Witteman-Lewis XNBL-1
The Wittemann-Lewis NBL-1 "Barling Bomber" was an experimental long-range, heavy bomber built for the United States Army Air Service
United States Army Air Service
The Air Service, United States Army was a forerunner of the United States Air Force during and after World War I. It was established as an independent but temporary wartime branch of the War Department by two executive orders of President Woodrow Wilson: on May 24, 1918, replacing the Aviation...

 in the early 1920s. Although unsuccessful as a bomber, it was an early attempt at creating a strategic bomber
Strategic bomber
A strategic bomber is a heavy bomber aircraft designed to drop large amounts of ordnance onto a distant target for the purposes of debilitating an enemy's capacity to wage war. Unlike tactical bombers, which are used in the battle zone to attack troops and military equipment, strategic bombers are...


Design and development

Development of the XNBL-1 (Experimental Night Bomber, Long Range) Barling Bomber is generally attributed to Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, who in 1919 discovered Walter H. Barling, who had previously worked for the Royal Aircraft Factory. Mitchell asked Barling to design a bomber capable of carrying enough bombs to sink a battleship. Mitchell's goal was to demonstrate the effectiveness of airpower by sinking a battleship from the air, and needed a large, strategic bomber in order to accomplish this feat. Mitchell projected the cost of two prototype bombers at $375,000. On 15 May 1920, the Army Engineering Division sought bids for the construction of a bomber based on Barling's sketches, with the requirement that it be capable of carrying a 5000 lb (2,268 kg) bomb load, to an altitude of 10000 ft (3,048 m) at a speed of no less than 100 mph (160.9 km/h).

Barling had previously designed the Tarrant Tabor
Tarrant Tabor
- See also :* Witteman-Lewis XNBL-1 - a design by Barling for a similar aircraft for the US Army- External links :* http://avia.russian.ee/air/england/tarrant_tabor.php* http://members.aol.com/wwatrans/unique.htm...

, which was similar in concept but was destroyed in a fatal nose-over crash on its first flight in 1919. The nose-over had probably been caused by the high placement of two of the engines. Like the Tabor, the Barling Bomber was a large six-engined triplane
A triplane is a fixed-wing aircraft equipped with three vertically-stacked wing planes. Tailplanes and canard foreplanes are not normally included in this count, although they may occasionally be.-Design principles:...

 with a cigar-shaped fuselage. Unlike its predecessor, the Barling had all of its engines mounted level with the fuselage. The aircraft used three wings, but was not actually a triplane. More correctly, it was a two-and-a-half wing aircraft. The middle wing had no control surfaces, and was shorter and narrower than the two primary wings. The top and bottom wings had a chord
Chord (aircraft)
In aeronautics, chord refers to the imaginary straight line joining the trailing edge and the center of curvature of the leading edge of the cross-section of an airfoil...

 of 13 in 6 in (4.11 m), and each had a surface area of about 2000 sq ft (185.8 m²). The stabilizer and elevator surfaces were 575 sq ft (53.4 m²) with an 8 ft (2.4 m) chord. The fins and rudders looked like a box kite
Box kite
A box kite is a high-performance kite, noted for developing relatively high lift; it is a type within the family of cellular kites. The typical design has four parallel struts. The box is made rigid with diagonal crossed struts. There are two sails, or ribbons, whose width is about a quarter of the...

, and had a surface area of 250 sq ft (23.2 m²). The undercarriage
The undercarriage or landing gear in aviation, is the structure that supports an aircraft on the ground and allows it to taxi, takeoff and land...

 consisted of 10 wheels, including two wheels mounted towards the front of the aircraft (to prevent a nose-over on takeoff) and a tail skid.

The Engineering Division was forced to use Liberty engines because of an abundant supply of the engines. To power the Barling, four 420 hp Liberty engines were mounted between the lower and middle wings in a tractor arrangement, and an additional two in a pusher position. The gross weight of the bomber was 42,569 lbs. It had a fuel capacity of 2,000 gallons, and carried 181 gallons of oil.

Two pilots set in separate cockpits either side of the fuselage, while a bombardier
Bombardier (air force)
A bombardier , in the United States Army Air Forces and United States Air Force, or a bomb aimer, in the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces, was the crewman of a bomber responsible for assisting the navigator in guiding the plane to a bombing target and releasing the aircraft's bomb...

 sat in the nose. One or two flight engineers sat behind the cockpits to help tend the engines, a first for any aircraft. A radio operator and a navigator were seated next to them.

The Barling was armed with seven .30-caliber Lewis machine guns, which were operated from five stations. The gun stations gave the gunners a field of fire that covered practically the whole area around the bomber. Bomb racks were mounted in an enclosed bomb bay beneath the gasoline tanks. The bomb bay could accommodate any bomb in the air service inventory, including the 2,000- and 4,000-lb bombs that had been designed specifically to sink a battleship. The Barling incorporated bomb bay doors on the bottom of the fuselage, one of the first aircraft to feature such an innovation.


The winning bid for construction of the massive bomber went to the Wittemann-Lewis Company of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey
Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey
Hasbrouck Heights is a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 census, the borough population was 11,842. An inner-ring suburb of New York City, Hasbrouck Heights is located approximately northwest of Midtown Manhattan and west of Upper Manhattan.Hasbrouck Heights was...

