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The Flying Wing: What Happened to It?

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KCET is celebrating its 50th anniversary year with a series of stories, reflections, and flashbacks, like this throwback below. For more and to participate in our next 50 years, join us at kcet.org/50.

I worked as a production assistant for a news show back in 1982. It was called "KCET Newsbeat with Clete Roberts," and the show would end up being Clete's last one before his death. The man was an "old school" journalist, and he was fascinating to work with. If you are a fan of the show "M*A*S*H," you may remember an episode called "The Interview" in which Clete played the reporter who comes to the 4077 and interviews the different cast members about what their life in Korea was like. In that show he basically played himself, and his career as a war journalist was not a fake.

I would be sitting at my desk at work and he would be sitting in the chair in front of it, waiting for a call from the sound stage that they were ready to tape the next show. He would tell us about his days as a war correspondent during WWII. It was fascinating stuff.

One of the things he did in the late 70's was interview Jack Northrup, shortly before Northrup's death. The show was called "The Flying Wing: What Happened To It?" Back in 1949, Northrup built a plane that was wing-shaped and could fly undetected by radar. But instead of commissioning the plane, the government made the thing "disappear." Northrup had never understood why his plane was not allowed to be produced, and in this show, his final interview, he and Clete discussed this. Watching the show, you could tell that Clete, an airplane enthusiast, was equally baffled about how the Northrup's plane had been relegated to obscurity.

Jack and Clete both passed away within a few years of the taping of this show, and the mystery remained... that is until the B2 Stealth Bomber showed up in the United States' military arsenal. It was wing shaped, could not be seen by radar, and it was a totally new idea.

... Well, not quite.

This interview show was from one of KCET's many news programs -- in this case, "28 Tonight." This story was especially meaningful to a city that was and is still tied to the aerospace industry.

By the way, the photo at the top, was taken at the Air and Space Museum's second building. When my family visited the large facility on the Dulles Airport property, called the Udvar-Hazy Center, we found out that it contains many aircraft that won't fit at their main facility on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. One of the things on display, along with aircraft like the SR71 Blackbird, was the first Flying Wing.

I couldn't believe it had finally been brought to its rightful place in the history of aircraft. I was so proud of it and of a show that we produced. The airing of that show may have played a small part in keeping it in the public eye, just long enough to be remembered.

This is another in a series of posts in which Cathy Bower, KCET's Broadcast Operations Coordinator, looks back at some interesting moments and events during the station's 50 years on the air. Read more posts here.

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