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Northrop X-4 Bantam

Technology Demonstrator Aircraft

United States | 1948

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

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/18/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this 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.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Northrop X-4 Bantam Technology Demonstrator Aircraft.
2 x Westinghouse J30 turbojet engines developing 1,600 lb thrust each.
643 mph
1,035 kph | 559 kts
Max Speed
43,999 ft
13,411 m | 8 miles
Service Ceiling
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Northrop X-4 Bantam Technology Demonstrator Aircraft.
23.3 ft
7.10 m
O/A Length
26.9 ft
(8.20 m)
O/A Width
14.8 ft
(4.50 m)
O/A Height
5,600 lb
(2,540 kg)
Empty Weight
7,826 lb
(3,550 kg)
Notable series variants as part of the Northrop X-4 Bantam family line.
X-4 "Bantam" - Base Series Designation
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Northrop X-4 Bantam. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 2 Units

Contractor(s): Northrop Aircraft Corporation - USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (643mph).

Graph Average of 563 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
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Image of the Northrop X-4 Bantam
Image from the National Museum of the United States Air Force of Dayton, Ohio.
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Image of the Northrop X-4 Bantam
Image from the National Museum of the United States Air Force of Dayton, Ohio.
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Image of the Northrop X-4 Bantam
Image from the National Museum of the United States Air Force of Dayton, Ohio.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Northrop X-4 Bantam Technology Demonstrator Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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