Northrop N-1M Flying Wing Research Aircraft
The Northrop N-1M flying wing research vehicle was in development throughout World War 2 and proved several concepts sound.
Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
John "Jack" Northrop long held a fascination with the "flying wing" concept, an aircraft that did not rely on a traditional tail unit or vertical features for stabilized flight and handling. The flying wing concept allowed for more efficient airflow through reduced drag and excellent internal volume for both weapons and fuel stores while offering extended flying ranges. It was not until the 1940s that his flying wing dream led to the first true flying wing design in the United States as the Northrop "N-1M" prototype vehicle. The aircraft recorded its first flight in July of 1941 before America had yet to enter World War 2.
Prior to founding the fabled Northrop concern (which continues business today), Jack Northrop served with both Douglas Aircraft and competitor Lockheed during the 1920s where he lent his talents to the design of the popular Lockheed Vega of 1927. It was during this decade that Mr. Northrop began to center his attention on an all-wing aircraft concept which led to his leaving Lockheed to found the Avion Corporation - his first solo venture. In 1929, he designed a "pseudo-flying wing" of all-metal, stressed-skin design which was designated as the "Flying Wing X-216H". The aircraft still retained a traditional tail unit and made use of a twin boom arrangement as well as a single "pusher" propeller arrangement. Funding and other commitments limited Northrop's venture into all-wing designs for the interim.
However, in 1939, Northrop officially - with backing from Douglas - founded the company that would bear his name as Northrop Corporation, becoming the driving force for the all-wing concept that he required. Coupled with emerging wind tunnel technologies and assistance from aerodynamic experts, the N-1M program began to gain traction even as the world headed for global war. A flyable scale model prototype took shape heading into 1940 to which the first flight was conducted on July 3rd out of Baker Dry Lake in California - the aircraft accidentally becoming airborne during a taxi run, showcasing an altitude limit of just 5 feet! Adjustments would no doubt be required for a more viable aircraft product.
As designed, the N-1M took on a highly triangular shape with intakes buried in the leading edges for streamlining. The cockpit tub was sunk into the forward section of the wing area with a largely unobstructed view save for the wing area surrounding the cockpit itself. Wingtips were curved and the trailing edge was straight, disrupted only by the various hinged surfaces required for controlling. The aircraft relied on a twin engine arrangement, these buried in the blended wing-fuselage area in an effort to reduce drag-causing protrusions for the aircraft. Stems housing shafts emanated rearwards which supported three-bladed propeller assemblies in a "pusher" propulsion arrangement. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement and completely retractable with a single-wheeled nose leg and larger, single-wheeled main legs, the latter held under the aircraft's mass. Construction of the N-1M was primarily of steel tubing (for frame) with plywood.
Originally, the aircraft was powered by a pair of Lycoming 0-145 4-cylinder engines developing 65 horsepower each. However, these proved underpowered for the heavy design and later gave way to 2 x Franklin 6AC264F2 6-cylinder, air-cooled engines of 120 horsepower.
Testing continued into 1941 to which the aircraft had already completed over 25 flights while showing promise and, at the same time, showing inherent limitations. Adjustments proved plenty for the rudderless aircraft and an "air of danger" with such a revolutionary design was always present for test pilots. The test program soldiered on into 1943 amidst World War 2 to which the N-1M eventually revealed itself a mostly unsettled machine. The powerplants of choice were always underpowered and the aircraft proved a heavy design. It was during 1945, the final year of the war which axed many promising military programs for the American air force, the N-1M was officially retired from testing and its ownership handed over to the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), eventually preserved as a protected museum showpiece. Today, the N-1M can be found (in its bright yellow finish) in the World War 2 section of the Udvar Hazy Museum (as part of the National Air and Space Museum) located just outside of Washington, D.C.
Despite the rather incomplete career of the N-1M testbed, the design no doubt proved ultra-critical in the development of other Northrop post-World War 2 period flying wings such as the XB-35 and the YB-49 detailed elsewhere on this site. However, it was not truly until the arrival of the famed Northrop B-2 "Spirit" stealth bomber that the flying wing of Jack Northrop's vision was truly realized. Mr. Northrop was able to see a scale model of this masterpiece prior to his death in 1981.
As built, the N-1M test article exhibited a maximum speed of just 200 miles per hour - much slower than any competing military fighter type then in service. Its service range was out to 300 miles with a service ceiling of up to 4,000 feet. The N-1M was, by no means, an acceptable military-grade design but the fleshing out of concepts inherent in the design made it an influential aircraft of the 1940s and 1950s. Dimensions included a length of 18 feet, a wingspan of 38.7 feet and a height of 5 feet. Gross weight was listed at 3,900lbs.
During its developmental career, the N-1M was nicknamed "Jeep" and only the single flyable prototype was ever completed.
The Germans of World War 2 managed their own, slightly more evolved, flying wing concept during this time in aviation history, evident by the twin-jet-powered, single-seat Go.229 design conceived of by the Horten Brothers, the aircraft detailed elsewhere on this site.