Category Archives: World War II

Fisher P-75A top

Fisher (General Motors) P-75 Eagle Fighter

By William Pearce

Donovan (Don) Reese Berlin had worked as the Chief Engineer for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. He had designed the company’s successful P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk fighters. Berlin also designed a number of unsuccessful fighters. He left Curtiss-Wright in December 1941 in frustration because he felt the company was not sufficiently supporting his efforts to develop a new fighter. At the request of the US government, Berlin was quickly hired by General Motors (GM) in January 1942 as the Director of Aircraft Development at the Fisher Body Division (Fisher).

Fisher XP-75 43-46950

The Fisher P-75 Eagle was supposed to be quickly and inexpensively developed by utilizing many existing components. However, many resources were expended on the aircraft. The first XP-75 (43-46950) had a uniquely pointed rear canopy. It was also the only example that used a relatively unaltered Douglas A-24 empennage. Note the fixed tailwheel and the fairings that covered the machine gun barrels in the aircraft’s nose.

Fisher was already engaged by the government to build large assembles for the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, and plans for the manufacture of other aircraft components were in the works. It made sense to have a prominent aeronautical engineer as part of Fisher’s staff. In March 1942, Fisher was tasked to build various components (engine cowlings, outer wing panels, ailerons, flaps, horizontal stabilizers, elevators, vertical stabilizers, rudders) of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and 200 complete aircraft. A new plant in Cleveland, Ohio would be built to support this order. Beyond Fisher, a number of other GM divisions were involved in building aircraft and aircraft engines under license from other manufacturers. However, GM wanted to design and manufacture its own products to support the war effort. Berlin was a believer in applying automotive methods to produce aircraft, which was a good match for the automotive giant GM.

On 10 September 1942, GM, through Fisher, submitted a proposal to the Army Air Force (AAF) for a new interceptor fighter. The proposal was based on an AAF request from February 1942 for such an aircraft with exceptional performance. The aircraft from Fisher was designed by Berlin, powered by an Allison V-3420 24-cylinder engine, and constructed mainly of components from other aircraft. The aircraft offered impressive performance with a top speed of 440 mph (708 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m), a 5,600 fpm (28.5 m/s) initial climb rate, a service ceiling of 38,000 ft (11,582 m), and a range of 2,240 miles (3,605 km) with only internal fuel. All of this came with a promise to deliver the first aircraft within six months of the contract being issued.

Fisher XP-75 line

The top image shows at least five XP-75A aircraft under construction. The middle image, from right to left, shows the first two XP-75 aircraft (43-46950 and 43-46951) and the first two XP-75A aircraft (44-32161 and 44-32162). The second XP-75 (second from the right) has the wide H-blade propellers installed, while the other aircraft have the narrow A-blade propellers. The bottom image is a P-75A under construction. Note the V-3420 engine. (Veselenak Photograph Collection / National Museum of the US Air Force images)

Back in February 1941, the Army Air Corps (name changed to AAF in June 1941) had considered the Allison V-3420 as a possible replacement for the Wright R-3350 engine intended for the B-29. The Allison Engineering Company was a division of GM, and at the time, development of the V-3420 was focused on creating the basic engine and not much more. However, the priority of the V-3420 program was scaled-back after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

GM had been searching for an application for its Allison V-3420 engine, and the AAF had tried to entice other manufactures to incorporate the engine in a fighter design. Fisher’s fighter project offered a solution for both entities. The AAF was sufficiently impressed with Fisher’s proposal, and they approved the construction of two prototypes (serials 43-46950 and 43-46951) on 10 October 1942. The aircraft was given the designation P-75 Eagle, with the prototypes labeled XP-75. Some believe the pursuit number “75” was issued specifically at Berlin’s request, as his “Model 75” at Curtiss-Wright became the successful P-36 and led to the P-40. Although there were some reservations with the aircraft’s design, it was believed that a team working under the experienced Berlin would resolve any issues encountered along the way.

Fisher XP-75A long-range side

Aircraft 44-32162 was the fourth of the XP-75-series and the second XP-75A with additional wing fuel tanks. Note the revised canopy and tail compared to the first prototype. The aircraft has narrow A-blade propellers, and the 10-gun armament appears to be installed.

The XP-75 was of all metal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. The cockpit was positioned near the front of the aircraft and provided the pilot with good forward and downward visibility. The pilot was protected by 177 lb (80 kg) of armor. The cockpit canopy consisted of front and side panels from a P-40. The aircraft’s empennage, with a fixed tailwheel, was from a Douglas A-24 Banshee (AAF version of the Navy SBD Dauntless). Initially, North American P-51 Mustang outer wing panels would attach to the inverted gull wing center section that was integral with the fuselage. However, the P-51 wings were soon replaced by wings from a P-40 attached to a normal center section. The main landing gear was from a Vought F4U Corsair, and it had a wide track of nearly 20 ft (6.10 m). Four .50-cal machine guns were mounted in the aircraft’s nose and supplied with 300 rpg. Each wing carried three additional .50-cal guns with 235 rpg. Under each wing, inside of the main gear, was a hardpoint for mounting up to 500 lb (227 kg) of ordinance or a 110-US gal (416-L) drop tank.

The 2,600 hp (1,939 kW) Allison V-3420-19 engine with a two-stage supercharger was positioned in the fuselage behind the pilot. Each of the engine’s four cylinder banks had an air-cooled exhaust manifold with two exhaust stacks protruding out of the fuselage. Two extension shafts passed under the cockpit and connected the engine to the remote gear reduction box for the Aeroproducts six-blade contra-rotating propeller. Two different types of propellers were used. Initially, a 13 ft (3.96 m) diameter, narrow, A-blade design was used. Many sources state that this propeller was used on the first 12 aircraft. However, some of these aircraft flew with the second design, a 12 ft 7 in (3.84 m) diameter, wide, H-blade. The gear reduction turned the propeller at .407 crankshaft speed.

Fisher XP-75A 44-32161 crash

The empennage (left) and inverted wings and fuselage (right) of XP-75A 44-32161 after its crash on 5 August 1944. An engine explosion and inflight fire led to the empennage separating from the rest of the aircraft. Russell Weeks, the pilot, was able to bail out of the stricken aircraft. (Veselenak Photograph Collection / National Museum of the US Air Force images)

A two-section scoop was located under the fuselage, just behind the wings. The left section held an oil radiator, and coolant radiators were positioned in both the left and right sections. The aircraft’s oil capacity and coolant capacity were 28.5 US gal (108 L) and 31.5 US gal (119 L) respectively. A 485-US gal (1,836-L) fuel tank was positioned in the fuselage between the cockpit and engine. The tank was made of two sections with the extension shafts passing between the sections.

An XP-75 mockup was inspected by the AAF on 8 March 1943. On 6 July, six additional prototypes (serials 44-32161 to 44-32166) were ordered with some design modifications, including changes to the cockpit canopy, the use of a 2,885 hp (2,151 kW) V-3240-23 engine, and additional fuel tanks in each wing with a capacity of 101 US gal (382 L). The extra fuel enabled the P-75 to cover the long-range escort role, something that the AAF was desperately seeking. The long-range fighter prototypes are often referred to as XP-75As, although this does not appear to be an official designation.

Fisher XP-75A assembly

This image shows either 44-32165 or 44-32166 being completed in the Cleveland plant. These two aircraft, the last of the XP-75As, had a bubble canopy, retractable tailwheel, and a new, tall rudder and vertical stabilizer. Note the P-40-style rounded wings. (Veselenak Photograph Collection / National Museum of the US Air Force image)

Since the need for interceptors had faded, many in the AAF were optimistic that the long-range P-75 would be able to escort bombers all the way into Germany and that the aircraft would be able to outperform all German fighters for the foreseeable future. The P-75 also served as insurance if the P-51 and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt could not be developed into long-range escort fighters.

