The First Forward-Swept Wing Plane to Fly at a Supersonic Speed in Level flight in the World
Instead of the normal-looking planes we have today, did you know that a forward-swept wing aircraft existed? The Grumman X-29 is an aircraft that is surprisingly easy to fly due to its extraordinary design.
According to Peter Suciu, this concept wasn’t new, as the United States and Nazi Germany previously experimented with forward-swept wings during World War II, however, each had its problems.
The X-29, developed by the United States Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was built using advanced composite materials making the wing structures both lightweight and very rigid. Along with a forward-mounted elevator (or canard), the X-29 proved agile even at high speeds. Yet, this agility came with aerodynamic instability—requiring a computerized fly-by-wire control system to aid the pilot in flight.
Referring to NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet, Grumman built two X-29 planes that flew a total of 437 flights between 1984-1992. In a joint program involving the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force, NASA, Grumman, and other contractors, this single-engine, jet-powered aircraft investigated the use of advanced composite materials as well as many other technologies. These technologies include a forward-swept wing with a thin supercritical airfoil, a variable-incidence canard, a computerized fly-by-wire flight control system to overcome the aircraft’s inherent instability, behavior at high angles of attack, and a vortex flow-control system.
On Dec. 13, 1985, the X-29 became the first forward-swept-wing airplane in the world to exceed Mach 1 in level flight. This flight also showed that planes with forward-swept wings can be operated safely with excellent maneuverability and high G-loads while exhibiting splendid control response up to about 40° angle of attack.
The Grumman X-29:
- Single engine aircraft
- 48.1 feet long
- Its forward-swept wing span is 27.2 feet
- Empty weight was 13,600 pounds
- Takeoff weight 17,600 pounds
- Max. operating altitude 50,000 feet
- Max. speed of Mach 1.6
- Flight endurance approximately one hour
The No. 1 X-29 can be found at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Aircraft No. 2 is on display at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. So be sure to check this one of a kind aircraft when you get the chance.