flying wings 1870 to 1920
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American flying wings in World War 2
by E.T. Wooldridge

While the Hortens and Lippisch were making considerable progress in flying wing research and development in Germany, the idea was pursued vigorously in the United States only by Jack Northrop. A few other tailless prototypes appeared briefly, two of which should be mentioned before proceeding to Jack Northrop's wartime designs. These configurations were unique even in a field of aircraft design where the unusual was commonplace.

Ten years after the first Arups appeared in the 1930s, another disc-shaped oddity could be seen flying around the Connecticut countryside. The Vought V-173 "Flying Pancake" was the brainchild of Charles H. Zimmerman, who built his flying wing while employed as an engineer with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NACA's light-plane research study of 1933, which provided the incentive for other tailless designs in the 1930s, also inspired Zimmerman to design a passenger-carrying aircraft that would land and take off like a helicopter and once airborne, convert to conventional flight. Perhaps influenced by the Arup design, Zimmerman built test models that received NACA endorsement.

The all-movable, or "flying" tail of the V-173 "Zimmer-Skimmer" is quite evident in this view of the disc shaped aircraft. During its successful flight test program, the "Flying Pancake" experienced several crashes, but sustained little damage because of its very low landing peed. Test pilots Were unable to spin the aircraft and were amazed at its rapid deceleration as it was pulled into a tight turn.

In 1937, Zimmerman turned to Chance Vought for the sponsorship that he needed. With U.S. Navy funding, the V-173 was constructed as a prototype for a high performance fighter, eventually designated XFSU-1. Powered by two 80-hp Continental engines, the fabric and wood V-173 was flown for the first time on November 23, 1942, by Vought chief test pilot Boone T. Guvton. He described the flight as "one of the most interesting I had made in my career." Control forces were so heavy that it required two hands to control the aircraft during the short 13 minute flight!

The V-173 enjoyed a successful flying life with 131.8 hours flown by Guyton, Richard Burroughs, and U.S. Navy test pilots. During the flight test program, which extended to March 1947, the XFSU-1 fighter prototype was designed and built. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2000-7 radial engines, the V-173 look-alike was designed to fly as fast as 500 mph and also have exceptional handling at low speeds. The aircraft became a victim of the jet age, and never progressed beyond the taxi test phase.

George W. Cornelius, who began his experiments on variable incidence wings in the middle 1920s in California, continued his innovative trends when he displayed a tailless aircraft with a forward swept wing in September 1943, at Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft, called the "Mallard," also featured a variable incidence wing, with two outboard wing panels that could vary their angle of incidence about a fixed spar attached to the fuselage. Fore and aft movement of the control stick by the pilot varied the angle of the wings in unison, causing a pitching movement. Moving the stick laterally varied the incidence angle of the wings differentially, producing a rolling moment in the same manner as produced by ailerons.

George Cornelius of Dayton, Ohio, was a staunch advocate of the swept-forward wing concept, which lent itself well to this experimental tailless aircraft of the 1940s. Cornelius claimed that the combination of variable incidence wing and forward sweep resulted in an aircraft that was virtually stall-and spin-proof.

The wings automatically adjusted themselves to absorb or offset unbalancing forces caused by turbulent air, preventing the sudden displacement of the airplane from its flight path. Although the airplane flew successfully, it was experimental in nature and was never produced.

Cornelius tried a more specialized application of his concepts to the expendable fuel transport glider, the XFG-l . Built in 1944 for the U.S. Army, the glider was designed to provide a supplementary fuel supply for long range bombers. While being towed through the air by a fuel hose, the glider would theoretically pump about 700 gallons of fuel to the tow plane, after which the hose and pilotless aircraft would be released to eventually crash. Only two models were built for test purposes, the first of which crashed during a spin, killing the pilot. Requirements for the glider ended with the end of World War II .

The Cornelius XFG-1 was designed as an expendable, pilotless glider to fuel bombers in flight. Incidence of the swept-forward wings could be adjusted on the ground between three and seven degrees.

Many of these tailless aircraft and flying wings preceded, and in some cases overlapped, the efforts of Jack Northrop during World War II. Aside from a few instances of public acceptance in the marketplace on a limited basis or a government requirement during the war, the success of the concept was very limited. The reasons for failure were diverse-poor design, inexperienced management, inadequate financial backing, public and bureaucratic indifference, and for Lippisch and the Horten brothers, being on the losing side in a war.

the Consolidated Vultee XP-54 featured an electrically operated seat that functioned as an elevator for the pilot to gain access to the cockpit.

The Curtiss Ascender XP-55 was developed from a wood and fabric lightweight mock-up

the Curtiss CW-24B, and was fitted with a controllable nose mounted control surface.