U.S. Air Force’s First Flying Wing Jet Flew: Today, we tend to associate the airplane’s flying wing design with stealth aircraft such as the B-2 and the upcoming B-21 bomber. But the world’s first jet-powered flying wing appeared 70 years ago, and it was designed to overcome the problem of drag, not stealth.
The Northrop YB-49 “Flying Wing” bomber prototype underwent flight tests with the Air Force for several years, before a fatal accident and fundamental problems with the aircraft led to its cancellation in 1949. Design As Northrop Aviation Company tried to explain the new YB-49 bomber to the public.
The video is interesting because not once does it mention stealth or the low radar signature of the YB-49. This is because the tailless design was intended to reduce drag and increase the bomber’s flight performance, increasing speed and range. According to Ravi, the flying wing design can carry payloads 25 percent faster or faster than conventional designs.
At the time, little was known about the principles of stealth—that is, shaping an aircraft to reduce its radar signature. Although Northrop noticed that the YB-49 was difficult to see on the radar, he did not know why. It would take another 30 years before an aircraft was designed specifically with stealth in mind—Lockheed had the Blue Technology Demonstrator, which would eventually lead to the F-117A stealth fighter.
A key point that the documentary makes is that Northrop engineers (referred to in the documentary as “Northrop men”) realized that conventional airplanes typically concentrated their cargo inside the fuselage, resulting in The body and wings requiring a lot of strengthening. On the other hand, the flying wing would distribute the load between several cargoes holds, eliminating the need for reinforcement.
Ironically, it was the distribution of the payload that doomed the YB-49 as a bomber. The YB-49 could not carry an individual bomb weighing more than 4,000 lbs, but the main nuclear bomb of the time, the Mark III, weighed 10,300 lbs. This rendered the YB-49 unfit for the nuclear mission, moving to the conventionally designed Boeing B-47.
Today, the Flying Wing tradition continues as Northrop (now Northrop Grumman) is working on the Air Force’s next-generation heavy bomber, the B-21 Raider. The Raider is expected to enter service in mid-2020.