Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Manta's Shadow, Part III: The Douglas F4D Skyray

I've always loved airplanes. My dad was a mechanic at an Air Force Base, I lived near two active bases in my life and my step-son is a Sergeant in the USAF. Fish and airplanes have some things in common. Fins, for one. But, also, they are (usually) streamlined and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

As a boy, I used to build plastic airplane kits and one of my favorites was the Skyray. It was sleek and fast and unusual in that it had no horizontal tail surfaces like most planes. The wings were broad, rounded and sharply swept giving it the shape of a certain marine animal known and loved along the Kona Coast. Quoting Wikipedia: "The design was named for its resemblance to the Manta ray fish".

Whether the aircraft designers used the shape of the manta for inspiration is not known but probably unlikely. However, the appearance and name of the plane reinforced the manta's place in the public psyche. Notably, it was the first carrier-based aircraft to hold the world's absolute speed record (752.943 mph) and the first naval fighter that could exceed Mach 1 in level flight. The plane also set a time-to-altitude record flying from a standing start to 49,221 feet in 2 minutes and 36 seconds all while flying at a 70 degree pitch angle which is incredibly  steep.

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