Hollywood, Model Planes, and Atomic Bombs: Office of Naval Research Support for Vertical Envelopment

Lost amid a large 8,000 box series from the long disestablished Bureau of Aeronautics (Record Group 72 in National Archives-speak) in a classified stack at the National Archives in College Park lies a 500-page document whose ominous mushroom cloud cover artwork supported its Confidential classification marking. The light blue/green cover simply bore the words “Assault” and the official seal and title of the Office of Naval Research in Washington DC.  Once inside the cover, though, a reader will find the makings of an extraordinary tale.

In a story that has been retold many times, the U.S. Marine Corps viewed the results of the first nuclear weapons effects test, the July 1946 Operation CROSSROADS, with significant concern. Despite the Navy and Marine Corps’ proven formula of amphibious warfare success during the lately concluded Second World War, the outcome of the two nuclear weapons detonations in Bikini Atoll was that large groupings of amphibious shipping and their support warships that made victory possible in almost every theater of World War II were now frighteningly vulnerable to the new weapon of mass destruction.

The solution was dispersal, spreading shipping, landing craft, support warships, and Marines out along the target coast to defeat the nuclear threat. However, that solution simply caused another problem: how to bring enough Marines to the decisive point to defeat the defenders.  If the landing forces were dispersed, a well-disposed defender could annihilate the smaller Marine formations in detail before they could join inland to overwhelm the defenders or capture key terrain.

There were technological solutions seemingly close at hand—the helicopter and large flying boats. A special board appointed by the 20th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr., looked at the dispersal problem in some detail.  The board members, Colonels Merrill Twining and Edward Dyer and Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Shaw examined various means of keeping amphibious assault forces out of atomic danger while quickly concentrating Marines to defeat a defending force.

General Shepherd’s special board surveyed this scene and recognized that current helicopter technology was not going to put a lot of Marines on the beach very quickly, and that the flying boat was a longer term option, if it ever was an option at all. They spoke with the helicopter manufacturers, especially with Igor Sikorsky and one Frank Piaseki of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Piaseki had some original ideas about large helicopters, and, together, the two men convinced the board members that a helicopter capable of a 5,000 pound payload was possible.

While the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) had the mandate to develop the large flying boat program, the Marines took upon themselves the task of sponsoring a large helicopter program through the same Bureau, as BuAer had the authority for the procurement of aircraft for the Marine Corps. As it turned out, the 5,000 pound payload helicopter was a bit ambitious for the technologies of the late 1940’s, so an interim capability of 3,500 pounds was sought for the Marine’s new assault helicopter.  A decade later the Marines ended up with the versatile Sikorsky HUS/UH-34 series as the 3,500 pound payload helicopter and the monstrous Sikorsky HR2S/CH-37 as the 5,000 pound payload helicopter. Both aircraft utilized piston engines, so their performances at higher weights and temperatures was always problematic.  It was not until the mid-1960’s that designers included compact gas turboshaft engines in their designs, finally manufacturing helicopters capable of consistently meeting Marine requirements first established in 1946.

It must have been sometime in 1947 that the Amphibious Branch of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) became involved with the evolution of the new vertical envelopment doctrine that sought a way to overcome the limited payload capabilities of contemporary helicopters. Captured under the title: “A Study of a Third Dimensional Assault Techniques for Amphibious Operations”, this sizeable work was the product of contract N7-ONR-296 Task Order 1 awarded to the Radioplane Company.  The final bound report classified CONFIDENTIAL is dated 1 April 1948; however, a perusal of the pages show sections of the report that were completed as early as July 1947.

