Today, tanks are still the main striking force of the ground forces. However, presenting a formidable, heavily armed and armored tracked vehicle, we always consider it in the aspect of actions exclusively on the ground. However, the 20th century, especially its first half, was rich in bold experiments and ideas. One of these ideas was an attempt to teach tanks to fly. Today, the projects of "flying tanks" that were worked on in the USA and the USSR are widely known.
One of the famous and recognized pioneers in the field of armored vehicles was the American designer John Walter Christie. In our country, he is well known as the inventor of the original suspension system (Christie's suspension), which was widely used in Soviet serial tanks of the BT and T-34 series. John Walter Christie was born on May 6, 1865 in the small town of Riverridge, New Jersey. The future designer studied at the Cooper Union night school. And later, already working at the metallurgical plants owned by Delamater Iron Works, he entered a free school for workers in New York. Later he was able to become a consulting engineer in one of America's shipping companies. It was in this work that his first success came to him - he was able to obtain a patent for the invention of a carousel machine designed for processing parts of turrets of naval guns.
In 1904, Christie, who had a keen interest in the nascent automotive technology, was able to build several front-wheel drive racing cars, he even managed to win the national prize for the most successful design of a racing car. In 1912, with the prize money, he was able to found a small company for the production of racing cars and wheeled tractors, but was unable to achieve success in the market. The business of the aspiring entrepreneur went uphill with the outbreak of the First World War, when Christie began to create various samples of armored vehicles.
So, in a fairly short time, he was able to design an artillery tractor, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun of 76, 2-mm, 203-mm self-propelled howitzer, and also developed a whole line of self-propelled guns armed with 75, 100 and 155 mm guns. In 1919, Christie received an order for the production of his first tank, which he named M1919 - after the year of development. Creating all his tanks, the designer gave them the ability to move both on wheeled and tracked, making the leading pair of rollers leading. This versatility has become a real hallmark of the American designer in the world of tank building at the beginning of the 20th century. Curiously, the American military did not show much interest in Christie's products. None of his interwar vehicles were put into mass production in the United States, but the money received for their construction covered the costs of their creation.
In the United States, the author did not find understanding among the military, but overseas his development was appreciated - in the USSR and Great Britain. Christie himself proposed his concept of fast tanks, developing a chassis and an original suspension system named after him. This suspension was used on tanks that took part in World War II. In the USSR, within the framework of the concept of high-speed tanks, a family of BT tanks was created, in the UK - cruiser tanks, which included the Covenanter and Crusader. In addition, the Christie suspension was used on the Soviet T-34 medium tank and the British Comet medium tank.
In the period between the two world wars, John Walter Christie created and used in his prototypes of combat vehicles elements that became relevant for decades to come in different countries: the use of a wheel-caterpillar propeller and unified units; dense layout; engine in a single block with transmission; the use of ballistically advantageous contours in the armor protection of the tank and the use of welding; use of rubber tires of crawler track rollers with individual suspension in the tank chassis.
But this is far from all that John Walter Christie suggested. The idea to lift the tank into the sky also belonged to a talented American designer. It was he who, in 1932, proposed a new concept of a tank that could move through the air. American newspapers of those years took the designer's idea with enthusiasm: the newspapers printed a diagram of a flying tank, which was supposed to protect the country from any attacks and manifestations of aggression. At the same time, even then, the idea had many critics and skeptics who doubted the implementation of the project. Perhaps the only person in the United States who was 100% sure of the need to build and the success of a flying tank was Walter Christie himself. He went to achieve his goal with fanatical persistence, and this alone deserves respect.
Christy Pendant Patent
In the 1930s, Christie had already created several successful combat vehicles that were capable of operating behind enemy lines in isolation from their troops. However, the "winged tank" occupied a special place in his thoughts; he had been trying to put this project into practice for several years. His "winged tank" was a 5-ton wheeled-tracked vehicle, on the body of which a box with biplane wings and a propeller were to be installed, the rotation of which was to be provided by a tank engine.
