Part II : 1950-1957

7. New Initiatives in High-Altitude Aircraft



Other Reactions to Rae's Proposal


[124] Wright Air Development Center took no action on the directive during the remainder of 1954, but there were other developments. The Fuels and Propulsion Panel of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board considered the Rex I engine at its 29 [125] September 1954 meeting.* The panel saw Rex I as an interesting cycle of potential importance and recommended that the development of non-air-breathing chemical engines should be actively pursued. Rex I was viewed as only one of several possibilities. The panel also recommended that a broad general study be made before development of the Rex I engine.25


According to Rae, the staff of the scientific Advisory Board asked him to go to the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland and give a briefing on Rex I.26 He did so in November 1954, presenting the Rex concepts and various cycles to Abe Silverstein.**


The situation in late 1954 was tense for Rae. He had distributed fifteen copies of his brochure and backup technical data, given several briefings, and was aware that the Air Force was very interested. He had to defend his idea against a number of criticisms. He had conducted enough analysis to believe in the soundness of his approach and wanted support to develop it, but this appeared slow in coming. On the Air Force side, there was great interest in Rae's concepts-probably more than he suspected-for it touched on a critical need. The power plant laboratory, however, had reservations about the practicality of Rae's engine and how far to go with Summers Gyroscope as a contractor, and these points were clearly made in the WADC evaluation. The new development office of the weapon systems directorate, where Seaberg was pushing other high-altitude concepts, was negative about the Rex concept. Storm signals were flying for those perceptive enough to observe them.


Late in 1954, when Kelly Johnson was developing the U-2, Randy Rae was still seeking a way to get the Air Force to move on his proposal. It became clear to him that he needed to associate with a company having experience with turbines, the major component of his propulsion system. He knew Bertram N. Snow (1901-1966), dynamic vice president of the Garrett Corporation, makers of small turbines and many other components for the aviation industry. He approached Snow and later J.C. (Cliff) Garrett, founder and president of the company.27 Garrett and Snow were very interested in Rae's ideas, but being shrewd and perceptive businessmen, they wanted to sound out Air Force interest in Rae's ideas and Garrett as a suitable contractor before they committed themselves. After assuring themselves on these questions, they began negotiations to acquire the Rex engine from Rae and Summers.28


* Present were Prof. C.P. Soderberg (chairman), William M. Holladay, Allen F. Donovan, William D, Rannie, Addison M. Rothrock, Gale Young, and Mark Mills.

** An interesting speculation is whether Rothrock, who heard the Rex-I presentation at the 29 Sept. 1954 SAB meeting, transmitted information about it to Lewis earlier than November 1954, or asked the laboratory to investigate hydrogen, or asked the SAB staff to send Rae to Lewis. The last appears to be the most probable (p.97). Raeís presentation intensified Silversteinís interest in hydrogen for aircraft, but was not the origin of his interest.