Northrop XB-35 / YB-35 Flying Wing Strategic Bomber Prototype
The futuristic-looking Northrop XB-35 flying wing bomber flew for the first time in 1946 but was cancelled as soon as 1949.
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The concept of the flying wing bomber had been on the minds of aeronautical engineers for quite some time before the forms of World War 2 (1939-1945) had made their presence known. The most famous of these wartime models became the German Horten Ho 229 (detailed elsewhere on this site) which utilized an early form of stealth and was jet-powered to boot. However only three of the type were completed after a first flight on March 1st, 1944. The remains of the project fell to the to the Americans in the immediate post-war period and ended its days in museum storage.
Jack Northrop, founder of Northrop, had been playing with the concept of flying wings during the 1930s and 1940s and eventually produced the N-1M and N-9M designs while the proposed XP-79 fell to naught. All of this work paved the way for something grander still to come - the XB-35/YB-35 flying wing strategic bomber.
The flying wing offered several key qualities that conventionally-arranged aircraft did not - more internal space meant more volume for fuel, increasing operational ranges, and there would be more storage room for internally-held ordnance. Lacking vertical tail fins, there was also less drag encountered and the wide-area wings aided in natural lifting tendencies which reduced fuel consumption. The major problem facing engineers was in the inherent instability of flying wings due to the technology made available at the time.
During the war years, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) sought to develop a long-range strategic bombing platform that could range from Allied-controlled bases outside of Europe and Britain in the event that the British Isles would someday fall to a German invasion - leaving few viable airbases for the Allies to continue warfare against the Nazi regime. Authorities sought an aircraft with a minimum range out to 10,000 miles hauling a war load of 10,000 pounds and reaching speeds of 450 miles per operating at altitudes up to 45,000 feet. The formal request originated in April of 1941.
The primary players involved became Boeing, Consolidated and Northrop (the request was eventually fulfilled by the Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" in the post-World War 2 years). Northrop pursued the requirement along the lines of its flying wing approached and developed the aforementioned N-9M as a starting point - this vehicle mimicking the form and function of what was to become a dimensionally larger future bomber. A development contract was signed in November of 1941 (the USAAC now having become the United States Army Air Forces = USAAF). The agreement covered one flyable aircraft with an option for a second and direct work on the XB-35 began in the early part of 1942 with the intent to have the completed form made available for testing before the end of 1943.
Engineers returned with a futuristic-looking design: an all-wing configuration was used which lacked vertical tail fins so rudder control was handled by a double split-flap arrangement found along the wing trailing edges. The crew cabin was set forward, at the apex of the arrowhead-like design, and the wing mainplanes were swept back for aerodynamic efficiency. A retractable undercarriage was fitted that sported a tricycle arrangement. As a flying wing, the fuselage and body were blended as one seamless structure - further eliminating drag.
The original design approach incorporated full creature comforts like sleeping bunks for long sorties and a pressurized cabin for high-altitude work. As many as six internal bomb bays would be used to house conventional drop ordnance and a tail" stinger" with remote-controlled machine guns would protect the vulnerable "six" of the large aircraft. As many as six machine-gun- or cannon-armed turrets would be installed about the aircraft to provide greater, flexible defense against intercepting enemy fighters. Four engines (2 x Pratt & Whitney R-4360-17 and 2 x R-4360-21 radial engines of 3,000 horsepower each) were to power the airframe and drive contra-rotating propellers in a "pusher" configuration, the engines installed on the dorsal side to either side of fuselage centerline, peering out over the wing trailing edges.
The USAAF ordered thirteen pre-production vehicles under the YB-35 designation on September 30th, 1943.