Airborne Awesomosity, Big Complicated Machines

Flying wings and lobbyists that go bump in the night

Sit back and let me tell you a tale, a tale of two very different companies. One with some very good lobbyists and the other trying to push the state of the art into the future

File:XB-35.jpg
Jack Northrop had a vision that he wanted to share. In his head the future was full of flying wings with no tails and no other appendages. It would reduce the drag on every aircraft flying increasing their range and speed. The first proof of concept was a 3/5th scale model named the N9M.

File:Airshowfan-dot-com--by-Bernardo-Malfitano--Image-of-N9M-at-Chino-Airshow.jpgNorthrop N9M

Then along comes Convair which had a competing design named the B-36 Peacekeeper. It was a gigantic aircraft that did nothing to further technology but it was big and familiar looking. Like a big warm blanket to protect you from the Nazi’s and later the Commies. Both of these aircraft were designed to be able to fly from the east coast of the US bomb Germany and return on one tank of fuel. To accomplish this requirement Northrop decided to get rid of anything that wasn’t a wing in favor of lowering drag to increase the range and performance. Convair decided that the bigger is  better approach made more sense. The B-36 was big enough to require six 4360 cubic inch engines to get it into the air. After it went into production it would later get an additional four jet engines to get into the air.

Northrop factory with the B-35 prototypes under construction

This is not to say the B-35 was perfect because it had it’s own issues. First was an issue of yawing during bomb runs which would cause the accuracy to be in question.  This was the primary factor given for the B-35 losing the contest to the B-36. Now if you think I am being a little to conspiracy minded understand that after Convair won the contract they added an odd little addendum to accepting it. They wanted to make sure that the flying wing would never be a risk again.

Congress ordered Northrop to destroy all of the tooling for the flying wing guaranteeing it would never fly again. Aircraft that were under construction were immediately scrapped. It was as if it was being wiped off the face of the planet. A portable smelter was even taken to the Northrop factory where the aircraft were melted in full view of all the employees who had worked on it.

File:YB49-2 300.jpg

Before this could happen the flying wing would get another chance to see the light of day. First was when the Air Force put out an all jet requirement for the B-36’s replacement. Northrop took the B-35 and gave it eight jets renaming it the B-49. Convair took the B-36 and also gave it eight jets renaming theirs the B-60. Neither won that contest which would go to Boeing with the B-52. The B-49 had bigger issues with stability then it’s piston brother. In hindsight we have learned the propellers on the flying wing were acting as vertical stabilizers. This would cause a fatal accident with a YB-49

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLQ3-nMlik8[/youtube]
  • I love the flying wings, and Jack Northrop is an inspiration as an engineer.

    Having said that, the B-35 did have some other issues. The first couple prototypes used contra-rotating props, which tore up the gearboxes supplied by the government and had huge vibration issues. So, they switched to single props. These still had vibration issues, along with greatly reduced performance. The performance issue was the biggest since aircraft are given performance requirements they have to meet for the government to consider them. These issues, along with an overly complicated exhaust system that was causing metal fatigue, pushed the project way behind schedule and way over budget. The Convair was also over budget, but being a more conventional design it didn't have the technical issues of the Northrop machine.

    Luckily, Northrop would be reprieved with the B-2. Sadly, he died 8 months before the DOD announced the B-2 as the winner for the next generation bomber program.

    • Number_Six

      Flying wings are often touted as the future of commercial transport and Boeing has a design on the drawing board. But commercial operators may be reluctant to depart from the cruciform design with underslung engine pods simply because it's what they know and everything else is voodoo. I think.

    • fodder650

      Jack Northrop did get to see an early B-2 model before he died. So he did get to find out that his design won in the end.

      You are correct about everything else. Still even though I'm supposed to be unbiased that bit about smelting the planes in front of the employees seems downright eveil

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1b/NB-36H_producing_contrails_in_flight.jpg/500px-NB-36H_producing_contrails_in_flight.jpg"&gt; As I was reading I got to the 6(!) 4360cuin (!!) and 4 (!!!) jet engine (!!!!) B-36. Here it is, this version carrying a critical nuclear reactor (!!!!!) and needing ft thick (!!!!!!) leaded glass for the cockpit.

    • Number_Six

      Mr Engineerd covered this a while ago here: http://atomictoasters.com/2010/11/nuclear-powered

      • fodder650

        I was going to do a write up on them as well but he did cover it. There is a good documentary on this that Youtube has up in its entirety in one piece. Where you will see that the Russian nuclear aircraft actually flew on nuclear power alone. Which killed off most of the crew later on.

        [youtube -F-RP8Huivo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F-RP8Huivo youtube]

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        Thanks and sorry.

        • Number_Six

          No apology necessary. However, we will have to put you on report for not visiting this site nearly often enough. Clearly you spend way too much time looking at that other site that deals with lame non-flying hunks of iron and tyre.

          • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

            <img src="http://images.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2009/06/GA-hoppar.JPG"&gt; You're right, entirely not enough flying iron and rubber over there, well except when Scroggs comments 🙂

          • Number_Six

            Toupee, my friend.

            /did I spell that correctly?

          • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

            Your spelling is perfect, old Volvos were meant to fly on account of having propeller shafts according to the green books. That or swim. Seriously now, I've been really digging the posts by Fodder and Engineerd lately that started with all the insane nuclear weapons.

  • schigleymischke

    The aerospace PhD that taught my dynamics class had a grant to study the changes needed to airports to accommodate flying wings. I said, "Come on, they'll never switch over to that. There's too much invested in the infrastructure and it'd cost too much to replace." He said, "I know, but that's what they're paying me to do, so that's what I'm going to do." And so goes research.

