Wittemann-Lewis NBL-1 "Barling Bomber"

The Wittemann-Lewis NBL-1 "Barling Bomber"[1] was an experimental long-range, heavy bomber built for the United States Army Air Service in the early 1920s. Although unsuccessful, it was an early attempt at creating a strategic bomber.On 22 August 1923, the Barling Bomber made its maiden flight from Wilbur Wright Field in Fairfield, Ohio. At the time, it was comparable in size to the German Riesenflugzeug and Italian Caproni Ca.4 heavy bombers and remains large even by today's standards, however it was severely overbuilt and weighed significantly more than other aircraft at the time of a similar size, to the detriment of its performance.

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 (290 m) takeoff run. The flight lasted 28 minutes and reached an altitude of 2,000 ft (610 m).[2][3]

On 3 October 1924, the aircraft set a duration record of 1 hour 47 minutes for an aircraft "with 8,820 lbs (4,000 kgs [sic]) useful load". It also set a record in the same class for altitude with 4,470 ft (1,363 m).[9]

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 drag that the six engines couldn't compensate. Fully loaded, the XNBL-1 had a range of only about 170 mi (270 km) with a top speed of 96 mph (154 km/h). In contrast, the "short-range" Martin NBS-1 had a range of about 450 mi (720 km) and could carry a 2,000 lb (910 kg) payload at the same speed. On a flight from Dayton, Ohio to a scheduled appearance at an airshow in Washington, DC, the Barling Bomber failed to achieve enough height to get over the Appalachian Mountains and had to turn around.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 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.[2][3]

Although the Barling Bomber was a failure, it introduced the use of large strategic bombers to the US military. 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."

One main tire and one nose tire from the bomber are on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The tire's original B. F. Goodrich marking are still clearly visible. The main tire is nearly 48 in (1.2 m) in diameter.