's atmosphere like a stone skipping across the water. A one tonne bomb would be dropped an American city, and the spacecraft would finally glide to a landing at an Axis-controlled airfield in the Pacific on the other side of the world. A similar two-stage trans-Atlantic missile, the A-9/A-10, was designed by Werner Von Braun's team at Peenemuende. However further work late in the war indicated a Mach 3 ramjet cruise missile second stage was a superior technical solution compared to the pure rocket. However a ramjet must be moving at a speed near its cruise velocity design point before it can be ignited. Therefore a rocket first stage was still required to get the cruise missile up to ramjet ignition conditions.

In both America and Russia design studies by captured German rocket engineers were commissioned for a high altitude cruise missile based on the Peenemuende work. In Russia, B Chertok of NII-8 took this preliminary design and elaborated it, including consideration of the key problem of long-range automatic astronavigation.

Von Braun's team in America had designed a similar Hermes cruise missile in New Mexico in 1946. This used a V-2 as the first stage. The Hermes concept was elaborated by North American Aviation into the Navaho cruise missile.

While these preliminary studies were underway the United States developed plans for delivery of nuclear warheads on the cities of the Soviet Union. These evolved through the Boiler, Frolic, and Half Moon plans, culminating in Plan Trojan in December 1948. Trojan foresaw attack of 70 Soviet cities with 133 atomic bombs. The number of nuclear-capable bombers rose from 60 in December 1948 to 250 in June 1950, and development of an intercontinental jet bomber, the B-52, was authorised in 1949.

Stalin's response to this threat was authorisation to begin development of means of nuclear attack of the United States. Veteran aircraft designer Tupolev was tasked with development of an intercontinental bomber, while young rocket designer Korolev was to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. After initial study Tupolev reported that it would not be possible to develop an intercontinental bomber using jet engines; his Tu-95 would use German-designed turboprops. However another designer, Myasishchev, claimed to be able to design an intercontinental jet bomber. Accordingly the Central Committee decree on 24 March 1951 created the OKB-23 Myasishchev design bureau.

Myasishchev managed to complete the first prototype 103M (M-4 Bear) bomber ten months after go-ahead (compared with four years for the B-52). The 103M represented a tremendous increase in Soviet technology: altitude was increased by 50%, range doubled, and takeoff mass was four times greater than any previous Soviet aircraft.

The United States had meanwhile pursued development of the B-52 intercontinental jet bomber and Navaho cruise missile while declining to develop ballistic missiles. This difference with the Soviet bomber/ballistic missile approach led Academician Keldysh of the Academy of Sciences to from a group that raised the question of Soviet development of a similar long-range unpiloted aircraft.

Launch Vehicle: Buran.

A government decree on 20 May 1954 authorised the Myasishchev aircraft design bureau to proceed with full-scale development of the Buran trisonic intercontinental cruise missile. The competing Burya design of Lavochkin was launched in July 1957, but the development of unstoppable ICBM's had made intercontinntal cruise missiles oboslete. The equivalent American Navaho project was cancelled ten days later. Korolev's R-7 ICBM completed its first successful test flight in August. Buran was being prepared for its first flight when Myasishchev's project was cancelled on November 1957.

Launch Vehicle: RSS-52.

After the cancellation of the ground-launched version of the Buran missile, Myasishchev continued to pursue use of the M-42 cruise stage in aviation research and space exploration. In 1958 he appealed to both Khrushchev and Minister of Defence of Malinovskiy to support continued development. He now proposed an unmanned, air-launched version for high speed research.

At this time Myasishchev was developing the first Soviet supersonic bomber, the M-50. On the basis of this immense delta-winged vehicle Myasishchev proposed the RSS-52 aerospace vehicle. The RSS-52 would consist of the M-52 carrier aircraft, derived from the M-50. The M-52 would have an enormous recess in its fuselage, within which would be carried the M-44 ramjet. The M-44, designed by G D Dermichev, would be a derivative of the cancelled M-42. The M-52 would enter a circuit 1,000 km from base, accelerate to supersonic speed, and then launch the M-44. The M-44 would accelerate to hypersonic velocity, conduct a high speed run of an overwater circuit, and then splash down in the sea. A radio beacon would allow location and recovery of the craft.

In the United States, the X-15 was being developed to answer analogous questions. However due to the expense and technical problems, Myasishchev was unable to convince the leadership to approve the RSS-52.

Launch Vehicle: Burya.

A government decree on 20 May 1954 authorised the Lavochkin aircraft design bureau to proceed with full-scale development of the Burya trisonic intercontinental cruise missile. Burya launches began in July 1957. The project was cancelled, but the team was allowed final tests in 1961 that demonstrated a 6,500 km range at Mach 3.2 with the 2,350 kg payload. In cancelling Burya the Russians gave up technology that Lavochkin planned to evolve into a manned shuttle-like recoverable launch vehicle.

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Last update 3 May 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .