Though the B-2 Spirit
is perhaps the best-known of the flying wing
designs, its creation came almost 50 years after the earliest attempts at creating fixed-wing aircraft with no definite fuselage. The first prototypes of Frenchman Charles Fauvel's flying wings
followed the patent on his formula for the flying wing in 1929. Jack Northrop's newly formed Northrop Aircraft Co. created the first flying wing for the United States in 1940, dubbed Northrom N-1M "Jeep"
. But it was the Horten Brothers
, German aircraft pilots and enthusiasts, who created the first fully-functional stealth flying wing: the Horten Ho IX
The brothers were first interested in flying wings as a design for gliders. The German government was funding glider clubs
at the time because production of military aircraft was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. Walter and Reimar Horten initially entered the Luftwaffe as pilots, but submitted their flying wing glider design for a long-range bomber design request.
The Ho IX
) is often called Gotha Go 229 or Ho 229 due to the identity of the chosen manufacturer
of the aircraft. The craft was of mixed construction, with the center pod made from welded steel tube and wing spars built from wood. The wings were made from two thin, carbon-impregnated plywood panels glued together with a charcoal and sawdust mixture (utilized as a porous filler
to lighten the composite formed parts). Control was achieved with elevons and spoilers. The aircraft utilized retractable tricycle landing gear, with the nosewheel coming from an He 177's main gear. A brake parachute slowed the aircraft upon landing. The pilot sat on a primitive ejection seat.
During the final stages of the war, the US military captured a Horten glider and the Ho 229 V3, which was undergoing final assembly, and sent them to Northrop Corporation in the United States for evaluation. Five partial airframes found at the Gothaer Wagonfabrik factory assembly line were destroyed by soldiers. The only surviving Ho 229 airframe, the V3, is located at the National Air and Space Museum. A full-scale replica was recently created and tested by Northrop Grumman for a National Geographic special
entitled "Hitler's Stealth Fighter
The stealth capabilities of the craft were not fully understood or known when first flown. Though the Kriegsmarine
, by 1944, had developed and tested radar-absorbing materials which were applied to the parts of submarines exposed above the water in order to prevent their detection by ASV radar, it appears that the radar-absorbing properties of carbon had not been known to Reimar
before the late 1970s, when materials working on similar principles were created in the USA. Still, rumors of stealth capabilities circulated around the HO IX, which lead to replication of and documentary on the Ho IX
. The fact that the Ho IX can now be called the first stealth aircraft
may have been partially due to luck in design.
The Horton Ho 229 V3 replica is on display at the San Diego Air & Space Museum
, opening today. For those wondering about the nitty-gritty specifics, an advanced projects engineer/manager at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems who was involved with the recreation and documentary joined a discussion on the recreation efforts
, and provided a lot of details the differences from the original craft from 1940 and the modern day replica.