GEAR & TECH

The US beat Russia to the forward-swept wing by a decade

When the Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut took to the skies in 1997, some thought the aircraft, featuring a forward-swept wing, was the future of Russian aviation. Although the Berkut had finally ended its career as a testbed, it wasn't even that groundbreaking. In fact, the United States had flown its forward-swept wing testbed in the 1980s.


The Su-47 taking off. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

That's right, in the era of big hair, when Bon Jovi exploded into prominence and Maverick and Goose graced the silver screen, America had the X-29 in the sky. This plane used the F-5 airframe and had a single F404 engine. In essence, this was the same basic configuration of the F-20 Tigershark.

Northrop F-5E, the basis for the X-29. (USAF photo)

But it wasn't all Tigershark. While the Tigershark was just a modified F-5 and didn't need fancy fly-by-wire systems, the X-29 did. In fact, the X-29 had three fly-by-wire (FBW) computers and three backup computers. Like the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the X-29 was inherently unstable and needed the help of the FBW system to stay in the air. One thing it didn't have: weapons.

The X-29 shows moves that could make it a good dogfighter. (NASA photo)

The X-29 had a top speed of 1,131 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,553 miles. The two X-29 airframes built as part of the program flew for seven years before being retired. One was donated to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the other is at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

This photo shows the No. 2 X-29 technology demonstrator aircraft as it lifts off from the runway at Edwards Air Force base on a 1989 test flight. (NASA photo)

By comparison, the Berkut was based on the Su-27 Flanker. This plane was also initially unarmed, but plans were for production models to carry a full suite of weapons. The Berkut flew from 1997 to the mid-2000s, before the four constructed prototypes were sent off to retirement.

The X-29 in flight, with a good look at the front. (USAF photo)

Learn more about America's nimble testbed in the video below. Tell us, do you think the X-29 could have been a good dogfighter?

 

(Dung Tran | YouTube)