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Curtiss XP-53 (Model 88)

Lightweight Monoplane Fighter Proposal [ 1940 ]

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.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 07/13/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

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).©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

United States national flag graphic
United States

Development Ended.


National flag of the United States United States (cancelled)
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.

34.4 ft
(10.50 m)
41.3 ft
(12.60 m)
12.3 ft
(3.75 m)
Empty Wgt
7,716 lb
(3,500 kg)
9,998 lb
(4,535 kg)
Wgt Diff
+2,282 lb
(+1,035 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Curtiss XP-53 production variant)
Installed: 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.
Max Speed
429 mph
(690 kph | 373 kts)
30,512 ft
(9,300 m | 6 mi)
2,345 ft/min
(715 m/min)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the Curtiss XP-53 production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)
6 x 0.50 caliber Browning air-cooled heavy machine guns (four guns to a wing).

Supported Types

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 0

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

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Image of the Curtiss XP-53 (Model 88)
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