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Curtiss-Wright XP-71

Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft

United States | 1943

"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."

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 07/13/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
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.

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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.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft.
2 x Pratt & Whitney R-4360-13 Wasp Major radial piston engines developing 3,450 horsepower each.
429 mph
690 kph | 373 kts
Max Speed
40,026 ft
12,200 m | 8 miles
Service Ceiling
2,983 miles
4,800 km | 2,592 nm
Operational Range
2,000 ft/min
610 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft.
61.8 ft
18.85 m
O/A Length
82.0 ft
(25.00 m)
O/A Width
19.0 ft
(5.80 m)
O/A Height
31,085 lb
(14,100 kg)
Empty Weight
46,958 lb
(21,300 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft .
1 x 75mm cannon in the nose
2 x 37mm cannons in the nose
Notable series variants as part of the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 family line.
Model CW-29 - Curtiss company model designaton
XP-71 - Formal Project Designation
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Curtiss-Wright XP-71. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 1 Units

Contractor(s): Curtiss-Wright -USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 500mph
Lo: 250mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (429mph).

Graph Average of 375 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
1 / 1
Image of the Curtiss-Wright XP-71
Front right side view of a model representing the Curtiss-Wright XP-71 proposal.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Curtiss-Wright XP-71 Twin-Engine Heavy Fighter / Bomber Escort Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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