Monster Machines: Northrop’s Flying Ram Would Have Sliced Enemy Planes Midair

Monster Machines: Northrop’s Flying Ram Would Have Sliced Enemy Planes Midair

War drives technological innovation like little else. No proposal is too ambitious, impractical, or downright foolhardy for consideration if it provides a strategic advantage. This school of thinking has led to atomic bombs, autonomous vehicles, and, in 1945, a short-lived fighter prototype that could cut through enemy aircraft in midair.

Conceived by famed aircraft designer John K. Northrop in 1942, the XP-79 Flying Ram was actually more of an afterthought, originally offered up to the USAAF when the power plants for Northrop’s original Rocket Wing design — a flying-wing aircraft inspired by Germany’s Me-163 Komet and propelled by a pair of 2847Nm Aerojet motors — failed to pan out. But rather than scrap the entire project, Northrop instead slapped on two 1850Nm Westinghouse J30 turbojet engines, ditched virtually all of the platform’s existing weaponry, and instead armed it with magnesium-tipped wings capable of slicing through the tails and wings of enemy bombers. Its quartet of .50-cal machine guns only served to defend the XP-79B until it was within ramming range.

The Flying Ram measured 4m long, 12m wide, and featured a number of unique design details including an unpressurized cabin wherein the pilot would lay prone. This allowed him to withstand far more G-forces — up to 21 G’s — than the traditional seated configuration. The plane also boasted magnesium construction for unparalleled structural strength, and, rather than a conventional rudder, it employed elevons and air intakes for lateral steering control.

In June of 1945, the XP-79B prototype arrived at the Muroc Dry Lake testing range but was almost immediately beset by technical problems. In fact, the plane had difficulty just getting off the ground due to the tires on its four-point landing gear routinely bursting while taxiing.

The XP-79B made its maiden flight in September of 1945 with pilot Harry Crosby at the helm. While the plane took off without incident, tragedy struck after just 15 minutes in the air when the XP-79B rolled out of control at a height of 2000m Crosby attempted to eject at a height of 600m but was struck by the falling aircraft and could not open his parachute. As for the plane, it exploded into a white hot ball of magnesium-fuelled flames upon impact. The horrific incident prompted the US Air Force to abandon the program altogether later that year; however Northrop persisted with its flying wing design, eventually developing the XB-35 bomber and the B-2 Spirit. [WikiFiddlers Green]

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