The Radioplane Company was an unusual choice for this particular contract. Founded in 1934 by British actor Reginald Denny (Anna Karenina, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House), the company’s experience up through 1947 was based upon the manufacture of expendable target drone aircraft that were essentially larger versions of hobbyists’ radio-controlled models the company sold during the prewar years.  Radioplane’s OQ-2/3 series of target drones were built in the company’s Van Nuys, California facility by the thousands, giving nascent antiaircraft gunners from all of the Armed Services an opportunity to learn key gunnery skills. Outside of the building of target drones, Radioplane’s major claim to fame in being the employer of a young Norma Jeane Dougherty, later known as Marilyn Monroe, who was discovered by an Army Air Forces photographer working in the Radioplane factory. Radioplane had never designed or built a manned aircraft prior to their receipt of the ONR contract.

The ONR study, given the short title of “Project ASSAULT”, sought to overcome the problems of projecting a ground force into an amphibious objective defended by atomic weapons. Radioplane proposed the use of radio-controlled aircraft, each carrying a single Marine above the radioactive contamination on the ground and into the objective. The study broke down into eight sections that dealt with the definition of the mission, flight paths, power plants, aerodynamics, stabilization and control, launching, deceleration and landing, and, finally, structures. There was also a final report that discussed the ASSAULT vehicle.

The study began with a foreword written by CAPT W. H. Leahy, the Assistant Chief for Research for ONR. Leahy was the son of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, then Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, President Harry Truman. The foreword contained the six performance objectives that established the preliminary requirements for the study:

  1. A vehicle payload of 300 pounds
  2. Flight controlled by remote or forward position or ground remote station
  3. Adaptable for rapid launch from a ship or limited launching area
  4. Capable of rapid deceleration for safe landings in areas with natural obstacles such as forests and irregular terrain
  5. Flight range of 25 mile radius
  6. Vehicle can be used for logistics support with a payload of 300 pounds

The study then continues with five detailed sections that discussed the amphibious warfare mission, possible ASSAULT craft flight paths, possible power plants for ASSAULT craft, the aerodynamics of various ASSAULT craft, and, finally, stabilization and control of the proposed ASSAULT aircraft. The bottom line for the proposed ASSAULT vehicles became:

It can then be seen that the ideal situation would be one in which the Assault trooper could step into a vehicle which would then be launched to deliver him automatically to his destination.

The final report offered a range of technical concepts, each concept differing by its designed cruising speed, which ranged from 250 mph, to 400 mph, and finally to 550 mph. A fourth concept embraced the use of an assault pod to be launched by a parent aircraft. All of the proposed ASSAULT vehicles shared the characteristics of being easily controlled in flight, tough enough to make a rough landing while preserving the occupant, and cheap enough to be built in some quantity.
The proposed 250 mph aircraft resembled an up-scaled target drone, sized large enough to carry one Marine safely from ship to objective. The recommended power plant was air-cooled Continental E 185-1 opposed 6-cylinder engine of 250 hp, most famously used in the Beechcraft Bonanza general aviation aircraft and deemed capable of moving the proposed ASSAULT vehicle at 250 mph. The landing gear was two skids attached to the fuselage ahead of the straight 32-foot wings. The aircraft was to be catapult-launched, and, when reaching its objective, would have been slowed by a parachute-like controllable sleeve and an air-launched arresting gear—essentially a harpoon driven into the ground and attached to the airframe by a nylon rope.

assault2

The proposed 400 mph aircraft was a bit more daring in design, being based upon a turbojet-powered airframe. The fuselage was of a high mid-wing type with a pod-and-boom layout for the twin endplate tail. The author identified the Flader Model XJ-55-FF-1 engine with 700 pounds of thrust as the power plant. The XJ-55 was proposed as the propulsion for a postwar drone aircraft called the XQ-2, so it seemed to be a natural fit in a small airframe designed by a company with radio-controlled aircraft experience. Landing a faster vehicle within tight space constraints required even more ingenuity than the 250 mph proposal, so wings contained split flaps and the fuselage sported skids underneath, a 28 foot airfoil parachute, and, finally, ten 2,000 pound thrust retro-rockets. After the flaps slowed the aircraft to an appropriate speed, the parachute would deploy, suspending the fuselage in a horizontal attitude below the canopy.   A proximity device would trigger the retrorockets, thus ensuring a relatively soft landing for the embarked Marine.

