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In the late 1960s Lockheed was reportedly looking into making a massive nuclear-powered jet plane capable of staying in the air for around 41 days and also capable of carrying up to 22 fighter aircraft externally. I was wondering if anyone knows why they chose to not make this plane and whether or not this plane would possibly be useful in modern day air forces.

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This plane was never built for a variety of reasons:

  1. The nuclear reactor couldn't be built light enough, and yet safe enough. It would need to survive a collision with a mountain, and needed 20 feet of shielding to protect the passengers. All that added up to weight
  2. The engines worked on the principle of superheating air using heat from the fission reactor. While I haven't been able to find exact details on the engines (probably because they didn't get that far), other engines working on this principle released radiation into the atmosphere, in which case this would have been a flying ecological disaster which would have been forbidden to fly anywhere near population centers
  3. It would have been extremely vulnerable, and easy to destroy with a few missiles. Essentially it would have been a massive target that would be impossible to miss
  4. It would have been insanely expensive to build and operate

In addition to all above there were better, cheaper, safer and more reliable ways to achieve the same mission. None of that has changed.

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An addendum for GdD's answer - the actual mission no longer exists.

The fighter carrier concept came from the WWII experience that bombers needed fighter escort to have reasonable survival rate, producing various plans like the Cl1202 to allow a long distance bomber force to bring fighters with them.

The birth of Surface to Air and Air to Ground missiles means that the assumed need for a bomber to actually fly over the target to drop dumb bombs become both impossible and unnecessary.

Air to air refueling also become standard, so 'get aircraft to remote location' simply required using tankers that already existed and broadly useful rather than a dedicated and very expensive new system only able to support a subset of aircraft. Tankers also allow broadly adjustable and flexible strike packages to be sent that will survive some elements being shotdown or having mechanical issues.

While a platform such as this might be usable as a nuclear second strike carrier it would seem inferior to submarines in most cases. Even if the unit cost for one was similar to a submarine they would presumably be much less stealthy due massive IR plume behind it, and therefore could be defeated by upgrading a small number of existing ballistic nuclear missiles to get mid course guidance update via satellite or simply flying tanker supported fighters to shoot them conventionally.

In the deterrence/second strike capability they would also be a major risk to the owning nations territory, as they would need to be continuously airborne producing both operational and crash related nuclear contamination risks. While nuclear submarines also have these problems, they can be made to not leak during operation and their 'crashes' tend to not be in places that upset politicians.

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