The NACA’s Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory used a Boeing B-29 Superfortress as a testbed for ramjet investigations in the late 1940s. NACA Lewis conducted a wide variety of studies on ramjets to determine basic operational data necessary to design missiles. This information included the relationship between combustion chamber and inlet pressure and temperature, velocity of the fuel-air ratio to the ignition characteristics, and combustion efficiency. Although wind tunnel and test stand studies were important first steps in determining these factors, actual flight tests were required.
Lewis engineers modified the B-29 so that the ramjet could be stored in the bomb bay. Once the aircraft reached the desired altitude and speed the ramjet was suspended 52 inches below the bomb bay. The ramjet’s angle-of-attack could be independently adjusted, and a periscope permitted a view of the test article from inside the aircraft. Measurements were taken in free-stream conditions between 5,000 and 30,000 feet.
The test flights, which began in April 1947, were flown at speeds up to Mach 0.51 and altitudes of 5,000 to 30,000 feet. The researchers first determined that 14,000 feet was the maximum altitude at which the engine could be ignited by spark. Flares were used to start the engine at altitudes up to 30,000 feet. Overall the ramjet operated well at all speeds and altitudes. Significant changes in fuel flow were successful at lower altitudes, but produced combustion blowout above 20,000 feet.