. They received a contract to construct two aircraft at a cost of $375,000. At Gen. Mitchell's insistence, Barling was named the chief engineer in charge of the project. His salary and expenses were to be paid by the manufacturer. By the time the aircraft was completed, the cost had risen from $375,000 for two bombers to $525,000 for one. Wittemann-Lewis had to absorb the cost overrun, and went out of business a few months after shipping the completed aircraft to Ohio.

There were only six airfields in the country large enough to accommodate the massive bomber, and after careful consideration the decision was made to base it at Wilbur Wright Field in Fairfield, Ohio
Fairfield, Ohio
Fairfield is a city in Butler County in the U.S. state of Ohio, near Cincinnati. Fairfield was incorporated in 1955. The population was 42,510 at the 2010 census. The city school district is one of the largest in Ohio, with Fairfield High School graduating 842 students in June 2009. Fairfield is...

 because of its close proximity to McCook Field
McCook Field
McCook Field was an airfield and aviation experimentation station operated by the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps and its successor the United States Army Air Service from 1917-1927...

, and its resources. The bomber was shipped by rail to Wilbur Wright Field in Fairfield, Ohio in May 1923. After 94 days of assembly, the aircraft was ready for its maiden flight.

Operational history

On 22 August 1923, the Barling Bomber made its maiden flight from Wilbur Wright Field in Fairfield, Ohio. At the time it was by far the heaviest aircraft in the world, and remains large even by today's standards. On its first flight it was piloted by Lt. Harold R. Harris, and Lt. Muir S. Fairchild, future U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff. The flight engineer was Douglas Culver. Barling flew along as a passenger. Critics had claimed that the bomber would roll all the way to Dayton before it ever took off, but the aircraft became airborne after a 13-second, 960 ft (292.6 m) takeoff run. The flight lasted 28 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,000 ft (609 m).

On 3 October 1924, the aircraft set a duration record of 1 hour 47 mins for an aircraft "with 8,820 lbs (4,000 kgs) useful load". It also set a record in the same class for altitude with 4,470 ft (1,363 m).

Although capable of carrying a 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) bomb load, it was soon discovered that the aircraft was seriously underpowered, and performance was disappointing. The overly complex structure of three wings and their accompanying struts and bracing wires created so much interference drag that the six engines could barely compensate. Fully loaded, the XNBL-1 had a range of only about 170 miles (270 km) with a top speed of 96 mph (155 km/h). In contrast, the "short-range" Martin NBS-1 had a range of about 450 miles (725 km) and could carry a 2,000 lb (900 kg) at the same speed. On a flight from Dayton, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

 to a scheduled appearance at an airshow in Washington, DC, the Barling Bomber failed to fly over the Appalachian Mountains
Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains #Whether the stressed vowel is or ,#Whether the "ch" is pronounced as a fricative or an affricate , and#Whether the final vowel is the monophthong or the diphthong .), often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians...

 and had to turn around.

A problem with water collecting in the aircraft's wings during rain storms necessitated the construction of a special hangar at a cost of $700,000. The hangar was constructed in 1925 at the nearby Fairfield Air Depot.

Although the XNBL-1 was not put into production, it had advanced features such as aluminum fuselage components, adjustable multi-wheel undercarriage, separate compartments for crew, a flight engineer, electrical instruments and advanced engine controls. One unusual feature was that the incidence of the tailplane could be adjusted in flight using a lever in the cockpit. The XNBL-1 was the largest aircraft built in the United States until the Boeing XB-15
Boeing XB-15
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Boniface, Patrick. "Boeing's Forgotten Monster: XB-15 a Giant in Search of a Cause." Air Enthusiast, 79 January–February 1999....

 in 1935.

Frequently characterized by opponents of airpower as "Mitchell’s Folly" (after Brig.-Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, who had championed the project), in 1927, the aircraft was disassembled by Air Service personnel and placed in storage at the Fairfield Air Depot. In 1929, then-Major Henry H. "Hap" Arnold
Henry H. Arnold
Henry Harley "Hap" Arnold was an American general officer holding the grades of General of the Army and later General of the Air Force. Arnold was an aviation pioneer, Chief of the Air Corps , Commanding General of the U.S...

 was assigned as commander of the Fairfield Air Depot. He submitted a Report of Survey to the Office of the Chief of Air Corps, asking permission to salvage parts from the stored bomber, and burn the rest. Several members of Congress still held an interest in the aircraft, and the request was denied. Maj. Arnold then submitted a similar request to burn the "XNBL-1", omitting any mention of the name "Barling". That request was approved, and the bomber was burned at Fairfield in 1930.

Although the Barling Bomber was considered a failure at the time, it led the way in the development of large, strategic bombers. Even Gen. "Hap" Arnold, who ordered it destroyed, later stated "if we look at it without bias, certainly [the Barling] had influence on the development of B-17s... and B-29s."

Surviving Relics

  • One main tire and one nose tire from the bomber are on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
    National Museum of the United States Air Force
    The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the official museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base northeast of Dayton, Ohio. The NMUSAF is the world's largest and oldest military aviation museum with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display...

     in Dayton, Ohio
    Dayton, Ohio
    Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

    . The tire's original B. F. Goodrich marking are still clearly visible. The main tire is nearly 48 in (1.2 m) in diameter.


See also

External links

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