Vickers Type 432 High-Altitude Heavy Fighter Prototype
The single-seat, twin-engined Type 432 heavy fighter of World War 2 marked the last notable foray for the Vickers company into military fighter development.
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Since 1911, the Vickers concern of Britain delivered aircraft for military and civilian market use. The company became more focused on larger bomber projects in the years following World War 1 (1914-1918) and this commitment was ever more apparent during World War 2 (1939-1945) with the arrivals of the Vickers Wellington (11,461 produced) and the Vickers Warwick (842 produced). In the Cold War-era, the company went on to deliver the iconic Vickers "Valliant" as one-third of the "V-bomber" triumvirate (a nuclear-capable bomber trio that included the classic Avro "Vulcan" and Handley Page "Victor"). Company work into smaller fighter-class developments during World War 2 were few and far between though there was one development of note - the "Type 432" - that emerged as a contender for the high-altitude fighter role.
Even before the start of the war in September of 1939, Vickers attempted to answer British Air Ministry Specification F.6/39 which called for a two-seat fighter platform capable of 400 mile per hour speeds. The timing was such that the company had already been working on a similar form with armment centered on a large caliber 40mm automatic cannon fitted to the nose. The cannon's mounting was designed to be slightly trainable for tactical flexibility and increased first-hit capability than simply pointing the aircraft to a target and shooting. The 40mm cannon offered single-hit destructive power against most any aerial threat of the period. To help sell the idea further, Vickers engineers drew up varying designs of the concept including a version with fixed cannon armament.
The Air Ministry showed enough interest in the fixed armament version that Specification F.22/39 of 1939 was created and two prototypes ordered as "Type 414". Their layout would be conventional in that a centralized fuselage would be used to house the multi-person crew and many of the major onboard systems. The tail used a twin-finned unit and the wing mainplanes were elliptical in their general shape - reminiscent of the classic Supermarine Spitfire fighter. The cockpit held its piloting crew in a side-by side arrangement similar to that as seen in the competing twin-engined de Havilland Mosquito heavy fighter. The 40mm cannon's barrel protruded a considerable distance from the point of the nose. The twin-engine arrangement fitted each powerplant into streamlined nacelles running well-ahead of the wing leading edges and cancelling at the respective trailing edges. A tail-dragger wheeled undercarriage would have been used.
Despite the order for prototypes of this design, the Type 414 initiative was not fulfilled. Instead attention switched, yet again, to a new variant which intended to install no fewer than eight 20mm Hispano autocannons. The tail unit was simplified to become a single fin while all other aspects of this aircraft were to remain largely conventional. This model became the "Type 420" and appeared in April of 1940 as Britain was already committed to the war effort. Specification F.15/40 was drawn up to satisfy development of this design and the Rolls-Royce "Griffon" inline engine was selected to power the aircraft.
Yet again things changed for a new design emerged in early 1941 and this example featured a crew of two with power switched to Rolls-Royce "Merlin" engines. The aircraft became company model "Type 432" and its designed continually evolved to eventually become a single-seat, high-performance, high-altitude twin-engine heavy fighter. The eight cannon armament was reduced to six guns and these were concentrated in a ventral mounting. The engines became Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 inlines. To accommodate high-altitude flying over 20,000 feet, a pressurized cabin was to be featured. The Air Ministry was convinced enough to contract for a pair of flyable prototypes for testing.
Work on this aircraft began during 1942 and a first flight was achieved on December 24th of that year. The design was a sleek and rather modern offering with the cockpit held well-forward in the fuselage yet aft of a short nosecone. The fuselage was streamlined and tapered at the empennage which showcased the single rudder fin. The engines were held in streamlined nacelles running the full chord length of the wings which were themselves mid-mounted along the fuselage sides. Each nacelle housed the main landing gear leg with the rear of the aircraft supported by a small tail wheel. Vision out-of-the-cockpit was largely obstructed to the sides - the price to be paid for a twin-engine configuration. Each engine drove a four-blade propeller. All told, the Type 432 was dimensionally large aircraft.
Testing on the Type 432 was lengthy by wartime standards which could see a design emerge from paper to serial production in a few short months if pressed - though this was not the norm. The prototype was used in a series of tests that ranged into 1944 and there proved consistent issues with handling, particularly on approach, and controlling during tight turns. Take-off was known to have supplied its own set of challenges and performance - due to engine limitations - was reduced when flying at anything higher than 25,000 feet.
Many of the performance and handling issues with the Type 432 were never rectified and the aircraft's long gestational period led to ultimate abandonment by the Air Ministry. Just a single flyable prototype was realized in all of the time and work allotted the project and twenty-nine flights were gleaned from this airframe. By this point in the war, the de Havilland Mosquito twin-engine fighter had taken the reigns across a multitude of combat roles for the British air service leaving the Type 432 with no battlefield role to fulfill. Vickers continued committing its plants and workers to large bomber production throughout the war while the forgotten Type 432 marked its last notable venture into the realm of military fighter platform for the storied company.