XP-55 Ascender: Wikis

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XP-55 Ascender
Curtiss XP-55 Ascender in flight.
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Curtiss-Wright Corporation
First flight 19 July 1943
Status Cancelled
Number built 3

The Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender (Curtiss-Wright CW-24), was a 1940s United States prototype fighter aircraft built by Curtiss. Along with the XP-54 and XP-56, it resulted from United States Army Air Corps proposal R-40C issued on 27 November 1939 calling for unconventional aircraft designs. A highly unusual design for its time, it had a canard configuration, a rear mounted engine, swept wings and two vertical tails. Because of its pusher design, it was sarcastically referred to as the "Ass-ender." Like the XP-54, the Ascender was initially designed for the Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine and had to be redesigned when that engine project was cancelled. It would also be the first Curtiss fighter aircraft to use tricycle landing gear.

Contents

Design and development

On 22 June 1940 the Curtiss-Wright company received an Army contract for preliminary engineering data and a powered wind tunnel model. The designation P-55 was reserved for the project. The USAAC was not completely satisfied with the results of these tests and Curtiss-Wright took it upon itself to build a flying full-scale model which it designated CW-24B. The flying testbed was powered by a 275 hp (205 kW) Menasco C68-5 inline engine. It had a fabric-covered, welded steel tube fuselage with a wooden wing. The undercarriage was non-retractable.

On 10 July 1942, the United States Army Air Forces issued a contract for three prototypes under the designation XP-55. Serial numbers were 42-78845 through 42-78847. During this time the Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine was experiencing serious developmental delays, and would eventually be cancelled. Curtiss decided to switch to the Allison V-1710 (F16) liquid-cooled inline engine (rated at 1,000 hp/746 kW) because of its proven reliability. Armament was to be two 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. During the mock-up phase, it was decided to switch to the more powerful 1,275 hp (951 kW) Allison V-1710-95 engine. The 20 mm (.79 in) cannon were also replaced by 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns.

Testing and evaluation

The first XP-55 (42-78845) was completed on 13 July 1943 and had the same aerodynamic configuration as the final prototype CW-24B. The aircraft made its first test flight on 19 July 1943 from the Army's Scott Field near the Curtiss-Wright plant in St Louis, Missouri. The pilot was J. Harvey Gray, Curtiss' test pilot. Initial testing revealed that the takeoff run was excessively long. To solve this problem the nose elevator size was increased and the aileron up trim was interconnected with the flaps so that it operated when the flaps were lowered.

On 15 November 1943 test pilot Harvey Gray, flying the first XP-55 (S/N 42-78845), was testing the aircraft's stall performance at altitude when the XP-55 suddenly flipped over on its back and fell in an uncontrolled, inverted descent. The pilot was unable to right the airplane, and it fell out of control for 16,000 ft (4,877 m) before Gray was able to parachute to safety. The aircraft was destroyed.

The second XP-55 (S/N 42-78846) was similar to the first but with a slightly larger nose elevator, modified elevator tab systems, and a change from balance tabs to spring tabs on the ailerons. It flew for the first time on 9 January 1944. All flight tests were restricted so that the stall zone was avoided.

The third XP-55 (S/N 42-78847) flew for the first time on 25 April 1944. It was fitted with four machine guns, and incorporated some of the ideas learned from the loss of the first XP-55. It was found that the aircraft's stall characteristics could be greatly improved by the addition of four-foot wingtip extensions, and by increasing the limits of the nose elevator travel. Between 16 September and 2 October 1944, the second XP-55 (42-78846), which had been modified to the same standards as the third aircraft, underwent official USAAF flight trials.

The performance of the XP-55 was not very impressive and was often inferior to that of more conventional fighter aircraft already in service. In addition, by 1944 jet-powered fighter aircraft were already well along in development and there was no further development of the XP-55.

A special feature of the XP-55 was a propeller jettison lever located inside the cockpit to prevent the pilot from hitting the propeller during bailout.

Crash of 42-78847

The third prototype XP-55 (s/n 42-78847) was lost on 27 May 1945 during the closing day of the Seventh War Bond Air Show at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft was piloted at the time by Capt. William Glasgow, a highly-decorated former P-47 pilot who had been shot down over France and held as a POW by the Germans..[1] The closing ceremony was to feature five aircraft in formation to be followed by each aircraft making a low pass over the crowd, which was estimated to be between 100,000 and 120,000. One of the other aircraft was a P-47 piloted by the European Theater ace Don Gentile, while another fighter was piloted by P-38 ace Richard Bong. After the first two aircraft made their descents and passes the XP-55 was seen to dip from left to right before becoming inverted and striking the ground, erupting into a ball of flame. The disintegrating aircraft ran through the base fence near Gate 23 and onto Airport Rd. There it struck a car arriving for the show. The vehicle was occupied by a man, his wife, their infant son and a 22-year old family friend. The car was engulfed in flames, and fire crews at the scene had to wait several minutes before being able to approach the car. The occupants of the vehicle escaped the burning wreckage, but the husband died later that night at a Dayton area hospital. The wife was also severely burned. A police vehicle that was being used by a patrolman directing traffic into the show was also struck by debris. The patrolman, who had just directed the car to make a U-turn to park, barely escaped injury. Captain Glasgow was thrown from the XP-55 during the impact and died at the scene.[2]

Survivors

The only surviving XP-55 (42-78846) was flown to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia in May 1945. Later, it would be taken to Freeman Field before being transferred to the National Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. For many years its fuselage was displayed at the Smithsonian's Paul Garber restoration facility in Suitland, Maryland. In December 2001, the aircraft was transferred to the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan for restoration by Museum staff. The aircraft was found to be in overall good condition, with much of its original paint still intact. After nearly five years of restoration, the aircraft was put on display at the Air Zoo on 26 May 2006 and is on long-term loan from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum.

Specifications (XP-55)

Curtis XP-55 Ascender side view.

Data from WW2 Aircraft Fact Files: US Army Air Force Fighters, Part 1 [3]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 29 ft 7 in (9.0 m)
  • Wingspan: 40 ft 7 in (12.4 m)
  • Height: 10 ft 0 in (3.0 m)
  • Wing area: 235 ft² (21.83 m²)
  • Empty weight: 6,354 lb (2,882 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 7,710 lb (3,497 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 7,930 lb (3,600 kg)
  • Powerplant:Allison V-1710-95 liquid-cooled V12 engine, 1,275 hp (951 kW)

Performance

Armament

four 0.50-inch machine guns in the nose

See also

Related development

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Similar aircraft

Related lists

Related content

References

Notes
  1. ^ McIntyre 2004
  2. ^ Blazer 2008
  3. ^ Green and Swanborough 1977, pp. 69–71.
Bibliography
  • Balzer, Gerald H. American Secret Pusher Fighters of World War II: XP-54, XP-55, and XP-56. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2008. ISBN 1-58007-125-2.
  • Bowers, Peter M. Curtiss Aircraft, 1907-1947. London: Putnam 7 Company Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-370-10029-8.
  • Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Four: Fighters. London: MacDonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961 (Sixth impression 1969). ISBN 0-356-01448-7.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. WW2 Aircraft Fact Files: US Army Air Force Fighters, Part 1. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1977. ISBN 0-356-08218-0.
  • McIntyre, Violet. Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, NY, 11 November 2004.

External links


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