On 8 July 1943, a letter of intent was issued for the purchase of 2,500 P-75A aircraft (serials 44-44549 to 44-47048), but a stipulation allowed for the cancellation of production if the aircraft failed to meet its guaranteed performance. A definitive contract for all of the XP-75 work was signed on 1 October 1943 and stipulated that the first XP-75 prototype would fly by 30 September 1943, and the first long-range XP-75A prototype would fly by December 1943. The first production aircraft was expected in May 1944, and production was forecasted to eventually hit 250 aircraft per month. The production costs for the 2,500 P-75A aircraft was estimated at $325 million.

Fisher XP-75A 44-32165 side

XP-75A 44-32165 with the new (and final) large, angular tail and horizontal stabilizer. However, the aircraft retained the rounded wings. Note the ventral strake behind the belly scoop, and the wide H-blade propellers. The same modifications were applied to 44-32166. The stenciling under the canopy says “Aeroproducts Flight Test Ship No 4.”

The Fisher XP-75A had a wingspan of 49 ft 1 in (14.96 m), a length of 41 ft 4 in (12.60 m), and a height of 14 ft 11 in (4.55 m). The aircraft’s performance estimates were revised to a top speed of 434 mph (698 km/h) at 20,000 ft (6,096 m) and 389 mph (626 km/h) at sea level. Its initial rate of climb was 4,200 fpm (21.3 m/s), with 20,000 ft (6,096 m) being reached in 5.5 minutes, and a service ceiling of 39,000 ft (11,887 m). The aircraft had an empty weight of 11,441 lb (5,190 kg) and a fully loaded weight of 18,665 lb (8,466 kg). With the fuselage tank, a total of 203 US gal (768 L) of fuel in the wings, and a 110-US gal (416-L) drop tank under each wing, the XP-75A had a maximum range of 3,850 miles (6,196 km).

The AAF gave the XP-75 priority over most of Fisher’s other work, particularly that of constructing 200 B-29 bombers. Construction of the first two prototypes was started at Fisher’s plant in Detroit, Michigan. The other six XP-75 aircraft were built at the new plant in Cleveland, Ohio, which opened in 1943. Production of the aircraft would occur at the Cleveland plant.

Fisher P-75A assembly line

The production line with P-75A numbers two through four (44-44550 through 44-44553) under construction. While the aircraft have square wingtips, at least the first one still has the rounded horizontal stabilizer. Note the V-3420 engine by the first aircraft. The wing of an XP-75A is visible on the far right.

Flown by Russell Thaw, the XP-75 prototype (43-46950) made its first flight on 17 November 1943, and it was the first aircraft to fly with the V-3420 engine. Almost immediately the aircraft ran into issues: the center of gravity was off; the ailerons were heavy; the controls were sluggish; the aircraft exhibited poor spin characteristics; and the V-3420 engine was down on power and overheating. The trouble is not very surprising considering the aircraft consisted of parts from other aircraft and was powered by an experimental engine installed in an unconventional manner. The V-3420’s firing order was revised for smoother operation. Modifications to the second prototype (43-46951) included changes to the ailerons and a new rear canopy. The size of the rudder was decreased, but the surface area of the vertical stabilizer was increased by extending its leading edge. The second XP-75 prototype first flew in December 1943.

The first of the six XP-75A long-range aircraft (44-32161) flew in February 1944. The last two of these aircraft, 44-32165 and 44-32166, were finished with a bubble canopy and a new empennage. The new empennage had a retractable tailwheel and a taller vertical stabilizer and rudder. Lateral control was still an issue, and these two aircraft were later modified with larger and more angular vertical and horizonal stabilizers. These changes were also incorporated into most of the P-75A production aircraft.

Fisher P-75A 44-44549

The first production P-75A (44-44549) with its square wingtips and original rounded tail. Note the ventral strake and the fins attached to the horizontal stabilizer. It is not known when the picture was taken (possibly 22 September 1944), but the aircraft and pilot were lost on 10 October 1944.

The third long-range XP-75A aircraft (44-32163) crashed on 8 April 1944, killing the pilot, Hamilton Wagner. The crashed may have been caused by the pilot performing unauthorized aerobatics. On 7 June 1944, the AAF issued the contract for 2,500 P-75A aircraft. Official trials were conducted in June 1944 and indicated that the XP-75A aircraft was well short of its expected performance. A top speed of only 418 mph (673 km/h) was achieved at 21,600 ft (6,584 m), and initial climb rate was only 2,990 fpm (15.2 m/s). However, the engine was reportedly not producing its rated output. On 5 August 1944, XP-75A 44-32161 was lost after an inflight explosion, which separated the empennage from the rest of the aircraft. The pilot, Russell Weeks, successfully bailed out.

In addition to other changes made throughout flight testing of the prototypes, the P-75As incorporated extended square wingtips with enlarged ailerons, the controls were boosted to eliminate the heavy stick forces, and a ventral strake was added that extended between the scoop exit doors and the tailwheel. The P-75A had a wingspan of 49 ft 4 in (15.04 m), a length of 41 ft 5 in (12.62 m), and a height of 15 ft 6 in (4.72 m). The aircraft’s performance estimates were revised down, with a top speed of 404 mph (650 km/h) at 22,000 ft (6,706 m). Its initial rate of climb dropped to 3,450 fpm (17.5 m/s), and the service ceiling decreased to 36,400 ft (11,095 m). The aircraft had an empty weight of 11,255 lb (5,105 kg) and a fully loaded weight of 19,420 lb (8,809 kg).

Fisher P-75A runup

P-75A 44-44550 with the new (and final) square tail and horizontal stabilizer. Note the two-section belly scoop and the F4U main landing gear.

The first two P-75As (44-44549 and 44-44550) were not originally finished with the latest (angular) empennage. Rather, they used the tall, round version that was originally fitted to the last two XP-75A prototypes. A dorsal fillet was later added to the vertical stabilizer. The first Fisher P-75A (44-44549) took flight on 15 September 1944, with the second aircraft (44-44550) following close behind. Aircraft 44-44550 was later altered with the enlarged, square-tipped vertical and horizontal stabilizers, but it is not clear if 44-44549 was also changed. At some point (possibly late September 1944), aircraft 44-44549 had stabilizing fins added to the ends of its horizontal stabilizer. Both aircraft were sent to Eglin Field, Florida for trials. On 10 October 1944, aircraft 44-44549 was lost with its pilot, Harry Bolster. The crash was caused by the propellers becoming fouled by either a nose-gun tube failure or by part of the spinner breaking free. The damaged propellers quickly destroyed the gear reduction, and once depleted of oil, the propeller blades went into a flat pitch. Bolster attempted a forced landing but was not successful.

By the time of the last crash, the AAF had realized it would not need the P-75A aircraft. The P-51B/D and P-47D/N had proven that they were up to the task of being long-range escort fighters, and the war’s end was in sight. The P-75A was larger, heavier, slower, and sluggish compared to fighters already in service. The production contract for the 2,500 P-75As was cancelled on 6 October 1944, and further experimental work was stopped on 8 November. Five P-75A aircraft were completed, with an additional, nearly-complete airframe delivered for spare parts. Construction of approximately 20 other P-75A production aircraft had started, with some assemblies being completed.

Fisher P-75A top

A top view of 44-44550 provides a good illustration of the square wingtips and horizontal stabilizer. The wings were only slightly extended, but the area of the ailerons was increased by a good amount. The square extensions to the horizontal stabilizer increased its area significantly. Note that the machine gun armament is installed.

