By William Pearce
On 20 February 1940, the Army Air Corps (AAC) issued Request for Data R40-C that sought designs of new fighter aircraft capable of 450 mph (724 km/h), with 525 mph (845 km/h) listed as desirable. The AAC encouraged aircraft manufacturers to propose unconventional designs. The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation proposed four variants of its highly-streamlined Model 1 (often called Model I), the company’s first design. Each of the four Model 1 variants were powered by a different engine, and all the engines produced over 2,000 hp (1,491 kW). The Model 1’s engine was buried in the fuselage and drove wing-mounted pusher propellers via extensions shafts and right-angle gear boxes. Although not selected for R40-C, the AAC did purchase engineering data and a wind tunnel model of the design powered by an Allison V-4320 engine.
McDonnell worked with the AAC to refine the Model 1 design and submitted the Model 2 (often called Model II) on 30 June 1940. The Model 2 had a crew of two, and two wing-mounted Continental XI-1430 engines replaced the single engine in the fuselage. The aircraft retained the basic shape of the Model 1’s fuselage and wings, but the engines were initially mounted directly under the wings in a tractor configuration. The engine mounting was changed as a result of wind tunnel tests. The new configuration was to mount the engine forward of the wing with a nacelle that housed a turbosupercharger extending back past the wing’s trailing edge. The nacelle was mounted mid-wing, and this design minimized drag. To further reduce drag, the Model 2 design was modified to incorporate fairings that blended the fuselage and engine nacelles to the wings. In addition, the design had the pilot as the sole occupant. The single-seat, blended design was called the Model 2A (often called Model IIA), and it was submitted to the AAC on 24 April 1941.
On 5 May 1941, McDonnell submitted preliminary specifications of the Model 2A to the AAC. Under these specifications, the aircraft had a wingspan of 55 ft (16.8 m), a length of 42 ft 3 in (12.9 m), and a height of 14 ft 9 in (4.5 m). The Model 2A had a calculated speed of 500 mph (805 km/h) at 35,000 ft (10,668 km), 472 mph (760 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,620 m), and 384 mph (618 km) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m). The aircraft would climb to 25,000 ft (7,620 m) in 9 minutes and have a service ceiling of 41,500 ft (12,649 m). At a cruising speed of 316 mph (509 km/h), maximum range was 2,400 miles (3,862 km) with 760 gallons (2,877 L) of internal fuel. The Model 2A had an empty weight of 13,953 lb (6,329 kg), a gross weight of 18,600 lb (8,437 kg), and a maximum weight of 21,480 lb (9,743 kg).
McDonnell continued to work with the AAC to refine the design of the Model 2A. On 30 September 1941, the Army Air Force (AAF—the AAC was renamed in June 1941) issued a contract to McDonnell to build two prototypes of the Model 2A interceptor pursuit fighter as the XP-67. The aircraft was assigned Materiel Experimental code MX-127. The first aircraft was scheduled to be delivered on 29 April 1943, with the second example delivered six months later on 29 October 1943. The XP-67 had a fairly conventional layout for a single-seat, twin-engine aircraft with tricycle undercarriage. What was not conventional was the extensive blending of the fuselage and engines nacelles to the aircraft’s wings to maintain true airfoil sections throughout the entire aircraft. The end result was a streamlined appearance.
The XP-67 was constructed of an aluminum frame with aluminum skin that formed a monocoque structure. All control surfaces consisted of a fabric covered aluminum frame, although aluminum skinning was later proposed for production aircraft. Effort was expended to keep the XP-67’s surface smooth and make everything flush. Initially, a door on the left side of the pressurized cockpit was to allow access. However, pressurization was dropped on the prototype, and a glazed, rearward-sliding canopy was used.
