The Saga of the Flying Tank

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In the 1930s, maverick inventor and engineer, John Walter Christie proclaimed, ‘the flying tank is a machine to end war.’ It was a bold statement and like Alfred Nobel, Hiram Maxim and the Wright brothers, who all believed that their inventions would make war unthinkable, Christie’s idea of a flying tank was more a fantasy than a practical invention, let alone one that would put an end to war. The question was, how do you get a mass of bulky steel into the air and safely back on the ground ready for combat?

The idea of flying a tank into battle was a new and radical idea, but one that found favour with the British, Americans and Soviets. The British solution was the more practicable and later the most successful. In the Soviet Union Walter Christie proposed a tank with wings powered by a single propeller. The tank would use its own power to race down a runway to about 55mph. At that point the tank engine would be switched to power a propeller on the top wing giving the tank enough speed for take-off.

Christie’s tank never did fly, but his idea led to the Antonov A-40 gliding tank. Towed by a TB-3 bomber, the A-40 would glide onto a landing zone ready for combat.

Today the idea of flying tanks into battle is still with us. The massive American C-5 and C-17 transports were designed to haul a main battle tank. They may not fly directly into battle, but close enough. Get the whole story with ‘The Saga of the Flying Tank.’

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