The Delta Wing Makes Its First Flight

September 18, 1948

A first-of-a-kind flight took place in the skies above Muroc Dry Lake (part of present-day Edwards Air Force Base) in the Mojave Desert in southern California. The pioneering jet plane was the Convair XF-92A, which had been designed and built for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) by the aircraft manufacturing company Consolidated Vultee (later renamed Convair).

The XF-92A was the world’s first delta-winged aircraft. The advantages of that triangle-shaped wing design included a reduction in drag for the plane as it soared up into the skies. Another structural and aerodynamic benefit was that this type of wing was comparatively thin yet still retained plenty of sturdiness and stability while the plane was in high-speed flight. This wing was named after the Greek uppercase letter “delta” (Δ) since both the wing and letter closely resemble each other in shape.

Convair Chief Test Pilot Ellis D. ‘Sam’ Shannon

The XF-92A was shipped to Muroc Dry Lake in April 1948. Initially, tests on the aircraft were mostly restricted to taxiing on the ground. The XF-92A was used for a short hop that June, but it wasn’t until September that the plane actually made a bona fide flight well above the earth. Consolidated Vultee test pilot Ellis D. “Sam” Shannon was at the controls for this flight, and he flew the XF-92A for 18 minutes before returning to Muroc Dry Lake.

Over the next nine months, Consolidated Vultee put the XF-92A through numerous other test flights. Finally, in August 1949, the plane was formally handed over to the USAF. The first USAF pilot to fly the XF-92A was none other than Captain Chuck Yeager. The plane was ultimately flown more than 300 times altogether for not only the USAF but also the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), which was the predecessor to NASA.

Despite its innovative features and positive aspects, the XF-92 could still be tough overall to maneuver and made for a high-risk ride. “There was no lineup of pilots for the airplane,” said NACA test pilot Scott Crossfield, who took to the skies in the XF-92A a total of 25 times. “It was a miserable flying beast.”

The XF-92A was grounded permanently when its nose gear collapsed after landing at the end of a flight in October 1953. Nonetheless, the XF-92A earned an honored place in aviation history and helped set the stage for other types of delta-winged aircraft. Footage of the XF-92A even made its way into the 1956 William Holden movie “Toward the Unknown.” The plane can be seen today at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.   

For more information on the Convair XF-92A, please check out https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/195760/convair-xf-92a/ and https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/ellis-d-shannon/.

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