The VZ-9 Avrocar; The Top-Secret Flying Saucer of the US Military
Military technologies never fail to amaze us. When nations are so desperate to kill each other, they will come up with an assortment of weapons ranging from the functional, to somewhat weird. I will say this again, as what I have mentioned in my past hubs. The pursuit of technology will result to stuffs that is not only out of this world, but out of shape. And in the military, where people are frantically developing new weapons to better the rivaling nations (and deal with the threat of terrorism), expect weird shapes to come up.
And did you know that the US Military once owned a functioning UFO?
You heard it right, though it comes as no surprise. A lot of military hardwares are becoming more unworldly nowadays. I won’t blame people if they freak out, when the B-2 stealth bomber soar above their heads. And sightings of UFO by airline pilots could be attributed to a mis-encounter with an SR-71 Blackbird. But building a functional flying saucer, that could really fly raises the stakes even more. And in 1952, Avro Aircraft Canada did just that when they began designing a supposedly supersonic aircraft with a saucer shaped body. The US Air force will soon collaborate with Canada, and the result is the VZ-9 Avrocar.
It is easy to believe that this flying saucer is a captured technology from an alien visitor. Or a reversed engineered UFO that crashed somewhere in the desert. Its birthplace is Canada, in the crazy mind of designer John Carver Meadow Frost, also known as “Jack Frost.”
Jack Frost was a serious British aircraft designer, the one who pioneered supersonic British experimental jets. He joined Avro Canada (a Canadian aircraft company) in 1947, where he helped completed the CF-100, Canada’s first fighter jet project. But during those years, there was also an increasing interest in VTOL aircrafts. It was felt that in an event of a nuclear war, airbases will be destroyed so aircrafts need to operate in unprepared fields like roads. But a nice and powerful engine was needed to power a VTOL aircraft, yet Frost was developing an engine that time with an excellent power to weight ratio. Meaning that the engine was very light, yet powerful. Without the excess weight to pull the aircraft down, more thrust is produced. Frost’s engine had flame cans outside the centrifugal compressor, like spokes in the wheel. The turbine resembled a centrifugal fan. Gears, and not shaft drove the turbine. The result is an engine configuration that resembled a disc, or a “pancake engine” as Frost called it. And the jet exhaust exited not in the other end, but in the rim of the disc-like engine.
Going back to the VTOL interest, Frost felt that his pancake engine is ideal for vertical lifting jets. But the existing airframe of that time, the well-loved wings and fuselage was not a fit for a large pancake engine. Hence when “Project Y” went out, the mock-up aircraft resembled a spade. The fuselage must be wide enough to accommodate the odd engine, and they ended up with an unconventional shape. Eventually, government funding was discontinued, and the project failed to progress. Five days later the Minister for Defence Production admitted that they are working on a supersonic flying saucer (flying at 1,500 miles per hour) capable vertical take-off and further funding was cancelled
Nevertheless, the Project Y-2 continued, this time with Frost taking an interest with Coanda effect. Also known as “ground effect,” Frost’s engine will direct the exhaust from the upper surface of the aircraft downward. This became possible with a flap-like arrangement, and lift was produced around the edges of the aircraft. Through experimentation, Frost determined that forward direction was also possible with by directing the thrust to the rear.
As for the air-frame shape, gone was the strange spade shaped flying machine. In its place was an even stranger flying disc. A saucer, which was the results of Frost’s tests. Through small scale experiments involving models, he determined that the disc shape was the best configuration. At the same time, the Project Y-2 could also qualify for an effective subsonic and supersonic flight.
And the US Got Involved
But in 1953, the US got into the game when defence experts visited Avro Canada to view the new CF-100 fighter. But Frost sees a chance and showed them the designs and mock-ups for his Project Y-2. In the days of the Cold War, VTOL aircrafts was the thing, and this won their interest and the project received funding from the USAF. More funding was sent in 1957, and the aircraft became the Weapon System 606A. The project continued to evolve, with the design becoming bigger. Frost estimated that it could fly at Mach 3.5, and in the altitude of 100 000 feet. Until July 1960, the project is kept secret.
The Birth of The Avrocar
Development continued, but Frost opted for smaller vehicle called the Avrocar. The US Army was now involved, for they saw smaller VTOL as “flying jeeps.” Unlike the Air Force which wanted a VTOL aircraft that could fly low enough to dodge enemy radar before blasting at supersonic speed, the army wanted an all-terrain vehicle that could function like a Huey helicopter.
The Avrocar still retained that flying saucer design, only smaller. This flying disc is only 18 feet in diameter, with the engine in the center. Surrounding the engine are structural trusts shaped like triangle, where components are attached. Most of the engine’s thrusts are directed downwards. Much of the airframe was made of aluminum. The vehicle sports two cockpits in either sides.
Two test vehicles were made (VZ-9AV) in 1958, but despite of the supersonic, high altitude capabilities it promised, it could only fly at 3 feet and at a speed of 35 miles per hour. Far from the performance of the only available VTOL of that time, the legendary Huey helicopter. Even worse, the vehicle wobbled when it went a few feet in the air.
And It Got Cancelled
In December 1961, the US Army officially cancelled the program, after Frost’s design changes was turned down. Interest in VTOL then faded as it became clear that a Nuclear First Strike won’t be used in the events of a European war. And based on how it performed, the Avrocar is a virtual failure. It was slow, unstable, noisy and tended to overheat. It cannot fly higher than three feet, and the army found it to be too impractical.
1. Anthony, Sebastian. (October 8, 2012). "US Air Force’s 1950s supersonic flying saucer declassified," Extreme Tech.
2. Singh, Bir. (January 7, 2019). "Was Canada’s VZ-9 Avrocar Flying Saucer the UFOs That Were Seen on Earth?" STSTW Media.
3. Campagna, Palmiro. (1998). "The UFO Files: The Canadian Connection Exposed." Toronto: Stoddart Publishing.
4. Williams, A.R. (December 18 1976). "Avro built a saucer-plane that actually flew." Winnipeg Tribune," TribFocus.