The NAC-60 – America’s Supersonic Jet That Never Was

Yesterday we discussed Boeing’s attempt at a Concorde in the 1960s, but did you know that there was another SST (supersonic transport) in the works at North America Aviation? The US government eventually passed over for the Lockheed and Boeing designs, but we can only imagine what could have been.

SST delta nac-60
The NAC-60 design in Delta livery. Photo: Delta Flight Museum/Simple Flying

What was the NAC-60?

Apart from having a rather unattractive aircraft name, what do we know about the NAC-60?

The 1962 design featured four crew members in a tiny cockpit: presumably there would be a captain, a first officer, navigator and flight engineer. It would carry around 187 passengers in a one-class narrowbody configuration (approximately 34 inches of legroom) at a length of 195 feet (59 meters long). It was bigger than a Concorde but smaller than the Boeing and Lockheed designs.

Four massive engines would supply power that would punch the aircraft up to Mach 2.65 with a rather short range of only 3,389 nautical miles (6,276 km).

It was based on the NAC B-70 Valkyrie bomber design and featured the same engines placed under the rear delta wings.

It did have a few exciting design features. For example, the nose was lined with a set of canards. This was a small forewing to the front and top of the main cabin that allowed the aircraft to be steered without a tail. Additionally, the plane had a windscreen that changed depending on the flight mode (and taxi), meaning that the nose did not have to drop like in the Concorde design.

BA Concorde
Concorde would enter service in 1969. Photo: British Airways

How did it compare to the Concorde and the Boeing 2707?

If we were to line it up to other SST designs at the time this is how it compares:

Builder Design Model Passengers Range (nautical miles)
Boeing 2707 277 3500
Lockheed L-2000 273 4000
North America Aviation NAC-60 187 3389
Tupolev Tu-144 140 3500
Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde 122 3900

We can see that the NAC-60 had the shortest range compared to all the models, despite carrying an average amount of passengers. This may have been a deciding factor explaining why the design was passed by the American government for the Lockheed and Boeing designs.

By 1967, the Boeing 2707 SST was declared the winner of the contest and given the green light to move ahead, leaving North America Aviation looking at what could have been.

Boeing 2707
The Boeing 2707 SST mockup. Photo: Boeing

Could the design have been successful?

Building an SST was expensive, and no firm in the United States wanted to create one without government funding.

But it can be argued that North America Aviation, specifically after its merger with Rockwell International (who had lucrative NASA Apollo contracts), could have put together an SST design in a faster time than Boeing. Thanks to their military experience and experimentation in the supersonic world. Boeing would stumble and fail to build a prototype before the US government fell out of love with SSTs in the 1970s, whereas the NAC-60 may have been made in time.  Could this have changed the mind of those in government? Hindsight is 20/20.

Alas, by the time the Nixon administration was sent packing, the US government had experienced high fuel rises and felt that SSTs would be too expensive to operate and cause too much damage thanks to sonic booms. Funding was cut, and everyone lost in the various programs.

What do you think of the NAC-60? Do you prefer it over the Boeing design? Let us know in the comments.