Ttyymmnn’s post featuring the Northrop XP-79 reminded me of one of my all time favorite flying that never flew.

from Raiders of the Lost Ark

Like every other kid my age, Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of my favorite movies of all time. I always knew the German flying wing in the fight scene at Tanis wasn’t a real plane, but it’s interesting to note that it was probably inspired by real ones, most likely another Northrop concept, the N-1M.

Northrop N-1M on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Although the original movie prop decayed and was demolished, another, smaller version was built for a Disney display in Florida, but redesigned to hold people.

What’s interesting to me is the question of whether the film plane or its replica could ever have flown if it were built to do so. From an article on

To the occasional bemused specialist, however, the question occurred: Could they have flown, and if so, which would have been the better design?

The two wings were broadly similar. Cribbed from real flying-wing designs, they were tapered and swept, as is usually done in the absence of an empennage, to allow not only roll but also pitch attitude to be controlled by what would be the ailerons of a conventional airplane.

The placement of the vertical fins atop the engine nacelles of the original version was structurally tricky but not impossible. However, it was aerodynamically senseless because, to the extent that the vertical surfaces were to have any stabilizing effect, they ought to have been as far aft as possible, and, therefore, to have been placed near the wingtips.

A more serious difficulty — and this is a challenge for any tailless design — was the position, rather far aft, of the engines themselves. Tailless airplanes have narrow CG ranges and require careful balance; placing the engines too far from the center of gravity makes balance impossible. The Northrop airplane solved the problem by burying its engines within the wings and driving the propellers through extension shafts.

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