assault3

Radioplane continued their report with a description of a 550 mph aircraft, showing what design compromises were necessary to produce a faster vehicle. To gain the desired speed, this third ASSAULT design depended upon rocket power; however, the specific type of rocket engine was not mentioned, unlike the engines on the 250 mph and 400 mph proposals. The final report of the study only mentioned the fact that the two engines would be bi-liquid propellant, one engine to be of 1,150 lbs thrust and the second to be of 500 lbs thrust, and would be similar to the type manufactured by Reaction Motors, Inc or of equivalent design and performance. For landing this high performance vehicle, split flaps on the narrow, tapered wings would again be needed. As in the 400 mph proposal vehicle, the aircraft would deploy a tail-mounted parachute. This time the aircraft would be lowered nose-first to the ground rather than using the complicated parachute suspension system on the 400 mph aircraft that kept the fuselage horizontal. The 550 mph ASSAULT vehicle would then use twelve retro-rockets fitted in the tail to slow the aircraft further. A hydraulically-buffered nose probe would take the remaining landing shock, the probe sticking into the ground to keep the airframe upright after landing.

assault4

The final ASSAULT vehicle was a simple pod with no wings. However, deceleration and landing processes would be similar to the aircraft-configured ASSAULT vehicles—a parachute to initially slow down the vehicle, a retro-rocket to slow the pod completely, an air-launched arresting gear system, landing leg skids to take the impact of landing, and, finally, a fixed wooden skid to take the punishment of an emergency landing. The report included sketches of the pod as well as its carrier aircraft, in this case a Grumman F7F-1. The drawing suggests that the aircraft carry two pods, one on pylons under each wing. The study’s report made it clear that the preferred aircraft type for an ASSAULT pod mission was a fighter aircraft. The ASSAULT pod required none of the radio controls necessary for the other vehicles mentioned in the report, and it would require the services of an escort carrier (CVE) to base the fighter aircraft, the pods, and the Marines necessary to conduct the ASSAULT pod operation.

assault5

While there were many unsolved problems with Radioplane’s concept for conducting vertical envelopment operations in the first decade after World War II, ideas generated by such unconventional thinking foreshadowed the great changes in aerospace and defense technology that took place over the next fifty years.  Indeed, in the world in which we live it is difficult to be unaware of drones and their impact on military operations, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR)operations, and even in commercial delivery services and popular culture.  However, all of this technology had to start someplace, and Radioplane is one of the places where it started.

 

 

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NDC Indexing Update

In August 2015 we announced a new program called “Indexing on Demand” which allows researchers to request records that have completed quality assurance review and are available for indexing and final withhold processing.  We provided pdf files that listed the acronym or name and number of the original record group; NARA HMS identification numbers; the record entry name for the series; dates of the records within the series (not always immediately available); and the size (possibly estimated) of the series itself.

Since the roll out, we have processed 268 requests totaling almost nine million pages with a release rate of 81%.  We have updated our lists to remove the series that have been processed and add newly available series for request.   The lists are divided into three groups: military records, civilian records, and records currently in process.

As before, you can correspond with us via our ndc@nara.gov email box or by replying to this blog post. You can also visit with our representative in the Archives II reference area, Stephanie Coon, who would be happy to address your questions and requests. She can offer you an estimate on the complexity of the final processing needed as well as a tentative timeline to completion.

iod_military                        iod_civilian                              iod_in process

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New Releases from the National Declassification Center

The NDC has released a listing of 228 entries that have completed declassification processing between January 2 and August 31, 2016 and are now available for researcher request. This release consists of records from both military and civilian agencies.

