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Curtiss-Wright XP-71

United States (1943)
Picture of Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft

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.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 7/13/2018. 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.

Power for the XP-71 came from a pair of large and powerful Pratt & Whitney R-4360-13 "Wasp Major" radial piston engines developing 3,450 horsepower each while coupled to General Electric turbochargers. This became 6,900 total horsepower when combined which required a stiff mounting structure and large propeller blades for optimal thrust output. As such, Hamilton Standard 13.5-foot diameter blades were installed and each engine drove these in a contra-rotating configuration set within a "pusher" arrangement. That is, the propellers were fitted at the wing trailing edges as opposed to a position ahead of the wing leading edges - common to many other aircraft. In this fashion, the engines "pushed" the aircraft through the air instead of "pulling" it. Undoubtedly, this was one of the more unique design qualities of the Curtiss design. The twin engine installation provided the airframe with a maximum reported speed of 430 miles per hour with a range out to 3,000 miles. Its service ceiling was 40,000 feet which necessitated a fully-pressurized cockpit for the pilot.
At the heart of this "bomber destroyer" was its armament - led by a 75mm cannon in the nose. This was supplemented by 2 x 37mm cannons in the nose as well, giving the XP-71 a potent "one-two" punch against all known bomber targets in service with Axis forces - primarily those of Germany. The 75mm cannon was fed through an automated feeder which supplied 20 projectiles while the 37mm guns were afforded 60 rounds each. This ammunition stock was rather limiting, requiring the pilot to utilized short, controlled bursts to good effect.

Work on the Curtiss aircraft continued into 1943 and its technological edge was becoming a greater issue for engineers to overcome than originally envisioned. During testing in February of 1943, the gun arrangement in the nose proved problematic and applicable gun systems were revealing their own issues. Add to this the changing face of the war during 1943 which did not see the emergence of large scores of German bombers but, in turn, the rise of long-range bomber formations fielded by the Allies - limiting the potential tactical appeal of the XP-71 in the heavy fighter / bomber escort role, particularly when other fighters such as the North American P-51 and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt were equally up to the task.

As such, the XP-71 program - as promising as the heavy fighter was - was officially cancelled during October of 1943. The Army briefly toyed with the idea of converting the XP-71 into a reconnaissance-minded platform but this endeavor turned to naught and no other service branches took serious consideration of the XP-71. It therefore joined the many other American efforts to produce the perfect aircraft for the job during World War 2.

Curtiss factories continued in their support of the war effort through aircraft production of other types.






Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 500mph
Lo: 250mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (429mph).

    Graph average of 375 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Graph showcases the Curtiss-Wright XP-71's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units
1
1


  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.


Altitude Visualization
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Origin: United States
Year: 1943
Type: Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Curtiss-Wright -USA
Production: 1
Status: Cancelled
Global Operators:
United States
Historical Commitments / Honors:

Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.

Operational
CREW


Personnel
1


Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
61.84 ft


Meters
18.85 m


Dimension
WIDTH


Feet
82.02 ft


Meters
25 m


Dimension
HEIGHT


Feet
19.03 ft


Meters
5.8 m


Weight
EMPTY


Pounds
31,085 lb


Kilograms
14,100 kg


Weight
LOADED


Pounds
46,958 lb


Kilograms
21,300 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
2 x Pratt & Whitney R-4360-13 Wasp Major radial piston engines developing 3,450 horsepower each.

Performance
SPEED


Miles-per-Hour
429 mph


Kilometers-per-Hour
690 kph


Knots
373 kts


Performance
RANGE


Miles
2,983 mi


Kilometers
4,800 km


Nautical Miles
2,592 nm


Performance
CEILING


Feet
40,026 ft


Meters
12,200 m


Miles
7.58 mi


Performance
CLIMB RATE


Feet-per-Minute
2,000 ft/min


Meters-per-Minute
610 m/min

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircrat automatic cannon
Armament - Hardpoints (0):

1 x 75mm cannon in the nose
2 x 37mm cannons in the nose
Variants: Series Model Variants
• Model CW-29 - Curtiss company model designaton
• XP-71 - Formal Project Designation