The Ameriyak That Never Was

Soviet airliners have an understandably poor reputation and record. It’s gotten to the point where one should be fair and point out that their less than ideal safety record was more to the issues with infrastructure and human resources and less to the mechanical design of the aircraft themselves. But it isn’t excessive criticism to point out that in spite of their rough-field capability, they were fuel-inefficient, uncomfortable, and only able to succeed in a politically closed field.

But there were still some diamonds in the rough, and not just giants like the Antonov beasts. The three-engined Yak-40 was interesting for being a pioneer in the field of light regional jets when the rest of the world was still using propeller planes for that role.

Which leads to a detente-era footnote: The plans to build and sell a version of the Codling (yes, that was its reporting name) in America. Amazingly, this was not a project from the legendarily Kremlin-friendly Armand Hammer. But it could have been. The potential plants were located in the depressed locations of Youngstown and Niagara Falls. The engines and avionics would be replaced with western models. A memo in the White House of all places (pgs 22-26) details the lofty goals for the LC-3, as it was planned to be called.

Of course, the deal unsurprisingly fell through. But it’s still an interesting piece of aircraft history. As is, it was the first Soviet civilian aircraft to attract legitimate attention from western airlines. And the irony of an airplane designed by a communist state being used to ferry rich private-sector VIPs to their vacations in Aspen is too fun not to smile at.

The Airlifters

Airlifters are very interesting to me, especially mega-lifters. But “exotics” are also fun, like tilt-ducted fans, compound helicopters, convertiplanes, flying wings, and much more. I think there’s several reasons why I’ve taken a liking to them, besides some very good sources that I’m eager to review.

  1. They represent an army marching on its stomach, or in this case, flying on its stomach. They’re the behind-the-scenes things that no one can do without.
  2. They’re military but not inherently destructive (unless converted to bombers, of course). Thus they can serve humanitarian and civilian support efforts very well.
  3. Finally, the numbers analyst in me likes seeing, especially for inherently risky airborne drops/landings, what you can accomplish with X number of airlifters with a capacity of Y per unit. Operations researchers with far more resources and far better command of math than me have been studying this since the parachute was invented.
  4. Plus I live fairly close to an airlifter base and see the big grey Globemasters and Galaxies flying overhead fairly frequently.
  5. Paradropping can be used as a way to add drama to the characters in a story, regardless of the overall force balance.
  6. It’s hard not to be impressed by something weird and/or big.

What I’m most interested in at the moment is: “To what extend does having big lifters that can reach the LZ safely remove bottlenecks?”