Inside The Mind Of Hiram K. Hackenbacker: an article by: GF Willmetts.

I’ve written various articles on the original ‘Thunderbirds’ over the years. However, a recent realization made me pause and reconsider. Initially, I thought that International Rescue didn’t want their vehicles photographed because someone might recognize the design signature of Brains, also known as Hiram K. Hackenbacker. While I still believe this is a valid reason, it’s worth noting that his non-International Rescue designs are quite different.

For instance, the Skythrust from the original episode ‘Alias Mr. H Hackenbacker’ had a key feature: it could jettison its fuel tank for emergency landings. Considering that real-world aircraft often have to fly around to empty their fuel tanks before landing to reduce fire risks, this is a clever idea. However, the potential for the exploding fuel tank to scatter debris over a wide area is a concern, although one could argue that it could be drone-controlled and parachuted to the ground.

Skyship One from ‘Thunderbird 6’ was a powered airship, entirely different from the high-speed International Rescue vehicles. Although these vehicles are described as having ‘anti-gravity’ motors, they actually reduce gravity, or else Skyship One would be flying in space, not in the air.

Skyship One was primarily built because ‘Mr. X,’ the designer of the Thunderbirds, was laughed at by the aircraft company board when he first suggested it. Jeff Tracy, who likely has a financial stake in various aircraft companies, could have been involved, but that might have drawn unwanted attention to International Rescue.

This article would be short if it only discussed Hackenbacker’s design versatility. Let’s also consider what International Rescue was trying to hide. Both Thunderbirds 1 and 2 fly at speeds just short of a missile. Despite not being tracked when returning home, their speed would be known to entities like the USN Sentinel in ‘Terror In New York’ and London Airport in various episodes.

Both Thunderbirds are not typical aircraft but rocket-planes. They ascend two miles into the air to avoid global tracking, propelled by rocket engines. Thunderbird 1 takes off vertically, while Thunderbird 2 requires a ramp due to its size and mass. Landing at Tracy Island is more traditional, involving a glide path and thrusters.

When Jeff Tracy asked Brains for a sixth Thunderbird, he was vague about what he wanted. Hackenbacker needed more direction, as his early suggestions were rejected. Eventually, Alan Tracy’s Tiger Moth airplane fulfilled the role. A smaller, lighter aircraft like Thunderbird 4 would make more sense for certain rescues and could be transported by Thunderbird 2.

In conclusion, while the Kitty Hawk may not be a long-term solution due to its limitations, Hackenbacker now has a clearer idea of what is needed. Considering the variety of vehicles that Thunderbird 2 carries for different missions, it’s surprising that a lighter aircraft wasn’t considered earlier. However, both Thunderbirds could benefit from additional platforms to extend their range.

© GF Willmetts 2023

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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