the Glen Edwards diaries

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An interview with Robert Cardenas (continued)

continued from part 1

"Northrop wanted to sell this airplane and stick it up the military's ass without vaseline, pardon my vocabulary. But that's the sum and substance of it. They didn't give a *** what the airplane could do or couldn't do or anything else. They wanted to sell it. It was not an operational bird. The cockpit layout was miserable. The crew could not escape if anything happened in the airplane--you couldn't get out. I never wore a chute, because I couldn't have gotten out anyway. You got in from underneath, a hatch underneath the airplane; walked about 15 feet forward, put your rear end in the seat, pulled one handle and rotated the seat ninety degrees in the line of flight, with the other hand you pumped yourself up four feet into the bubble--a bubble which could not be opened, could not be blown off. The only way you could get out is rotate the seat, lower it four feet, get down on the walkway and walk back 15 feet. In the event of an emergency [here Cardenas laughed] you couldn't get out. The cockpit layout was horrible. The bomb bay doors--the first time I tried to open them they sucked off. They blew off the airplane. The landing gear were still from a propeller airplane. It was unacceptable."

[Landing gear?] "Okay. The rate of acceleration of a jet aircraft once it is in the air is much faster than that of a prop job. You pick up so much airspeed so rapidly ... You had two choices on takeoff. If you took off what you might say normal you'd blow the gear doors off, because they did not--you see, this was a conversion from a prop airplane, the XB-35. ... When they converted it they changed the engines but they didn't change much else. So the landing gear took too long to retract. So I had to pull up, fairly steep, not real steep. The only other thing I could do is pull back on the power, but no sane pilot wants to pull back the power on the takeoff. So I left the power on and pulled it up to keep the airspeed down till all the gear came up. Then when you leveled off you'd sit there rocking in your seat back and forth in unison with the slosh of the fuel going back and forth in the fuel cells--no fuel baffling." [When he reviewed my manuscript for publication, General Cardenas hedged this phrasing a bit]

[In the Discovery Channel TV program] "Mr. Honey kept asking me, "Wasn't it a crime the project had been canceled?" And I kept telling him no. It wasn't a crime it had been canceled... This airplane, its systems had to wait for technology to catch up. And I couldn't have said a truer statement, because the technology has caught up, and we have the finest airplane in the world flying around in the B-2. Technology caught up with it. Not just the Stealth [feature but] the engines, the seat ejection, the fuel cells, the operational layout of the cockpit. Everything that was wrong with the 49 has been fixed in the B-2. The real crime would be now that we've got such a bird that Congress doesn't allow them to build any more. It's the finest weapons system in the world right now."

"But anyhow, the B-49 was not an operational weapons system. And we as military pilots were testing the thing as a military operational system, not as something--the company pilots, they were testing it to sell the airplane. Max Stanley and I never had any differences. Woolford was all wet!" [I think he means Ted Coleman here]

"Prior to the B-49, prior to 1947--well, let's take the B-17. Boeing built the B-17 and gave it to the military and said, here's what you wanted, and the military had to find out how to use what the contractor gave them.... The original B-17 that was over there in Hawaii that got blown up, was not very good. Same way with the P-51. The B-24 also. The C-47. [They were all honed into fine aircraft.] So there's nothing wrong with a contractor building something and giving it to us to use. But for every shining example that you can think of, I can give you twenty of real crummy airplanes--not crummy from a design standpoint, but crummy from the standpoint of military operations. So somewhere, in 46 or 47, they changed things, and from that day onward the contractor flew what was called Phase I. All they had to do was prove it was airworthy. Then they turned it over to the military to do Phase II, which was Performance.... So the first few airplanes in which the new system came in created a controversy because the contractor, his main thing was to build an airplane and sell it. The military were testing it as an operational airplane. And so the controversy that arose was not between the pilots [but] between the military program office and the Northrop sales staff, engineering staff, etc. But the B-49 and its configuration in 1948 was not a military operational airplane."

[Danny] "Forbes knew everything that I knew. In fact, he was with me in my first stall, which resulted in a gyration that was abnormal. [The sucker flipped over.] And I wouldn't stall the airplane again. Forbes knew that. The company as a matter of fact, I guess it was after my stall, I guess they had to prove that it could stall normally, they hired a guy by the name of Charlie Tucker to do a stall series on the airplane. I met him one day and I said, "I understand you stalled it." And he said, "Yeah--and you were right, Bob.""