P-75A 44-44550 was later transferred to Moffett Field, California where it underwent tests on the contra-rotating propellers. The aircraft was scrapped after the tests. In an attempt to produce more power, a new intercooler was installed in 44-44551, and the aircraft was lent to Allison on 28 June 1945. Later, a 3,150 hp V-3420 was installed. Aircraft 44-44552 and 44-44553 were sent to Patterson Field, Ohio and stored for further V-3420 development work. None of the aircraft were extensively flown. The last completed P-75A, 44-44553, was preserved and is currently on display in the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft went through an extensive restoration in 2008. All other P-75 aircraft were eventually scrapped.

The eight prototype aircraft had cost $9.37 million, and the manufacturing contract, including the six production aircraft, construction of the Cleveland plant, and tooling for production, had cost $40.75 million. This gave a total expenditure of $50.21 million for the 14 P-75 aircraft. In the end, the expeditious and cost-saving measure of combining existing components led to delays and additional costs beyond that of a new design. It turned out that the existing assemblies needed to be redesigned to work together, essentially making the P-75A a new aircraft with new components.

Fisher P-75A side

The pilot under 44-44550’s bubble canopy helps illustrate the aircraft’s rather large size. The P-75’s sluggish handling and lateral instability did not endear the aircraft to test pilots. Note the nearly-wide-open rear shutter of the belly scoop.

An often-cited story states that then Col. Mark E. Bradley, Chief of Aircraft Projects at Wright Field, was so dissatisfied with the XP-75 after making a test flight, that he requested North American add a large fuel tank in the fuselage of the P-51 Mustang. This act led to the ultimate demise of the XP-75 and the ultimate success of the P-51. However, that sequence of events is not entirely accurate.

Bradley initiated North American’s development of the P-51 fuselage tank in July 1943, after evaluating the XP-75’s design. Experiments with the P-51’s 85-gallon (322-L) fuselage tank were successfully conducted in August 1943. In early September 1943, kits to add the tank to existing P-51s were ordered, and about 250 kits arrived in England in November. At the same time, the fuselage tank was incorporated into the P-51 production line. These events preceded the XP-75 prototype’s first flight on 17 November 1943. Bradley’s later flight in the XP-75 solidified his view that the P-51 with the fuselage tank was the best and quickest option for a long-range escort, and that the XP-75, regardless of its progression through development, would not be superior in that role.

Fisher P-75A USAFM

Fisher P-75A 44-44553 has been preserved and is on display in the National Museum of the US Air Force. (US Air Force image)

Sources:
U.S. Experimental & Prototype Aircraft Projects Fighters 1939–1945 by Bill Norton (2008)
Vees For Victory!: The Story of the Allison V-1710 Aircraft Engine 1929-1948 by Dan Whitney (1998)
P-75 Series Airplanes Advance Descriptive Data (20 May 1944)
P-51 Mustang: Development of the Long-Range Escort Fighter by Paul A. Ludwig (2003)
Development of the Long-Range Escort Fighter by USAF Historical Division (1955)
“Le Fisher XP-75 Eagle” by Alain Pelletier, Le Fana de l’Aviation (August 1996)
“A Detroit Dream of Mass-Produced Fighter Aircraft: The XP-75 Fiasco” by I. B. Holley, Jr. Technology and Culture Vol. 28, No. 3 (July 1987)
http://usautoindustryworldwartwo.com/Fisher%20Body/fisherbodyaircraft.htm
http://www.alexstoll.com/AircraftOfTheMonth/3-00.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incidents_involving_military_aircraft_(1943%E2%80%931944)

arsenal vg 33 rear

Arsenal VG 30-Series (VG 33) Fighter Aircraft

By William Pearce

In the early 1930s, some in France felt that French aviation was falling behind the rest of the world. French aircraft manufacturers were not experimenting much on their own, and government-funded conventional aircraft projects were not pushing the technical boundaries of aeronautics. On 2 July 1934, Pierre Renaudel proposed creating a state research institution to study and develop modern aircraft for the French military. The Arsenal du matériel aérien (Arsenal aerial equipment) was formed later that year with engineer Michel Vernisse as its director. When the French aviation industry was nationalized in 1936, the organization was renamed Arsenal de l’aéronautique (Arsenal aeronautics) and took over the Bréguet works at Villacoublay, near Paris, France.

arsenal vg 30

The mockup of the Arsenal VG 30 as displayed at the 1936 Salon d’Aviation in Paris. Note the location of the radiator housing. Otherwise, the aircraft was very similar to subsequent VG 30-series fighters.

One of Arsenal’s first designs was the tandem-engine VG 10 fighter. Designed by Michel Vernisse and Jean Galtier, the initials of their last names formed the ‘VG’ of the aircraft’s designation. The VG 10 was never built and was redesigned and redesignated as the VG 20, which was also never built. However, the design was reworked again and eventually emerged as the Arsenal VB 10, first flown in 1945.

In 1936, the Ministère de l’Air (French Air Ministry) was interested in the concept of a light-fighter built from non-strategic materials. As a result, Arsenal designed the VG 30, a single-seat fighter constructed mostly of wood. The aircraft had a conventional taildragger layout with a low wing and featured retractable main undercarriage. At the rear of the aircraft was a non-retractable tailskid. Originally, the VG 30 was to be powered by the Potez 12 Dc: a 610 hp (455 kW), air-cooled, horizontal, 12-cylinder engine. However, delays with the 12 Dc resulted in a switch to the Hispano-Suiza 12Xcrs: a 690hp (515 kW), liquid-cooled, V-12 engine.

The wood used in the VG 30’s construction was primarily spruce, and the aircraft’s wooden frame was covered with molded sprue plywood to form the aircraft’s stressed-skin. The skin was then covered with canvas and varnished. The wings consisted of two spars and incorporated hydraulically operated flaps. The fuselage was mounted atop the wings, which were made as a single structure. The cockpit was positioned above the wing’s trailing edge and featured a rearward-sliding canopy. The engine’s cowling was made of aluminum, and to cool the engine, a radiator was housed in a duct positioned under the fuselage between the wings. Proposed armament consisted of a 20 mm cannon firing through the hub of the three-blade propeller and four 7.5 mm machine guns, with two housed in each wing. The cannon had 60 rounds of ammunition, and the wing guns each had 500 rounds.

arsenal vg 33 two

The VG 33 prototype sits complete with main gear doors on a muddy airfield. Many of the completed VG 33s, like the second aircraft in the image, were finished without gear doors.

A mockup of the VG 30 was displayed in November 1936 at the Salon d’Aviation in Paris. The Air Ministry found the mockup sufficiently impressive to issue specification A.23, requesting proposals for a light-fighter. A prototype of the Arsenal VG 30 was ordered in early 1937, and construction of the aircraft commenced in June. Some delays were encountered, and the VG 30 was first flown on 6 October (some sources state 1 October) 1938. The pilot for the flight was Modeste Vonner, and the aircraft took off from Villacoublay. Official tests were carried out from 24 March to 17 July 1939, during which the VG 30 reportedly reached 500 mph (805 km/h) in a dive. Overall, the tests revealed that the VG 30 had very good performance and was faster than the more-powerful Morane-Saulnier MS 406, France’s premier fighter just entering service.

The VG 30 had a wingspan of 35 ft 5 in (10.80 m), a length of 27 ft 7 in (8.40 m), and a height of 10 ft 10 in (3.31 m). The aircraft’s wing area was 150.69 sq ft (14.00 sq m). It had a top speed of 301 mph (485 km/h) at 16,240 (4,950 m) and climbed to 16,404 ft (5,000 m) in 7 minutes and 15 seconds. Despite the aircraft’s performance, VG 30 production was passed up in favor of more advanced models, and only the prototype was built.

