I thoroughly enjoyed Barrett Tillman’s article about aeronautical engineer Barnaby Wainfan, “Cheating the Wind.” However, I took issue with one point that he made regarding the flying wing concept. In the article, Mr. Wainfan stated that when it came out, the flying wing shape was thought to be the shape of things to come, but was seen as “too radical.” Mr. Wainfan implies that the success of the B-2 today demonstrates the original merit of the flying wing concept.
However, there’s a reason we haven’t seen a new flying wing design from the time the B-49 came out until the B-2 today. The original B-49 was built during a time long before the invention of artificial augmentation control (fly by wire) in aircraft. Without it, the original flying wing design had a very limited controllability envelope. In fact, airforce flight personnel stated that the B-49 was extremely unstable and very difficult to control on a bombing mission.
Even the B-2, with its sophisticated fly by wire system is limited. the B-2′s typical missions are preprogrammed and flown almost entirely on autopilot, and is limited to shallow banks of only around 25 degrees. These restrictions are in place to keep the pilot from flying the airplane outside of its capability. If the B-2 imposes that many limitations with all of its advanced electronics, then how much more problematic would a flying wing design in the past have been without them.
Thanks for your perspective. Can’t say we disagree. BD