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In 1916, while working for the Loughead Aircraft Company (later Lockheed), Jack Northrop co-invented a process for making monoplane fuselages and helped design the F-1 flying boat. He became chief engineer at Lockheed in 1927 and built the Vega monoplane.

Jack Northrop (1895-1981) was employed by United Aircraft and Transport Corporation. All went well until United decided Northrop should leave Burbank and join another United division. He remained in California to form a new company. In July 1929 Jack Northrop formed Northrop Aircraft Corp, as a division of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation and built the Alpha (first flown 1930), first all-metal stressed skin airplane, followed by the Beta 300 hp aircraft of 1931, first to exceed 200mph (322kmh).

New Northrop Corporation founded after split with United Aircraft and Transport Corporation, with Douglas Aircraft holding a majority shareholding.

Producing the Gamma high-speed mailplane in 1933 and other types. Northrop Corporation absorbed into Douglas 1937, and new independent Northrop Aircraft Inc established 1939 to concentrate on military projects, including the A-17 attack-bomber and P-61 Black Widow three-seat, twin-boom night fighter, first aircraft in this category to be ordered by USAAF. Northrop experiments with the tailless XP-56 interceptor led to a number of postwar flying-wing projects, culminating in eight jet engined YB-49 flying-wing bomber of 1947. The F-89 Scorpion all-weather fighter entered production two years later, serving USAF and Air National Guard Units until 1963.

Extending its activities into other fields, the company changed its name to Northrop Corporation in the year 1959. In May 1994 Grumman and Northrop merged to form Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Northrop's final pre-merger production aircraft included the F-5E/F Tiger II lightweight tactical jet fighter/fighter trainer, developed with U.S. Government funding mainly for export as International Fighter Aircraft (first F-5E flown August 1972), derived from the 1959 N-156 prototype and early production F-5A/B Freedom Fighters built for supply under Military Assistance Programs. The T-38 Talon two-seat advanced trainer variant of N-156 for the USAF (first flown April 1959) went out of production in 1972 after 1,187 had been built, but these are being modernized to T-38C standard for redelivery from 1999 by Northrop Grumman. Northrop developed the YF-17 Cobra for competition against the Lockheed YF-16 for the USAF's Lightweight Fighter Program, but lost and became principal subcontractor to McDonnell Douglas on a proposed carrier borne naval fighter derivative. This eventually entered production as the carrier- and land-based F/A-18 Hornet. Finally developed the B-2 Spirit subsonic strategic stealth bomber (first flown July 1989) for the USAF.
Two of the five main divisions of Northrop Grumman Corporation were Commercial Aircraft, to construct aerostructures and components for the commercial aircraft of other companies and engines, and Military Aircraft Systems, working on B-2 and all other Northrop Grumman aircraft production and modernization programs, and principal subcontractor to Boeing on Hornet. Delivered 21 B-2A Spirit stealth bombers, achieving initial operational capability with the USAF in April 1997 and full capability with the 715th Bomb Squadron in 1999. Undertakes F-5/T-38 modernization, F-14 work, EA-6B Prowler remanufacturing, production of E-2C Hawkeye in latest Hawkeye 2000 form (first flown April 1998; see Grumman entry for earlier development and production of E-2), and production of E-8C Joint STARS as joint USAF and U.S. Army co-operation program for an airborne surveillance and target acquisition system (first flown August 1995 for first production E-8C).

In 2000, Northrop Grumman is to sell its commercial aerostructures arm to the Carlyle Group for $1.2bn. NG was planning to specialise in the defence electronics and IT industries and its aerostructures business, which manufactures subassemblies for Boeing commercial aircraft, the C-17 and Gulfstream V, no longer fits the bill. Carlyle will rename the Dallas, Texas-based company Vought Aircraft and NG will reorganise its Integrated Systems and Aerostructures sector into the Integrated Systems Sector. NG, which recently acquired Comptek Reseach, has also cited expected decline in Boeing production schedules as one of the reasons for the sale. The Carlyle Group, however, has been active in the aero-manufacturing sector having purchased Textron’s aerostructures unit four years previous and buying out Gemini Air Cargo in 1999.



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