Northrop XP-79 Bomber-Rammer / Bomber-Interceptor
The Northrop XP-79 jet-powered flying wing project was cancelled after the single prototype was lost to an accident.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The concept of the flying wing had been around since the dawn of flight and made more so intriguing throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Both the Germans and Americans attempted its development prior to and during World War 2 with different levels of success. Therefore, it was never any secret that famed American aircraft engineer John Northrop held a sort of inherent obsession with developing such a viable flying wing aircraft and it was technically not be realized until the advent of the Northrop B-2 Spirit stealth bomber to which Mr. Northrop saw before his death. The simple winged shape, doing away with all of the drag-inducing tail surfaces of conventional aircraft as well as lack of a true defined fuselage, would have been characterized by its single-piece approach in which the wing and its integrated fuselage section could allow for exceptionally natural lift qualities, expansive internal storage space for fuel, systems and weapons and allow the structure to undertake more violent pressures than a traditionally designed aircraft frame. The XP-79 project represented one of Northrop's failed flying wing forays that eventually yielded much valuable information during its development.
The war in Europe showcased certain items of note in its opening stages. Several key indicators included the value of massed formations of bombers coupled with hundreds of attacking fighters. At the early-to-middle stages of the war, little was a given to Allied warplanners so every attempt at gaining the advantage was entertained. To stem the tide of the enemy using his formations of bombers against Allied targets, aircraft would have to be developed to counter the threat. As the war machine in the United States grew to a feverish pitch, the money flowed to contractors from coast to coast. This flow also helped to develop new military requirements and allowed engineers to produce on seemingly blank canvases, giving rise to some of the most wild concepts ever devised.
Jack Northrop happened to work for soon-to-be-competing Lockheed and lent his talents to the design of the hugely successful Vega in time. From there, he attempted to strike out on his own in 1928 and formed the "Avion Corporation". One of his projects there finally became a dedicated flying wing prototype with twin-booms utilizing a "puller" engine configuration. Once constructed, the aircraft was actually successfully tested within a limited scope in 1929. The design was then rearranged to accept a "pusher" engine configuration and went on to complete more tests and ultimately prove itself a viable flying wing concept. Northrop then formed Avion into the Northrop Aircraft Corporation but the firm fell under the overseeing banner of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation which forced Northrop to strike out anew in 1939 and begin his now-world famous Northrop Aircraft, Incorporated. However, times could not have been more poor for the economics of the Great Depression pushed Northrop's dream of a flying wing to the back burner.
With some much needed funding secured through other, more conventional, routes, Jack Northrop began work on a new side project that became his twin-engine (pusher configuration) "N-1M" flying wing prototype of 1940. First flight was then recorded on July 3rd and results were, again, promising to the point that Northrop felt inclined to broaden his flying wing design approach and push the envelope a bit more. On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and trust America to global war. When the war came to American industry, so too did the funding needed to enact projects that were seemingly too revolutionary in a peaceful setting and Northrop would move on to get his share of the pot.
It was the Northrop firm that was initially tapped by government authorities to produce the country's first rocket-powered airframe. Rocket-fueled powerplants lay as a bridge between propeller-driver aircraft and upcoming turbojet inspired designs. Rockets were thirsty implements and only allowed for limited flight times but they proved powerful and fast, requiring only a suitable airframe and trained pilot to succeed. One of the most famous of World War 2 rocket-powered aircraft became the German Messerschmitt Me 163 "Komet" which actually did go on to see combat service in the latter stages of the war.
The government program with Northrop was initiated in 1943 and produced the internal "Project 12" codename along with the "MX-334" aircraft designation. The program would, of course, move along under intense and very strict cover to help protect the technologically-advanced end-product from spying eyes. The MX-334 was also paired with the powerless MX-324 glider which was to be used in conjunction with the powered MX-334 airframe during testing. In both forms, the pilot lay prone as this was believed to allow the human body to undertake more in the way of G-forces incurred during high-speed maneuvers. The design was characterized as a "true" flying wing for it lacked a distinct fuselage and anything in the way of vertical tail surfaces. The cockpit was set in the nose of the aircraft made up of the triangle's apex while the wing surface dominated the sides and rear of the design. A tricycle undercarriage ensured a level form when the aircraft was at rest and the powerplants were buried deep within the fuselage aft. Despite the fact that the MX program never formally held direct military value, it was the research data that would be garnered through testing that would become useful in later developments.
The powered MX-334 first went airborne on October 2nd, 1943 - though without its Aerojet engines for these were still under development - facing much delay for their technology was rather infant and problematic as a result. Aerojet engineered worked hard to produce their XCAL-200 rocket-fueled powerplant which involved use of nitric acid and monoethylaniline. As rocket fuel burned quickly, a flight time of just 3.5 minutes was estimated - while not much in the grand scope of things, it proved serviceable for testing purposes. It was not until the middle of 1944 that the powerplants were made ready and tested within the MX-334 airframe. The MX-334 went airborne under its own power on June 23rd, 1944, becoming America's first rocket-powered aircraft in the process.