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Northrop X-4 Bantam

Technology Demonstrator Aircraft


The Northrop X-4 Bantam test platform offered data concerning tailless aircraft design.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Northrop X-4 Bantam Technology Demonstrator Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 5/18/2016. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The compact Northrop X-4 "Bantam" research aircraft was built by the Northrop Corporation for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), forerunner to today's NASA, and the United States Air Force (USAF) to test aspects of flight as related to tailless aircraft design. Two prototypes were eventually completed with a first flight recorded on December 15th, 1948. Lacking true tail-area horizontal plane control surfaces, the design instead relied on a combination elevator/aileron arrangement (known as "elevons") to handle the aircraft's pitch and roll actions. The pair of aircraft proved troublesome throughout their test lives for their designs were generally unsound and unstable - recording just ten total flights from the period spanning 1950 to 1953.

As completed, the X-4 held an appearance akin to some fancy, sleek single-seat fighter envisioned by a comic book artist of the 1950s. The fuselage was well-rounded though purposely short with the swept-back wing mainplanes making up much of the aircraft's showcased surface area. In some ways, this design mimicked that as seen in the World War 2-era Messerschmitt Me 163 "Komet" rocket-powered interceptor which made an appearance in the latter half of the war. A twin-engine configuration was chosen for the X-4 which fitted 2 x Westinghouse J30-WE-7/9 series turbojet engines outputting at 1,600 lb thrust each and intakes set to either side of the cockpit. The tail unit held just the sole vertical fin and the undercarriage was a wheeled tricycle arrangement. Dimensions included a length of 7 meters, a wingspan of 8.2 meters, and a height of 4.5 meters. Performance from the two engines netted a maximum speed of 625 miles per hour, a range out to 420 miles, a service ceiling of 42,300 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 7,700 feet per minute.

Work on the tailless aircraft began with the formal contract given to Northrop on June 11th, 1946. By this time, World War 2 had been over for nearly a year and Northrop was furthering its interest in tailless flight through its collection of flying wings. As such, the marriage for this endeavor between the USAF and Northrop was in some ways fitting for the time. The initial test vehicle was delivered to USAF hands in November of 1948 and NACA began testing with the X-4 system in September of 1950.

Throughout its test life, the X-4 was modified and revised as required to help correct the many issues that permeated the product. The X-4 too was a product well-ahead of its time for the flight control systems of the day were limiting for the rather advanced design. The USAF began to look deeper into delta-wing configurations and eventually abandoned the idea of a tailless for the interim. The original X-4 aircraft was cannibalized to help along the second aircraft before the end.

The pair of X-4s were all that was made out of the short-lived Bantam program. The sole remaining example is currently (2015) found at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.


YEAR: 1948
MANUFACTURER(S): Northrop Aircraft Corporation - USA
LENGTH: 23.29 ft (7.1 m)
WIDTH: 26.90 ft (8.2 m)
HEIGHT: 14.76 ft (4.5 m)
EMPTY WEIGHT: 5,600 lb (2,540 kg)
MTOW: 7,826 lb (3,550 kg)
POWER: 2 x Westinghouse J30 turbojet engines developing 1,600 lb thrust each.
SPEED: 643 mph (1,035 kph; 559 kts)
CEILING: 43,999 feet (13,411 m; 8.33 miles)
OPERATORS: United States

Variants / Models

• X-4 "Bantam" - Base Series Designation

In the Cockpit

Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (643mph).

Graph average of 562.5 miles-per-hour.
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Unit Production (2)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
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Supported Roles
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A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
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Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
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Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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