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Northrop N-9M

Flying Wing Prototype Aircraft

United States | 1942

"The Northrop N-9M flying wing prototype proved critical to the development of the XB-35 flying wing program that followed."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/18/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
Before the famous Northrop B-2 "Spirit" stealth bomber became a reality, Jack Northrop persevered in bringing a viable military-minded flying wing design into existence. From the twin-tail X-216H came the tail-less N-1M of 1941 which proved many qualities of the Northrop vision sound. Having sold the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) on the idea of a flying wing strategic bomber (to become the prop-powered "YB-35"), Northrop moved on producing a 1/3 scale prototype of this aircraft to represent the finalized product and work out any potential issues all the while collecting much needed flight data in the process. This endeavor then became the "N-9M" which appeared in 1942 and four examples were eventually built.

The contract for development of the full-scale YB-35 bomber came about in October of 1941, months ahead of the American entry into World War 2 (1939-1945). The N-9M emerged as a critical tool in understanding the various effects of tail-less aircraft flight as well as management of large surface area controlling and handling. The prospect of a flying wing was an exciting one, promising natural lifting tendencies, a shallower profile, and increased internal volume for fuel and weapons. The initial aircraft, N-9M-1, was lost to a crash on May 19th, 1943 (sadly fatal for the test pilot at the controls). The N-9M-2 and N-9M-A then followed, culminating in the final prototype vehicle - the N-9M-B - which benefited from lessons learned in the previous three airframes.

As built, the N-9M series mimicked much of what was already seen in the preceding N-1M research aircraft. The flying wing took on a boomerang-type, top-down profile with the cockpit centrally placed within the thickest part of the wing. While sitting under a largely unobstructed canopy, the pilot had to content with the massive wing surface area restricting vision out of the cockpit. The engines were buried within the design with drive shafts emanating from the upper surface and driving two-bladed propeller assemblies in a "pusher" arrangement. Since the N-9M lacked vertical fins, control surfaces were worked into the flying wing's trailing edges. The undercarriage was fully retractable, giving the aircraft a very pleasing and streamlined shape.

Crew accommodations amounted to one pilot. Overall length measured 17 feet, 9 inches with a wingspan reaching 60 feet and a height of 6 feet, 7 inches. Gross weight totaled 14,000lbs. Power was supplied from 2 x Menasco C6S-4 Buccaneer inverted 6-cylinder, air-cooled, in-line piston engines developing 275 horsepower each. Maximum speed was 260 miles per hour with a range out to 500 miles. Its service ceiling reached 21,500 feet.

The N-9M test vehicle first achieved flight on December 27th, 1942 and a further 45 flights then followed. However, many proved maddening affairs due to the temperamental technology and mechanics involved, particularly in the choice of powerplant. The aforementioned "N-9M-B" test vehicle then emerged with 2 x Franklin XO-540-7 series engines now developing 300 horsepower as a result.

With the end of World War 2 in 1945, many programs initially backed with great interest by the U.S. military were either curtailed or given up for good. The USAF cancelled the YB-35 initiative during 1949 after prototypes and pre-production systems were already in play. The N-9M had now seen its best days behind it and all but one (prototype N-9M-B) were scrapped.

Suffering from neglect for years in the California climate, N-9MB was eventually restored to flying condition and remains a salvaged piece of aviation history today. Despite the loss of the potential YB-35 strategic bomber contract, the USAF commissioned Northrop for a revised jet-powered form, this becoming the "YB-49". However, these only ever existed in prototype forms themselves but went on to heavily influence the B-2 bomber program some decades later - Northrop's flying wing military bomber finally realized.

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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 N-9M Flying Wing Prototype Aircraft.
2 x Menasco C6S-1 inverted aircooled straight-six engines developing 275 horsepower each (original); 2 x Franlin XO-540-7 engines developing 300 horsepower each (N-9M-B).
258 mph
415 kph | 224 kts
Max Speed
21,490 ft
6,550 m | 4 miles
Service Ceiling
500 miles
805 km | 435 nm
Operational Range
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Northrop N-9M Flying Wing Prototype Aircraft.
17.7 ft
5.40 m
O/A Length
60.0 ft
(18.30 m)
O/A Width
6.6 ft
(2.00 m)
O/A Height
5,886 lb
(2,670 kg)
Empty Weight
13,946 lb
(6,326 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Notable series variants as part of the Northrop N-9M family line.
N-9M - Base Series Designation
N-9M-1 - Initial prototype; 2 x Menasco C6S-4 Buccaneer engines of 275 horsepower; lost to fatal crash during testing.
N-9M-2 - Second prototype
N-9M-A - Third prototype
N-9M-B - Final prototype; 2 x Franklin XO-540-7 engines of 300 horsepower.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Northrop N-9M. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 4 Units

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

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 300mph
Lo: 150mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (258mph).

Graph Average of 225 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
1 / 1
Image of the Northrop N-9M
Image courtesy of the Public Domain.

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 N-9M Flying Wing Prototype Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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