The wings had two spars, a dihedral of five degrees, and consisted of inner and outer wing sections. The outer wing section extended from the engine nacelle and was removable. Split flaps were located between the nacelle and fuselage. A small split flap existed on the outer side of the engine nacelle. The outer wing section’s trailing edge was occupied by an aileron. The ailerons drooped 15 degrees with deployment of the flaps, which had a maximum deployment of 45 degrees. However, it does not appear that the drooping ailerons were ever installed on the prototype. No hardpoints existed under the wings for bombs or drop tanks.
Mounted to each wing was a liquid-cooled, Continental XI-1430 inverted V-12 engine. Initially, clockwise-rotating (right-handed) XI-1430-1 engines were to be used. In June 1942, the engines were switched to an XI-1430-17 installed on the right wing (clockwise, right-handed rotation) and an XI-1430-19 installed on the left wing (counterclockwise, left-handed rotation). Each engine of the first prototype turned a cuffed, four-blade Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller that was 10 ft 6 in (3.2 m) in diameter. However, the cuffs were installed after the first aircraft was completed. In April 1943, McDonnell proposed installing Curtiss Electric contra-rotating propellers on the second XP-67 prototype, noting that such a change would increase the aircraft’s speed by 7–10 mph (11–16 km/h) and climb rate by 400 fpm (2.0 m/s).
The engine nacelle extended back from each engine and housed a General Electric D-23 turbosupercharger. Engine exhaust was directed straight back from the nacelle to gain some thrust. Initially, it was proposed that each engine would have a coolant radiator located in the fuselage. This was changed to each engine having two coolant radiators housed in the engine nacelle and located directly under the rear of the engine. The engine nacelles were blended into the wing, and several intakes were incorporated into the wing’s leading edge. For both engine nacelles, the intakes closest to the nacelle passed air to a cooling jacket around the exhaust manifold. The center intake directed air through the two coolant radiators per engine and to the turbosupercharger. The intakes farthest from the engine each led to an oil cooler.
An oil tank in each wing held 26 gallons (98 L) for each engine. The aircraft’s normal fuel load was 282 gallons (1,067 L), but 478 gallons (1,809 L) of additional fuel could be housed in the aircraft’s four fuel tanks located in the fuselage and wing. This brought the XP-67’s total fuel capacity to 760 gallons (2,877 L). The aircraft’s tricycle landing gear was hydraulically-powered and fully retractable. The nose wheel was swiveled, but was not steerable, and folded back into the fuselage. The main gear was mounted just inboard of the engine nacelles and folded inward. In early 1942, the AAF requested that the main gear fold into the engine nacelle, necessitating a complete redesign of the nacelles to accommodate the rearward retracting main wheels. The horizontal stabilizer had 9.55 degrees of dihedral and was mid-mounted to the aircraft’s vertical stabilizer. Like the outer wing panels, the tail was detachable for transporting the aircraft by ground. The XP-67 airframe was stressed for +8 and -4 Gs and had a diving limit of 604 mph (972 km/h) indicated.
The XP-67’s armament changed as the aircraft was developed. Initially, the aircraft would have four 20 mm cannons with 166 rounds per gun and six .50-cal machine guns with 500 rounds per gun. The cannons would be installed on the sides of the cockpit, just behind the pilot. The machine guns were to be installed just behind the cannons. On 5 August 1941, the AAF requested that two 37 mm cannons be installed in place of two 20 mm cannons. By 16 August, the armament was revised again to six 37 mm cannons with 45 rounds per gun and no other guns. The 37 mm cannons were installed in the blended-wing’s leading edge between the cockpit and engine nacelle. The three cannons on each side of the fuselage were outside of the propeller arc. On 20 October, it was suggested that the aircraft’s design should incorporate provisions to replace four of the 37 mm cannons with four 20 mm cannons. On 8 November, it was decided that the first aircraft would have six 37 mm cannons, and the second aircraft would have two 37 mm and four 20 mm cannons.
