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Flying wings have a long history in aviation

The flying wing has been around a long time. The first instance that I have found was in 1910. Hugo Junkers thought it was a good idea, since it could be designed to carry a lot of passengers in a thick wing for long distances. He started building one in 1919, but it turned out to be too big. The Armistice treaty forbade the Germans to build an aircraft over a certain size and the project was cancelled. I noticed in the March issue of Sport Aviation the VariViggen was mentioned. Maybe this VariViggen isn’t a true flying wing, but it looks almost like one. It was one of Burt Rutan’s designs first flown in 1972.

During WWII, Northrup designed a four-engine flying wing plane to be bombers that would have the capability of a range to make it possible to bomb Germany if England were to fall. The flying wings are inherently unstable. Without a fuselage and tail surfaces, it is difficult to control the yaw tendency. This tendency is a propensity to try to fly sidewise. In my opinion, with modern computer controls, it would be possible to control the yaw with variable multi engine thrust and/or aileron control. The modern Stealth Bomber is an example of the lessons learned from the flying wing.

One of early important design changes to that Wright Flyer was the addition of a tail with an elevator and a rudder, which made it easy to control the yaw. This was developed in France by Raymond Saulnier and manufactured and flown by Luis Bleriot. He demonstrated this by being the first to fly across the English Channel on July 25, 1909.

Jack Northrop went ahead and built the YB-35 bomber for U.S. Army Air Force which was first flown in 1946. It was capable of flying at 450 mph, had a service ceiling of 45,000 feet altitude and had a takeoff weight of 209,000 pounds. It had no vertical surfaces, which caused yaw problems mentioned earlier. One of the variations was the YB-49 some of which had eight jet engines and some vertical surfaces. One of the planes came to an end when the gear collapsed in a high-speed taxi test and a subsequent fire destroyed it.

The No. 2 YB-49 experimental aircraft, came to a tragic end when it crashed coming down from 40,000 feet altitude after stall and spin tests. This one ended the lives of five men, including Army Air Force personnel and civilian engineers. The pilot was Maj. Daniel Forbes and co-pilot Capt. Glen Edwards. With Capt. Edwards in control, they were flying out of the Muroc Army Air Force Base and crashed to the northwest of the base. The most definitive evidence points to the fact that the plane exceeded the red line speed, which caused loss of some of the outer wing panels. The plane went inverted, crashed and was entirely consumed by the subsequent fire. Later, the Muroc Army Air Force base was renamed in honor of Capt. Edwards, which still is an active Air Force Base for experimental aircraft testing

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at