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Stealth Bomber (1940s Style): Check Out the YB-49 Flying Wing

Robert Farley

Security, Americas

Wikimedia Commons

A B-2 cousin?

Although the YB-49 never reached full production, experience with the frame helped validate the concept which now dominates international thinking on strategic bomber design.

As the United States approached World War II, it enjoyed the luxury of many innovative aircraft companies, and a ton of money to spend.  Part of this bounty went to pursuit aircraft, part to tactical attack planes, and part to long-range bombers. This last generated one of the most interesting failures ever to emerge from the U.S. aviation industry; the Northrop YB-49 “flying wing” bomber.

The Flying Wing

Early aviation engineers appreciated the potential for a “flying wing” design. A flying wing, which minimizes fuselage and usually eliminates the tail, reduces many of the aerodynamic compromises associated with a normal fuselage, reducing overall drag. However, many of these features enhance stability, meaning that a flying wing often lacks the stability of a traditional airframe. This makes the aircraft more difficult to fly, especially before the advent of fly-by-wire technology. A flying wing can also struggle with creating space for crew, payload, and defensive armament, as any of these can reduce the aerodynamic advantages than the shape offers.

Nevertheless, engineers (especially in Germany and the Soviet Union) tried repeatedly in the interwar period to develop a viable flying wing, either for transport or for military purposes. While these efforts yielded useful data, they rarely resulted in practical airframes. Near the end of World War II, the German successfully developed a jet fighter flying wing, although it did not enter mass production.

From XB-35 to YB-49

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