Extensive wind tunnel tests were conducted on various XP-67 models throughout 1942 and 1943. These tests led to many minor changes in the aircraft. Much of this testing was focused on the extensive fairing used to blend the wing and fuselage. The cooling system was also carefully scrutinized with many minor changes taking place to the cooling ducts. A full-size mockup of the XP-67 was inspected in mid-April 1942, which led to more changes. The most significant changes were lengthening the aircraft’s nose by 15 in (381 mm) and changing the flight control actuation system from push-pull rods to cables. In May, a fuselage section was built to test fire the 37 mm cannons. The tests proved satisfactory, but McDonnell redesigned the 37 mm cannon installation in October, necessitating another mockup and more tests. The new 37mm cannon installation mockup successfully passed its tests in March 1944, but the armament was never installed in the prototype. On 17 June 1942, the decision was made to finish the prototype without a pressurized cockpit. In April 1943, there were discussions of cancelling the XP-67, but the aircraft was seen as a good way to test the experimental wing blending, cannon armament, and XI-1430 engines.
McDonnell had built a full-scale XP-67 engine nacelle for testing the XI-1430 engine installation. Tests were conducted by McDonnell starting in May 1943. After accumulating almost 27 hours of operation, the rig was sent to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (LMAL, now Langley Research Center) in Virginia. The NACA added about 17.5 hours to the engine conducting tests in August and September to analyze the installation’s effectiveness for cooling the coolant, oil, and intercooler. The tests indicated that the cooling system was insufficient. The nacelle with revised ducts was then shipped to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio in October 1943. Wright field added another 6.5 hours to the engine, bringing the total to 51 hours. The new ducts proved satisfactory, reducing the drag of the ducts by 25 percent and improving cooling by 200 percent. However, excessive vibrations occurred between the engine and its mounting structure, necessitating a more rigid mount. McDonnell was allowed to proceeded with testing the first XP-67, although the prototype would not be changed until after its first flight when additional changes beyond the cooling system would most likely need to take place. Wind tunnel tests had indicated that the horizontal stabilizer would need to be raised by 12 in (305 mm) to improve stability. McDonnell was instructed to stop work on the second prototype until successful flight tests of the first aircraft had been conducted.
Serial number 42-11677 was given to the first XP-67, and serial number 42-11678 was given to the second prototype. Unofficially, the XP-67 was given the name ‘Moonbat’ or just ‘Bat,’ but it does not appear that an official name was ever bestowed upon the aircraft. With all the design changes since the XP-67 was initially contracted, the aircraft’s specifications had changed. The wingspan remained at 55 ft (16.8 m), but the length increased 2 ft 6 in (.8 m) to 44 ft 9 in (13.6 m), and the height increased 1 ft (.3 m) to 15 ft 9 in (4.8 m). The standard fuel load remained at 280 gallons (1,060 L), but the additional fuel load decreased by 25 gallons (95 L) to 455 gallons (1,722 L), giving a total maximum internal fuel load of 735 gallons (2,782 L). The XP-67’s weight had increased by 3,792 lb (1,720 kg), resulting in an empty weight of 17,745 lb (8,049 kg), a gross weight of 22,114 lb (10,031 kg), and a maximum weight of 24,836 lb (11,265 kg). A reduction in performance accompanied the weight increase, resulting in an estimated speed of 448 mph (720 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,620 m), which was a 24 mph (39 km/h) reduction, and 367 mph (591 km/h) at sea level. The time to climb to 25,000 ft (7,620 m) was increased by nearly five minutes to 14.8 minutes, and the service ceiling decreased 4,100 ft (1,250 m) to 37,400 ft (11,400 m). The XP-67’s cruising speed decreased 46 mph (74 km/h) to 270 mph (435 km/h), but maximum range was little changed at 2,385 miles (3,838 km) with 735 gallons (2,782 L) of fuel.
On 1 December 1943, the XP-67 had its XI-1430 engines installed and was ready for ground tests. However, both engines caught fire and damaged the aircraft on 8 December. The fires were caused by issues with the exhaust manifolds. The XP-67 was repaired and made its first flight on 6 January 1944, taking off from Scott Field in Belleville, Illinois. The flight was nearly two years later than the anticipated first flight when the XP-67 contract was originally issued. Test pilot Ed E. Elliott had to cut the flight to just six minutes due to both turbosuperchargers overheating, which resulted in small fires. During the short flight, the XP-67 exhibited good handling characteristics.
