Okay, it's been far too long since I put one of these together, but I stumbled across this classic again last night and just had to share.
The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster. Yes, that's its real name
In 1943 Douglas engineers had an idea: What if instead of making a large, expensive bomber, we made a small but very fast bomber? The goal was to match the range of a B-29 without the massive size and cost of one, to be able to carry 2000 pounds of bombs 2000 miles at a high rate of speed.
While high speed bombers are a reality today (See: Rockwell B-1 Lancer), the idea of a fast bomber in 1943 was a bit ludicrous. Douglas had an interesting solution: minimize drag, maximize power. Okay, so that's the solution anyone would have (See: Rockwell B-1 Lancer), but the way Douglas achieved it was insane. And it was just insane enough for the USAAF to fund 2 flying prototypes and one static test airframe.
When you look at a bomber like the B-29, the engines are placed on the wing. This is structurally efficient and good for keeping the engines cool, but that's a lot of drag. To cut the drag down, Douglas put the engines entirely inside the fuselage. To get the power up, they used two of them running a set of contra rotating propellers strapped to the tail. These were powered by two Allison V-1710-125 V-12 engines, better known as the engines that powered the P-38 Lightning
As if the contra rotating propellers sticking out the butt weren't enough, the Mixmaster had another unusual feature: the crew seating. The bomber had a crew of 3: pilot, copilot, and bombadier. The original model placed the pilot and copilot in separate bubble canopies, giving the Mixmaster an odd bugeye look.
Needless to say that was a pretty silly idea, it was difficult for the pilot and copilot to communicate so they switched to a single bubble during testing.
So, how'd it turn out? Pretty darn well actually. The plane performed exactly as it was designed to: it flew fast and carried a lot of bombs. It flew so fast that it actually set a transcontinental speed record in 1945, flying from Long Beach, CA to Washington DC in 5 hours and 17 minutes, a speed record of 433.6 mph.
Things got weird after that. In an attempt to get even more speed out of the plane, Douglas mounted two Westinghouse turbojets on the wings of the second prototype (the first prototype was destroyed in a crash; nose gear failure on landing).
Top speed was increased by nearly 60 miles per hour, reaching 488 mph! It completed 22 flights before the odd vertical fin design final bit the prototype, during a hard landing in 1947 the lower tail was damaged. The aircraft was repaired, but it never flew again. While the performance was certainly as good as promised, with WWII coming to a close the Air Force wisely decided to wait for jet engines to improve before pursuing a new bomber. They did, with the fantastic B-47 Stratojet entering service in 1951
So what became of the Mixmaster? When removed from the register in 1949 it was given to the National Air and Space Museum but was never displayed. The wings were removed to transport it to storage, but some how got lost along the way. In 2010 the fuselage was transfered to the National Mueum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio to be restored and displayed, but alas, as with many other truly amazing airplanes it's destination was the Experimental Hangar, which shut it's doors in May due to sequestration.
For now, the only way to view this extraordinary and unique aircraft is through pictures and history books, and boy, what an aircraft it is to view