Using designs captured from the Germans, the Navy and the newly formed Air Force crafted two design studies in 1947 for creating a fixed-wing vertical-takeoff-and-landing, or VTOL, aircraft. The goal of the project was to build a fighter that could protect convoys but not require a large landing area.
Lockheed and Convair both won contracts in May 1951 to build prototypes of the aircraft, which resembled squat fighter planes standing on their tails. That earned the nickname (or epithet?) “Tail Sitter”.
The prototype point-defence interceptor didn’t need a runway, but that was about the only thing in its favour. It used huge counter-rotating propellers on its nose to lift off like a helicopter – a very heavy helicopter.
After liftoff, it simply turned its nose horizontal and flew like, well a clumsy prop plane with big propellers. Landing was a matter of reversing the process and shizzing back into its helicopter mode to set down on its ample tail assembly.
The Navy gave Convair the only engine rated for vertical takeoffs and landings, allowing its aircraft – the XFY-1 Pogo – to actually make several vertical ascents and multiple transitions to horizontal flight. Did we say clumsy? This bird was a bear to fly.
The Air Force’s version, the Lockheed XFV-1, used a less-powerful engine and never made a vertical takeoff. it was eventually fitted with conventional landing gear and made 32 horizontal flights.
Despite a lot of media hoopla, the VTOL had a very short moment in the sun. The Pentagon cast its lot instead with fast horizontal jets and powerful helicopters. Subsequent military experience with tilt-rotor aircraft has been less than happy.
You wanna liftoff? Go to Cape Canaveral.