The aircraft was again repaired, with the second and third flights occurring on 26 and 28 January 1944. On 1 February, the aircraft’s fourth flight was cut short due to a main bearing failure on the left engine caused by an unintentional overspeed of the engine. The cockpit canopy also detached during the flight. While the XP-67 was down for repairs and new XI-1430 engines, the horizontal stabilizer was raised 12 in (305 mm). The cooling ducts in the engine nacelles were also modified, with the most noticeable being the exhaust shroud inlet, which was changed to more of a scoop. The updated aircraft flew again on 23 March 1944 and demonstrated improved stability, but one turbosupercharger failed at 10,000 ft (3,048 m).
In April 1944, it was reported that the engines were running too cool. The closed main gear door formed part of the air duct aft of the radiator. However, the gear doors did not seal tightly and caused an excessive amount of air to exit the duct. This resulted in too much air passing through the radiator and reducing the engine temperature below ideal levels. McDonnell was allowed to install a thermostat on the prototype to help control coolant temperatures but was also told that such issues would not be acceptable on production aircraft. Around this same time, construction of the second prototype was allowed to proceed with the exception of parts that would be affected by an engine change.
In May 1944, three AAF pilots flew the XP-67 and reported that the XI-1430 engines ran rough and seemed underpowered. Tests indicated that at normal power, the engines were only delivering 1,060 hp (790 kW), well below the expected 1,350 hp (1,007 kW). The XP-67 was noted for having high control forces at high speeds, exhibiting a Dutch roll indicating some directional instability, and not making a good gun platform. The maximum speed with the engines delivering 1,600 hp (1,193 kW) at 3,200 rpm was 357 mph (574 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3,048 m) and 393 mph (632 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m). From these values and other tests, McDonnell calculated that the XP-67 could attain 405 mph (652 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,620 m) at the same power setting. Takeoff speed was 130 mph (209 km/h); the clean stall speed was 118 mph (190 km/h) with buffeting starting at 140 mph (225 km/h); and the aircraft had a high landing speed of 120 mph (193 km/h). In general, the XP-67 was found to be inferior to other fighters currently in production.
McDonnell got permission to install contra-rotating propellers on the first prototype when the engines were ready, and they were expected in June 1944. No information has been found indicating that the contra-rotating versions of the XI-1430 were delivered. In June, it was decided to install 11 ft (3.4 m) diameter four-blade Aeroproducts propellers rather than contra-rotating propellers. However, tests would continue with the Curtiss propellers until the Aeroproducts were ready. It was also noted that the XP-67 had experienced no engine fires since its fourth flight, and the aircraft had completed about 50 flights without any serious issues.
In July 1944, some in the AAF felt that the XP-67 program was expensive and served no purpose. However, others felt that the aircraft was a unique platform that would allow the testing of the six 37 mm cannons. In addition, the possibility existed to install 12 .50-cal machine guns or eight 20 mm cannons. The aircraft was seen as a good test machine, even if its performance fell below what was originally specified. It was decided to complete tests on the current aircraft to assess the blended design and then consider the possibility of armament trials.
McDonnell had long sought to change the aircraft’s engines. On 19 January 1944, McDonnell proposed discarding the XI-1430s for the second prototype and using either two-stage Allison V-1710 or Rolls-Royce Merlin RM 14SM (100-series prototype) piston engines. In addition, each engine nacelle would house a Westinghouse 9.5 (J32) turbojet behind the piston engine. The mixed-power proposal was brought up again on 16 March 1944, now using an Allison V-1710-199 (F32R) piston engine and either a Rolls-Royce W2B/37 turbojet or a GE I-20 (J39) turbojet in the nacelle. With mixed power plants, the aircraft had an estimated top speed at sea level of 500 mph (805 km/h). The engine issue was discussed again in July 1944, with McDonnell now suggesting a Rolls-Royce Merlin RM 14SM piston engine paired with a GE I-20 (J39) turbojet in each nacelle. However, AAF felt that the aircraft would need a complete redesign to incorporate different piston engines with turbojets.