Highlights include:

  • Department of State, Program and Subject Files for North Vietnam,
  • Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, U.S. Consulate General, Hong Kong: Classified Central Subject Files,
  • Joint Chiefs Of Staff, Office Of The Secretariat, Central Files,
  • Army Staff, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 (Intelligence); Project Decimal Files, 1964,
  • Atomic Energy Commission, Classified Official Correspondence,
  • Office of the Secretary of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency; Orders, and
  • Bureau of Naval Weapons, Proposal Files For Aircraft, Helicopters, and Missiles(When making a request, please cite the HMS Entry and Series Title.)
  • Requests to access the newly released records or to order copies should be directed to Archives 2 Reference at 301-837-3510 or archives2reference@nara.gov. Please note that some series may contain other restrictions such as privacy or law enforcement and may require screening or a FOIA request prior to access.
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New Formerly Restricted Data Declassification Determination

 

Effective immediately, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy jointly approved the recommendation of the DoD/DOE FRD Declassification Working Group (DWG) :

“The fact that any specified retired weapon was at a former (now closed) nuclear weapon storage location or former (now closed) operational location (e.g. Nike site, bomber bases, etc.) within the United States, its possessions and territories.”

The NDC made the case to the FRD DWG that this information should be declassified due to the repeated discoveries of this kind of FRD in numerous records that impeded the prompt declassification of many documents in the NDC declassification workflow.  We are grateful to both DoD and DOE to allow NDC participation in the FRD declassification process, and we look forward to work with these agencies again as we continue to work for the declassification of other types of FRD as found in our records.

mk7_mark-90-pic1

Mark 90 nuclear depth charge shape being tested on an F7F-3 Tigercat at a naval air station

 

 

 

 

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New Special Project Released by the NDC

The latest NDC special project “Treasures from World War II US Navy Command Files,” is now available on NARA’s website. All of the records, approximately 192,500 pages, were released in full. The records deal with Navy intelligence, combat operations, operational planning, mine warfare and submarine warfare during WWII, as well as the investigation into the Pearl Harbor attack. The lead archivist on this project, Steven Shafer, worked with other NDC staff and other NARA offices, including the Offices of Innovation and Research Services, to accomplish this. The series is available on NARA’s National Archives Catalog. The website to read the introduction to the special project and to find out more about it, can be viewed at:

http://www.archives.gov/research/military/navy/treasures-ww2.html

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Share Your Ideas for NARA’s Next Open Government Plan

Cropped Open GovThis week, we are kicking off the development of our next Open Government Plan for 2016-2018. We need your ideas, suggestions, and feedback to make it happen!

Submit your ideas by April 15, 2016:

How do you think we should increase the three pillars of open government —Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration — in the way we do our work at the National Archives in general and the National Declassification Center in particular?

We are looking for your ideas on how we can improve:

  • Communicating what the NDC can and cannot do
  • Transparency in the work processes of the NDC
  • Records or topics you would like to see processed for declassification
  • The mandatory declassification review (MDR) process
  • The availability of public access to declassified records
  • Explaining the difference between classification and other restrictions such as privacy or law enforcement

Take a look at our last Open Government Plan and Archives.gov/open for more information.  Is there something that you think we could be doing better?  Let us know!

We will carefully consider all ideas. In the past, we’ve received more than 100 suggestions and we report on these and respond in an appendix to the Plan. Even if you’ve shared an idea before, please share it again. We need your ideas on how we can better serve the public.

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New Entries Released by the National Declassification Center

The NDC has released a listing of 149 entries that have completed declassification processing between June 29, and December 31, 2015 and are now available for researcher request. This release consists of records from both military and civilian agencies.

Highlights include:

  • Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval Intelligence Reports,
  • Department of State, Human Rights Country and Subject Files,
  • Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Reports,
  • Department of State, Executive Secretariat, Records Relating to the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962-1963,
  • Office Surgeon General (Army), Central Decimal File,
  • Army Staff, Korean Conflict POW, MIA and Detainee Intelligence Files, and
  • Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Director’s Classified Subject Files

Requests to access the newly released records or to order copies should be directed to Archives 2 Reference at 301-837-3510 or archives2reference@nara.gov. Please note that some series may contain other restrictions such as privacy or law enforcement and may require screening or a FOIA request prior to access.

