YB-49 June 5, 1948

3240 Aerial image of the crash site. CLUI photo.One of two jet-powered prototypes of this revolutionary experimental bomber design, the YB-49 crashed ten miles east of Mojave, California. The plane was on a routine test flight when it broke apart in the air, likely due to heavy loads imposed on the airframe from an attempt to recover control following a stall. Parts of the wing structure were found two miles from the main impact site, indicating a relatively high breakup altitude. The bulk of the airframe landed at this site, and exploded on impact. Muroc Air Force Base, the airfield where the plane took off, would ultimately become the global center for aviation research in the emerging jet and space age, and was renamed in honor of the co-pilot of the plane, Capt. Glen Edwards.

3241 U.S. Air Force photo.The YB-49 was a very unusual plane for its time. It was a massive tailless wing, 172 feet wide, designed by Jack Northrop, co-founder of Northrop Grumman. To some it represented a new future for aviation, towards a more simple and efficient flying wing. The government initially supported production of the plane as a heavy bomber at the dawn of the Cold War. Soon afterwards, however, the program was abruptly cancelled and all existing airframes were ordered destroyed, including those on the assembly line at Northrop’s factory in Hawthorne, California. No versions of the plane exist, just some fragments, such as the debris scattered at the crash site. 

3242 At the site there is a memorial to the five people who lost their lives, and a binder describing the incident. CLUI photo.

 


A YB-49 takes off from Edwards and flies over the Mojave.  Video courtesy of Peter Merlin/NASA.