NA/Rockwell 70's Stealth: Flying Banana, Silent Attack & Surprise Fighter

overscan (PaulMM)

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27 December 2005
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A project I've never heard of until today, looking through the Rockwell bomber study PDF here:

Concept 4-1 uses stealth technologies developed under Rockwell's Surprise Fighter program. Radar tests of a model of this shape showed virtually no radar return from most directions. The aircraft penetrates at high mach number with its wings fully stowed, leaving only a slab-sided shape with minimal intersections.


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Fig. 4-4 makes me think of the Testors fictional MiG-37 Ferret model kit.
Nuclear Powered Stealth Bombers - what a way to start the day.

Something that is interesting about this document is its declassification date - the end of 1992. For some reason there was a decline in the sensitivity of stealth at that time, and a lot more openness than we've seen since then.
I know a guy who worked on the 4-1 concept.
If I remember correctly, the weapons were internal, and fired straight forward akin torpedo tubes!
No, Darold Cummings. He went on to work on the Rockwell Nova trainer ad was chief configuration designer or the *sigh* YF-23. Good guy.
So finally discovery of Suirprise Fighter was a hint for finding a name of YF-23 Chief Configuration Designer. Woahoo!

Mr. Darold B. Cummings (info from

Mr. Cummings has 38 years experience in aircraft design and development, product design, and education. He retired from Boeing as a Technical Fellow in 2004, and started The Center for Innovation, which focuses on presenting Creativity Workshops to the industry, universities, and government agencies. He holds twenty four patents in a variety of fields. In addition to his experience in the United States, Mr. Cummings has worked with Dasa and RFB in Germany, Bae in England, Aermacchi and General Avia in Italy, and Promavia in Belgium. He has also worked with both Mikoyan and Yakovlev (in the U.S.) on the development of requirements for their new jet trainer aircraft. Mr. Cummings last position at Boeing was manager of the Exploratory Concepts Group within Advanced Design/Phantom Works in Huntington Beach, California.

Mr. Cummings was a configuration designer at Boeing (Heritage Rockwell) from 1967-1982. During that time he worked on the B-1, early Stealth aircraft, AFTI, and Low-cost Fighter designs. In 1978 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Next Generation Trainer (NGT) program. In 1988 he joined Northrop Corporation as the Chief Configuration Designer for the YF-23 Fighter Program. He was also the Chief Designer for the Northrop Multi-role Fighter and CAS-X projects. In 1988 he rejoined Boeing (heritage Rockwell) as the Chief Engineer/Chief Designer of the Ranger 2000 Jet Trainer Program, with responsibility for designing and building three prototype aircraft for the USAF/USN fly-off competition. In 1996 he led the team to develop the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) Flight Demonstration Aircraft, which flew successfully in August of 1998. From 1998 to 2004, Mr. Cummings worked on UAV and Deep Strike Aircraft projects. His last Boeing project was to develop a flying car concept for Dr. Robert Krieger, president of the Phantom Works. A subscale flying prototype was developed, and is on display at the Seattle Museum of Flight.

Mr. Cummings has also been a member of the Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo, Industry Advisory board for twenty years, and has assisted the student AIAA design teams for the past ten years. Professor David Hall at Cal Poly and Mr. Cummings are writing an aircraft design textbook, which they plan on publishing in 2007. Mr. Cummings is a current member of AIAA.

Mr. Cummings most interesting hobby is designing, building, and riding land speed record motorcycles. He currently holds 12 World Land Speed records, all set at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.


B.S., Industrial Design, California State University, Long Beach, 1967

Security Clearance:



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That's the guy :)
I'll see if I have anything on the surprise fighter.
Please don't forget of ITAR meantime...
flateric said:
Please don't forget of ITAR meantime...

how could I? My company makes me attend an ITAR seminar pretty much every other day... :eek:

I don't want to divert the subject of this thread, suffice to say that ITAR is taken VERY seriously by all the aerospace companies. I don't even work in the same building as the other engineers, and my work email address has a (foreign) attached to it. There are a bunch of other examples. Some make sense, but there are others that are borderline ridiculous.

I hope you never have to hear those cursed words! :)
The pictures represent early attempts at designing stealth attack aircraft in the early seventies. The mission was to attack an SA-2 site.
The "Flying banana" and the "silent attack aircraft" are from North american, the surprise fighter is from Rockwell.
All vehicle incorporated FLIR and some sort of plug in the exhaust to prevent line of sight to the hot section. The surprise fighter was interesting in having pivoted wings which disappeared under the fuselage. I can only assume that penetration would occur at low altitude and high speed, and body lift was all that was needed. There is at least another later Rockwell bomber that relied on this concept, although in that case the design had a one piece oblique-wing hinged at the center as opposed to two variable geometry semi-wings. weapon launch in the Rockwell fighter was through a system similar to torpedo tubes. Exhaust doors at the back would open at the time of launch.


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That Rockwell design is interesting as it would appear to be applying basic faceting similar to what we saw in Northrop's XST design.
Francesco, this is just fantastic. Thank you for sharing these discoveries.
If you felt like sharing a higher res scan of any or all of them, I'm sure some of my modeller friends would appreciate it. ;)
The pics I posted are taken from an aircraft design textbook that my old design teacher at CalPoly has been writing for the past eight years. The 'flying banana' and the 'night attack fighter' (I think he called it the 'Seagull') were some of the first things they put him to work on when they hired him at NA, Columbus. The pictures are taken from old low quality scans that were re-traced for clarity in some cases, hence the poor quality.
Same thing pretty much for the Rockwell design. The designer in that case was Darold Cummings (later did Rockwell's NGT, and was chief designer on YF-23)
It is interesting to note the different approaches. Faceting in the Surprise fighter, and continuous blending in the other two. The Seagull's semi-wingspan is exactly a multiple of the wavelength of the SA-2 acquisition radar, IIRC, and care was taken to reduce IR signature.
If someone is interested i can send you the selected pdf pages these were taken from. You might be able to extract something of a little bit better quality.