Since its initial design in May 1941, there were suggestions of using a modified version of the XP-67 for photo reconnaissance. In April 1942, McDonnell suggested that the aircraft’s range could be extended to 4,000 miles (6,437 km) at a cruise speed of 200 mph (322 km/h), which would be a 20-hour flight. For this, two of the 37 mm cannons would need to be omitted and six additional fuel tanks installed along with 280 lb (127 kg) of ballast in the nose. With the extra tanks, the aircraft’s internal fuel capacity was 1,290 gallons (4,883 L). This concept was not pursued at the time, but the range extension was considered later for a photo-recon role.
By July 1944, it was believed that a photo-recon version of the XP-67 would have inferior performance compared to the Lockheed F-5 (P-38). However, a mixed-power version of the aircraft was seen as a possible candidate as a photo-recon aircraft. The XP-67E was designed for the photo-recon role, and it incorporated mixed power, additional internal fuel tanks, and provisions for two 150-gallon (568-L) drop tanks mounted under the aircraft’s center section. In the XP-67E design, the engine nacelles were extended back to house the GE I-20 (J39) turbojet engine. Cameras were installed in the aft fuselage, and the XP-67E was unarmed. The fuselage was mostly unchanged, but the cockpit was enclosed in a rearward-sliding bubble canopy.
The XP-67 prototype had been undergoing modifications and repairs through August 1944. Perhaps the most major change was alerting the wing dihedral from 5 degrees to 7 degrees in an attempt to increase stability. The aircraft was ready to resume flight tests in early September. On 6 September 1944, the exhaust valve rocker of the No. 1 cylinder in the XP-67’s right engine broke while the aircraft was in flight at 10,000 ft (3,048 m). Exhaust gases unable to escape the cylinder backed up into the intake manifold and caused it to fail, resulting in a fire. The fire was first noticed at 3,000 ft (914 m) as the aircraft was preparing to land. Test pilot Elliott was able to land the XP-67 and stopped it to limit the flames from spreading. However, the brake failed after Elliott exited the aircraft, and wind turned the XP-67 so that the flames blew toward the fuselage. The XP-67 was nearly burned in half and damaged beyond repair. The aircraft had a total flight time of 43 hours. This event effectively killed the XP-67 project and the XP-67E photo-recon proposal. The entire program was suspended seven days later on 13 September, and on 24 October, McDonnell was notified that the XP-67 contract was cancelled. A formal Notice of Cancellation followed on 27 October 1944. The second prototype was about 15 percent complete and was subsequently scrapped. The total cost of the XP-67 program was approximately $4,733,476.92.
– Interceptor Pursuit Airplane Twin Engine Type XP Preliminary Specifications by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (5 May 1941)
– Memorandum Report on XP-67 Airplane, AAF No, 42-11677 by Osmond J. Ritland (19 May 1944)
– Final Report on the XP-67 Airplane by John F Aldridge Jr. (31 January 1946)
– Case History of XP-67 Airplane by Historical Division, Air Materiel Command (23 July 1946)
– USAF Fighters of World War Two Volume Three by Michael O’Leary (1986)
– U.S. Experimental & Prototype Aircraft Projects: Fighters 1939-1945 by Bill Norton (2008)
William Pearce, thanks yet again for a great article! XP-67 Flight video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnbzMxEvJ5Q
Thank you Tom!
Great article! Reminded me of the US’s first jet powered airplane – the XP-59A. That would make a great article.
Very interesting article, Thanks for this. A great looking plane (from some angles!). A couple of RR Gryphons would have done nicely Planform seems to have come into its own later on with jets / Swept Wings.