North American XAJ-1 Savage

Last revised December 12, 2001

The North American AJ Savage was originally built for the US Navy as a carrier-based strategic bomber.

On August 13, 1945, only a week after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Navy initiated a design competition for a carrier-based attack aircraft that would be capable of delivering a 10,000 pound payload, which happened to be the weight of the plutonium-based "Fat Man" Nagasaki bomb.

The North American Aviation entry in the contest (company designation NA-146) was a large high-winged aircraft with a wingspan of more than 71 feet and a length of 63 feet. It was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-2800-44W air-cooled radial engines mounted in wing nacelles, each of which drove a large, four-bladed propeller. An Allison-built General Electric J33 turbojet was mounted in the rear fuselage. This jet engine was intended to be used during takeoff, for high-speed dash capability over the target, as well as in the event of failure of one of the piston engines. The air intake for the jet engine was located just ahead of the vertical fin. The intake was covered by a door that was opened during operation. The jet exhaust was located on the bottom of the rear fuselage beneath the vertical stabilizer. The crew of two sat side-by-side underneath a framless bubble canopy that slid to the rear for entry and exit. No armament was provided, the aircraft relying on its high performance to avoid interception.

The main landing gear members each had two wheels and were attached to the engine nacelles, and retracted rearward into wells in the rear of the nacelles. The nose gear had a single tire and retracted to the rear for stowage in a nose well. The carrier arrester hook was attached to the bottom of the tail, to the rear of the jet engine exhaust.

At first, it seemed that the AJ Savage program might never come to fruition.  The US Air Force was established as a separate and independent service in September of 1947. Almost immediately, the new USAF got itself involved in an interservice rivalry with the US Navy over the roles that each would play in providing a nuclear deterrent in the Cold War, which was at that time just beginning. The USAF naturally thought that nuclear deterrence was strictly their responsibility, which they were to provide via a fleet of B-29, B-50, and B-36 long-range strategic bombers. The Navy, fearful that they were going to lose out in this competition, proposed a fleet of carrier-based nuclear strike aircraft.

The Air Force bitterly opposed the Navy's program for a carrier-based strategic bombers, and the late 1940s saw some rather bitter controversies over the relative roles of the two services.  After much debate, in 1948, Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal and the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced an agreement under which the USAF would have the primary responsibility for delivering nuclear weapons, but the Navy would be allowed to continue with the development of its own nuclear strike force.

On June 24, 1946, the Navy ordered three prototypes under the designation XAJ-1 Twelve production aircraft were ordered on October 6, 1947. The aircraft was assigned the name Savage. 28 more were ordered in May of 1948.

The first prototype was rolled out of the factory in June of 1948, and took off on its maiden flight on July 3, 1948, test pilot Bob Chilton being at the controls. The test flight program was not without problems--the second and third aircraft were both lost in accidents due to structural failures.

Serial Numbers of North American XAJ-1 Savage

121460/121462		North American XAJ-1 Savage
				c/n 146-38429/38431


  1. American Combat Planes, 3rd Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, GordonSwanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  3. North American Aircraft 1934-1999, Volume 2, Kevin Thompson, Narkiewicz//Thompson, 1999.