The story of the Consolidated Vultee TBY "Sea Wolf" began with competitor Vought who earned a single prototype contract from the United States Navy (USN) for its "XTBU-1" torpedo bomber design in April of 1940. This work stemmed from a 1939 USN torpedo bomber competition and the Vought team emerged with an aircraft design and configuration that was not unlike that of the competing Grumman TBF "Avenger" torpedo bomber. The Vought approach was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney XR-2800-6 radial piston engine of 2,000 horsepower and its crew numbered three under a long-running greenhouse-style canopy. The fuselage was purposely deep for the bomb bay within, The bay featured two-piece powered doors and offered support for conventional drop bombs or a torpedo up to 2,000lbs. Additional armament came from a 0.30 caliber medium machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing mount managed by the pilot and a 0.50 caliber machine gun in a powered aft dorsal turret for a dedicated gunner. A 0.30 caliber machine gun was mounted in a ventral ball facing aft to protect the aircraft's more vulnerable lower rear angles. The wings were cleared for the carrying of 500lb bombs as well as high-velocity, high-explosive rockets.
The XTBU-1 was granted the nickname of "Sea Wolf" and the prototype achieved first flight on December 22nd, 1941. Despite the USN already committed to the Grumman product, the XTBU-1 was furthered as an insurance policy against the Avenger. The XTBU-1 prototype, although heavier than its competitor, showcased better performance which gave it an underlying edge against the favored Avenger design and formal evaluations of the Vought prototype began in March of 1942.
As a result of this phase, the USN contracted for 1,100 Vought TBU-1 torpedo bombers at the height of the war in the Pacific. However, Vought's current commitment lay in manufacture of the classic F4U "Corsair" carrier-based fighter by the thousands which left little room for a new torpedo bomber in the production mix. The aircraft was then contracted out to Consolidated Vultee in December of 1942 which was to produce the aircraft as the "TBY-1". A converted a truck plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania would be its home facility. Both the conversion process and employee training would delay the TBY-1 project for months as manufacture attempted to ramp up.
The program also suffered two major setbacks when its prototype was damaged and this served to only delay the project even further. On the first occasion, the tail unit was ripped away during an arrestor hook landing trial forcing lengthy repairs. The aircraft's new tail then got caught in the blades of an out-of-control trainer aircraft which resulted in another round of repairs. During the lull, engineers went ahead and devised a new, less complicated single-piece bomb bay door system, added more cockpit armoring and revised the undercarriage for the better. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800-20 series radial engine also replaced the original selection and additional machine guns were introduced for more potent firepower.
As delays in the Allentown plant continued, the engine switched out again, this time to the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-22 series of 2,100 horsepower and this change begat the new "TBY-2" designation.
As completed, the TBY featured a length of 39 feet,2 inches with a wingspan of 56 feet, 11 inches and height of 15 feet, 6 inches. Empty weight was listed at 11,365lbs with a Maximum Take-Off Weight of 18,450lbs. Maximum speed from the R-2800 radial was 305 miles per hour with a range out to 1,500 miles and a service of 27,200 feet. The Avenger managed a top speed of 275 miles per hour with a range of 1,000 miles and service ceiling of 30,100 feet.
The war - and its related technologies - had progressed to the point that the TBY was soon becoming a casualty of its own delays while the Grumman bomber was finding success. An operational quality Vultee aircraft did not hit the skies until August 1944 and the USN, sensing it no longer needed the Vought product, returned with a reduced procurement order for just 504 aircraft (in comparison the Grumman Avenger saw production reach over 9,800 by war's end). It was not until November of 1944 than the USN received its first TBY-2 and deliveries continued into 1945.
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1 x 0.30 caliber machine gun in engine cowling.
1 x 0.50 caliber machine gun in rear powered turret.
1 x 0.30 caliber machine gun in ventral ball mounting.
2 x 0.50 caliber machine guns in wings (later).
Up to 2,000lbs of internal and external stores including conventional drop bombs (or a single torpedo) and underwing rockets.
XTBU-1 "Sea Wolf" - Original Vought product; single prototype example.
TBY-2 - Consolidated Vultee production mark.
TBY-3 - Proposed mark with R-2800-34 engine; tested on 7th production TBY-2; never furthered.
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Front right side view of the TBY-2 Sea Wolf production aircraft; US Navy photograph.
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