The Arsenal VG 31 was a development of the VG 30 intended to enhance the aircraft’s speed. An 860 hp (641 kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 replaced the 690 hp (515 kW) engine; the radiator was relocated further back; two of the wing guns were removed; and a smaller wing was designed, resulting in 19.9–21.2 sq ft (1.85–2.0 sq m) less wing area. Wind tunnel tests indicated the aircraft would have reduced stability, reduced maneuverability, and an increased landing speed. The small gain in top speed was not worth all of the drawbacks. The VG 31 was never completed. The wings were used for static testing, and the fuselage was used on the third VG 33 aircraft, which became the VG 34.

arsenal vg 33 rear

A completed VG 33 without gear doors seen at Toulouse-Blagnac airport in June 1940. Note the radiator housing under the fuselage.

The Arsenal VG 32 was an attempt to secure a second source of power for the VG 30 aircraft. A 1,040 hp (776 kW) Allison V-1710-C15 (-33) replaced the Hispano-Suiza engine, requiring the fuselage to be lengthened by 16.5 in (.42 m) to 28 ft 11 in (8.82 m). The wings were modified to accommodate one 20 mm cannon and one 7.5 mm machine gun. Because of delays with acquiring the V-1710 engine, the VG 32 project followed after the VG 33. The fifth VG 33 airframe formed the basis for the VG 32, and a desperate France ordered 400 copies of the aircraft in 1940. However, the Germans arrived before the V-1710 engine, and the VG 32 was never completed. The aircraft was captured at Villacoublay in June 1940.

The Arsenal VG 33 was an enhancement to the basic VG 30 aircraft. The VG 33 used the 860 hp (641 kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 from the VG 31 but retained the larger wing of the VG 30. The engine turned a 12 ft 4 in (3.75 m) diameter three-blade, adjustable-pitch, metal propeller. An oil cooler was incorporated into the engine cowling just below the spinner, and a scoop for engine induction was located on the bottom of the cowling. The aircraft’s fuselage was lengthened slightly to 28 ft .5 in (8.55 m), and its height was 11 ft (3.35 m). The VG 33 prototype made its first flight on 25 April 1939 from Villacoublay. Official trials spanned from August 1939 to March 1940. The VG 33 was stable, maneuverable, easy to fly, and possessed good control harmony. The aircraft’s maneuverability and speed were superior to that of the more-powerful, all-metal Dewoitine D.520, France’s newest fighter.

arsenal vg 33 front captured

A VG 33 aircraft captured by the Germans and being tested at Rechlin, Germany. The captured aircraft carried the designation 3+5. The inlets for the oil cooler can bee seen just under the spinner. Under the cowling is the engine’s intake. Note the machine guns mounted in the wings.

The VG 33 had a maximum speed of 347 mph (558 km/h) at 17,060 ft (5,200 m) and a ceiling of 36,089 ft (11,000 m). The aircraft weighed 4,519 lb (2,050 kg) empty and 6,063 lb (2,750 kg) fully loaded. Its range was 746 miles (1,200 km) with 106 gallons (400 L) of internal fuel. Two fixed 26-gallon (100 L) external tanks could be attached under the wings to extend the aircraft’s range to 1,118 miles (1,800 km).

Before the flight trials were over, the Air Ministry ordered at least 200 VG 33s in September 1939. Another purchase request was submitted a short time later placing a total of approximately 720 VG 33 aircraft on order. The first deliveries were scheduled for January 1940, and the first fighter group equipped with VG 33 aircraft was to be operational in April 1940. The bulk of the orders went to SNCAN (Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Nord or National Society of Aeronautical Constructions North) at Sartrouville, with Michelin at Clermont-Ferrand expected to start production later.

Ironically, delays with acquiring enough non-strategic spruce resulted in the first production VG 33 aircraft not making its first flight until 21 April 1940. Production numbers for the VG 33 vary by source. By the time France surrendered to Germany on 22 June 1940, only about seven aircraft had been delivered to the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) out of a total of 19 VG 33s that had been flown. Approximately 160 airframes were in various stages of completion at SNCAN, and at least 20, which were basically complete, were destroyed by the French before German forces could capture them. The French managed to fly out 12 VG 33 aircraft to Châteauroux, where they were placed into storage. By November 1942, the Germans had managed to seize around 5 VG 33 aircraft, and at least one underwent testing at Rechlin, Germany. All VG 33s were eventually scrapped.

arsenal vg 34

The engineless VG 34 prototype sits derelict at what is most likely Toulouse-Blagnac airport. Note the additional supports on the canopy.

The Arsenal VG 34 was the second VG 33 re-engined with the more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Y-45 that used a Szdlowski-Planiol supercharger and produced 910 hp (679 kW). First flown on 20 January 1940, the VG 34 achieved 357 mph (575 km/h) at 20,341 ft (6,200 m). Only one example was built. The VG 34 was flown to Toulouse-Blagnac airport on 18 June 1940 and was presumably captured there by the Germans.

The Arsenal VG 35 was the fourth (some sources say third) VG 33 airframe but with a 1,100 hp (820 kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Y-51 engine installed. The aircraft was first flown on 25 February 1940 and eventually reached 367 mph (590 km/h). However, flight testing was never completed, and the sole prototype was seized by the Germans.

The Arsenal VG 36 was a more developed and refined VG 35. The aircraft had a modified rear fuselage and used a shallower and more streamlined radiator duct. The VG 36 was first flown on 14 May 1940 and was later destroyed at La Roche-sur-Yon in eastern France.

arsenal vg 36 front

On first glance, the VG 36 was very similar to the VG 33. The most notable difference was the redesigned radiator housing, which was shallower than the housing used on earlier VG 30-series aircraft and required a redesign of the rear fuselage.

The VG 37 was a proposal for a long-range VG 36, and the VG 38 was a VG 35 with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Y engine that incorporated two Brown-Boveri turbosuperchargers. Neither of these aircraft projects were built.

The Arsenal VG 39 was based on the VG 33. The wing had a new internal structure that accommodated three 7.5 mm machine guns in each wing. The fuselage was slightly modified and lengthened to 28 ft 8 in (8.75 m) to accommodate a 1,200 hp (895 kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Zter engine. The inlets and position of the oil cooler at the front of the engine cowling were revised, and the radiator housing under the aircraft was also slightly smaller. The 20 mm engine cannon was omitted. First flown on 3 May 1940, the VG 39 achieved 388 mph (625 km/h) at 18,865 ft (5,750 m) during initial tests. Only one VG 39 was built. It made its last flight on 15 June 1940 and was destroyed by the French at Toulouse-Blagnac airport before the Germans captured the field. The planned production version was designated VG 39bis, used the fuselage of the VG 36 with its shallow radiator, was powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17 engine, and included a 20 mm engine cannon. No VG 39bis aircraft were built.

The VG 40 was a study to power the VG 33 with a Rolls Royce Merlin III engine. Compared to the VG 33, the VG 40 had a larger wing. The aircraft did not progress beyond the design stage.

The VG 50 design incorporated the fuselage of the VG 36 with the six-gun wings of the VG 39. This package would be powered by a 1,200 hp (895 kW) Allison V-1710 engine. The VG 50 was never built.

Of the series, only the Arsenal VG 33 entered production. On paper, it was one of the best French fighters of World War II and on par with the frontline fighters of other nations. However, the aircraft never had the opportunity to be tested in combat. The VG 33’s slightly protracted development and production delays resulted in none of the type being available at the start of hostilities and too few being delivered during the Battle of France to have any impact on the conflict.

arsenal vg 39

The VG 39 prototype probably at the Toulouse-Blagnac airport. Note the exhaust stains on the engine cowling. The cowling was revised to accommodate the new oil cooler and the evenly-spaced exhaust stacks of the 12Z engine.

