All documents on this website
have been officially released (in writing)
to the public domain by both GE Legal and the Department of Energy.
NO CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS
on this website.
Curious about the United States nuclear jet engine and nuclear-powered aircraft
programs? In the 1950s, two nuclear development programs were underway: one to
design the airframe for a nuclear-powered engine and the other to develop the
engine, better known as Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP). The Consolidated
Vultee Aircraft Company (Convair) conducted the airframe research and
development program. Both Pratt & Whitney and the General Electric Company
researched the propulsion program.
The ANP studied two methods for
nuclear-powered jet engines: the Direct Air Cycle and the Indirect Air Cycle.
Pratt & Whitney attempted the Indirect Air Cycle, and General Electric in
Evendale, Ohio, developed the Direct Air Cycle. While the Indirect Air Cycle was
not able to solve the excessive weight issues, the Direct Air Cycle was popular
because it was simple, reliable, and doable.
Cycle engines were able to start quickly; they worked by passing compressed air
in a closed loop configuration through the reactor where it could be heated
before moving into the turbine and returning to the reactor. The GE X?39 engine
proved to be highly successful with several upgrades made to the system at later
stages of the development program.
All together, the propulsion
program and the airframe research and development program cost $24 billion
(1950s), $2 Billion of which paid for the engine development program. Added
benefits grew from the research, forming a long list of
significant contributions to the nuclear field, including reactor size
reduction, shielding improvements, new alloys and new metallurgical
understandings, fuel element improvements, synthetic oils, improved reactor
theory calculations, shielding for electronics, and greatly improved safety
Archives for this project are
enormous and scattered among various classified and unclassified documents
within government agencies, contractors, the Mound Science and Engineering
Museum, and the engineering library at the University of Cincinnati. This
website is a depository for a small collection of such unclassified program
documents, public articles, and information that describes the $2 Billion
(1950s) ANP program. This website stands as a tribute to the 13,000 Americans
who were employed by the program.
As a footnote, the restoration of the transport version of the B?36 (XC?99) has
been removed from the list of active restorations on the Air Force Museum
website. Here is a link with the latest