Northrop Builds a Horten

by wjw on July 21, 2009

First built and tested in the air in March 1944, it was designed with a greater range and speed than any plane previously built and was the first aircraft to use the stealth technology now deployed by the U.S. in its B-2 bombers . . .
The most important innovation was Reimar Horten’s idea to coat it in a mix of charcoal dust and wood glue.
He thought the electromagnetic waves of radar would be absorbed, and in conjunction with the aircraft’s sculpted surfaces the craft would be rendered almost invisible to radar detectors.

This was the same method eventually used by the U.S. in its first stealth aircraft in the early 1980s, the F-117A Nighthawk.
The plane was covered in radar absorbent paint with a high graphite content, which has a similar chemical make-up to charcoal.
After the war the Americans captured the prototype Ho 2-29s along with the blueprints and used some of their technological advances to aid their own designs.
But experts always doubted claims that the Horten could actually function as a stealth aircraft.
It took them 2,500 man-hours and $250,000 to construct, and although their replica cannot fly, it was radar-tested by placing it on a 50ft articulating pole and exposing it to electromagnetic waves.
The team demonstrated that although the aircraft is not completely invisible to the type of radar used in the war, it would have been stealthy enough and fast enough to ensure that it could reach London before Spitfires could be scrambled to intercept it . . .
So now anyone able to afford wood glue and graphite can make their aircraft stealthy?
My best guess is that the first to try this technology will be Mexican drug smugglers.
Ralf the Dog July 21, 2009 at 4:04 am

The drug smugglers would need to make the motor out of something that was not mettle. They would also need to shield the electronics. While we are on the subject of electronics, they would need some very smart flight control software to keep it from stalling out.

I think this is a bit beyond the ability of drug smugglers.

Steve Stirling July 21, 2009 at 6:50 am

Modern radars are a -lot- better than those of 1945.

Also, the Horten is somewhat overrated. The long development process is a hint; flying wings are inherently unstable. The Horten was good enough to fly, but not as a gun platform or a bomber; it 'wobbled'.

To make a flying wing with no vertical control surfaces sufficiently stable, you really need computer control and fly-by-wire.

Ralf the Dog July 21, 2009 at 6:41 pm

"The Horten was good enough to fly, but not as a gun platform or a bomber; it 'wobbled'."

I thought that non computer controlled flying wings had a very high crash rate. Would a bit of wobble make a difference in a WW II German bomber? I can see it making some difference with a Norton Bomb Sight. I thought the German night time bombings were a bit on the random side.

dubjay July 22, 2009 at 1:21 am

I wasn't actually suggesting that Mexican drug smugglers were going to start building replicas of World War II aircraft. What I meant is that if the secret to a stealthy aircraft is wood glue and graphite, then the cartels are going to have stealth aircraft any day now.

Bear in mind that these are people who have an entire submarine fleet. It's not like they lack for ingenuity.

And if the radar will ping the aircraft engines, why doesn't it work that way with the B-1 and F-22?

Ralf the Dog July 22, 2009 at 5:34 am

Shielding the rotors is one of the hardest parts of designing stealth aircraft. Next time you see a stealth aircraft, look at the engine exhaust and intakes.

At some point the value of stealth VS the performance hits caused by it's design compromises will lead us back to pure performance designs. Much of what stealth does can be undone by better radars. It can also be accomplished as well or better by radar jamming aircraft outside the theater without compromising aerodynamics or engine performance.

Please forgive any rambling. Long day pounding on computer=Ralf T. Dog not speak well.

dubjay July 23, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Military stealth aircraft have to shield great big jet engines. A smuggler's craft would have a weeny little piston engine. My guess is that this will be a lot easier to hide from radar.

Dan July 25, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I'm sorry, but seeing this post title, my immediate thought was "Horten hears a Who"

(CAPTCHA: behort. Hmm…)

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