Northrop YB-35

Northrop YB-35
YB-35 prototype
Role Strategic bomber
Manufacturer Northrop
Designer Jack Northrop
First flight June 1946
Status Cancelled in 1949
Primary user United States Air Force
Program cost US$66 million[1]
Variants Northrop YB-49

The Northrop XB-35 and YB-35 were experimental heavy bomber aircraft developed for the United States Army Air Forces during and shortly after World War II by the Northrop Corporation. It used the radical and potentially very efficient flying wing design, in which the tail section and fuselage are eliminated and all payload is carried in a thick wing. Only prototype and pre-production aircraft were built, although interest remained strong enough to warrant further development of the aircraft as a jet bomber, under the designation YB-49.


Design and development

The B-35 was the brainchild of Jack Northrop, who made the Flying Wing the focus of his work during the 1930s. During World War II, Northrop had been commissioned to develop a large wing-only, long range bomber designated XB-35. Northrop advocated the "flying wing" as a means of reducing parasitic drag and eliminating structural weight not directly responsible for producing lift. In theory, the B-35 could carry a greater payload faster, farther, and cheaper than a conventional bomber. On 11 April 1941, the United States Army Air Corps sent out a request for a bomber that could carry 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) of bombs to a round-trip mission of 10,000 mi (16,093 km). Requested performance was a maximum speed of 450 mph (740 km/h), cruise speed of 275 mph (443 km/h), and service ceiling of 45,000 ft (13,716 m). This aircraft would be able to bomb Nazi-occupied Europe in the event that Britain fell, similar to what the Nazi Germany's RLM's own Amerika Bomber program was intended to do. This proposal was originally submitted to Boeing and Consolidated Aircraft Company, and led to the production of the Convair B-36. In May, the contract was also extended to include Northrop, inviting them to submit a design along the lines they were already exploring.[2]

Since the new aircraft would require a significant amount of engineering work in untested waters, the first order placed was actually for a one-third scale version of the XB-35 dubbed the Northrop N-9M (M standing for model). This aircraft would be used to gather flight data on the Flying Wing design, which would then be used in designing the big XB-35. It would also be used as a trainer, to familiarize pilots with the radical, all-wing concept. Early in 1942, design work on the XB-35 itself began in earnest. Unlike conventional aircraft, Flying Wings cannot use a rudder for lateral control, so a set of butterfly-like, double split flaps on the trailing edge of the wingtips were used. When aileron control was input, they were deflected up or down as a single unit, just like an aileron. When rudder input was made, the two surfaces on one side opened, top and bottom, creating drag, and yawing the aircraft. By applying input to both rudder pedals, both sets of surfaces were deployed creating drag so that the airspeed or the glide angle could be manipulated.[2]



On 22 November 1941, the Army Air Corps signed the development contract for an XB-35;[3] the contract included an option for a second aircraft, which was exercised on 2 January 1942. The first was to be delivered in November 1943, the second in April of the next year.

Detailed engineering began in early 1942. A fuselage-like crew cabin was to be embedded inside the wing; it included a tail cone protruding from the trailing edge. This tail cone would contain the remote sighting stations for the gunners in the production model. In the rear of the cabin, there were folding bunks for off-duty crew on long missions.[4] The aircraft's bombload was to be carried in six small bomb bays, three in each wing. This design precluded the carrying of large bombs, including early atomic bombs.[5][6] Production aircraft would have defensive armament of 20 .5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns or 20 mm cannon, carried in seven turrets, three on the aircraft's centreline and four above and below the outer wings.[7] The B-35 would take advantage of a new aluminium alloy devised by Alcoa; it was considerably stronger than any alloy used previously.

In June 1946, the XB-35 made her first flight, a 45-minute trip from Hawthorne, California to Muroc Dry Lake, with no problems. The XB-35's engines and propellers were Army Air Force property, and had not been tested for engine-propeller compatibility by either Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Standard, or by the AAF which bought them at Wright Field without testing them or assuring reliability, and then shipped them to Northrop. Microfilmed records of reports and correspondence of the XB-35 program relate that after three or four flights powerplant-propeller vibrations increased, and the very efficient contra-rotating propellers began failing with frustrating frequency. Meetings were called by Northrop, of the AAF, Pratt & Whitney and Hamilton Standard where no one would take responsibility for correcting the AAF's engines and propellers. In addition the AAF failed to supply the AC electrical alternator, insisting on Northrop using an automotive engine powered unit which limited the high-altitude, high-speed XB-35 to test flights below 15,000 feet. The AAF also refused to allow Northrop proposed modification of the bomb bays to carry the standard Mk 3 atomic bomb, while at the same time declaring the AF would not buy the bomber unless it could carry the A-bomb. Northrop reluctantly agreed to try a single-rotation propeller which slightly increased takeoff distance and reduced rate of climb and maximum speed.

