In the midst of the Star Wars fever of 1977, Rockwell International embarked on an audacious venture – the development of a prototype supersonic fighter for the US Navy. The XFV-12 was envisioned as a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fighter, combining the speed and armament capabilities of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II with the agility required for the Navy’s Sea Control Ship (SCS) project.
The Sea Control Ship Concept
The Sea Control Ship (SCS) project aimed to create lightweight aircraft carriers tailored for escort missions, anti-submarine warfare, and intercepting hostile aircraft. These ships were designed to host a fleet of helicopters and fixed-wing VTOL aircraft, necessitating the development of a high-performance supersonic fighter.
The Birth of the XFV-12
Although the SCS project eventually faded, the XFV-12 concept materialized into a prototype. This aircraft showcased a unique design, utilizing the thrust-augmented wing concept. The single Pratt & Whitney F401-PW-400 turbofan engine, capable of producing up to 30,000 pounds of thrust in afterburner, diverted its efflux to nozzles in the wings and canards.
Vertical Takeoff and Flight Transition
The XFV-12’s vertical takeoff relied on an ejector-flap system, mixing ambient air with turbine efflux. By gradually raising the flaps, the aircraft transitioned from vertical to horizontal flight. Instead of a conventional tail, it featured endplates on each wingtip for vertical stabilization and sizable canards, almost half the size of the wings.
During the vertical flight, pitch, roll, and yaw were controlled through ejectors. For horizontal flight, full-span trailing-edge flaps on the wings and canards, along with rudders on the wingtips, provided the necessary control.
Challenges and Setbacks
Despite promising initial lab tests, tethered hover tests in 1978 revealed significant deficiencies in vertical thrust. The actual thrust augmentation fell far short of expectations, with only 19% for the wings and a mere 6% for the canards. Extensive ducting led to inefficiencies and prevented the installation of armament hardpoints, severely limiting the aircraft’s payload capacity.
The Legacy of the XFV-12
Ultimately, the XFV-12 proved too expensive, complex, and inefficient for conventional use. In 1981, the project was abandoned, leaving behind a fascinating but flawed prototype. Maciej Zborowski, of Glenn Research Center, reflected on the project’s challenges, highlighting the unforeseen ducting losses and airflow issues.
A Visionary Endeavor
The Rockwell XFV-12 was a visionary project ahead of its time. While it may have ended in failure, it paved the way for future innovations in supersonic flight and VTOL technology. The aircraft’s distinctive design and bold ambition continue to inspire, reminding us that true innovators dare to dream, experiment, and push the boundaries of what is possible. Today’s supersonic jets owe a debt of gratitude to the audacious spirit of the XFV-12.
The Rockwell XFV-12 stands as a testament to the daring visionaries who sought to revolutionize supersonic flight with VTOL capabilities. Although it never progressed beyond the prototype stage, its influence on subsequent aircraft designs is undeniable. The XFV-12’s legacy lives on, reminding us of the importance of pushing the boundaries of what is possible in aviation technology.