Sources:
French Fighters of World War II in Action by Alan Pelletier (2002)
French Aircraft 1939–1942 Volume I: From Amoit to Curtiss by Dominique Breffort and André Jouineau (2004)
The Complete Book of Fighters by William Green and Gordon Swanborough (1994)
War Planes of the Second World War: Fighters – Volume I by William Green (1960)
Hispano Suiza in Aeronautics by Manuel Lage (2004)
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenal_VG_33

Hughes XF-11 no1 taxi

Hughes XF-11 Photo-Reconnaissance Aircraft

By William Pearce

In the early World War II years, the Hughes Aircraft Company (HAC) worked to design and build its D-2 aircraft intended for a variety of roles. However, the United States Army Air Force (AAF) was not truly interested in the twin-engine wooded aircraft. To cure design deficiencies and make the aircraft more appealing to the AAF, HAC proposed a redesign of the D-2, designated D-5.

Hughes XF-11 no1 front

The Hughes XF-11 was an impressive and powerful aircraft intended for the photo-reconnaissance role. The eight-blade, contra-rotating propellers were over 15 ft (4.6 m) in diameter. Note the deployed flaps between the tail booms. (UNLV Libraries image)

The initial D-5 design was an enlarged D-2 and employed Duramold construction using resin-impregnated layers of wood, molded to shape under pressure and heat. The proposed aircraft had a 92 ft (28.0 m) wingspan, was 58 ft (17.7 m) in length, and weighed 36,400 lb (16,511 kg). The D-5 was powered by Pratt & Whitney (P&W) R-2800 engines and had a forecasted top speed of 488 mph (785 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,144 m) and 451 mph (726 km/h) at 36,000 ft (10,973 m). A 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bomb load could be carried in an internal bay. The AAF was still not interested in the aircraft and felt that HAC did not have the capability to manufacture such an aircraft in large numbers.

In early August 1943, Col. Elliot Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt’s son, was in the Los Angeles inquiring with various aircraft manufacturers to find a photo-reconnaissance aircraft. Col. Roosevelt, who had previously commanded a reconnaissance unit, was hosted by Hughes and taken on a personal tour of the D-2. At the time, the aircraft was undergoing modification to become the D-5 and was not available for flight, but Col. Roosevelt was sufficiently impressed.

Hughes XF-11 no1 taxi

Howard Hughes taxies the first XF-11 out for its first and last flight. The nose of the aircraft accommodated a variety of camera equipment. Note the cowl flaps and the large scoops under the engine nacelles. (UNLV Libraries image)

General Henry “Hap” Arnold of the AAF was put under pressure from the White House to order the D-5 reconnaissance aircraft into production. To ease the AAF’s concerns about the D-5’s Duramold construction, the design was changed to metal wings and tail booms and only the fuselage built from Durmold. Arnold made the decision to order the D-5 aircraft “much against [his] better judgment and the advice of [his] staff.” The AAF issued a letter of intent on 6 October 1943 for the purchase of 100 examples of the D-5 reconnaissance aircraft. An official contract for the aircraft, designated F-11, was issued on 5 May 1944. Two aircraft would serve as prototypes with the remaining 98 aircraft as production versions.

As contracted, the Hughes XF-11 prototypes were of an all-metal construction and powered by two P&W R-4360 engines. The aircraft had the same layout as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning but was much larger. The fuselage consisted of a streamlined nacelle mounted to the center of the wing. At the front of the fuselage were provisions for photographic equipment. The cockpit was positioned just before the wing’s leading edge, and the cockpit was covered by a large, fixed bubble canopy. The pressurized cockpit could maintain an altitude of 10,500 ft (3,200 m) up an aircraft altitude of 33,500 ft (10,211 m). Entry to the cockpit was via a hatch and extendable ladder just behind the nose wheel landing gear well. The pilot’s seat was offset slightly to the left. Behind and to the right of the pilot sat a second crew member, who would fulfill the role of a navigator/photographer. The second crew member could crawl past the pilot and into the aircraft’s nose to service the cameras while in flight. The nose landing gear retracted to the rear and was stowed under the cockpit.

Hughes XF-11 no1 first flight

One of the very few images of the first XF-11 in flight as it takes off from Hughes Airport in Culver City, California on 7 July 1946. Note the rural background that is now completely developed. (UNLV Libraries image)

The XF-11’s wings had a straight leading and trailing edges, with the leading edge swept back approximately 6 degrees and the trailing edge swept forward around 3.5 degrees. Mounted to each wing about a third of the distance from the fuselage to the wing tip was the engine. The engine nacelle was slung under the wing and extended back to the aircraft’s tail. A large flap was located on the wing’s trailing edge between the tail booms. Each wing had an addition flap that extended from outside of the tail boom to near the wing tip. Relatively small ailerons spanned the approximate 66 in (1.68 m) distance from the flap to the wing tip. The aircraft’s main source of roll control were spoilers positioned on the upper surface of the outer wing and in front of the flap. Each wing incorporated a hardpoint outside of the tail boom for a 700 gallon (2,650 L) drop tank, and 600 gallon (2,271 L) jettisonable tip tanks were proposed but not included on the prototype aircraft.

Each 3,000 hp (2,237 kW), 28-cylinder R-4360 engine was installed in the front of the wing and was housed in a streamlined cowling. Cowl flaps for engine cooling circled the sides and top of the cowling. Under the engine nacelle was a scoop that housed the oil cooler and provided air to the intercooler and the two General Electric BH-1 turbosuperchargers installed in each tail boom. Air that flowed through the oil cooler exited at the back of the scoop. Air that flowed through the intercooler was routed to an exit door on top of the engine nacelle, just above the wing’s leading edge. Exhaust from the superchargers was expelled from the sides of the engine nacelle, just under the wing. The turbosupercharger on the inner side of each tail boom could be shut down during cruise flight to take full advantage of the remaining turbosupercharger operating at its maximum performance. The main landing gear was positioned behind the engine and retracted to the rear into the tail boom. Attached to the end of each tail boom was a large, 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m) tall vertical stabilizer. Mounted in the 25 ft 8 in (7.82 m) space between the vertical stabilizers was the horizontal stabilizer. The left tail boom housed additional camera equipment behind the main landing gear well.

Hughes XF-11 no1 cockpit crash

The cockpit of the crashed XF-11 illustrates how lucky Hughes was to have survived. Hughes crawled out through the melted Plexiglas and was aided by residents who had witnessed the crash. Note the armored seat. The XF-11 had 350 lb (159 kg) of cockpit armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. (UNLV Libraries image)

The XF-11 had a wingspan of 101 ft 4 in (30.9 m), a length of 65 ft 5 in (19.9 m), and a height of 23 ft 3 (7.09 m). The aircraft had a top speed of 450 mph (725 km/h) at 33,000 ft (10,058 m) and 295 mph (475 km/h) at sea level. The XF-11 had a service ceiling of 42,000 ft (12,802 m), an initial climb rate of 2,025 fpm (10.3 m/s) and could climb to 33,000 ft (10,058 m) in 17.4 minutes. The aircraft had an empty weight of 39,278 lb (17,816 kg) and a maximum weight of 58,315 lb (26,451 kg). With its 2,105 gallon (7,968 L) internal fuel load, the XF-11 had a 5,000 mile (8,047 km) maximum range.

Delivery of the first XF-11 (44-70155) was originally scheduled for November 1944 with peak production of 10 aircraft per month being reached in March 1945—an ambitions timeline for any aircraft manufacturer. Delays were encountered almost immediately and gave credence to the AAF’s belief that HAC was not up to the task of designing and manufacturing aircraft for series production. By mid-1945, the XF-11 had still not flown, and the war was winding down. It was clear that the XF-11 would not be involved in World War II, and there was much doubt as to the usefulness of the aircraft post-war. As a result, the order for 98 production examples was cancelled on 26 May 1945, but the construction of the two prototypes was to proceed.

