MYSTERY WIRE — Imagine inventing an airplane so far ahead of its time, a powerful billionaire and a man who would become President of the United States would do the unthinkable to take control of your idea, leaving you unable legally to even speak about it.
It happened to a southern California inventor, Bill Horton.
His story was kept secret for 45 years, until 1997 when he finally went public with the events that led to most people never knowing about the Horton Wingless plane.
Bill Horton said he first got the idea for a wingless airplane as a boy. By 1938 he was working for General Motors when he showed his employers plans for the plane.
This is when he met Howard Hughes, who himself was an avid aviator. “He fell in love with the airplane,” Horton said during the 1997 interview. “His big dream was to become the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer. And if this wingless airplane could fly, it could take over aviation.”
Hughes put up $3 million and told Horton to sell stock to raise the rest.
They set up shop at what’s now the John Wayne Airport in southern California to build a prototype. “It took 11,000 hours to build,” Horton said. “Over 3,000 welded joints in it. And it was a steel frame airplane, covered with a fabric skin.”
While Horton called it wingless, some would say it actually had wings. The small wings retracted in and out of the body of the plane. According to Horton, his design was the entire craft was a simple airfoil with vertical fins and utilized all surfaces for lift.
At the time aviation experts discredited the design and declared it would be too unstable to ever fly.
Bill Horton proved them wrong.
After obtaining government permission to make short hops just feet off the runway, the faa approved longer, higher test flights.
Horton did not make these flights alone. The governor of California was on board one of the first flights. Hughes would also fly with Horton.
Hughes liked the idea for the plane so much, that according to Horton, Hughes wanted it for himself.
Hughes declared the plane would no longer be the Horton Wingless.
“He said, ‘Bill, this is my money and it’s gonna be done my way,” Horton said, talking about Howard Hughes. “‘I’m gonna be the boss and it’s gonna be the Hughes Wingless, and you’ll be the chief engineer.’”
Bill Horton told Hughes no.
This is when, according to Horton, Hughes’ friendly partnership took a much different direction.
Hughes’ first attempted to block Horton’s patent application after the Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed interest in the plane. Horton went to Washington, D.C. where he said he was met by Hughes, Richard Nixon, and a couple other men who would take part in physically assaulting him.
“Nixon was trying to persuade me to do it, be sensible, you’ve gotta let Howard run this thing. And when I wouldn’t do it, they had me beat up again, there. Almost killed me.”
Howard Hughes didn’t stop here. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) soon came after Horton for selling stock, which had been done at Hughes’ suggestion.
That investigation ended with Horton being sentenced to prison for 18 months. The judge also issued a permanent injunction that stipulated several things Horton had to adhere to.
Horton’s attorney at the time did say the SEC’s permanent injunction handed down in 1954 included some oddities, including a statement that the plane had no patent pending and that it was incapable of flight.
Horton knew this was not true. Especially since he, Hughes, the California governor, and even FAA inspectors had all flown in the plane.
The injunction also demanded that he never speak publicly about his plane again. The court also ordered the seizure of all wind tunnel and test flight data.
The plane itself made a final flight to McCarran field in Las Vegas.
But the plane would not be seen in museums in the years to come. While Horton was in prison, the airplane was dismantled and its parts destroyed.
Even after prison Horton had to stay quiet about the Wingless. It wasn’t until 1997 when his attorney discovered the injunction only applied if Horton was trying to sell stock.
It meant Horton could once again talk about his design.
In an odd coincidence, Bill Horton is sometimes mistaken for being one of the Horten brothers, who designed a similar designed plane around the same time.
The Horten Brothers, however, were German pilots and airplane builders. Walter and Reimar Horten designed and built what would become known as the flying wing in the early 1940’s for Adolf Hitler’s military.
The design for the flying wing was eventually improved upon in the U.S. by German scientists who came to the states as part of Project Paperclip.
In the U.S. in October of 1947, the Northrop YB-49 flew for the first time. This flying wing design is thought to be the plane behind many UFO reports from this time.
Northrop kept this design in mind with the eventual development of the B-2 stealth bomber, which entered service in the early 1990s.