Jack's Flying Wing

On this day in history, perhaps the most futuristic looking aircraft, the Northrop Corporation YB-49; jet-powered flying wing design first flew on 21 October 1947 and immediately proved more promising than its piston-engined counterpart. The YB-49 set an unofficial endurance record of staying continually above 40,000 ft for 6.5 hours.

Sadly, during subsequent test flights, the second YB-49 was lost on 5 June 1948, killing its pilot, Major Daniel Forbes (for whom Forbes Air Force Base was named), Captain Glen Edwards, co-pilot (after whom Edwards Air Force Base is named), and three other crew members.

On 4 February 1949, the first YB-49 flew from Muroc Air Force Base in California to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., in 4 hours 25 minutes, after which President Truman ordered a flyby of Pennsylvania Avenue at rooftop level.

The last operational YB-49 prototype was completely destroyed on 15 March 1950, during high-speed taxi trials at Muroc Field. An interesting fact is that the taxi trials took place with the YB-49's fuel tanks full, a very unusual testing procedure, fanning speculation of industrial sabotage of the aircraft.

Amazingly, after the Flying Wing program was cancelled, the Smithsonian requested that the Air Force to donate one of these big wings to its collection of pioneering Northrop aircraft. The request was refused.



All remaining Flying Wing bomber airframes, except for the sole YRB-49A reconnaissance version, were then ordered chopped up by the Air Force, and smelted down in plain sight of its employees. Jack Northrop retired from both the company he founded and aviation shortly after he saw his dream of a pure, all-wing aircraft destroyed.


Thirty years later, Jack Northrop, then quite elderly and wheelchair bound, was wheeled into a classified area and shown a scale model of the Air Force's highly classified Advanced Technology Bomber, which would eventually become known as the B-2; it was a sleek, all-wing design. Looking over its familiar lines, Northrop, unable to speak due to various illnesses, was reported to have written on a pad: "I know why God has kept me alive for the past 25 years."

 


Leave a comment