NVAHOF VIRTUAL MUSEUM
NUCLEAR AIRCRAFT – NEVADA
Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion
The nuclear reactor powers the two engines at the rear, used for cruising flight. The two engines at the front are conventional engines, used only for extra power during takeoff and a "dash" to the target. A US nuclear bomber design by Convair. The nuclear reactor powers the two engines at the rear, used for cruising flight. The two engines at the front are conventional engines, used only for extra power during takeoff and a "dash" to the target.
In May, the Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project was started by the Air Force. Studies under this program were done until May, 1951 when NEPA was replaced by the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program. The ANP
program included provisions for studying two different types of nuclear-powered jet engines, General Electric’s Direct Air Cycle and Pratt & Whitney’s Indirect Air Cycle. ANP also contained plans for two B-36s to be modified by Convair under the MX-1589 project, one of the B-36s was to be used to
study shielding requirements for an airborne reactor while the other was to be the X-6. The program was cancelled before the X-6 was completed, however.
The Idaho National Laboratory conducted research to produce a nuclear powered aircraft. Two General Electric turbofan engines were successfully powered to nearly full thrust using two shielded reactors. The two engines complete with reactor system are currently located at the EBR-1 facility south of INL.
The U.S. designed these engines to be used in a new specially designed nuclear bomber, the WS-125. The WS-125 was eventually terminated by Eisenhower who cut NEPA and told Congress that there was no urgency for the program.
Eisenhower did back a small scale program developing high temperature materials and high performance reactors. That program was terminated early in the Kennedy administration.
- Main article: Project Pluto
In 1957, the Air Force and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission contracted with the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory to study the feasibility of applying heat from nuclear reactors to ramjet engines. This research became known as Project Pluto. The engines being developed under this program were intended to power an unmanned cruise missile, called SLAM, for Supersonic Low Altitude Missile. The program succeeded in producing two test engines which were operated on the ground. On May 14, 1961, the world’s first nuclear ramjet engine, "Tory-IIA," mounted on a railroad car, roared to life for just a few seconds. On July 1,
1964, seven years and six months after it was born, "Project Pluto" was cancelled.