Do count me in. The flying banana reminds me of one of Barnes Wallis's later designs. Does the scallop wings reduce RCS?
I got in touch with Dave Hall, the designer of the North American concepts. He gave me some more details on the history of those designs:

"My job as a configurator on that very first of the contractor stealth studies was to let shaping fall out from simultaneously minimizing four signatures and it had absolutely nothing to do with whether anyone could ever build it full size. In fact, the chief engineer asked a year or two after I designed it to put an augmenter in the wing. Would've required curved hinges... In fact, the same is pretty much true of the flying banana. I took a shot at finishing it about five years ago and gave up trying to put structure into it."

unsurprising, given the fact that there are no straight lines anywhere to put decent flat structures. Even these days, with composites, you'd have a hard time. Funny that the Seagull had acceptable aerodynamics and poor structures, while Have Blue had acceptable structural challenges but impossible aerodynamics.
For those who expressed interest in talking to the chap, i will email his personal address.
A worthy challenge for a first foray into 3D NURBS modeling via Rhino. If this works out, expect to eventually see it translated into 1/72 scale via stereolithography...

Last night I had an idea, that the wings on your 3D-modell would morph during different flight paterns. :)
Length: 33.3ft (400in)
Height: 7.75ft (93in)
Span: 25.8ft (310in) wings deployed
TOGW: 13,500lb
Fuel: 3240lb
Engine: 71.5% scaled STF 354A-20 turbofan, nozzle and afterburner removed, fixed convergent nozzle with IR suppressor.
Armament: 2 long range missiles in internal bay.
Is that a infrared search and track turret on top of the Surprise Fighter? Looks cool anyway :)
Orionblamblam said:
SteveO said:
Is that a infrared search and track turret on top of the Surprise Fighter?

Naw. That's part of the siren, to tell drunken Soviet Tu-95 pilots to pull over.
:D That would be a surprise!

So, was the Surprise fighter project similar in concept to the German Lampyridae project? A small low observable interceptor to take out high value/highly defended airborne targets like AWACS.
SteveO said:
So, was the Surprise fighter project similar in concept to the German Lampyridae project? A small low observable interceptor to take out high value/highly defended airborne targets like AWACS.

Exactly. Wouldn't really work worth a damn in a dogfight, but against an AWACS or some similar lumbering monstrocity, the surprise fighter would be quite effective.
How fast would the Rockwell ''Surprise Fighter'' have go with it's wings swept all the way back?

I wonder if the NA ''silent night attack fighter'' is in any way related to the Boeing Bird of Prey?
SteveO said:
How fast would the Rockwell ''Surprise Fighter'' have go with it's wings swept all the way back?

I wonder if the NA ''silent night attack fighter'' is in any way related to the Boeing Bird of Prey?

if you are flying fast and low, the dynamic pressure is such that you need very little wing area. I doubt you could pull that stunt at high altitudes.
IMHO, I don't think BOP and the silent attack fighter are related. The wing with dihedral/anhedral is probably just a convenient way to get some projected vertical area for control surfaces without having to use an actual fin or other corner reflectors (very bad for signature).

In both cases the front of the fuselage must provide some lift, which must be a nightmare to design for.
I be impressed. :eek:

Wish the Rhino folks would finish their Mac port...

In the digital realm--have you prototyped anything with other than stereolithography? 3D printer, for example?
overscan said:
Rockwell Surprise Fighter, thanks to Aerofranz and Dave Hall.

I wasn't aware of these Rockwell designs before, but the thing that struck me right away on seeing this "Surprise Fighter" was the similarity in profile view with an earlier Rockwell-related design, the so-called "Ultra Sabre" or YF-107A...


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From Darold Cummings:

"I came across a large folder with Surprise Fighter photos! These include black and white shop fabrication shots, and color pole-testing shots. Items of interest:

1. On the color proof sheet, note the mock-up of an engine fan face! This was used in the pole-test model.
2. Based on my memory, and the black and white shop photos, I think the pole model was about 12 feet long.
3. Notice the two pole-model versions: The swing wing model (no wing shows!), and the fixed wing version. I also drew the fixed wing version, but these drawings have long gone missing.
4. Notice the test was done in a very public area! Anyone could drive by and take pictures! The test was in a vacant lot on Rockwell Property, south of Imperial Avenue, and west of Aviation Blvd!"


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Cutting up the contact sheets. Quick edits to remove worst of the dust/scratches. Would be easier with a higher res scan :)


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Nice pics, thanks for sharing!

Anyone know if the Surprise Fighter had over roles envisaged apart from taking out AWACS? Were recon and SEAD considered?
SteveO said:
Nice pics, thanks for sharing!

Anyone know if the Surprise Fighter had over roles envisaged apart from taking out AWACS? Were recon and SEAD considered?

I think the AWACS role was speculation - Aerofranz's initial post mentioned SEAD (attacking SA-2 sites).
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