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Curtiss XP-53 (Model 88)

Lightweight Monoplane Fighter Proposal

Curtiss XP-53 (Model 88)

Lightweight Monoplane Fighter Proposal


The Curtiss Model 88 - or XP-53 - was another company attempt to improve upon its P-40 Warhawk family of fighters - it did no succeed.
National Flag Graphic
ORIGIN: United States
YEAR: 1940
STATUS: Cancelled
MANUFACTURER(S): Curtiss Aeroplane - USA
OPERATORS: United States (cancelled)

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Curtiss XP-53 model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 34.45 feet (10.5 meters)
WIDTH: 41.34 feet (12.6 meters)
HEIGHT: 12.30 feet (3.75 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 7,716 pounds (3,500 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 9,998 pounds (4,535 kilograms)
ENGINE: 1 x Continental XIV-1430-3 liquid-cooled inline-piston engine developing 1,600 horsepower and driving a three-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
SPEED (MAX): 429 miles-per-hour (690 kilometers-per-hour; 373 knots)
CEILING: 30,512 feet (9,300 meters; 5.78 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 2,345 feet-per-minute (715 meters-per-minute)

6 x 0.50 caliber Browning air-cooled heavy machine guns (four guns to a wing).
Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun

Series Model Variants
• XP-53 - Base Project Designation; single airframe completed but reused as engine testbed in the XP-60 program.
• Model 88 - Internal company designation


Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss XP-53 (Model 88) Lightweight Monoplane Fighter Proposal.  Entry last updated on 7/13/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
Curtiss Aeroplane attempted to improve upon its classic P-40 "Warhawk" fighter along many routes. This is what eventually pushed the XP-46 project for the United States Army. The lightweight design was ultimately hindered by Army meddling and Curtiss' ongoing commitment to the P-40 factory lines. As a result, the aircraft program was limited to just two prototypes for its time in history.

Nevertheless, engineers continued to find all that was good in their P-40 and extend these qualities into yet-another potential successor. This became the XP-53, known internally as "Model 88", and this offering garnered the interest of the Army as early as April of 1940. Later that year, specifications for the new monoplane fighter were fleshed out to include a (rather optimistic) maximum speed of 465 miles per hour (when fighting under 20,000 feet altitude), a ceiling reaching 30,500 feet and an armament of 6 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine guns (up from the originally-intended four-gun armament). Estimated empty weight was 7,650lb against an MTOW of 10,000lb. Self-sealing fuel tanks and armoring were to be standard. For power, the experimental Continental XIV-1430-3 series liquid-cooled inline piston engine of 1,600 horsepower was selected and this was to turn a three-bladed propeller at the nose.

October of 1940 yielded Curtiss a U.S. Army contract for a single flyable prototype to prove the design sound. The Army pushed for a second prototype to fit the Rolls-Royce Merlin 28 (V-1650-1) engine as insurance against the XIV-1430-3 should that engine fail in its development goals.

The end result was an aircraft very reminiscent of the classic P-40 though with somewhat longer, slender lines. The monoplane wing structure would run under the fuselage (ahead of midships) with a laminar-flow design and have rounded tips. The engine would be contained in the nose in the usual way and the tail was to be a traditional singe-finned arrangement. A tail-dragger undercarriage, wholly-retractable into the design, would allow for the necessary ground-running capability. The cockpit, seating one, was to be covered over in a heavily-framed canopy, the rear view dominated by the raised fuselage spine. Three machine guns were to be installed at each wing leading edge just outboard of the main landing gear leg well. It was proposed, at least for a short time, that armament be increased to four guns to a wing but this idea was stopped as it would have reduced the effectiveness of the wing.

The aircraft accordingly grew in weight, moving further away from its lightweight status to the point that the already-optimistic estimated speed was reduced by some 35 miles per hour even before the prototype was declared ready. Coupled with issues in bringing about the Continental engine online, the death knell for the XP-53 was struck. In November of 1941, the XP-53 was cancelled and its existing frame to be used in testing Merlin engine installations for the XP-60 program (detailed elsewhere on this site).


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

Graph average of 375 miles-per-hour.
Aviation Era
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Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production (1)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

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

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
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 pioneering aircraft
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 representing modern aircraft
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 War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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