Problems with the driveline continued until finally Jack Northrop himself grounded the XB-35s until the government would fix their propulsion system. Concurrently, the AAF ordered Northrop to modify two of the YB-35 airframes into YB-49s, essentially just substituting eight jet engines in place of four reciprocating engines, and the airframe promptly flew to more than 40,000 feet and topped 520 mph in flight tests, verifying the XB-35 airframe's aerodynamics, but at the price of range. The prop-version had a design range capable of reaching targets 4,000-miles away, but the jet-engine version's range was cut in half. The new version disqualified it for the Air Force's top priority mission as a strategic bomber, which at that time meant striking at the USSR's industrial and military complexes in the Ural Mountains. [8] The Air Force, itself involved in a confusion of rank and job changes, eventually cancelled the XB-35 project, while continuing testing the B-35 airframe in the YB-49, even ordering 30 of the jet-powered airframes after the first YB -49 crashed. The first and second XB-35s were scrapped on 23 and 19 August 1949, respectively.[9]


On 30 September 1943, 13 pre-production YB-35s were ordered by the Army Air Force. By the time the first one had flown on 15 May 1948. While some Air Force generals felt the jet engines made the B-35 obsolete, it remained superior in performance and range to its competitor, the Convair B-36, and General Hoyt Vandenberg wrote that only the B-35 and the B-36 had adequate range for the air force's primary mission, and nothing comparable would be available until the mid-1950s.[8]

Only the first YB-35 was ever flown. Testing demonstrated that it was airworthy, and it was then parked and ignored for more than a year until it was scrapped on 20 July 1949. The unfinished YB-35 #2, was scrapped on 19 August 1949. The other 11 of 13 YB-35 aircraft ordered underwent conversion to other powerplants. Two were converted to use eight Allison J35 jet engines, and designated YB-49. The second YB-35 converted airframe crashed after Air Force test pilot Forbes pulled the outer wings off during stall tests at 4.8Gs, but the first YB-35 jet-modified airframe completed all stall tests and even demonstrated recovery from a spin, before being wrecked by a pilot during an unusual taxi test.[8] Seven incomplete airframes began conversion to jet power as YB-35B but were never finished. A third airframe, one of 30 ordered by the Air Force, was converted to use six jet engines for use as a reconnaissance aircraft designated YRB-49A. After only a few months the order for 30 YRB-49As were cancelled. [10]


In order to test the Turbodyne T-37 turboprop engine, produced by a subsidiary of Northrop, the final YB-35A was to be converted to a single EB-35B aircraft (in this case the suffix E- on the designation meant "Exempt," not the later Electronic). The testbed would be capable of carrying two T-37 engines, although it was at first planned to only test a single engine.[1] When the EB-35B project was canceled, the Air Force had all Turbodyne engine patents, name, and technical data released to the General Electric Company.[11]


The B2T was a United States Navy designation for one B-35 to be used for development trials; the project was canceled.

Operational history

The Army Air Force had originally ordered 200 production model B-35s. Since Northrop's facilities were not up to the task of producing them, the Glenn L. Martin Company agreed to undertake mass production. This proved irrelevant when the aircraft had too many development problems. Even disregarding these, so many of Martin's engineers had been drafted by 1944 that Martin pushed the first delivery date back to 1947. Seeing that it would almost certainly never be ready in time for the war, the Army Air Force canceled the production contract, though the Air Technical Services Command continued to run the program for research purposes.

Actual flight tests of the aircraft revealed several problems: The contra-rotating props caused constant heavy drive-shaft vibration and the government-supplied gearboxes had frequent malfunctions and reduced the effectiveness of propeller control. After only 19 flights, Northrop grounded the first XB-35; the second aircraft was grounded after eight test flights. During this time, the contra-rotating propellers were removed and replaced with four-blade single-rotation propellers. In addition to having continued drive shaft vibration problems, the new single-rotation props greatly reduced the aircraft's speed and performance. Furthermore, the intricate exhaust system turned into a fiasco to maintain. After only two years of use, the engines already showed signs of metal fatigue.[10]

In the end, the program was terminated due to its technical difficulties, the obsolescence of its reciprocating propeller engines, and the program being far behind schedule and over budget. Another contributing factor to the program's failure was the tendency of Northrop to become engaged in many experimental programs, which spread its small engineering staff far too wide. While the competing propeller-driven B-36 was obsolete by that time and had just as many or even more development problems, the Air Force needed a very long range, post-war Atomic bomber to counter the perceived Soviet threat. It had more faith that the B-36's "teething" problems could be overcome, compared to those of the new and radical "Flying Wing", the unofficial name that was later associated with all the Northrop "all-wing" designs.

