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  • Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort

    The Curtiss XP-71 was developed along the lines of a heavy fighter with solely cannon armament - though the need for such an aircraft type was over by the end of 1943.

     Updated: 5/12/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    Prior to America's entry into World War 2 (1939-1945) in 1941, the war was viewed from an "outside-looking-in" perspective. Observations were keenly focused on the evolving (and deteriorating) situation in Europe where quick-bombing strikes paralyzed military forces and populations alike. German and Axis elements made their way across Poland, Norway, the Low Countries and, finally, France to give real rise to the threat of American soil being attacked once Britain had fallen. Such thinking then spurred development into heavy fighter types designed to meet the threat of bomber formations head on and one such accepted submission by the United States Army was from Curtiss-Wright who sold them on the idea of its two-seat XP-71 heavy concept.

    The primary role for the new aircraft was in intercepting bomber formations, cutting through their ranks with cannon fire while avoiding enemy guns and escort fighters. Its secondary role would see the mount used as an escort for Allied bombers in turn for when the battle turned against the invader. The design would have to possess the necessary speed, agility, firepower and range to meet the challenges it would eventually face. As proved common practice during the war, the Army contracted for two working prototypes in the XP-71 mold based on the company's "Model CW-29" proposal. The contract appeared on October 28th, 1941 - just months before the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

    A mockup of the XP-71 was completed and reviewed during November 1942 and the interesting design decision was made to make the XP-71 a single-seat heavy fighter. This allowed for more internal space to be maximized for components such as avionics, fuel and electronics but also increased the pilot's workload in flight. Overall dimensions produced a very large fighter aircraft with a wingspan reaching 82.25 feet, a length of 61.8 feet and a height of 19 feet. Engineers elected for a conventional arrangement in which the fuselage made up most of the continuous length of the aircraft. Wings were shoulder-mounted amidships and each held an engine nacelle running ahead of the leading edge and through the trailing edge. The cockpit sat just forward of the main wing element which offered excellent vision forward, to the sides and to the rear thanks to a lightly-framed bubble-style canopy. The cockpit sat well aft of the nose cone assembly which was to house a potent cannon armament. The fuselage then tapered at the empennage which was capped by a rounded single vertical tail fin and low horizontal planes. The undercarriage was of the tricycle arrangement which made ground running easier for the pilot to handle while offering the necessary clearance for the spinning propeller blades selected. A first flight was tentatively scheduled for June of 1944.

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    Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1943
    Type: Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort
    National Origin: United States
    Manufacturer(s): Curtiss-Wright -USA
    Production Total: 1

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 61.84 feet (18.85 meters)
    Width: 82.02 feet (25.00 meters)
    Height: 19.03 feet (5.80 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 31,085 lb (14,100 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 46,958 lb (21,300 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 2 x Pratt & Whitney R-4360-13 Wasp Major radial piston engines developing 3,450 horsepower each.

    Maximum Speed: 429 mph (690 kph; 373 knots)
    Maximum Range: 2,983 miles (4,800 km)
    Service Ceiling: 40,026 feet (12,200 meters; 7.58 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 2,000 feet-per-minute (610 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    1 x 75mm cannon in the nose
    2 x 37mm cannons in the nose

    Global Operators / Customers

    United States

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    Model CW-29 - Curtiss company model designaton

    XP-71 - Formal Project Designation