A Bit More on the YB 49, the XB 70, and Groom Lake aka Area 51


Picture credit: Northrop Grumman

So I promised to look deeper into post World War II programs, and thought I’d look at the initial aerospace innovations. Here were some standout vehicles:

  • The Northrop YB 49: This prototype jet-powered heavy bomber with a 10,000 mile range could reach 500 mph and first flew September 28th, 1947. The restored color video below shows what a beast this plane was with a 172′ wingspan (almost TWICE the width of the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress) that was the brainchild of Jack Northrop dating back to the early 1920s. When he was just 21, he was working long hours at Loughead Aviation building flying boats and experimenting with “all lift wings”, as he reportedly called them. He won a contract to build an experimental long range bomber under the Army Air Forces Project MX-140 (launched November 22, 1941) which spawned the XB-35 and then the YB-35.  An order for 13 XB 35s was issued November ’42. Eventually, the result was the B2-Spirit which had its inaugural flight on July 17th, 1989 after the Air Force initiated a “Stealth bomber program.”- Here’s that color retouched video of the YB 49: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Dfj3SeMI-s
  • The North American Aviation XB 70: The XB-70 Valkyrie is the prototype of the B-70 nuclear-armed, deep-penetration strategic bomber for the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. In the late 1950s North American Aviation designed the Valkyrie bomber as a large, six-engined aircraft capable of reaching Mach 3+ while flying at 70,000 feet (21,000 m). The Flight Research Center (FRC-now the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA.) had several SST studies underway during the early 1960s but many policy makers (including in the Kennedy Administration) called for unmanned Super Sonic Transports (SSTs). The problem for many was the SSTs “sonic boom” which made it an unpopular civilian aircraft but in 2016, NASA’s New Aviation Horizons initiative was launched to revive a low noise SST. NASA’s 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative has the ambitious goals of reducing fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that departs from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape. This Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design was awarded to Lockheed Martin for the FY17 budget. “Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.


Picture Credit: NASA and Lockheed Martin

NASA’s Aeronautics program has a significant historical flavor but there are multiple prototypes being developed and business is being sent to (you guessed it) Bezos’ Blue Origin and Musk’s Space X. See more here: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/index.html

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