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Martin's six-jet XB-48 was
ordered in 1944 as part of a design competition for a postwar jet bomber. An odd mixture
of the conventional and the innovative, it lost out to Boeing's swept-wing B-47 and was
destined only to become one of aviation's brief oddities. It pioneered the use of tandem
main landing gear, which lived on in other designs. Three General Electric J35-A-5 engines
were mounted in a single housing beneath each wing, creating a pair of tunnels for
airflow. Air passing through was supposed to help cool the engines and to boost the
plane's airspeed by means of a venturi effect. This feature, however, proved to be overly
optimistic, leading a test pilot to report that he could almost see the air piling up
ahead of each wing in flight.
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The Martin XB-51 was an unusual
ground-attack plane, and one of the most highly advanced aircraft at the time of its first
flight in 1949. Two jet engines were carried in pods near the nose and a third was buried
aft under the tail. The pilot could vary the thin wing's angle of incidence in the air,
making takeoffs and landings easier. The variable-incidence wing allowed a very long
fuselage which carried two bomb bays, all fuel tanks, and the bicycle-style landing gear.
Spoilers on each wing replaced conventional ailerons, allowing the use of full-span flaps
for safer landings. The XB-51 was fast, maneuverable, and delightful to fly, but it lost
an acquisition competition to the British-designed B-57 Canberra. The sister ship to the
plane in the photo was destroyed in a crash on the dry lake bed in May 1952.
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Shown here landing at the end of
Edward's 15,000-foot main runway, the North American XB-70 Valkyrie was designed to be a
high-altitude bomber capable of flying for several hours at triple-sonic speeds. Powered
by six 30,000-pound thrust General Electric YJ93 engines, the large canard-configured
aircraft utilized the phenomenon of compression lift to ride its own shockwave for
sustained flight at about 2,000 mph. The threat of improved high-altitude antiaircraft
missiles ended the XB-70's bomber role, but the two prototype aircraft were used for
aerodynamic research until 1969.
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