Hughes XF-11 no2 front

With the exception of its propellers, the second XF-11 was essentially the same as the first aircraft. The bulges on the nacelles under the wings were the exhaust outlets for the inner turbosuperchargers. (UNLV Libraries image)

The first XF-11 prototype was fitted with Hamilton-Standard Superhydromatic contra-rotating propellers. The front four-blade propeller was 15 ft 1 in (4.60 m) in diameter, and the rear four-blade propeller was 2 in (51 mm) longer at 15 ft and 3 in (4.65 m) in diameter. The impressive aircraft was finally finished by April 1946 and began taxi test. With Howard Hughes at the controls, an aborted high-speed taxi test on 15 April resulted in some minor damage and the need to rework some of the aircraft’s systems.

Once repaired, Hughes decided to make the XF-11’s first flight on 7 July 1946. The AAF had stipulated that the XF-11’s first flight should be no more that 45 minutes, the landing gear should not be retracted, the aircraft should stay near the airport and away from populated areas, communication should be established with the chase plane, and the flight should follow the plan discussed beforehand. While the flight was discussed with some, many involved with the aircraft were unaware of Hughes’ plans. Had his intentions been better known, someone may have reminded him about the propeller seal leak on the right engine. Hughes request 1,200 gallons (4,542 L) of fuel to be on board, which was twice as much as should be needed for the scheduled 45-minute flight. HAC’s Douglas A-20 Havoc would serve as a chase plane for the flight, but radio issues prevented communication between the two aircraft.

Hughes XF-11 no2 top

Top view of the second XF-11 illustrates the aircraft’s layout, which was similar to that of a Lockheed P-38. However, the XF-11 was a massive aircraft. Note that the rear of the fixed canopy has been removed. (UNLV Libraries image)

At around 5:20 PM, Hughes took the XF-11 off from Hughes Airport in Culver City, California on its maiden flight. Shortly after takeoff, Hughes retracted the gar, and the right main light remined illuminated, indicating a possible issue with the retraction. Hughes and the XF-11 flew out over the Pacific Ocean and turned back toward land. The landing gear was cycled several times during the flight in an attempt to resolve the perceived issue on account of the illuminated light.

After about an hour and 15 minutes, the oil supply in the right propeller was exhausted and the rear set of blades moved into a flat or reversed pitch. Had Hughes stuck to the 45-minute flight as the AAF ordered, the oil supply would not have been depleted. The reversed pitch propeller created a massive amount of drag on the right side of the aircraft. To the A-20 chase plane, it appeared that Hughes was maneuvering to land back at Culver City, some distance away. The chase plane broke formation to return to the airfield on its own. Had the two aircraft been in communication, the situation could have been discussed.

Hughes XF-11 no2 top rear

The trailing edge of the XF-11’s wing had a flap between the tail booms. Long flaps extended from the outer side of the tail booms almost to the wing tips. Note the relatively small ailerons at the wing tips. The wing spoilers are visible just in front of the outer flaps. (UNLV Libraries image)

Hughes, now alone, believed that the right main gear had deployed on its own and was causing the drag. Had Hughes left the gear down, he would have known the drag was a result of some other issue with the aircraft. Trying to keep the XF-11 straight resulted in the deployment of the left-wing spoilers, which further slowed the aircraft. Low, slow, and over a populated area, Hughes tried to make it to the open space of the Los Angles Country Club golf course in Beverly Hills. Landing short, the XF-11 crashed into four houses, broke apart, and caught fire. Hughes managed to pull himself from the wreckage, where he was helped further by neighborhood residents and arriving paramedics. Hughes suffers major injuries, including severe burns, at least 11 broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a displaced heart. Remarkably, he made a near-full recovery, but the incident started an addiction to codine, which would cause Hughes problems throughout the rest of his life.

Construction of the second XF-11 prototype (44-70156) continued after the accident. The second prototype used single rotation, four-blade propellers that were 14 ft 8 in (4.47 m) in diameter and made by Curtis Electric. Despite all of the new rules implemented because of his crash, Hughes was adamant that he pilot the first flight of the second XF-11 prototype. The AAF initially refused, but Hughes pressed the issue and made personal appeals to Lt.Gen. Ira Eaker and Gen. Carl Spaatz. Hughes also offered to put up a $5 million bond payable to the AAF if he crashed. With the posting of the bond, the AAF gave in. On 4 April 1947, Hughes flew the second XF-11 on its first flight, taking off from Hughes Airport. The flight was a personal victory for Hughes.

Hughes XF-11 no2 flight

The second XF-11 on an early test flight. The aircraft was later fitted with spinners. Note the turbosupercharger’s exhaust just under the wing and the oil cooler’s air exit at the end of the scoop. (UNLV Libraries image)

The second XF-11 was later delivered to the AAF at Wright Field, Ohio in November 1947. After further flight tests, the aircraft went to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The XF-11 was noted for having good flight characteristics, but in-flight access of the camera equipment was extremely difficult and some of the aircraft’s systems were unreliable. In 1948, the aircraft was redesignated XR-11 in accordance to the new Air Force designation system. The XF-11 was tested at Eglin from December 1947 through July 1949.

Other, existing aircraft, mainly Boeing RB-29s and RB-50s, were serving in the reconnaissance role intended for the XF-11. These aircraft proved much less expensive than the XF-11, making the impressive and powerful XF-11 irrelevant. While the XF-11 probably could have done the reconnaissance job better, money was tight in the post-war years and there were other, more-promising projects to fund. The XF-11 was transferred to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas on 26 July 1949 and subsequently served as a ground training aid, never flying again. The aircraft was struck from the Air Force’s inventory in November 1949 and was eventually scrapped.

Hughes XF-11 no2 1948

The second XF-11 sometime in 1948 with the revised (red stripe) Air Force insignia. The aircraft has recently taken off and the very large nose gear doors are just closing. Note the underwing pylons. (UNLV Libraries image)

Sources:
World’s Fastest Four-Engined Piston-Powered Aircraft by Mike Machat (2011)
R-4360: Pratt & Whitney’s Major Miracle by Graham White (2006)
Howard Hughes: An Airman, His Aircraft, and His Great Flights by Thomas Wildenberg and R.E.G. Davies (2006)
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920: Volume II by René J. Francillon (1990)
“A Visionary Ahead of His Time: Howard Hughes and the U.S. Air Force—Part II” by Thomas Wildenberg, Air Power History (Spring 2008)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hughes_XF-11

Vickers Type 432 in flight

Vickers Type 432 High-Altitude Fighter

By William Pearce

In March 1939, The British Air Ministry issued Specification F.6/39 for a 400 mph (644 km/h) two-seat fighter. The aircraft was to carry four 20-mm cannons, with the possibility of later mounting two 40-mm cannons. Under a design team led by Rex Pierson, Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd. (Vickers) had been working on a fighter with a single flexibly-mounted 40-mm cannon installed in the aircraft’s nose. The twin-engine aircraft was powered by Rolls-Royce Griffon engines and met the requirements of F.6/39, aside from its armament. Vickers met with the Air Ministry in April 1939 to discuss the aircraft’s potential. The Air Ministry was sufficiently impressed and issued Specification F.22/39 that covered the Vickers fighter, which carried the internal designation Type 414. Specification F.6/39 was subsequently cancelled in November 1939.

Vickers Type 432 front right

The Vickers Type 432 prototype DZ217 appears shortly after its completion at Foxwarren. The bystander gives some indication to the aircraft’s size. Note the bubble canopy.

Two Type 414 prototypes were ordered on 30 August 1939, and they were assigned serial numbers R2436 and R2437. After inspection of the Type 414 mockup in early February, the Air Ministry inquired about the possibility of installing several 20-mm cannons in place of the single 40-mm cannon. Vickers responded with aircraft proposals incorporating eight 20-mm cannons or two 40-mm cannons.

