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Grumman X-29: Just a Prototype IRL, Deadly Fighter in Ace Combat

Grumman Aerospace of Long Island, New York was known for plenty of iconic fighter planes among its ranks. But is it possible the very coolest of their designs often gets overlooked? If some of the old gameplay footage from the now-defunct Ace Combat Infinity is anything to go by, the answer is a certified yes.
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The X-29 forward-swept wing prototype was never meant to be much more than a technological demonstrator of what must have seemed like a very forward-thinking design, pun obviously intended. In truth, the forward-swept wing concept had its origins, not with NASA, Grumman, or any American. Instead, it was the brainchild of German engineers just prior to the end of the Second World War.

The Junkers Ju 287 and OKB-1 EF 131 prototypes attempted to judge the benefits of a slightly swept-forward wing system. It was hoped that such a design would have structural and performance advantages over conventional designs. It was thought that a swept-forward wing would lack the need for heavy wing-spar bracing, saving weight and fuel in the process.

In the end, these tests were inconclusive before the end of the war brought the projects to a close. Nearly 40 years later, Grumman would once again test the metal of the forward-swept wing concept.

The X-29, codenamed project G-172 initially would find components from other more standard fighter jets in its construction. The Northrop F-5 would provide the forward fuselage and front landing gear arrangement, for example.

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This would trick some in the press to believe that the X-29 was a direct descendant of the F-5, which isn't the case. Everything behind the forward fuselage was brand new and designed by Grumman's team of engineers. Dubbed X-29 just before flight testing began, the new aircraft was absolutely stunning to behold.

Its 33-degree forward-swept wings were quite unlike any design almost anyone had ever seen before. There was fear before testing had even begun that the aircraft might never make it off the ground. This wasn't an unfounded fear, as the X-29 maintained a center of gravity aft of the aerodynamic center, making it hilariously unstable during flight.

In fact, if not for the triple-redundant digital and analog computers making more than 40 adjustments to aircraft controls per second, the X-29 would simply fall out of the sky like a brick. Powering the craft was a single General Electric F404 afterburning turbojet engine.

The very same is found in the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter and F/A-18 Super Hornet. As clunky and difficult as the design may have seemed, the X-29 became the first forward swept-winged aircraft to reach supersonic speeds in level flight.

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Even so, it was decided that the X-29's wing design didn't have enough of an advantage over contemporary delta-wing designs. The project was retired in 1991, ostensibly banishing it to the pages of history, never to be appreciated again. That was until a small team of game devs from Namco decided the X-29 would be the perfect platform for a new game asset.

The X-29 would feature in full fighter jet configuration in the Ace Combat series of video games, beginning with Ace Combat 2 in 1997. It would appear again in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War on Playstation consoles.

The X-29 became a playable aircraft in the now-defunct Ace Combat Infinity for the Playstation 3 in 2014. Apart from less notable appearences in the Ace Combat: Joint Assault mobile game.

It may be downright silly to see the prototype X-29 in our timeline duke it out with MiG-29s, F-18s and F-14s while armed to the teeth with missiles in Ace Combat. But one thing certainly isn't up for debate, the full-military skins Project Aces decided upon for this plane look certifiably gorgeous. It almost makes us wish the U.S Air Force had taken a chance on the design in our own timeline.

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