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Flying Wing: 1948

1948. "Aerial view of U.S. Air Force's 100-ton Northrop Flying Wing YB-49 jet bomber in flight. Northrop Aircraft Inc., Hawthorne, California." View full size.

1948. "Aerial view of U.S. Air Force's 100-ton Northrop Flying Wing YB-49 jet bomber in flight. Northrop Aircraft Inc., Hawthorne, California." View full size.


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There's a Canadan counterpart

Jack Northrup's experience has an eerie Canadian counterpart that met a similar fate.

In the late 1950s, A.V. Roe, a Canadian aircraft company, designed and built six highly-advanced, supersonic (Mach 2+) delta-wing strategic bombers, called the Avro Arrow, based on an order from the Canadian government for an air force fleet. The aircraft flew in many test flights and met all design criteria. At the time, 1958, America had nothing to match it, as it was about 20 years ahead of its time in design. Test flights of scale models introduced the concept of telemetric feedback to aircraft - and spacecraft - development.

The cost overruns, combined with pressure from Eisenhower, convinced the Canadian government to cancel the program before production. Orders came down from the Canadian cabinet of Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to have all the prototypes cut up and destroyed along with all blueprints. There was a famous aerial photo of the period from one of the Toronto newspapers of the cutting torches breaking up the magnificent aircraft, It was unpardonable vandalism. After the cancellation of the Arrow project, many engineers from A.V. Roe went to work for NASA and were instrumental in putting Americans on the moon.

Look up the story of the Avro Arrow. It's enough to make you weep.

Word Usage

My biggest pet peeve is the misuse of "lead" instead of "led," as in "He lead the troops." I can't count the number of times I've seen this in places, e.g., newspapers, where this should be a termination offense.

My its education

We were taught the correct its/it’s usage in sixth grade English in 1953. For some reason I’ve never forgotten that particular lesson. It seemed so simple. I wonder if they still teach kids such things?

I doubt anyone knows for sure why the YB-49 program was axed. It was probably a combination of several issues. Jack Northrop recalled bitterly the cancellation phone call from Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, who gave as his reason only that there had been unfavorable reports. It is true that the Air Force concluded that the Wing was not stable enough in level flight to be a reliable bombing platform. (Instead, they went ahead with the rival B-36.) Pitch and yaw were the problems with the flying wing concept and still are. Today’s Wing, the B-2, has electronic stability control that did not exist in the 1940s and 1950s. Northrop refused to merge with the other company, and apparently his punishment was being ordered to destroy several already built bombers, which is why no B-35 or B-49 examples exist today, and that’s a darn shame. I sure would like to see one fly.

Dave Is ...

a stickler for punch-u-ation

[Also it's Northrop, not "Northrup." - Dave]

Fast Forward 40 Years

The Northrup-Grumman B-2 "Spirit" bomber shares many similar characteristics to the YB-49. The computer systems needed to maintain stability made the flying wing design finally feasible, which the YB-49 and the prop-driven XB-35 lacked.

I also grew up near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Fairborn. However, in 1946, Fairborn did not yet exist. It didn't officially become a city until 1950, when the two villages of Fairfield and Osborn combined. My dad worked at Wright-Patt for 30 years.


@Grandma: according to Wikipedia:
The sole prototype reconnaissance platform, the YRB-49A, first flew on 4 May 1950. After only 13 flights, testing ended abruptly on 26 April 1951. It was then flown back to Northrop's headquarters from Edwards Air Force Base (formally formerly Muroc) on what would be its last flight. There, this remaining flying wing sat abandoned at the edge of Northrop's Ontario airport for more than two years. It was finally ordered scrapped on 1 December 1953.

Flying Boomerangs

It's interesting that America started to see UFO's around this time.

Air Mail

It's even got a mail-catcher on the wingtips!

Alien Battles

The YB-49 had a cameo appearance (from stock footage)in the 1953 movie War Of The Worlds when it's used to drop an A-Bomb on the invading Martians.

An informative site

Not only do I get to see and read about history, I get a vocabulary lesson as well.

It's chasing me!

In Pomona, CA in 1951, I was walking home from kindergarten when one of these Flying Wings zoomed low over me, with smoke coming out of the back. I thought it was some kind of monster chasing me. I ran the rest of the way home, screaming.

It's its

I find it easy to confuse as well.

The way I understand it (hah!), "it's" is a contraction for "it is", and "its" is the possessive for of "it".

BTW, I think the Flying Wing is fantastic looking.

Years Ahead

The progenitor of the YB-49, the YB-35, was in competition with the Convair B-36. The Northrop design had the advantage in payload and range but the pick was eventually given to the Convair design in what may be termed controversial circumstances. The jet-powered follow-on (this YB-49 and the Convair YB-60) were never really successful, as simply adding jet engines to a piston powered airframe could not compete with the newer designs from Boeing -- the B-47, and eventually the B-52, which is still in service nearly 65 years after it first flew.

Wing Man

I was 6 years old in 1946, living at Wright Patterson AF Base in Ohio, and remember being totally fascinated by the Flying Wing. The B-52's would fly in behind our back yard. What an amazing place and time to grow up in America.

Years ahead

The design was years ahead of it's time and was killed by a politician who demanded Northrup "share" it's expertise and knowledge with another aircraft company.

[This would be an excellent opportunity to investigate the difference between its and it's. - Dave]

Not only beautiful

but could fly at 493 mph.

Its little sibling is still flying

The Planes of Fame Museum in Chino California has a flying condition Northrop N9M, which was a prop-powered 1/3 size ("only" 60 foot wingspan) aircraft built for testing design concepts for the full-sized XB-35 (four-engine propeller plane) and the YB-49 jet.

The XB-35 was very close to the current Northrop B-2 Spirit in size (172 foot wingspan) and payload (50,000 pounds of bombs), with a significantly better range (8,000 vs 7,000 miles). The YB-49's performance was significantly less due to the limitations of early jet engines.

Here's a public domain photo from Wikipedia.

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