Airborne Awesomosity

XP-56 Black Bullet

Faster then a speeding bullet

After the P-38 Lightning proved it’s worth the US Air Force, in a moment of odd lucidity, put out a require for aircraft manufactures to create unorthodox designs. Of the three created one of the more unusual ones is the Northrop Black Bullet.

After the success of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning the US Air Force asked three manufacturers to come up with unorthodox designs. Three different manufactures stepped up and tried to be different.  One of these comes from Northrop a company that well known for being different.
Jack Northrop had a fascination with tailless designs which ultimately leads to the Flying Wing.  If you look at this design you will see that it is not only tailless but that there are several other interesting details. Starting with the contrarotating props. Which was a very unusual feature for an aircraft in 1943. With engines becoming higher powered this helped to improve the torque problems of the propellers as well being able to utilize the power better.

Contrarotating propellers


Powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-2800 air cooled radial engine there was a lot of motivation for the little fighter.  Northrop build two XP-56’s before the project was cancelled. The largest differences between the two was in the size of the vertical non-moving stabilizers. This was part of the constant work to improve the stability of the fighter.

Cranked wings


Another unusual feature of the XP-56 was it’s use of the cranked wing design as you can see in the picture above. As with the F4 Corsair this allows you to gain wing area without stretching the wings out farther. It gives it a more bird like appearance and more likely was added to give additional points in the unconventional category.


The testing wasn’t without it’s mishaps. Here we see the first XP-56 that was lost after the left tire blew out at 150mph during high speed taxing. Thankfully the pilot received only minor injuries. This was just one among many issues that  led to the cancellation of the project in January 1946. Six years in development the little fighter never really stood a chance at survival.  With even Pratt and Whitney taking six months to send Northrop to send them a replacement engine the end was in site all along.


This is why we make sure our tire pressures are correct



You can find more about the Northrop XP-56 at Wikipedia

  • I scrolled through the pictures several times before I really looked at that top photo and realized the scale of this thing. For some reason I was picturing it in my head more long the size of the old Silver Bullet jet.

    <img src="; width="500">

    Way wrong though, it is definitely a sweet looking little big fighter.

    The whole flying wing concept really seems like it took computer aided stability control to make it work right, but I always like that flying wings were developed way back when. Kind of keeps a little of the past in the super-futuristic (or at least it was) B-2.

    • fodder650

      Well all the Flying Wings from Northrop didn't have computer assitance. Whether that was the NM-9 to the B35 to even the B49. That's the problem though is the perception of it's stability. The reality of the jet powered B49 was that it did have yaw issues when bombing.

      <img src="; width=600 />

      • Not to preempt Flying Wing Day, but I thought several of the early wings crashed due to stability problems?

        *Ok, so I just wasted some time and did a little research, and it looks like maybe only one crash could maybe be attributed to stability in a high speed dive. 2 other planes it looks like wrecked in taxi accidents. But according to

        "The B-2 was an example of modern technology finally catching up with an earlier idea. By the 1970s, aircraft designers were deliberately developing airplanes like the F-16 that were unstable in flight, and therefore inherently manoeuvrable, controlling them in flight by sophisticated modern computer control systems. Computer control systems now also made it possible to control the unstable flying wing design."

        • fodder650

          Well I guess it's time for me to do some flying wing write ups. Before I do though understand the one that crash led to the renaming of one of the more famous US Air Force bases. Because of Colonel Edwards fatal accident they renamed Muroc Air Force Base to Edwards Air Force Base. One of the two places they landed the shuttle.

          • Crap! I totally knew that about Edwards, and even saw the name when I read through that, and it just went right over my head. Thanks for reminding me of that little flying wing tidbit!

  • ptschett

    All three of those planes were interesting. In my childhood I got a book of the history of USAF fighters from WW1 through the late Cold War (it even has the original blurry F-117 photo, and speculative text describing the F-117 as being more like its predecessor the Have Blue in size.) The three of this contest were all in there, and they're all rear-engined: this proto-flying wing, a Curtiss that was unusual in not being merely another attempt at a P-40 derivative (with a canard up front, and an amusing nickname), and the winner* a twin-boomed arrangement with a tiltable nose section that stood so tall off the ground that they gave the pilot's seat an elevator.

    *in relative terms… it didn't go into production either.

    • fodder650

      Yeah the XP-54, XP-55, and XP-56 were all in the competition. I was going to cover the others at a later date. I have a book that gives me all the P designated planes from 1928 to the 80s. I also have another that covers every plane given a B designation from Keystone B1 of the late 20's until the B1A of 1979

      • texlenin

        All three would make…interesting..kit planes in this day and age.
        Modern composites, turboprops,etc. Perfect for this new "Sport
        Aviation" category.
        Ha! the XP-54 had a successor! The XP-68- with a 42 cylinder
        radial, which takes us back to an earlier post.

  • highmileage_v1

    Neat bird. I think it had some spin recovery issues. The drooped wingtips on a swept wing will give you a directional stability improvement methinks (think Rutan designs).

    What is also interesting is that Japan was developing the Shinden around the same time. It had canards though, and a tendency to have prop strikes if the pilot over rotated the aircraft on take-off or landing.

    • fodder650

      They also had issues with leaving the plane with the pusher prop. Since the pilot would need to feather the prop before leaving the aircraft which wasn't always possible

    • texlenin

      Ze Germans (Horten Brothers, Gotha) also had
      some problems with stability. But since they started
      all-wing designs as gliders (ie Lipitsch designs)
      they had a little more success.
      Luft '46 is a neat site to visit for some info.