by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
i assume almost all of you have seen the classic 1953 movie version by george pal of H.G. Wells’ “war of the worlds”, right? remember that scene in the movie when they decide to nuke the martians and they switch to stock footage of the ‘flying wing’ bomber taking off to drop the A-bomb? that was actually stock footage of the maiden flight of the Northrop YB-49 ‘flying wing’ bomber. only two of these jets were made and (until the exquisite B2 stealth bomber of today) was my vote for the single most beautiful (and coolest) jet aircraft design ever made.
the second craft fried first. it proved ‘wobbly’ (the yaw in particular was shaky and unstable, thus no good for accurate bombing). also, it belched a LOT of oil (so plainly seen in that old footage in the movie). turns out the jet engines went on the plane and into the air without anybody ‘checking’ the oil levels and the engines were frying. to this day, sabotage is suspected. this WAS the beginning of the cold war, after all.
the last prototype flying wing jet YB-49 ran into problems on it’s maiden flight when the structure failed and the wings sheered off. since this plane was virtually ALL wing, that proved disastrous and the pilots were killed in a fiery crash (dan forbes and glen edwards, both of whom have infamous air bases named after them). that was it for the flying wing and the remaining YB-49 was chopped up in full view of the base personal in a grand ceremony (for some reason) and sent to the scrap ovens for melting. the same treatment was also applied to all the XB-35 and YB-35 piston driven propellor mounted flying wings.
what? there was a fleet of piston propellor-driven flying wings, also? now, that’ s interesting. i’ve now seen photos of around nine prop-driven flying wings sitting on an airstrip under construction. i haven’t been able to find out how many of these things were actually built and how many were tested. the JET powered flying wings only existed officially in TWO prototypes. however, there were three built, one was a top secret spy plane. when they were supposedly all ceremoniously destroyed in front of a publicity audience, everybody assumed that it was over. it was listed as one of the more spectacular failures in aviation history and forgotten. that is until the B2 stealth bomber emerged in the press. that beautiful design was the ultimate flying bat-wing. the design never went away but converted to black budget exploration. very very clever and ‘spooky’.
so, this (like everything else) brings me around to flying saucers (of course.) when pilot kenneth arnold saw a formation of nine “bat-winged” shaped silver craft flying in a v-formation over mt. rainier washington in august, 1947, he had no idea what he was looking at. he tracked them for a long time (amazed at the speed) and then reported them to authorities more by their awkward flying profile (they flew in a loping fashion somewhat like “a saucer skipping over over water”.) when the local new reporters heard that, the headlines read “flying saucers!”. of course, that was NOT what he saw, but it stuck. after that headline, the copy-cat reports that came in were either ‘bat wing’ aircraft or the more sensationalized “flying saucer” design. it took frank lloyd wright’s design of the space ship in the popular hit movie, “the day the earth stood still” (1951), to firmly cement the image of the flying saucer in our pop consciousness and that’s all anybody ever saw in the skies afterwards. it’s how we people work, ya know? “monkey see/monkey do.”
back to that day above mt. rainier event with kenneth arnold: i will bet money that what he saw was a test formation flight of the flying wing. it was still top secret at that stage, and had been since it’s initial concepting toward the end of 1944. they were certainly doing test flights by 1947. the prototypes had four massive double prop engines (two on each wing, giving a total of four DOUBLE BLADED propulsion system (with separate propellor blades actually stacked on top of each other). so, these suckers went FAST. kenneth arnold did a quick (and pivotally famous) calculation of the air speed of the craft he saw (judging on the distance/travel time) and came up with a speed of around 1500 mph. totally crazy for back then when even jets were unknown.
but, what arnold DIDN’T know was that the SIZE of these planes. they were HUGE. popular reports state he assumed they were roughly the size of his own small private plane (an obvious choice to make a mistake with). if you account for the enormous size of the flying wing aircraft, the flight speeds would dramatically reduce to a reasonable number – especially when considering how over-powered the test crafts were. nine bat-wing craft vs. nine flying wing test planes. furthermore, they flew out of murdoc air force base in california – well within range of secluded mt. rainier for a quiet unseen test flight.
as for this peculiar “saucer skipping over water” (also called the ‘falling leaf’) movement? well, the flying wing had stability problems – especially with ‘yaw” (the turning left/right balance control). when that goes bad, guess what? the flying motion looks like a saucer skipping over water. no joke. it really does. when flying in a v-formation, air turbulence would become profound, especially on a flying wing design craft of such size. that turbulence caused yaw stability problems in flying the experimental craft and resulted in kenneth arnold’s description of their flying pattern. that resulted in lazy sensational small-town reporters (in the traditionally slow august news cycle) going crazy with their descriptive skills. the military picked up on the error and used it as cover to hide their actual design from qui
o-much notice. and the flying saucer mania/religion/pop icon was born.
as much as i LOVE LOVE LOVE flying saucers and the whole ‘alien conspiracy’ story, i have to admit, we’re only human. so so sad. yaknowwhatimean,vern?
no real contradiction here. i’m sure arnold was familiar with the story. when he saw the mysterious craft, he jumped to popular conclusion, just like everybody else. but, arnold’s sighting is still considered the official ‘beginning’ of the modern saucer era….well, the US was working on the YB wing design long before we had captured access to nazi science. i think it’s pretty obvious from the time-frames that we were already working on a ‘flying wing’ design at the same time. the germans were far advanced of us, but we didn’t really know that then. what was the name of those two nazi scientist brothers? they had a flying wing design that worked. we ended up capturing it and testing it. so did the soviets (they got the brothers). according to that recent history of area 51 (one of the basses where the YB-49 was tested), the roswell crash was actually one of those german wing planes captured by the soviets sent over our airspace to send a stalin-style ‘message’ to us that we were vulnerable, too (like they were to our U2 fly-overs). the pilots were supposedly deformed children created by mengele’s experiments. sounds like mayhem and BS to me, but it’s really cool….
…it seems so obvious that arnold saw the flying wing on a test run. so, why has this theory never ever seen print before? i have read a LOT of flying saucer lore and experimental airplane lore, too. but, i’ve NEVER seen anybody make this plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face connection. why? well, because the fantasy of the saucer and it’s ridicule) was NEEDED to hide behind. it’s the only reason that has ever been put forward as to why this connection has never been made before. and it was actually made by military intelligence, too. they admitted that were using the saucer craze to hide experimental aircraft he==behind. and their making fun of ht sightings was also part of the game. and that spawned the whole flying saucer “thing’ we all accept today. so weird, eh?…
…yes, it was well-known (it was even a movie star). but, if you wanted to yank it from public view and continue experimenting hidden from prying spying eyes, what would you do? well, hopefully, you’d very publicly chop all the planes up and declare it a failure and walk away. then start onward in private out in the middle of nowhere. judging from the design of the B2, that’s exactly what they did, too. so, when all the rubberneckers out there saw some weird-ass flying THING in the air, they shouted “flying saucer!!!” nobody ever stopped to consider it might have been only a big wing, ya know? very smart….