Tanks with glider wings were the subject of several unsuccessful experiments in the 20th century. It was intended that these could be towed behind; or carried under an airplane, to glide into a battlefield, in support of infantry forces.
In war, airborne forces use parachutes to drop soldiers behind enemy lines to capture and hold important objectives until more heavily equipped friendly troops can arrive. Military planners have always sought ways to provide airborne troops with combat support equipment in the form of light armoured vehicles or artillery which can be dropped by parachute or military glider.
The biggest problem with air-dropping vehicles is that their crews drop separately, and may be delayed or prevented from bringing them into action. Military gliders allow crews to arrive at the drop zone along with their vehicles. They also minimize exposure of the valuable towing aircraft, which needn't appear over the battlefield. An improvement would be a tank which could glide into the battlefield, drop its wings, and be ready to fight within minutes.
In the early 20th century, parachute silk was rare in the Soviet Union, so the military conducted experiments with air-dropping soldiers into deep snow without parachutes. In 1930, the Grokhovskiy Special Design Bureau experimented with dropping "air buses" full of troops: the bicycle-wheeled G-45 onto land, and the amphibious "hydro bus" into water. When the hydro bus disintegrated on landing, the chief designer and his assistant were strapped into the G-45 for a test drop; they survived, but the project was cancelled (Zaloga 1984:192).
Later, the Soviets used heavy bombers to land on the battlefield carrying T-27 tankettes and T-37 tank light tanks, and experimented with air-dropping light tanks (both with and without parachutes). In 1941, airborne units were issued T-40 amphibious tanks.
None of these was completely satisfactory, so in 1942 the Soviet Air Force ordered Oleg Antonov to design a glider for landing tanks. Antonov was more ambitious, and instead added a detachable cradle to a lightened T-60 light tank, bearing large wood and fabric biplane wings and twin tail. Although one semi-successful test flight was completed, due to the lack of sufficiently-powerful aircraft to tow it at the required 160 km/h, the project was abandoned.
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The Imperial Japanese Army's experimental Special No. 3 Flying Tank So-Ra or Ku-Ro, was developed in 1943. Like the Soviet models, it had detachable wings, but it could also be transported by heavy gliders, namely the Kokusai Ku-7 "Buzzard" and Kokusai Ku-8 I "Gander". These could be towed by aircraft such as the Mitsubishi Ki-21 "Sally" heavy bomber. However, the Japanese Flying Tank project was abandoned before it went into production. The tank transport gliders were deployed to the Philippines during 1944. Another prototype was Maeda Ku-6 Flying Tank, but not advanced to experimental phases also.
In 1941, L.E. Baynes produced a design for a 100 ft wingspan "Carrier Wing Glider", a large tailess wing to carry a tank. A reduced scale experimental glider - the Baynes Bat - was tested. It was satisfactory but the project was dropped and work on gliders that could carry vehicles internally was taken up. This led to the Airspeed Horsa and General Aircraft Hamilcar that could carry a Jeep and a light tank respectively.
After World War II
The Soviet Union continued to develop methods to efficiently deploy airborne vehicles. By the mid-1970s, they were able to drop BMD-1 fighting vehicles with crew members aboard, using a combination of parachutes and retrorocket.[clarification needed]
- Military glider
- Messerschmitt Me 321 and Junkers Ju 322, German gliders designed to be capable of carrying light armored vehicles.
- The T-80 and T-84 have also been nicknamed Flying Tank for their speed
- "Flying Tank - Newest Air Menace", July 1932, Popular Mechanics 1932 article with drawings
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- Holt, Lew. “Flying Tanks that Shed Their Wings” in Modern Mechanics and Inventions, July 1932.
- Shavrov, V. (1997). "Istoriya konstruktsiy samoletov v SSSR". Bronekollektsiya (4).
- Zaloga, Steven J.; James Grandsen (1984). Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two. London: Arms and Armour Press. pp. 192–3. ISBN 0-85368-606-8.