There are long-standing conspiracy theories about the cancellation of the Flying Wing program; specifically, an accusation from Jack Northrop that Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington attempted to coerce him to merge his company with the Atlas Corporation-controlled Convair. In a 1979 taped interview, Jack Northrop claimed the Flying Wing contract was cancelled because he would not agree to a merger because Convair's merger demands were "grossly unfair to Northrop." When Northrop refused, Symington supposedly arranged to cancel the B-35 and B-49 program. Symington became president of Convair after he left government service a short time later.[12]

Other observers note that the B-35 and B-49 designs had well documented performance and design issues while the Convair B-36 needed more development money.[13] At that time, it appeared the B-36 program might be cancelled as well as the B-35. The USAF and the Texas Congressional delegation desired to have a production program for the large Fort Worth aircraft production factory, and Convair had much more effective lobbyists in Washington DC. The Northrop Corporation was always a technological trailblazer but the independent nature of Jack Northrop often collided with the political wheeling-and-dealing in Washington that tended to run huge military allocations. Consequently, the B-36 prevailed. Furthermore, earlier the same year, when the YB-49 jet bomber was cancelled, Northrop received a smaller production contract for its F-89 Scorpion fighter as compensation for the lost Flying Wing contract.[14][15]

Specifications (YB-35)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 9: pilot, copilot, bombardier, navigator, engineer, radio operator, three gunners
  • Length: 53 ft 1 in (16.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 172 ft (52.2 m)
  • Height: 20 ft 3 in (6.2 m)
  • Wing area: 4,000 ft² (370 m²))
  • Aspect ratio: 7.3
Fuselage diameter: 9 ft 6 in (2.9 m



See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists


  1. ^ a b Knaack 1988, p. 506.
  2. ^ a b Winchester 2005, p. 193.
  3. ^ Allen 2003, p.5
  4. ^ Allen 2003, pp. 6–7.
  5. ^ Flight 20 March 1947, p. a.
  6. ^ Allen 2003, p. 8.
  7. ^ Gunston 1996, p. 33.
  8. ^ a b c "US government microfilm A2061, XB-35 Project Report, Vols. 1–4." Air Force Case History Files. Retrieved: 29 January 2011.
  9. ^ "USAF Museum XB-35 fact sheet." Retrieved: 4 January 2010.
  10. ^ a b Winchester 2005, p. 192.
  11. ^ Wooldridge, E.T. "The Northrop Bombers." Century of Flight, 2003. Retrieved: 27 August 2011.
  12. ^ Fitzsimons 1978, p. 2282.
  13. ^ Donald 1997, p. 709.
  14. ^ Donald 1997, p. 708.
  15. ^ Jones 1975, p. 238.
  • Allen, Francis. "Before the B-2: Northrop's Flying Wings, The XB-35 and XB-49". Air Enthusiast. No. 106, July/August 2003, pp. 2–12. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Coleman, Ted. Jack Northrop and the Flying Wing: The Real Story Behind the Stealth Bomber. New York: Paragon House, 1988. ISBN 1-55778-079-X.
  • Donald, David, ed. "Northrop Flying Wings". Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Etobicoke, Ontario: Prospero Books, 1997. ISBN 1-85605-375-X.
  • Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. "Scorpion, Northrop F-89." Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Volume 21. London: Phoebus, 1978. ISBN 0-83936-175-0.
  • Gunston, Bill. "Northrop's Flying Wings". Wings of Fame. Volume 2. London: Aerospace Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-874023-69-7. ISSN 1361-2034. pp. 24–37.
  • Jones, Lloyd S. U. S. Fighters. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers, 1975. ISBN 0-8168-9200-8.
  • Knaack, Marcelle Size. Post-World War II Bombers, 1945–1973. Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1988. ISBN 0-16-002260-6.
  • Maloney, Edward T. Northrop Flying Wings, Corona del Mar, California: World War II Publications, 1988. ISBN 0-915464-00-4.
  • O'Leary, Michael. "Wings of Northrop, Part Three." Air Classics, Volume 44, Number 2, February 2008, Challenge Publications, Inc. ISSN 0002-2241. (Heavily illustrated, authoritative XB/YB-35 article.)
  • Pape, Garry and John Campbell. Northrop Flying Wings: A History of Jack Northrop's Visionary Aircraft. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1995. ISBN 0-88740-689-0.
  • Winchester, Jim, "Northrop XB-35/YB-49". Concept Aircraft: Prototypes, X-Planes and Experimental Aircraft. Kent, UK: Grange Books plc., 2005. ISBN 1-84013-309-2.
  • "The Wing". Flight, 20 March 1947, pp. a–b, 241.
  • Wooldridge, E. T. Winged Wonders: The Story of the Flying Wings. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1983. ISBN 0-87474-966-2.

External links

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