A sad moment for aviation history happened on Monday in the United States. The only one of the four prototypes of a flying wing built by Jack Northrop, founder of the company that bears his name (now associated with Grumman), was lost in an accident in California.
Built in 1944 to test the concepts of a flying wing that would be used in the project of the XB-35 bomber (and later in its jet version, the YB-49), the N9MB prototype had been restored and participated in the flight demonstrations of the Planes of Fame Air Museum, in Chino. The small flying wing with two pusher engines and 60 feet wingspan (18 meters), was scheduled to take part in an air show scheduled for early May.
According to witnesses, the plane would have leaned to the left and then to the right before entering an unrecoverable dive. The aircraft crashed into the yard of a prison setting on fire. The pilot, whose identity was not revealed, did not survive.
Complex flight control system
Visionary of the concept of flying wing, Jack Northrop dedicated to improving the idea from the decade of 1930 with rudimentary prototypes, one of them equipped with a tail. But when it finally had the green light from the US government to develop the huge B-35, Northrop had to test its concept on an airplane one-third the size of the bomber.
It was in this way that N9M was created in 1942 and soon needed to expand the fleet as the tests demonstrated the complexity of controlling an airplane without stabilizers. Instead, the flying wing uses split ailerons that open up and down and with it you can control the yaw.
Although it had an aerodynamic refinement, the flying wing of Northrop suffered from the difficulty of being controlled at a time when there were still no advanced electronic systems.
Finally in the 1980s, Northrop company was able to realize the dream of its creator (passed away in 1981) by producing the stealth bomber B-2 Spirit, with the N9M learning.
Back to the air
When the US government canceled the XB-35/YB-35 project, two of the remaining N9Ms (the first was lost in an accident) were dismantled while the newer model, the N9MB, was abandoned until it was purchased by Ed Maloney, founder of museum, in the 1950s.
After being stocked for decades, Maloney succeeded in restoring it in the 1980s and the N9MB flew back in 1993. With its yellow paint (the prototypes had different bright colors), the wing became one of the main attractions at the air shows promoted by the museum Californian
The loss of such a major aviation aircraft raises the question whether items as rare as the N9MB should be kept in flight. It is certainly fabulous to see such a special project as the flying wing of Northrop in flight, but sad to see that it can never be admired.