By 1932, the designer managed to design the most lightweight tank, most of the parts and assemblies of which (where its design allowed) were made from a new material for those years - duralumin. In fact, the hull of the tank was double. Its inner part was assembled from sheets of duralumin, and the outer part was assembled from armor plates with a thickness of 12.7 mm (the front of the hull) and 9 mm (the sides of the hull). The designer left the wheel-tracked part unchanged - it consisted of 4 road wheels (the front pair was steerable when driving on wheels), front guide and rear drive wheels on each side. At the same time, each of the support wheels was also made of duralumin and equipped with Firestone pneumatic tires. The turret was not installed on this tank, it was supposed to place the gun in the hull of the tank, which should also save the weight of the vehicle. The total mass of this combat vehicle without ammunition, fuel and crew did not exceed 4 tons, and when fully loaded, the mass of the tank reached 5 tons.
This tank, originally designed for airlift, was chosen by Christie for his experiments on the "flying" machine. The M1932 was equipped with a very powerful at that time V-shaped 12-cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine, which developed a power of 750 hp. Thanks to the installation of such an engine, the tank could reach simply incredible "aviation" speeds: 120 miles per hour (about 190 km / h) when driving on wheels on the highway and up to 60 miles per hour (96.5 km / h) when driving on tracks … Even if the numbers look overstated, the tank's speed capabilities were very high. The tank could easily jump over 6-meter wide ditches and overcome slopes up to 45 degrees. The fenders were designed to be wide enough and positioned high above the track rollers. In fact, they looked like small wings, increasing the "volatility" of the machine. The gearbox was four-speed: there were three speeds for forward movement and one for reverse.
According to Christie's plans, the tank had to make the first 70-80 meters of takeoff run on tracks. After that, the driver-mechanic (aka the pilot) had to switch the transmission gearbox from the tracks to the propeller mounted on the tank. After driving another 90-100 meters and reaching a speed of 120-135 km / h, the tank had to rise into the sky. At the same time, the driver was located in his usual place in front of the combat vehicle. During the flight, the engine had to be powered by fuel from two tanks, which were located in the tank hull. In the air, according to the above calculation, the speed of the "flying tank" should have been approximately 150-160 km / h.
Thanks to the independent suspension, the tank could safely land right on the battlefield, which was dug with craters. After landing, the driver-pilot had to throw off the frame with wings and plumage with the help of a special lever, after which it was possible to engage in battle. At the same time, the tank's crew had to consist of only two people - the driver-pilot and the gunner. The tank was landed on tracks, which was supposed to help him to extinguish the planning speed, when he reached the highways, the tracks could be removed.
Despite the elaboration of the project and attempts to implement it, in practice Christie's plans were never implemented. The main reason for the failure at that time was the difficulty of making a remote switching of the drive from the engine from the wheels of the tank to the propeller and vice versa. With the level of development of technology and technical thought of those years, this was a rather complex problem. In addition, the American army was not ready to spend large sums of money on such developments, and the idea of transporting a tank under the bottom of a heavy bomber or transport aircraft was not implemented, since promising aircraft were never adopted by the Air Force. Christie's relations with the American military were also negatively affected by his negotiations with representatives of the USSR.
In principle, there was nothing improbable in the design of the "flying tank" proposed by Christie, but this beautiful idea was never realized in the USA, having raised its head again in the Soviet Union, where during the war the flying tank A- was built in a single copy. 40 Oleg Antonov. Initially, Antonov suggested using his combat vehicle to support the partisans. Flight tests of this unusual vehicle were carried out from August 7 to September 2, 1942.
Returning to Christie, it can be noted that at one time he was clearly underestimated, and it was in the United States. In his small brochure "Modern Mobile Defense", which he wrote during his stay in the UK, testing his chassis with customers, he outlined the main tasks of tank design already in the 1930s, which remain relevant today. “My first and foremost task, wrote Christie, was to create a chassis that could protect a person who decided to entrust him with his life on the battlefield. It is for this reason that the frontal projection had to be hard-hitting for any type of ammunition. In addition, when designing our chassis, we tried to keep them as low as possible, and therefore invisible. We also thought about the option of increasing the security of the car by increasing its speed. Speed is equally important for both aircraft and ground combat vehicles. Possessing a high speed of movement, one can easily bypass the enemy or break away from him, quickly take up convenient positions for firing, and also very quickly get away from the fire. " Much of this is relevant in the 21st century, not only in reality, but also on the fields of virtual battles in modern computer online games.