An old idea for which the best years may still lay ahead.
Jack Northrop dreamt of aircraft where everything not absolutely essential for flight was eliminated. Leonardo da Vinci’s theoretical flying machines from the 15th century, Sir George Cayley’s Governable Parachute of 1852, the Wright Brothers’ Flyer of 1903 and virtually ever other flying machine all have one thing in common: they all have tails of one sort of another which are used to stabilize and control their flight. Northrop, contrarily, didn’t believe a tail was necessary. In fact, he believed anything other than the wing actively worked against the elusive goal of all aircraft designers: to find the most efficient means of getting an aircraft aloft and then keeping it there.
Listen to the rest by clicking the play button, above. The text version of this essay can be found on Medium where it was published contemporaneously. The key image for this episode is of the first flight of the all-jet powered YB-49 on October 21, 1947. (credit: AFFTC History Office)