Northrop XP-79

The Northrop XP-79 "Flying Ram" was an ambitious American design for a flying wing fighter aircraft; it had several notable design features. Among these, the pilot would operate the aircraft from a prone position—permitting the pilot to withstand much greater g-forces—and welded magnesium monocoque structure instead of riveted aluminum. Although it was not originally planned, the idea emerged of using the aircraft to destroy enemy bombers by ramming them.

This was by no means ‘Jack’ Northrop’s first attempt at building a Flying Wing aircraft. As early as 1923 he had sketched out just such a design and in 1928 actually built one (The X-216H Navion) although, with this, he was still rather worried about discarding a tail fin (so attached one to two thin booms). Throughout the 1930s Northrop tested various Flying Wing models in wind tunnels and having devised a method of housing two 65hp Lycoming engines entirely within the wings driving long shafts to pusher propellers built another full-size machine (The N-1M) which made its maiden flight on the 3rd July 1940.

In September 1941 Northrop received a contract from the USAAC for a giant flying wing bomber, the XB-35, of which Northrop built four scale models each powered by two 275 hp engines. Before the XB-35 was finished Northrop flew several other aircraft that were virtual flying wings, including the XP-56 fighter, MX-324 and MX-334 rocket wings, JB-10 power bomb, JB-10 jet bomb and the above mentioned XB-79B twin-jet flying-ram fighter.

On the 25 June 1946 the completed XB-35 took off from Hawthorne and flew to its test base at Late Murac. Powered by four 3,000 hp Pratt and Whitney Wasp Major engines the XB-35 was like nothing ever seen before. It could carry a five ton payload to a range of 7,500 miles at a speed of 391 mph, but by this time however the USAAF had decided that its future lay with more conventional aircraft and therefore no further progress was made with the project.

Later Northrop would build several other flying wings, of which perhaps the most remarkable was the eight jet XB-49, but it would be more than forty years later that, with the latest technology, Northrop-Grumman would at last produce such a machine that would meet all the Air Force’s requirements- the futuristic B-2 Spirit.

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