flying and the fact that it has two engines is an added safety factor.

Due to its planned role as a jet trainer, only limited P-59 production was undertaken. The operational aircraft incorporated a number of modifications first tested on the YP-59As. The wing tips and rudder were reduced in size to improve maneuverability, and a vertical fin was added to improve spin recovery. The aft fuselage was strengthened, metal flaps and ailerons replaced the original fabric-covered ones, and the main landing gear was modified. After twenty P-59As were delivered, fuel tanks were added to the outer wings. These final thirty aircraft were redesignated P-59Bs. Most of the aircraft were operated by the 412th Fighter Group. In July 1946, less than a year after the last P-59 was delivered, they were retired. One YP-59A and three P-59As were also provided to the U.S. Navy. They were operated for several years in a test role, introducing that service to the jet age.[19]

The Bell P-59 Airacomet was a ground-breaking aircraft in many ways.

For American aviation, it ushered in the jet age and a half-century dominance of both military and civilian aerospace technology. Although unsuccessful as a fighter, the P-59 provided valuable experience. It underlined the kind of change jet engines brought to aviation. Although its propulsion was revolutionary, the P-59 was limited by outmoded aerodynamics. With its broad, straight wings and teardrop-shaped fuselage, the P-59 was very much a late-1930's design. The fake prop did not look at all out of place. Its top speed was limited to 389 mph at 35,000 feet — inferior to that of prop fighters.

In contrast, the German Me 262, with sweep wings and more refined aerodynamics, had a top speed of 580 mph. Clearly, it was not enough to simply stick jet engines on a propeller-driven airplane. (One early XP-59A design was a P-39 with two jet engines hung under the wings.) The revolutionary engines had to be matched with an equally revolutionary airframe.

Bell and the XP-59A created the modern concept of the Black airplane.

All the elements — the secret task, small design group, tight schedule, separate facilities, and the isolated test site — were present. Yet the plane marked the decline of Bell's role in fixed-wing aviation. The formal end came with another Black airplane, also unsuccessful. The heritage of the first Dark Eagle would be carried by another company, and at another place.

On January 8, 1944, the Lockheed XP-80 Shooting StarJet fighter made its first flight at Muroc. At the controls was Milo Burcham. The plane soon proved capable of reaching over 500 mph. Tex Johnston knew what it meant for the P-59. After seeing the first flight, he telegraphed Bob Stanley: 'Witnessed Lockheed XP-80 initial flight STOP Very impressive STOP Back to the drawing board.'[20] Later, a mock dogfight was held between a P-80 and a Grumman F8F Bearcat, the navy's latest prop fighter. Unlike the YP-59A, the P-80 held the initiative, controlling the fight. The F8F was never able to catch the jet in its sights long enough to get a shot. The era of the prop fighter was over.[21]

The XP-80 contract specified that the prototype was to be delivered in 180 days. Clarence L. 'Kelly' Johnson, Lockheed's chief designer, went to company chairman Robert Gross. Gross told Johnson, 'Go ahead and do it.

But you've got to rake up your own engineering department and your own production people and figure out where to put this project.'

For some time, Johnson had been asking Lockheed management to set up an experimental department where there would be direct links between designer, engineer, and manufacturing. Johnson decided to run the XP- 80 program on this basis. The only place for the new section was next to the wind tunnel. The tools came from a small machine shop Lockheed bought out.

The walls were wooden engine boxes, while the roof was a rented circus tent. Johnson assembled a group of twenty-two engineers; the new group had its own purchasing department and could function independently of the main plant. Working ten hours a day, six days a week, they had the XP-80 ready in 163 days.

Part of the secrecy surrounding the project was that Johnson's new section had no name. Soon after the makeshift shop was finished, Lockheed engineer Irving H. Culver was at the phone desk. The phone rang, Culver was alone, and he had not been told how to answer the phone. Culver was a fan of Al Capp's comic strip 'L'l Abner.' In the strip, 'Hairless Joe'

brewed up 'Kickapoo Joy Juice' using old shoes, dead skunks, and other ingredients. On impulse, Culver answered the phone with the name of that brewery.[22]

It was called 'the Skunk Works.'


The Angel of Paradise Ranch

The U-2 Aquatone

Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge.

Sun Tzu. ca. 400 B.C.

With the end of World War II, the shaky alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western powers unraveled before the reality of Stalinism. Events during 1948 and 1949, such as the Berlin Blockade and the testing of the first Soviet A-bomb, underlined the need for information on the Soviet Union. The CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service attempted to parachute agents into the Soviet Union between 1949 and 1953. The West also attempted to support resistance groups in the Ukraine, the Baltic States, Albania, and Poland. The efforts ended in failure. The agents were captured as soon as they landed, while the resistance groups were ruthlessly hunted down.[23]

The intelligence would have to be gathered from the air.


With the start of the Cold War, overflights of the Soviet Union began. In the late-1940s, the British used de Havilland Mosquito PR.34s to photograph northern ports such as Murmansk and Archangel. The armor was removed to raise the maximum altitude to 43,000 feet, above that of Soviet propeller fighters. The Mosquito overflights continued into 1949, until the introduction of the MiG 15 jet fighter made them too dangerous.[24]

With the start of the Korean War in June 1950, overflights began in earnest. In the fall of 1950, President Harry S Truman authorized a program to cover Soviet ports, islands, and coastal areas.[25] Initially, two different aircraft were used — the RB-36D Peacemaker and the RB-45C Tornado. The RB-36s were stripped of unnecessary equipment, including all the guns except the twin 20mm cannons in the tail turret. These featherweight RB-36s could reach altitudes of 58,000 feet, which gave them virtual immunity from Soviet MiG 15s.

The RB-45s were light jet reconnaissance bombers, which relied on speed and the brief duration of the overflight, rather than altitude, to escape detection. (Its performance was less than that of the MiG 15.) In 1952 and 1954, RB-45Cs were painted in RAF markings and made overflights of the western Soviet Union.[26] U.S. Air Force RB-45Cs, based in Japan, also overflew the Pacific coast of the Soviet Union.[27]

In 1953, overflight missions were taken over by RB-47 Stratojets, medium jet bombers with much better speed than the RB-36s or 45s. Their most spectacular mission was a mass overflight of Vladivostok at high noon by the entire RB-47 force. Each target was photographed by two or three aircraft. Only two planes saw MiGs, but no interceptions were made.[28]

These overflights were brief. The planes crossed the border, covered their targets, and were back across before Soviet air defenses could react. If the Soviets protested, the incident could be described as an 'off-course training flight.' These flights could not cover the Soviet interior, where the bulk of Soviet industrial and military facilities were located. In the Ural Mountains whole cities had been built that no Westerner had ever seen. Filling the blank spots would take a Dark Eagle.

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