Today in AFJ History

November 9, 2013  

1948: Predicting the future of air warfare

In 1948, the USAF was flight-testing Northrop's YB-49, but the head of the company believes guided missiles would reign supreme within a dozen years. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From the archive: November 6, 1948

Editor’s note: Jack Northrop, who had founded his eponymous company in 1939, would go on to purchase an early manufacturer of drones in 1952.

Future Air Weapons

Pilotless guided missiles will be employed for military purposes within the next two years and will form the main backbone of the Air Force’s offense and defense by 1960.

This was the prediction this week of President John K. Northrop of Northrop Aircraft, Inc., in a National Air Council Lecture in the Library of Congress.

But, warned Mr. Northrop, “it would be suicide to stop the manufacture of our manned bombers until such time as the efficiency of the substituted guided missile has been proved beyond question of doubt.”

Mr. Northrop said two predominant types of guided missiles will be employed. He described these types as follows:

“The first of these will be a long range winged missile propelled by suitable power plants now in existence and capable of carrying large loads of TNT or any other destructive warhead. The know-how for this missile operating at speeds of approximately 600 mph is presently available and is capable of extension to over 1,000 mph before 1960. It will have sufficient range for launching from Continental United States against any desired target in the Northern Hemisphere, and will be navigated by entirely automatic means.

“Such missiles will largely, if not completely, supplant the long range bomber of the strategic air forces and, all things considered, will deliver a pound of warhead at a lower cost to the country’s economy than has ever been possible with manned aircraft. They will have many advantages over present piloted planes, some of the principal ones being instantaneous mobility, high accuracy, and negligible maintenance costs. Their use will move the focus of military hazard from the cockpit of a bomber to the industrial areas in the heart of the combatant nations.

“Variations of this long range missile may cover most of the reconnaissance and photo missions now undertaken by reconnaissance aircraft.

“The second type of missile predicted for general use will be a ground-to-air interceptor which will almost completely replace manned fighter aircraft. This missile will be much smaller than present fighters, it will be rocket powered, equipped with automatic devices for guidance to its objective, and will constitute the sole effective defense against a mass attack from enemy long range missiles.”