With a wingspan of 500 feet, 12 engines, 56 wheels, and a carrying capacity of 2.3 million pounds – this plane was five times more powerful than an Antonov An-225 and could be listed as the most insane cargo plane ever designed. But it would never be built.
Its name? The Boeing Resource Carrier One!
When the US government opened up Northern Alaska to the oil industry, there was a question of how to get the resources from the far icy North down to the refineries in the South. According to a story, a friend of a Boeing Engineer by the name of Marvin Talor asked him if an aircraft could do it – a quick calculation on the back of a napkin showed that this would not make much sense ,and the oil once reaching California would be worth far less than the fuel used to transport it.
But engineers never shook the idea, and it would resurface in 1970 when a proposed trans-Alaska pipeline system would be tied up in the courts. Boeing realised that air transportation would be the solution for this stranded oil, and that earlier engineers had overlooked two very important factors.
Firstly, that the oil wouldn’t have to go from Alaska to California, but rather, it could go from Alaska to the shipping lanes near the Canadian border, travelling the rest of the way by boat. This would mean less fuel burned, and thus more profitable, and also allow the plane to return to the oil fields to reload.
Another mistake was basing the sortie times on commercial operations, like the Boeing 747. As the plane wouldn’t be transporting passengers, but instead crude oil, it could fly at any time of the day – performing up to 18 sorties in a rolling 24-hour cycle, with the airline operator swapping out the pilots, when needed .
So Boeing got to work designing an aircraft to solve this oil transportation problem.
To begin, they started with the Boeing 747. Turning one into an oil transport wouldn’t be hard, and initial designs showed that it could do it. The plane would turn its wing fuel tanks into oil tanks, as it didn’t need the fuel for the short range, and additional oil cargo could be carried inside the fuselage. Boeing presented this 747-idea to the oil companies, but as the plane made a profit of one dollar per barrel, $2 cost vs a sales price of $3, the companies were not interested.
In 1970, Canada looked into opening up the Arctic Archipelago as part of the great planes-project, for resource mining and extraction. This would be a challenge, as the sea lanes around the islands would only be open for the summer months, and any railway would need to be built over frozen tundra and a pipeline would be considered extremely expensive.
The team opening up the region became aware of Boeing’s recent 747 oil tanker proposal, and got in touch to see if they could use the same principle to carry mined ore rather than oil. This one design changed spurred Boeing to create a completely new aircraft, one that was up to the job and would be called the Resource Carrier. It would have other nicknames, such as the Brute Lifter, or the Flying Pipeline!
This is what it was like.
The resource carrier one might look like the strangest aircraft you have ever seen, but there is some fantastic logic to its design.
For starters, the cargo, be it oil or ore, would be loaded in gigantic pods fitted to the side of the plane’s massive 500 foot or 150-meter wingspan. This would allow quick turn arounds, as the pods could be loaded off the plane, installed, and then flown to the destination. On arrival, the pods would be deposited onto existing train cars for land-shipment, and the plane would return with the empty pods for the next sortie.
This would also mean that the plane wouldn’t have to open up, and could avoid any heavy or complicated door mechanisms.
To spread the heavy load out on the wings, the plane would need eight sets of landing gears. However, this had a problem for when the plane would turn on the ground, limiting its swept wing. This means that the plane would use a straight wing. Which in turn, means a slower speed of max 0.7. But this was a fair compromise, as the flights would be short and the engineers could focus on a low-speed high-lift wing design.
This would mean that the plane would have a short range, fully loaded of only 1,000 miles or 1,610 km respectively. It would require a big airport to land at, but nothing that couldn’t be built in the vast Alaskan wilderness. The plane would weigh around 985,000 pounds (447,000 kg), or double the weight of an An-225.
The Canadian plane’s project also had one more request – that the aircraft use a gas fuel as oppose to jet fuel. Because of the aircraft’s design, it would have a huge fuselage with nothing in it, the heavy cargo was in the pods, meaning plenty of room for enormous fuel tanks. These fuel tanks would carry a light gas as fuel, such as natural gas, which could also then be transported in the same tanks. A bit of a double win for the engineers.
How would the planes be used?
The next question was, how would the planes be used?
The team believed that a fleet of 50 aircraft would be required for the project, with 15 of the aircraft being used as spares to ensure 24-hour service. At then $72 million, $439 million today, per aircraft, this was not a cheap operation, but would be incredibly cheap to transport all sorts of resources. For oil, this would mean 86 cents per barrel – a good dollar difference from the previous 747 proposal.
To achieve the required sortie rate needed to make the “flying pipeline” concept work, Boeing designed an airport around the aircraft. This featured three parallel runways that would operate at the same time. Aircraft landed on the two outer runways, and then taxied along large operational aprons at either end of the runways. Here, they dropped off their cargo pods onto trains and picked up empty ones for the return flight. Two such transfer stations were located at either end, in order to maintain the required sortie rate. The plane would then take off from the central runway back to the original destination.
A huge advantage of this proposal was that the planes would be reconfigured to do anything. From transporting oil, gas, ore and more, they could be moved at a moment’s notice throughout the region, and would mean new areas could be rapidly exploited. At the same time, the Canadians were looking at a new deep-water port in Hudson Bay, with the RC-1 project looking like a very cheap alternative.
So why was it never built?
In 1972, Boeing, who had already put in 500,000 into the project, presented the final design. The Canadians took it to the oil firms, confident they could get the $15 million needed to build a small-scale demonstration model. It seems that the future of oil transport was almost here.
Then in 1973, the oil crisis struck. Arab nations embargoed oil to Canada, which in turn drove up the price of jet fuel. The Boeing resource carrier was no longer profitable, and all design plans for it were totally abandoned – bringing the end to the insane journey of what could have been the world’s biggest cargo aircraft.
Well, until the Boeing Span loader project, but that’s a story for another time!
Imagining the world in which the Boeing RC-1 existed is quite exciting. While ultimately the powers that be built a pipe, I can imagine that having an aircraft like it today would be incredibly useful, although its short-range would severely limit its operations. Making this video just makes me realize how little imagination there seems to be left in the world.
This video today would not be the same without Scott Lowther, who contributed diagrams to this and other videos, and helped with sections of mystery – he has a great site with what seems to be thousands of undesigned aircraft, so check them out here. Really, it’s worth it.
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