Curtiss Aircraft enjoyed success with its inline piston-engined P-40 "Warhawk" series of fighters which went on to serve in many air forces of the time, seeing combat service throughout all of World War 2 in theaters from North Africa to China. The type was produced in nearly 14,000 examples and made the Curtiss-Wright Corporation a household name. However, the Warhawk served with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) and Curtiss sought to reclaim its relationship with the air arm of the United States Navy (USN), now largely allied to the competing Grumman Aircraft concern for their carrier-based fighter needs. In 1941, a new USN requirement came down for a well-armed, carrier-borne monoplane interceptor and - in a departure from the norm which largely restricted USN fighter designs to air-cooled radial piston engines in nature - the new design would carry the equally new high performance Lycoming XH-2470-4 series liquid-cooled inline piston engine. Curtiss-Wright was awarded a development contract on June 30th, 1941 for two complete prototypes under the designation of "XF14C".
As development began on the new mount - formally designated as the "XF14C-1" - it was shown that the Lycoming engine of choice would not be able to meet the demands of the USN requirement. The focus now shifted to the developmental Wright XR-3350 "Duplex-Cyclone" air-cooled radial piston engine and the USN suggested this type for the first incomplete Curtiss XF14C-1 airframe. Curtiss engineers then allied the powerplant with 2 x three-bladed contra-rotating propellers to produce the new "XF14C-2" prototype which achieved first flight in July of 1944.
The new fighter aircraft fitted the Wright XR-3350-16 18-cylinder, twin-row air-cooled radial piston engine developing 2,300 horsepower. This supplied the aircraft with a top speed of 424 miles per hour (296 mph cruise) at altitude with a range of 1,350 miles and a service ceiling of nearly 40,000 feet. Rate-of-climb was 2,700 feet per minute. Outwardly, the Curtiss design was conventional with a forward-set engine mounting and a traditional empennage. The cockpit was centered along the length of the fuselage length with a heavily glazed canopy offering up limited vision. The air-cooled engine forced a very deep forward fuselage which made the aircraft take on a rather portly appearance. The engine drove a pair of three-bladed propellers in a "contra-rotating" fashion for maximum output from the single engine fitting. The wings were straight appendages and low-mounted along the fuselage sides while all wing surfaces were rounded at their tips for a very clean and elegant look. The undercarriage was retractable with two main landing gear legs held under each wing. Standard armament was to be 6 x 0.50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns or 4 x 20mm cannons, all mounted in the wings.
The XF14C-1 was formally cancelled in December of 1943 which allowed focus on the XF14C-2 design. Despite the different engine fitting and the use of contra-rotating propellers, performance of the type was still lacking when compared to her contemporaries and exceptional vibrations of the aircraft in flight were noted during testing. Additionally, the XR-3350 series engine consistently showcased teething issues that proved it unsuitable for the short term. Its availability in the long term was, also, questioned as these were slated for large-scale use in the new four-engined Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers required of the Pacific Theater. By this point in the war, the US Navy was already fielding the excellent Grumman F6F "Hellcat" and Vought F4U "Corsair" carrier-based fighters with tremendous success against Japanese airmen, further damning the XF14C program as the USN's new carrier-borne interceptor/fighter. As such, in the early part of 1945 the Curtiss XF14C program was officially cancelled by the USN, leaving just one completed prototype to show for the effort. Initial work on a version of the XF14C with a pressurized cockpit for high-altitude work was born as the "XF14C-3" but this design was never furthered.
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