Vickers designated the fighter with 20-mm cannons as the Type 420. Two cannons were positioned in the aircraft’s nose, and three were on each side of the cockpit. Vickers and the Air Ministry discussed the Type 420 in June 1940, and Specification F.16/40 was issued for the aircraft’s development. The Type 420 was given a high priority, and an order for two prototypes was expected. The order for two Type 414 prototypes was still in place. However, the Type 420 took precedence, and work on the Type 414 slowed substantially.

In early January 1941, the Air Ministry requested a design change to reduce the number of 20-mm cannons to six. At the same time, Vickers had designed a high-altitude fighter that used many components from the Type 420. The high-altitude aircraft was armed with four 20-mm cannons and powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. The Air Ministry was interested in Vickers’ proposal, as they felt there was an urgent need for a heavily armed, high-altitude fighter aircraft to intercept high-altitude German bombers that were expected in the skies over Britain. However, high-altitude German bombing raids were never undertaken en masse and did not present a significant threat to Britain during World War II.

Vickers Type 432 rear right

Rear view of the Type 432 displays the aircraft’s long engine nacelles and ventral pod for the six 20-mm cannons. Note how the aircraft’s tail resembles that of a de Havilland Mosquito. The completed aircraft was disassembled at Foxwarren and taken to Farnborough for flight testing.

In March 1941, work on the Type 414 was stopped completely, and discussions with Rolls Royce commenced regarding the acquisition of Merlin engines. In May 1941, Vickers detailed the specifics of the high-altitude aircraft, which it had designated as Type 432. Specification F.22/39 was cancelled, thus halting work on the Type 420. Design work on the Type 432 continued, resulting in the switch to a single-seat cockpit placed in the nose of the aircraft and six 20-mm cannons installed in a ventral fairing. Each cannon had 120 rounds of ammunition. The Air Ministry ordered two Type 432 prototypes on 9 September 1941, and the aircraft would be built to the new Specification F.7/41. The two Type 432 prototypes were issued serial numbers DZ217 and DZ223.

The fuselage of the Vickers Type 432 was made of stressed-skin aluminum panels that were flush-riveted to the closely-spaced circular structures that made up the airframe. The forward part of each wing was made of a similar stressed-skin construction. The thick skins and their supports created a torsion box of sufficient strength so that conventional wing spars and ribs were omitted. Fabric covered the aft section of the wings and the aircraft’s control surfaces. The wings had a unique elliptical planform with a slight forward-sweep outside of the engines. The wing leading edges between the engines and fuselage housed the coolant radiators.

The aircraft was powered by two-stage, two-speed Merlin 61 engines capable of 1,580 hp (1,178 kW) at 23,500 ft (7,163 m). The engines were housed in long, streamlined nacelles mounted to each wing. The main landing gear retracted rearward into the nacelle behind the engine. The cockpit consisted of a pressure cabin topped by a small canopy that hinged to the side for entry.

The Type 432 was a rather large aircraft with a wingspan of 56 ft 10 in (17.3 m), a length of 40 ft 7 in (12.4 m), and a height of 13 ft 9 in (4.9 m). Forecasted top speeds were estimated at 320 mph (515 km/h) at sea level, 435 mph (700 km/h) at 28,000 ft (8,534 m), and 400 mph (644 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,192 m). Cruise speed was estimated at 400 mph (644 km/h) at 29,500 mph (8,992 m). The aircraft had a 2,750 fpm (14.0 m/s) initial climb rate and a service ceiling of 43,500 ft (13,259 m). The Type 432 weighed 16,373 lb (7,427 kg) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 20,168 lb (9,148 kg). With 506 gallons (421 Imp gal / 1,914 L) of fuel, the aircraft had a 1,500 mi (2,414 km) range.

Vickers Type 432 left side

During its initial taxiing tests at Farnborough, the Type 432 exhibited tracking issues and snaked from side-to-side. The landing gear was moved aft 3 in (76 mm) to improve handling. Flight tests revealed other undesirable characteristics, and modifications were made to the aircraft’s ailerons and tail to improve its handling.

The Type 432 mockup was inspected in late December 1941, and the first prototype, DZ217, was built throughout 1942. The aircraft was built at Foxwarren, a special Vickers dispersal site for experimental work near Brooklands in Surrey, England. The site did not have an airfield, so the Type 432 was disassembled and transported to Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough for its first flight. The Type 432 was first flown on 24 December 1942, piloted by Tommy Lucke. On 29 December, the Ministry of Aircraft Production cancelled the partially-built second prototype. This decision was not made official until 1 May 1943. The entire Type 432 program was cancelled at the end of 1943.

The sole Type 432 aircraft continued to fly occasionally until November 1944. Some efforts were made throughout the aircraft’s existence to improve its handling and flight qualities, as the Type 432 was noted as having heavy controls. Only 28 flights were made, and the aircraft was never submitted for official trials or tested to its maximum performance. Additionally, the 20-mm armament and the pressurized cabin were never installed. Although the Type 432 exceeded 400 mph (644 km/h) in a slight dive, the highest speed obtained in level flight was 380 mph (612 km/h), recorded on 14 May 1943. One of the factors that limited flight testing was that the Merlin engines installed in the Type 432 did not run well above 23,000 ft (7,010 m). Since the Type 432 had no future as a production aircraft, the performance issues of its Merlins were never fully investigated.

Aircraft observers were a regular fixture during World War II, keeping an eye out for any enemy action in the skies over Britain. The rarely-seen and oddly-shaped Type 432 was only listed as “AP1480” in the recognition handbooks. This non-descript designation led the spotters to dub the Type 432 as the “Tin Mossie” on account of the aircraft’s resemblance to the wooden de Haviland Mosquito. Some source list the aircraft as being referred to as “Mayfly,” but the origin of this name has not been found.

Vickers Type 432 in flight

The Type 432 made only 28 flights in its two-year life. The aircraft was noted as having some handling deficiencies that were never completely resolved, because the project was a dead end. Note the slight forward sweep of the Type 432’s outer wing panels.

Sources:
British Secret Projects: Fighters & Bombers 1935-1950 by Tony Buttler (2004)
Vickers Aircraft since 1908 by C. F. Andrews and E. B. Morgan (1988)
RAF Fighters Part 3 by William Green and Gordon Swanborough (1981)
The British Fighter since 1912 by Francis K. Mason (1992)
Aircraft of the Fighting Powers Volume VII by Owen Thetford (1946)

VEF I-16 Front right

VEF I-16 Light Fighter Aircraft

By William Pearce

VEF (Valsts Elektrotehniskā Fabrika or State Electro-Technical Factory, often spelled Valsts Elektrotechniskā Fabrika) was a large industrial manufacturer founded in Latvia in 1919. Kārlis Irbītis was an engineer at VEF during the 1930s and 1940s. Irbītis had designed aircraft since the 1920s and continued the practice in his spare time while employed at VEF. In 1935, Irbītis suggested that VEF should enter the aircraft manufacturing business, and VEF management was responsive.

VEF I-12 International Expo 1938

The VEF I-12 was a light sport plane and a follow-on to the I-11 aircraft. Powered by a 90 hp (67 kW), air-cooled, four-cylinder Cirrus Minor engine, the I-12 had a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h).

VEF solicited a manufacturing contract from the Latvian government, but the request was denied. Frustrated, VEF decided to build Irbītis’ latest aircraft design, the I-11, as a private venture. The I-11 was the first in a series of fixed-gear, low-wing aircraft designed by Irbītis and built by VEF. The I-11 was a two-seat sport plane that first flew in late June 1936. Some aspects of the I-11 design were less than ideal, as aircraft components had to be made to fit out the workshop’s small door. After the I-11’s successful flight tests, an improved model was designed and designated I-12.

