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Nuclear-powered aircraft (A-plane) in kit form

Aurora Impetus built by the author as an Aeroflot machine based on the reasoning that only the Soviets would build an airliner (Impetus) and a bomber (Ragnarok) from the same airframe.


During the fifties and up to the early sixties, both engineers and
« futurists » believed in the many applications of atomic energy. While nuclear power plants , nuclear military ships, and a few experimental civilan cargo and icebreaker ships were built, A-planes (fortunately ?) were not.  This did not stop concept studies to be researched by manufacturers which kit producers, always on the look out for novelties duely materialized in model kit form.
Today these kits are eyed with disdain by
« real » modellers and with eyes filled by $$$$ by speculators foraging on E-bay and swap-meets.  Yet at the time they were real attempts to reproduce if not fully-fledged, aluminium-hard aircraft , at least reasonable and plausible concepts. Remember that all that research was highly classified at the time (even the outside appearance of atomic bombs were classified : you had to get clearance just to look inside the empty bomb bay of an US bomber and the Soviets put curtains round the bomb bays of their bombers while they were loaded with bombs) so guessing a general concept was the best kit manufacturers could do save at being accused of treason for revealing military secrets (it seems there WAS some outcries at the Pentagon when Revell released its cut-away atomic-powered submarine kit).
The goal of this article is to present the kits and try to ascertain on which sources they were based..

A note on terminology : I have used often the term "the Soviets" in this text . This is not mean as a derogatory term for Russian people but just a word used at the time and which also reflects the much different thoughts prevalent during the fifties.



       the model

       the model

       the model
       the Life Magazine article

       the model

A variant of Convair's WS 125A aka B-72 in a fully operationnal configuration with conventional jets for take-off , rear-warning radome and full USAF regalia . A model of this, the nearest we got  of a nuclear-powered aircraft is overdue . What is the « cottage industry » doing ??

Sources :
Site http://www.megazone.org/ANP/atomair.html
Site http://jpcolliat.free.fr/
Magazines :

  • Aviation Week various issues1955/1960
  • Science & Vie : various issues1945/1965
  • Mécanique Populaire (Popular Mecanics) : various issues 1948/1965
  • Aerospace Project Review
Books :
  • X-planes 3ème édition 2001 , Midlands
  • L'Aviation Nouvelle Larousse 1958

I would like to thank for their help MM José Fernandez, Jean-Claude Hasquenoph, Mat Irvine, et Andy Yanchus . .

Questions ? Remarks ? Please tell the author by clicking HERE
© JC Carbonel / Modelarchives 2002

Schematic diagram of an « indirect type » nuclear jet
In yellow the reactor core surrounded by an armoured wall(brown ) to keep dangerous radiations off the rest of the aircraft,  heats a fluid (liquid metal) which in turn heats up the cold airflow entering through the intake (blue) which expand through the jet engine and is ejected via the nozzle (red) after activating the compressor stages. In green the load (that is a big bomb).

Based on  Science & Vie (itself based on Life)