(When making a request, please cite the HMS Entry and Series Title.)

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NDC Indexing Update

Today’s post comes from NDC Director Sheryl Shenberger and is an update on prioritized NDC projects and final processing.

In my March blog post, I offered you a listing of projects that have been completed for quality assurance review and are available for indexing and final withhold processing. As The Department of Energy has completed more of its own QA on the backlog, more series are available for on-demand processing, so we have broken the listings into two unique pdfs of the currently available series you can request. Some of these are small, and some contain 1000s of boxes. Some projects can be turned around quickly as they won’t require much in the way of segregation of still-sensitive information. Some contain privacy or personal identifying information that could affect their availability. The spreadsheets have the following categories: the acronym or name and number of the original record group; NARA HMS identification numbers; the record entry name for the series; dates of the records within the series (not always immediately available); and the size (possibly estimated) of the series itself.

Indexing On Demand Part One         Indexing On Demand Part Two

Since we stood up this “Indexing on Demand” option, we have completed 58 projects totaling 3.5M pages; 3.1 M of those pages were declassified and released in full for an 89% release rate.

As before, you can correspond with us via our ndc@nara.gov email box or by replying to this blog post. You can also visit with our representative in the Archives II reference area, Stephanie Coon, who would be happy to address your questions and requests. She can offer you an estimate on the complexity of the final processing needed as well as a tentative timeline to completion.

Posted in Uncategorized

New Releases from the National Declassification Center

The NDC has released a listing of 102 entries that have completed declassification processing between February 9, and June 26, 2015 and are now available for researcher request. This release consists of records from both military and civilian agencies. Highlights include:

  • Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command, War Diaries, 1946 – 1953,
  • Department of State, Records Relating to Cuba,
  • Department of State, Brazil, U.S. Consulate General, Rio de Janeiro: Classified Central Subject Files,
  • Department of State, Treaty Background Subject Files,
  • Office of the Secretary of Defense, Strategic Planning Files of the Deputy of Special Operations, Edward G. Landsdale,
  • Office of the Secretary of Defense, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA); Records Concerning Research on Silent Aircraft, and
  • Records of the Naval Air Systems Command, PHOENIX Missile System Program Review Records, and

Requests to access the newly released records or to order copies should be directed to Archives 2 Reference at 301-837-3510 or archives2reference@nara.gov.

(When making a request, please cite the HMS Entry and Series Title.)

Posted in New Openings

Contribute your ideas to the US National Action Plan on Open Government

The United States plans to publish the third Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) later this year as part of our commitment to the Open Government Partnership. The NAP will include new and expanded open government commitments that will be fulfilled in the next two years. In the first and second US NAPs, previous commitments related to classification and declassification have included:

  • Developing standard declassification processes and training
  • Creating a Security Classification Reform Committee
  • Implementing monitoring and tracking for declassification reviews

 This year the US is developing the NAP in consultation with the public through Hackpad, a collaborative platform. Learn more about this process on the White House Blog and visit the Hackpad to learn how to participate in the process.

 Visit the page “Classification Modernization” page to contribute your ideas related to classification and declassification. NAP commitments need to be:

  • Ambitious: pushing government beyond current practice by strengthening transparency, accountability, and public participation
  • Relevant: advancing one of the four open government principles of (1) transparency, (2) accountability, (3) participation, and/or (4) technology and innovation
  • Specific: describing the problem to be solved and expected outcomes
  • Measurable: allowing independent observers to gauge whether the commitment has been completed

 Check out other topic pages on FOIA, records management, fiscal transparency, and whistleblowers, etc. Please submit your ideas for possible commitments and help us strengthen open government.

Posted in NDC Communication