The I-12 was seen as a stepping stone to the design and construction of future military aircraft. VEF approved of Irbītis’ plan to build a military trainer after the I-12, and a light fighter would follow after construction of the trainer. The I-12 was first flown on 26 June 1937 and demonstrated good performance and handling. Ultimately, around 12 I-12 aircraft were built. Construction of the I-14 military trainer started in April 1937, and the aircraft made its first flight on 19 November 1937. The I-14 prototype was damaged beyond repair during an emergency landing on 23 April 1938. Undeterred, VEF authorized the design and construction of two new aircraft types: the I-15 trainer and the I-16 fighter.

VEF I-14

The VEF I-14 was developed as a military trainer and was powered by a 200 hp (149 kW), air-cooled, six-cylinder Menasco B6S Buccaneer engine. The I-14 had an estimated top speed of 186 mph (300 km/h), but a crash prevented the completion of flight tests.

Irbītis continued to improve his aircraft designs. The I-15 and I-16 shared a very similar layout and employed the same construction techniques. Manufacture of the I-15 started in the summer of 1938, and two aircraft were built. The I-15a had a wooden, fixed-pitch propeller and gun camera, but it had no armament. The I-15a was powered by an air-cooled, 200 hp (149 kW) de Havilland Gipsy Six series I engine. The I-15b was powered by a 210 hp (157 kW) Gipsy Six series II engine and used a metal, constant-speed propeller. The I-15b could accommodate a single 7.7 mm machine gun, and its cockpit was moved forward slightly to improve pilot visibility.

The I-15a first flew in April 1939. The first flight of the I-15b was delayed because of the late delivery of its constant-speed propeller but finally occurred around November 1939. The Latvian Aviation Regiment decided to purchase the I-15a and I-15b aircraft based on the favorable experience with four I-12 aircraft given to the Aizsargu Aviācija (Aviation Guard) by VEF in late 1938. The I-15a had a top speed of 186 mph (300 km/h), and the I-15b had a top speed of 205 mph (330 km/h). Both I-15 aircraft had successfully completed flight testing by the time Latvia was invaded by Soviet forces in June 1940; the invasion stopped further development.

VEF I-15a

The VEF I-15a on skis to enable flight testing during the Latvian winter. The I-15A carried the Latvian military serial number 190, while the I-15b carried 191.

Design work on the VEF I-16 light fighter began in late 1938. The aircraft was a single-seat, low-wing monoplane with fixed undercarriage. The landing gear was covered in streamlined fairings, and a retractable gear design was to be incorporated on a later model. The I-16 was comprised of a wooden structure covered in plywood and had fabric-covered control surfaces. Each wing accommodated a 10.6 gallon (40 L) fuel tank, and a single fuel tank in the fuselage held 58.1 gallons (220 L). The I-16 had two 7.7 mm machine guns mounted in the upper cowling in front of the cockpit. Provisions were made for an additional 7.7 mm machine gun to be mounted under each wing.

The I-16 was powered by a Sagitta I-SR engine built by Walter in Czechoslovakia. The Sagitta was an air-cooled, inverted V-12 engine that had a 4.65 in (118 mm) bore and a 5.51 in (140 mm) stroke. The supercharged engine displaced 1,121 cu in (18.4 L) and produced 520 hp (388 kW) at 12,467 ft (3,800 m). Air was fed into the supercharger via two scoops on the upper cowling. Engine exhaust was discharged through ejector stacks positioned at the bottom of the cowling. The shroud around the exhaust stacks also allowed cooling air to exit the cowling after passing through the cylinders’ fins. Additional cooling air exited via a vertical slit at the rear of the cowling. The engine turned a two-blade, wooden, fixed-pitch propeller, but a three-blade, metal, constant-speed propeller was planned for future use.

VEF I-16 construction

The VEF I-16 was a continuation of Kārlis Irbītis’ light, sleek monoplane design. The aircraft was the only monoplane fighter designed and built in Latvia. The wooden, fixed-pitch propeller was considered temporary. The cockpit canopy hinged open toward the right.

The I-16’s wingspan was 26 ft 11 in (8.2 m); its length was 23 ft 11 in (7.3 m); and its height was 8 ft 10 in (2.7 m). With the three-blade propeller, the aircraft had an estimated maximum speed of 286 mph (460 km/h) at 13,123 ft (4,000 m) and 249 mph (400 km/h) at sea level. The I-16 had an initial rate of climb of 2,187 fpm (11.1 m/s), and its ceiling was 26,247 ft (8,000 m). The aircraft had an empty weight of 2,425 lb (1,100 kg) and a loaded weight of 3,417 lb (1,550 kg). The I-16’s range was around 497 miles (800 km).

Construction on the I-16 continued through 1939, and the aircraft made its first flight in the spring of 1940 at Riga, Latvia. The pilot for the first flight was Konstantīns Reichmanis, and the I-16’s engine quit after about 20 minutes of flight time. Reichmanis managed to get the aircraft back on the ground without any damage. Poor fuel distribution was thought to have caused the engine trouble, as similar issues had been encountered during ground runs. Reichmanis praised the aircraft’s handling during his short flight. Changes were made to the I-16’s fuel system, and a few more flights were accomplished before testing was halted by the Soviet invasion.

VEF I-16 rear left

The completed I-16 with German markings during an engine runup in 1941. The two intake scoops for the engine are visible on the top of the cowling, with the left gun port immediately below. Armament was never installed in the aircraft, but VEF did have possession of the Browning machine guns until they were removed by Soviet occupying forces.

The Soviets expressed some interest in the VEF aircraft, and the I-15a, I-15b, and other aircraft were shipped to the Soviet Union in March 1941. The I-16 remained in Latvia to resolve the fuel distribution issues. Before the I-16 could be sent to Russia, the Germans attacked the Soviets and took over Latvia in June 1941. Irbītis escaped deportation, but many of his colleagues, including Reichmanis, were not so fortunate and disappeared into the work camps in Siberia. Under German occupation, the I-16 was returned to an airworthy status and carried the identification code AW+10. The aircraft made two test flights before it was taken over by the Luftwaffe. Some accounts list the aircraft as being part of a training school in Toruń (in occupied Poland) until 1942, but its final disposition is not known.

In late 1939, Irbītis began designing a new fighter, the I-19. With a wingspan of 36 ft 1 in (11 m) and a length of 29 ft 6 in (9 m), the I-19 was larger than the I-16. The I-19 also featured retractable gear, two machine guns in each wing, and a top speed of 404 mph (650 km/h). Irbītis persisted with the wooden construction, but the lack of a suitable power plant led him to consider building his own engine comprised of three V-12 engine sections, with each engine section based on a Ranger V-770. The cylinder banks of each engine section were spaced at 120 degrees. The resulting 36-cylinder engine employed three crankshafts and three superchargers. Irbītis estimated that the engine would displace around 2,200 cu in (36 L) and produce 1,450 hp (1,081 kW) at 3,250 rpm. However, Irbītis switched to an Allison V-1710 engine when more serious design work was undertaken. The I-19 never proceeded beyond the preliminary design phase. After World War II, Irbītis immigrated to Canada and helped develop the tiltwing Canadair CL-84 Dynavert.

VEF I-16 Front right

The sleek I-16 aircraft resembled similar light fighters developed in France (Caudron) and Italy (Ambrosini) during the same period. Note the streamlined fairings covering the gear.

Sources:
Of Struggle and Flight: The History of Latvian Aviation by Kārlis Irbītis (1986)
Latvian Air Force 1918–1940 by Richard Humberstone (2000)
http://latvianaviation.com/VEF_I-16.html
http://airwar.ru/enc/fww2/i16l.html