Jack Northrop - The South Bay's True Aircraft Carrier
Jack Northrop made notable contributions to the development of metal aircraft. Northrop's work on metal monocoque and multicellar wing construction foreshadowed techniques used on the design of most subsequent stressed-skin all-metal aircraft.
In 1916 when Northrop was 21, the Loughead brothers brought a seaplane to Santa Barbara. Later, when they started their local aircraft factory, Northrop was one of the first employees of the new company.
The Loughead received a contract to build two Curtiss designed seaplanes for the U.S. Navy. About this time, World War I began and Northrop worked on calculating wing stress for the plane.
When the war ended the Lougheads company closed and Northrop went back to work in the construction business. Then in 1923, he heard that Donald Douglas was hiring in Santa Monica. There he designed fuel tanks for the "Round-the "World Cruiser." During this time, Northrop was also developing his own ideas at home at night. Douglas had all the conventional airplane work he could absorb and could not put Northrop's advanced ideas into production. So Northrop took them to Allan Loughead, who was so impressed that he got financial backing and formed the Lockheed Aircraft Company in 1927 to build Jack's designs.
After several years, Jack again found himself becoming increasingly involved in production, while his interest remained in advanced design. What Northrop had envisioned all along, since as far back as 1923, was a flying wing. It would be an airplane consisting of a wing and nothing else - pilot, engine, controls all enclosed in a neat, streamlined entity. With his new company at Hawthorne established and well into profitable contracts and subcontracts, Jack Northrop had the freedom to break with traditional aircraft design.
Northrop now had Walter J. Cerny as assistant chief of design to supervise the experimental program. What they quietly proceed to engineer and build during 1939-40 was the N-IM, the first true flying wing to be manufactured in the United States. Only one N-IM was built, but it was followed by other experimental models that led to the famous XB-35 and later the YB-49 Flying Wing bombers. Throughout the war years, Northrop continued working on his flying wings, but in 1949, to Northrop's intense disappointment, the Government cancelled the program. Later Northrop called the design of the flying wings "the greatest achievement of my life."
Outstanding among the products of the present day Northrop Corporation is the controversial B-2 or Stealth Bomber. when the prototype B-2 was rolled out at Palmdale, California on November 22, 1988, the 500 carefully screened guests saw a flying wing. It was first flown successfully in Palmdale, July 17, 1989.
Today, there are only three of Northrop's "Flying Wings" know left in the world. The Air Force had ordered the "Flying Wing" to be destroyed, but they are flying again today.
Jack Northrop died in 1981 at the age of 85.
From an article dated; December 29, 2000 in the Hawthorne Lawndale Press Tribune