The Grumman (now Northrup Grummanbest known for being the maker of the F-14 Tomcat) X-29 is one of the most obscure experimental aircraft in aviation history that failed to pass the test phase, so far from famous like other weapons ending in ” 29″, like the B-29 Superfortress or Dirty Harry’s Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum. But that doesn’t make it any less exciting or newsworthy.
Let’s take a closer look at the story of this ephemeral bird:
A short of a dirty thirty
The X-29 made its maiden flight on December 14, 1984, flown by Grumman chief test pilot Chuck Sewell out of Edward AFB, California. It was an experimental aircraft that tested a forward swept wing, duck control surfacesand other new aeronautical technologies.
Two were built, which were piloted by NASA and the US Air Force, and received additional funding from DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).
The X-29 was the third forward-swept wing jet aircraft to fly; the other two were Luftwaffeit is Junkers Ju 287 jet bomber (1944) and the HFB-320 Hansa Jet aka the “German LearJet” (1964).
On December 13, 1985, it became the first forward-swept wing aircraft to fly at supersonic speed in level flight. The Ju287 had problems with the metal wings bend dangerously at higher speeds. However, as stronger composite materials became available in the 1970s, wing structures could be both light and very stiff, and the X-29 was built to “Carpe Diem” on these technological advances.
The aerodynamic instability of the X-29 airframe necessitated the use of computerized electric flight control. The silver lining behind the proverbial “cloud” of this instability were broad predictions offering extreme maneuverability. However, as noted by the Official NASA Fact Sheet on the X-29“The X-29 did not demonstrate the overall reduction in aerodynamic drag that previous studies had suggested. The X-29 program demonstrated several new technologies as well as new uses of proven technologies, including aeroelastic customization to control structural divergence and the use of a relatively large, close-coupled canard for longitudinal control. In addition, the program validated the control of an aircraft with extreme instability while offering good piloting qualities; use of three-surface longitudinal control; use of a double-hinged trailing edge flaperon at supersonic speeds; control efficiency at high angles of attack; vortex control; and military utility of the overall design.”
“Don’t trust anyone *under* 30?”
The two X-29 aircraft flew a total of 242 times from 1984 to 1991. The first of the two specimens, 82-003, was displayed after retirement at the Research and Development Gallery in the National Museum of the United States Air Force on Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio in late 1994.
The other boat has found its own retirement home at Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. And for the benefit of our readers who don’t have the time and/or the money and/or the inclination to take a trip to the West Coast or the Midwest anytime soon, you’re still in luck, because the Cradle of Flight Museum in Garden City, New York has housed a full-size replica of the X-29 since 2011.
Ability: 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) payload
Length: 53 ft 11.25 in (16.4402 m) with nose probe
48 ft 1 in (15 m) fuselage only
wingspan: 27 ft 2.5 in (8.293 m)
Height: 14 ft 3.5 in (4.356 m)
wing area: 188.84 square feet (17.544 m2)
Unloaded weight: 13,800 lbs (6,260 kg)
Maximum take-off weight: 17,800 lbs (8,074 kg)
Maximum speedspeed: 956 knots (1,100 mph, 1,771 km/h) at 33,000 feet (10,058 m)
Maximum speed: Mach 1.6
Vary: 350 nautical miles (400 mi, 650 km)
Benefit ceiling: 55,000 ft (17,000 m)
Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments in Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany and the Pentagon). Chris holds a BA in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an MA in Intelligence Studies (Terrorism Studies Concentration) from the American Military University (AMU). It was also published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cybersecurity.