[Gary] "Pape has written what I consider now to be the Bible, with one major mistake and a couple of minor ones."

[Ted Coleman's book] "Okay, there were a lot of coincidences there [with respect to the activities of Sgt William Cunningham]. But nobody in the military ever said, Destroy this airplane. It's ludicrous. It's just sheer lunacy to say something like that. [that Cunningham sabotaged the YB-49 on Cardenas's return flight from Washington DC] The fact that I said Go get him and bring him up, he's going with us, that didn't mean I mistrusted him. [His voice does not indicate great trust.] It's just that, I don't carry a rabbit's foot, but I still felt that he was part of the crew and he should go with us. I had no other intent in that."

"The Wing, once they developed stability augmentation systems, which you do have, you now got a wonderful system. And some day, some company is going to build a large flying-wing cargo airplane with the stability augmentation systems to haul not so much passengers as cargo--lots of cargo--because the load is distributed along the span of the wing... During that movie [Honey video] it says there that during the last days of John Northrop he received a letter from [NACA NASA advisory board?] saying they were taking a second look at the Wing... They didn't call it a Flying Wing, they called it a transverse loader. As a matter of fact, the government gave a $1 million contract to three companies--Boeing, McDonald Douglas, and Lockheed--for a concept on a Flying Wing cargo airplane. They called it a Transverse Loader. You can take a huge airplane carrying a million pounds of oil or any other commodity, and you can land it on 3,000 feet because of the C sub L. You don't have a high rotation. You have a low speed, high rotation, and get something that can go 500 miles per hour, probably about a Mach 0.8, somewhere in there, and get the cost of moving cargo down below three cents a mile."

"You take the other plane I flew in combat in Vietnam was the F-105. When you came in in the approach in the 105 you had 200 knots approach speed and when you got within 400 feet or so of the ground you started your rotation, pulling the nose up--the flare, as they called it. That was mainly to increase your C sub L because you had such a high wing loading. Well, in the Flying Wing, although you were carrying a huge load, you had a very low C sub L to begin with, so you don't have to rotate the airplane, and you can come in at a much lower speed. So it'd be a beautiful bird for something like that [cargo]."

[YB-49 difficult to land because of ground effect] "Again, whoever said that never flew the airplane. I have said, and maybe they misinterpreted that, I have said that the hardest part of flying the airplane--and I was taking a lot of things into consideration--was to land it. Now that doesn't mean it was hard to land. You just had to get used to landing it because yes, the ground effect would hold you up. You could come in power off and as you approached the ground effect would tend to keep you up. All you had to do was shove your rudders in, both of 'em, at the same time. [ie deploy the drag rudders on both sides] It was a drag device. In fact I've won a lot of money out there at Edwards on bets regarding on wheter I uld land on this line. They didn't believe. Well, I could wait, since you sat up in front you could see where that line was, so as soon as I saw it approaching the ... nose of the Wing, I just shoved both rudders in and touched down. I didn't slam it down, I greased it down. I was just trying to tell them [writers?] that there was something a little different in the ground effect with the C sub L that was the only really difficult part of flying the airplane. It took off by itself, it flew beautifully--I could outturn fighters as far as that goes. It's just that it needed, under certain conditions, stability augmentation."


[I ran out of memo pad at this point. He went on to say that a John Benjamin of LA helped fund the restoration of the N-9MB at Planes of Fame in Chino. It consisted of the metal parts of the wing; the wooden parts most gone. In a junkpile in a suburb. Started rebuilding in an industrial park. Northrop declined to help. Former Northrop employees donated their time to work on it. John Myers, company test pilot, and Max Stanley (and Cardenas) advised on it. Truck to Chino. Engines and props found. Bruce Hinds and Don Lyken participated. Installed Franklin engines. Said they were five (fifty?) years old. Cardenas advised the pilot, John Stackworth, to be restrained because of its flight characteristics and the danger they posed if one engine went out. "I did not use the word tumble." He flew it very conservatively the first time around then got more daring. Cardenas has a great photo of the ramp up to the B-2 hangar at Edwards South Base with the N-9M in front of it. It has flown to Edwards and to San Diego (currently). Passenger seat to be removed and extra gas tank installed.]

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