YB-49 Crash Site

YB-49 in Flight Over the Mojave Desert

Capt. Glen Edwards and Maj. Daniel Forbes - co-pilot and pilot of the No. 2 YB-49 the morning of Saturday, June 5, 1948. Due to the lack of a chase plane, there is no firsthand account of the accident.

Lt. Edward Swindell (far left) was the flight engineer on the YB-49. Lt. Swindell's previous assignment was as a primary team-member on the first-generation X-1.

Spread out over a very large area, the crash site of the YB-49 is comprised of at least two areas of interest: The site of the main impact (above), and the site of one of the wing tips, which broke away from the rest of the aircraft, possibly during the pilot's attempt to gain control of the aircraft.

One of our most interesting discoveries has been the ample evidence of fire before the impact.

We have loosely divided the YB-49 crash site into three areas/categories: Wing Tip, Main, and Other. We are in the process of mapping the entire crash strewn field and will provide a detailed report (except for the exact location) in the near future.

Wing Tip Site

This site, possibly of one of two wing tip impact sites, was first visited by our team in 1991. At that time, many artifacts were to be found, and large panels were plentiful. This site is difficult to find as there is neither road nor bare area to give it away.

We are unsure of the significance of this site as the customary road is absent. It would seem that the size of the wreckage would have required a road for removal, and we refer to it as the wing tip site for lack of a better name.

Many fragments of the airplane were spread out between the two major impact sites. These specimens were collected nearer to the wing-tip impact site.

A substantial piece of aluminum. Unfortunately, this fragment is without any stamps, numbers, or other marks. The back displays fine machining as well as sheared-off rivets.

What we believe to be a component from one of the YB-49's two problematic APUs. A large, complicated piece complete with numbered parts, it appears to be an air intake of some sort. More research is indicated.

Manufacturer's marks are another clue which help us piece together the puzzle. This unique hose fitting still bears its makers name over half a century later.

A small melted fragment about an inch long in situ. Note the flow lines and small pin holes.

An interesting bit of painted aluminum. Both zinc chromate and red paint are present. Red paint is not uncommon among the artifacts we have seen, and it is possible that this color was used in weapons areas.

Main Impact Site

The Main Crash Site lies within a small desert wash several miles northwest of Edwards AFB. This site is an actual crater, bereft of vegetation. Today, it shows evidence of excavation, and still has a very large quanity of "Swindellite" - an aluminum/sand aggregate. The artifacts to be found here are characterized by very small fragments of aluminum (and sometimes other materials) as well as small melt balls. Small pieces displaying marks and paint are still to be found. A wash runs away from the crater, and by following this, one can find more fragments.

Artifacts from the YB 49 crash site are examined in our lab. These fragments were collected from the impact site of the wing tip, which seperated from the aircraft in mid-air, and fell to Earth over two miles away from the primary impact site. Our initial survey of this area occoured in the winter of 1991.

This fragment still displays its attached safety wire.

A small painted frament with inked or painted markings.

This hose clamp was used extensively on the YB-49 (246 pieces, according to the parts manual), and displays many markings. Not only part numbers, but also manufacturer/brand markings: "TYPE QS", "Aero-Sea", "AIRCRAFT STD PARTS CO.", and "Rockford, Ill. USA". Found at the main crash site, it could have been part of the cross feed fuel line that ran through the upper rear of the crew compartment.

While most non metallic items aboard the aircraft were destroyed in the post-crash fire, a few small tell tale fragments have been located. Rubber, glass, fibrous material and even wood fragments have been identified. Pictured are two specimens of fibrous material that survived the crash and fire at the main impact site.

This large artifact displays complex rivetted structure, pristine zinc chromate paint, and numerous inspection stamps and part numbers. Primary inspection leads us to believe that this a trailing edge of an outer wing control surface.

Other Sites

These artifacts come from areas at some distance (in many cases, miles) from the above two main areas. These artifacts are actually the most interesting to us as and are often very surprising.

This substantial fragment was found over a mile away from the main crash site. Fully 1/4 inch thick, it shows damage from fire. Unfortunately, it has no markings of any kind, making its original location on the aircraft all but impossible to determine.

(183K) A 4.5"x8" fragment of thin aluminum found near the main crash site. The piece has been exposed to high temperatures and is actually thicker towards the bottom (especially the bottom left corner). Note the flow lines. The dirt/sand seen on the lower half of the piece was embedded in the metal as it cooled.

A substantial piece of plexiglas that we believe to be from the rear canopy due to its thickness (ie, it appears to be too thin to have been from one of the leading-edge canopies).

This control surface counterweight was violently ripped away from the aircraft. Markings and inspection stamps can be found on many artifacts. These are a great aid in identification.

Small fragments, while they might look insignificant, can shed much light on the events of 5 June 1948. This fragment was found in an area half way between the center section impact site and the left wingtip impact site, over one mile away. This area has been named "The Strewn Field". (We borrow this term from the science of meteoritics. The dynamic forces of entry or reentry cause many meteorites and tektites to distribute themselves over large, mostly elliptical, areas of the Earth. These areas are known as strewn fields.)

The above is one of the most interesting pieces we have found in this area over the years. A part number is clearly displayed on one side "556619". By referencing the USAF YB-49 parts catalog, we discover that this fragment was once a part of an engine access door assembly. These doors were accordion-like folding doors and were to be found on the belly of the ship under each engine. Finding this specimen in the strewn field tells us a couple of things (we are working on the premise that these artifacts have not been transported by man post-crash). First, this piece separated from the rest of the ship while still in the air (this is the case for most of the artifacts in the strewn field). Second, displaying no signs of scorching or melting, this piece escaped the fiery main impact site. We know from the historical record that all eight of the jet engines impacted the ground with the main portion of the aircraft at the center section impact site. We now know as a result of our find that at least a portion of the engine access doors, located proximal to the engines, separated from the ship before impact. This fragmentation was undoubtedly caused by the tremendous aerodynamic forces encountered at altitude during break-up. We can now conclude that not only did the wing tips separate from the YB-49, but the center section also sustained major in-flight structural damage.

A similar fragment , this one displays the part number 594237-243. The parts catalog lists: "Skin and Stringer Installation -- Center wing aft leading edge upper surface LH." Found well over a mile away from the main crash site, it exhibits fire damage, including the permanent incorporation of sand during the cooling process.

A control horn. This interesting piece shows complex welded structure, both red and zinc chromate paint, and a part number and other markings. Oddly, this part number does not appear in the parts catalog (though it may merely be not indexed). However, the "MAC" inspection stamp clearly identifies it as YB-49. A control horn would have been fixed to a control surface, and the whole assembly moved by means of an attached cable assembly.


Flight testing the YB-49 and the early days at Northrop, from Air&Space Magazine.

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