An Airborne Aircraft Carrier? No way.
Yes, that title might be screaming "It's just a joke" at you, but despite how crazy it sounds, it was actually taken into consideration. This was the idea of the Air Force back in the 1970s to gain the upper hand against the Soviets. Miniature fighter jets would be positioned into place by a conveyor belt and then deployed from the cargo hold. The choice of aircraft?
None other than the Queen of the Skies herself, the Boeing 747.
When the Boeing 747 was launched in 1970, Juan Trippe, the president of Pan American World Airways said this:
"The Boeing 747 would be a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind's destiny."
Now the military, being the military saw only two words of use to them: great weapon. They asked Boeing to study the idea, and Boeing agreed, using the 747 (duh) as the aircraft carrier. And I'm not gonna lie, the concept was daunting, even for the most powerful military and the biggest airplane manufacturer in the world.
To start with, the 747 would house 10 teeny-tiny fighter jets called microfighters in an internal hangar. The jets would be lowered into a launch bay by a set of arms and would be deployed. To recover the fighters, the same set of arms would deploy to latch on to the fighter and pull it back inside. A microfighter could have been turned around in 90 seconds and it would be powerful enough to fight against a fighter jet twice it's size.
Besides from the space-consuming hangar, the carrier would house a room full of armament and spare parts. It would carry more fuel than a typical 747 because of it's weight and to improve it's range. It would include sleeping quarters and a crew lounge for 44 personnel consisting of carrier crew, squadron pilots and mission specialists. And I thought a 747 with a maximum capacity of 660 passengers including 20 screaming babies was cramped...
While it all sounded promising, it ended up being just a little too crazy to develop. Stuffing all the aforementioned features into a plane was going to be a mammoth task and it may have just pushed Boeing over the edge to develop something like this. As the program entered into the 1980s, the viability of the concept was slowly diminishing and the military themselves were drifting away from the idea. Plus, the microfighters would not have been able to combat with the more developed fighter jets of the decade and the whole program seemed pointless, officially axing the development of the Boeing 747 Airborne Aircraft Carrier.
The idea of a 747 carrier didn't die just yet, because Boeing commenced the first flight of the Dreamlifter in 2006. Instead of miniature fighters it carried aircraft fuselages and parts. The 747 AAC was more ambitious and far fetched than this version of the 747 and other 747 variants, and it is certainly less known as well.
With that being said, this project would be sure to turn heads for the possibilities it offered. It would be cool to see a modernized version of this, maybe with the more-fuel efficient Airbus A380? Write your ideas in the comments!
Back to the topic at hand, what intended to be a classified project and a game-changer for the U.S military turned into a waste of time. Nevertheless, the Boeing 747 AAC has been a prime example of ambition for airborne aircraft carriers, with several other ideas being developed to carry drones, which sounds a lot less exciting. The future of this idea is still glowing and it could be a reality one day!