    • Number_Six

      That is an excellent point.

    • fodder650

      I believe in that cause weren't they talking about the duel width flying wing airliners that were proposed in the 80s? Which is a bit different then this. Unless I'm missing some reason that a flying wing damages a runway worse then a standard aircraft. Also wouldn't that limit the bases the B-2 can fly from?

      If there is a real reason I would like to know because you have my curiousity

      • My guess is that you would need a much wider wingspan flying wing to carry 300 or so people X amount of miles than you would a conventional jet. Then you run to things like wider taxiways, wider hangers, more space between gates and/or terminals etc. I know only a limited number of airports can accommodate the latest Airbus super jumbo, even ones that can handle a 747 can't handle an A380. I'm not sure a practical flying wing could fit in the standard 80M box http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380#Entry_in

        • fodder650

          When news of the next generation of double deckers came out there wasn't noise about the runways. What there was noise about was the airport gates. They already have issues dealing with 300-400 passengers. How were they going to deal with 800. The answer was they weren't going to be to.

          I need to find the story about those double wide standard airliners. That were projected but never built to use two runways in sequence. It was a mess.

          On a side note the 787's have been grounded today

          • Number_Six

            The 787 and ongoing Airbus failures make me sad. I think we need to get the Convair and Douglas jets back in the air.

          • fodder650

            Time to put the Viscount back into surface. It's turbine powered and it was good enough for our grandparents.

            <img src="https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-ubTWNiq70aI/TymjbxFZzTI/AAAAAAAAMwM/BZoCdYjx-lQ/s1024/DSC_0140.JPG&quot; width=600 />

          • Number_Six

            The pretty little Viscount was a bit too crashy for me, as was its handsomer cousin, the Vanguard. Also, way to hammer home that horrid Custer thingy back there.

          • fodder650

            Why do you think i have pictures of it?

            Actually i have several good pictures of the Viscount. Maybe I need to do an entry on it. Thanks to the DeHavilland Comet it takes the whole oval thing to an interesting extreme.

          • Number_Six

            I grew in Europe and remember the skies being full of Viscounts and Vanguards. I've got quite a few old B&W pics of them from my father's collection. I've thought about writing them up but the connection between my brain and my WordPress access is currenly non-functional.

          • fodder650

            If it ever connects let me know. I would like to see more of them in action instead of as museum pieces

      • schigleymischke

        It wasn't the runways, it was all the infrastructure set up to support and load airliners – the gates, the fueling, the baggage loaders, the taxiways, etc.

        • fodder650

          Right that's what it was for the new super capacity airliners. So that was the same issue in the past?

          • schigleymischke

            This was in 2000, almost the past.

          • fodder650

            Why you kids today. 2000 wasn't that long ago. Keep it up and i will hit you with my walker.

            <img src="http://www.ausbt.com.au/photos/view/maxsize:500,259/4d38f5917ca845f68bbd6cc5767f1341-boeing.jpg&quot; width=600 />

          • Same difference. It's all Holocene anyway.

          • fodder650

            You made my brain box hurt. Even after looking it up all i get is recent

          • Everything spanning approximately the last 12,000 years can be lumped together as indistinguishable from current. It's a fairly widespread geologic view, except among those who study Holocene materials. They've been know to get rather touchy on that point.

          • fodder650

            I feel like i just saw the plot to a future Hitchhikers Guide book. Of course with a dead author this could be difficult to accomplish but not impossible.

          • The Professor

            That's what I'd expect to hear from someone in a field that thinks a million years is "a blink of the eye".

          • fodder650

            Boys BOYS play nice. I mean total time for aircraft is only 109 years right now since the first flight. If you ignore all the people who did it before the Wrights at least. Can we both agree that's not even long enough for a redwood to have started puberty yet? That in a geologic sense it's not even long enough time to worry about the next big one after the 1903 quake that took out San Francisco? That in technical terms it's not even long enough for us to understand everything that Tesla was trying to tell us?
            <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6f/Sequoiafarm_Sequoiadendron_giganteum.jpg/440px-Sequoiafarm_Sequoiadendron_giganteum.jpg&quot; width="600">

          • The Professor

            Oh, tosh. We haven't even gotten warmed up yet.

          • The Professor

            And it's 1906, not 1903.

          • fodder650

            No it's most certainly 1903 unless you thinking of that quack Langley

          • The big one was 1906. The 1903 event was comparatively minor.

          • fodder650

            I thought he meant the first flight not the San Fran earthquake. With that I am now corrected. Not sure why I had 1903 on the brain for that one.

          • CaptianNemo2001

            Wilbur began official public demonstrations on August 8, 1908 at the Hunaudières horse racing track near the town of Le Mans, France. His first flight lasted only one minute 45 seconds, but his ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, including several pioneer French aviators, among them Louis Bleriot. In the following days, Wilbur made a series of technically challenging flights, including figure-eights, demonstrating his skills as a pilot and the capability of his flying machine, which far surpassed those of all other pilot pioneers.

            From wiki I would argue the BIG one is 1908… Model A Flyer
            On December 17, 1903 they got off the ground with a controlled flight.

          • I wouldn't be so confident about San Francisco's immediate future. If there's one thing we've figured out about quakes, it's that they don't go off like clockwork. Just ask the folks studying Parkfield.

          • Yes, but I'm more specifically a mineral physicist, so I have to jump back and forth between that viewpoint and one in which I defend the claim that a few tens of nanoseconds is "a long time."

          • The Professor

            Hah! Geologic Bipolar Disorder.

          • We prefer the term Geomagnetic Reversal, thank you very much.

          • pj134

            So… What's the half life of a turnip then?

          • fodder650

            I believe it's relative to the force of the belch

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