With advances being made in turbojet technology - and aeronautics in general - during the latter part of the 1940s, the United States Navy (USN) began entertaining more radical aircraft designs to help fulfill possible future battlefield roles. One such role became the "flying boat fighter" or "Seaplane Fighter", a fighter-type aircraft designed with a boat-like hull/fuselage to allow for take-off and landing from water sources while retaining fighter-minded combat capabilities. Several nations delved into this type of aircraft including the British but there proved few viable candidates adopted for serial production. The Soviet Union managed several of its "Ekranoplan" jet-powered "Ground Effect Vehicles" (GEVs) during this period as well.
The concept of a seaplane / flying boat fighter was an interesting one as it allowed operational access to nearly any part of the globe where these aircraft types could be stationed. The aircraft would be tended to by accompanying naval vessels (such as seaplane tenders) and outfitted appropriately with fuel and armament to fit the mission need. Taking off and being recovered from water while supply fight-like performance added a tactical advantage.
During June of 1948, the USN put together the qualities it sought for in a single-seat seaplane fighter (drawings showcased the pilot seated in a traditional fashion or taking a prone position) and these qualities were quickly revised in a second specification to a two-seat platform with considerably larger dimensions by fighter standards. Maximum speed was in the 630 miles per hour range with operating altitudes at or above the 35,000 foot mark. Despite over a dozen of the usual American defense contractors solicited, only Curtiss-Wright and Convair responded with a formal design proposal.
Convair managed to lend its name to a variety of iconic Cold War American aircraft including the massive B-36 "Peacekeeper" jet-powered strategic heavy bomber, the B-58 "Hustler" supersonic jet bomber, and the F-102/F-106 jet-powered interceptors. Its design proposal for what became USN specification "OS-116" was the "Skate" and realized as a long-shot for serial production work. Nevertheless, the requirement was intriguing and competition for the product was relatively limited by Cold War standards.
CONVAIR engineers returned with a sleek-looking large fighter boat design featuring swept wing mainplanes (40-degree angles), a near "T-style" tail unit and smooth hull/fuselage. The cockpit was set ahead of the wings and aft of a short nosecone intended to house an AN/APQ-35 series radar. The aircraft was to seat two with the pilot's position offset to portside from centerline and the radar operator's position lower and to the right of the pilot. The wing mainplanes were mid-mounted and benefitted water-taxiing actions some and a rudder was also fitted under the fuselage for the same reason. The intakes were located well-forward in the design along the upper hull to either side of the cockpit to help reduce the chance that the engines could take in water. The tailplane sported all-moving surfaces and were high-mounted along the dorsal tail fin. Dimensions included a length of 83 feet and a wingspan of 63.5 feet.
Propulsion would come from 2 x Westinghouse XJ40-WE-10 afterburning turbojets each developing upwards of 7,920 lb thrust. With afterburner engaged, this output increased to 11,750 lb of thrust each. Estimated performance figures by CONVAIR engineers included a maximum airspeed of 713 miles per hour, service ceiling of 52,500 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 22,800 feet per minute. Combat range was out to 460 miles.
Proposed standard armament was 2 to 4 x 20mm cannons seated within the wings and outboard of the engine installations. Sources also indicate an ability to mount 30 x 5" aerial rockets as well. There was no bomb-carrying element revealed.
USN authorities reviewed the CONVAIR submission and found it adequate for its requirements though the design was not furthered beyond some artist impressions and design spec drawings. As such, the flying boat / seaplane fighter continued to be nothing more than a novel concept in the minds of Cold War-era warplanners. However, all was not lost for, in 1953, the CONVAIR F2Y "Sea Dart" seaplane fighter took shape and managed a maiden flight for the USN. Five of these were completed (though only in prototype form) and marked the first seaplane aircraft to ever exceed the speed of sound.
Presented performance values for the Skate below are solely CONVAIR company estimates.
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