Monday, February 22, 2010

Northrop Flying Wing Passenger Liner: Not Yet

"Safe Flying-Wing Airliners circa 1949: Jack Northrop's XB-49 as a Jules Verne Passenger Plane"

dynmicpara, YouTube (January 24, 2009)
video, 2:55

"We are not as advanced as we deceive ourselves to be.

"The thousands of burned-up dead people who died needlessly in flimsy tube & wing airliners would scream out in outrage at our BS if they could..."

Well, I like the look of the Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing, and think we may see airliners built like that. Someday. It's probably just as well, though, that passenger air services haven't used visionary designs like the YB-49.

These days, we've got sophisticated control systems that can take instructions from the pilot and make the aircraft bank, pitch or roll as ordered. Which is a good thing. Those control system can make real-time adjustments that human beings simply can't react to: not quickly enough.

The YB-49 prototype looked cool, and actually flew. But: "...Instability issues frustrate[d] pilots and crews...." ("Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing Bomber," Chris Conrad, Matt Eluk, Liz Craig, Virginia Tech (undated, includes 1997 citation))

Today's fly-by-wire systems, like US Patent 7433765 - Fly by wire static longitudinal stability compensator system, let aircraft - and the Space Shuttle - be "flown" by a human pilot who decides where the vehicle should go, while a sophisticated control system handles changing forces that go past too quickly for our nervous system to process.

The video is vintage ca. 1950 promotional footage. With very monaural sound. (On my system, everything came in through my left year.)

I'd take the assertions in the "info" section with a grain of salt. At least.

I'll agree, though, that innovative thinking and imagination are not limited to the last few years.

Today, with fly-by-wire systems developed for other aircraft, and over a half-century of advances in materials technology, I think we're closer to having the sort of luxury airliner that was imagined in that newsreel.

I don't buy the idea that 'corporate greed' and other nasty things are keeping nice things from happening. On the other hand, I do think that we won't see radically different luxury aircraft for a while: because there isn't a market for them. Today.

They'd require a fair number of people who are willing to pay top dollar for a nice, leisurely flight - with a view. That doesn't sound like the typical business traveler to me.

But times will change. They always have.

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