It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: A Boeing 747 with an internal hanger loaded with 10 specially designed fighter jets. An on board crew to launch, recover, refuel and rearm the jets while in mid-flight. Sleeping quarters and a crew lounge to ensure that a squadron of 14 fighter pilots and 18 mission specialists stay rested. All of it hurtling forward at Mach 0.85, 35 thousand feet above sea-level. That’s asking a lot from a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. But a once classified feasible study prepared for the U.S. Air Force details how it could be done. An Airborne Aircraft Carrying Boeing 747 might have been an overly-ambitious, overly-complex and ham-handed idea from 1970s, but it wasn’t entirely out of left field. The U.S. Military had been experiment with the aerial aircraft carrier concepts for nearly half a century. In the early 1930s, two U.S. Navy airships, the USS Akron and the USS Macon carried up to 5 planes stored inside an internal hangar bay. These airborne aircraft carriers enhanced the Navy’s seaborne scouting ability, and the airships’ onboard planes could be deployed for further scouting or defensive purposes. But both USS Akron and Macon were destroyed in weather related accidents not even 3 years after their introductions, helping to put an end to any future airship-based aircraft carriers. But the experiments continued in the 1940s, this time spurred on by a need to protect long-range intercontinental bombers. A seemingly sensible solution to extending escort fighter range was to have long-range bombers carry escort fighters onboard which could be deployed and recovered when needed. But the promising concept proved far more difficult in reality, with aircraft recovery being a particularly dangerous endeavor. Multiple docking methods were attempted, but only one version using a trapeze mechanism and a full-sized fighter ever saw limited service. By the mid-1950s, aerial refueling had proven itself to be a far more practical and safe solution to extending aircraft range. Yet, the Air Force reexamined the concept again in the early 1970s. This time, spurred on by perceived strategic vulnerabilities to conventional seaborne carriers and the new opportunities brought on the enormous Boeing 747 and Lockheed C-5.
The Air Force’s Crazy 747 Aircraft Carrier Concept