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The B-49 Cancellation - Myth and Reality

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In 2001 a series of articles in Air Force magazine attempted to refute the story of how Northrop lost the B-35 and B-49 flying wing contracts. Senator Symington was an honorable politician and would never make such a demand, it was said. There is no documentary evidence of such a deal. Its all just a story.

But the fact is that employees at Northrop believed the story. Northrop top engineers who personally worked with Northrop certainly knew it to be true. In terms of framing how they acted and what they did, the story was real.

Any study of major defense procurements would find the decisions of neutral source selection boards being overturned as often as not by White House or top-level Pentagon officials. In other words, if the selected source happens to be the same as the politically expedient vendor, then fine. If not, the decision can be overturned due to 'higher considerations'.

The entire defense industry migrates at great expense depending on who is running the armed service or appropriations committees in Congress. Entire factories are built, underutilized, and then sold off as the chairmanship moves around. Everyone in the industry knows that this is how things work. Key acquisition officials (not necessarily in the procurement bureaucracy, but in the uniformed branch) play a key role in selecting a vendor for an aircraft and then in its development. Miraculously, on retirement, they show up in the management of the company that got the contract.

This is the way the world works. But if anyone is looking for memos documenting all this - then, that is not the way the world works.

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