Boeing "Big Bird" ICBM Launcher Aircraft (MX Airborne Carrier)


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10 May 2006
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Hi Everyone!

I'm looking for information (3-views, artists conceptions, etc.) of a certain aircraft design I recall seeing in Aviation Week in the late 70's to early 80's.

I believe it was a design for an ICBM (MX) airborne launcher.

It was a large, propeller-driven aircraft, with a wingspan of maybe three hundred (300) feet, and four diesel engines, each driving a large 2-bladed propeller.

Any information anyone has on this unbuilt aircraft will be most welcome!


Thank you so much!

Do you think that a good three-view of the Boeing Big Bird might appear in Aerospace Projects Review?

I am going through boxes of aviation week from 1979-1980, and came across this MX carrier. I have the complete article, Apparently this was Weinberger's preferred solution, but he went over the Airforce's heads. The service preferred C-5s as the carrier platform. It was calculated that the C-5 would have little margin for scrambling and that their endurance was only 8-9 hrs.


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According to the caption the aircraft would 'cruise at 5,000ft and 100kts' and launch the missile at '10-20,000ft, and 120 to 180 kts'.
Wouldn't the time taken to climb taken to climb to missile launch altitude and speed significantly increase the reaction time of the


P.S. Thanks to AeroFranz for turning up all this good stuff...........
robunos said:
According to the caption the aircraft would 'cruise at 5,000ft and 100kts' and launch the missile at '10-20,000ft, and 120 to 180 kts'.
Wouldn't the time taken to climb taken to climb to missile launch altitude and speed significantly increase the reaction time of the

Well that depends on the rate of climb of the aircraft which judging by those very big high aspect ratio wings is probably very high. So it could climb and accelerate from the loiter to launch position in a few minutes. On receiving a launch signal it would take a few minutes to warm up the missiles, check the authentications and so on to launch the weapons. This of course would be done concurrently with the climb and accelerate to launch.

dragon72 said:
5,000 ft seems awfully low to be loitering

It depends on why they are loitering. The only reason they are in the air is to provide a secure and untraceable launch position. There is no operational need for altitude as in a fighter or surveillance aircraft. You could argue that lower is safer as you can take advantage of curvature of the earth to reduce the radar horizon.

However I tend to agree that high altitude is more normal for loitering because it provides less drag resistance, is above the weather (a good storm will mess up your loiter), etc. However it would appear this aircraft is designed for the low altitude loiter. It needs the thicker air to stay aloft 48 hours. Perhaps because of the diesel engines requiring a lot of oxygen to operate to reduce the required fuel burn.
Any information available about the 6,000 shp aviation diesel engine that was being considered?
Abe, I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote that the low altitude loiter is for hiding behind the curvature of the earth. At 100 kts or so, there wouldn't be excessive drag. Remember, the point wasn't to get from point A to point B, but to just be somewhere in the square states.
How would they find the runway / taxiway space for it ? A B-52 is small in comparison.


did we speak about this subject before ?.


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The entire "mobile MX" affair was rather bizarre... MX on giant aircrafts, MX on railways, MX on superhardened silos, and finally... MX on Minuteman, vulnerable silos. And Midgetman. An entire decade of studies, studies, more studies, Congressional debate.
All this for what ?
MX developed for billion of dollars, deployed in the wrong silos, then withdrawn. :eek: And nowadays, U.S land-based deterrent assumed by old, cranky Minuteman IIIs.

When you think about it, had the Saturn V not been scrapped, it could have launched Midgetman into orbit...
Big Bird.jpg
We have looked at an air-mobile system for MX over many years and have rejected it in the past on the grounds of cost and reduced capability. People have reintroduced this subject based on projections of new technology that perhaps is obtainable , that would let us employ an airplane that would fly not for hours but for days on end. It would accomplish this through the large use of composites and highly fuel-efficient engines. So, these airplanes could go out and be on patrol for days rather than for hours and thereby pick up the survivability features, akin to submarines.​

from MX programs, Department of Defense Appropriations Fiscal Year 1983
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... it makes some sense. I usually don't make that kind of analogies because, when you think about it, all jetliners cockpits from Comet to 787 broadly look the same.
But in that peculiar case, that cockpit really has a definite B-52 "touch". And since that proposal was a bomber in the Skybolt sense of the thing, that is, a "flying ICBM = ALBM " carrier... as were B-52s. You see what I mean. No ?
If these 'Big Bird' aircraft loiter in 'Indian Country', would that make them too low, too slow to show up on the USSR's 'Woodpecker' OTH system ??

( I remember the outrage when 'Woodpecker' came along and spammed a swathe of 'Radio Ham' frequencies. Too wide-band to frequency-filter. Then, IIRC, an ingenious Skand guy devised a filter using a timing gate. CQs resumed, literally in the gaps between those ticks... )
It was a Boeing proposal... so.......

Not.... exactly.

There are some details left out of that article.
Kuhn and "Kerem" (Abe Karem) originated the concept. They proposed the aircraft be unmanned and fly "random" patterns over the ocean, hiding in clouds from satellites. This was an unsolicited proposal given to the Townes committee.
Several steps later Boeing was brought in to analyze the concept. Boeing and DoD made it manned with several crew. Boeing would have served as the prime or systems integrator but it was still Karem's concept of low fuel consumption, high fuel fraction. And by this time the concept would have flown over the ocean, or over CONUS. Not over hostile territory, but also not unmanned and hiding in clouds.

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