From the Planes You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of Department of Planelopnik, we bring you the Vultee XP-54 “Swoose Goose.”
Fearing that American aircraft development was stagnating, the US Army Air Corps issued Request for Data R-40C in 1940 hoping to encourage designers to create new aircraft that went beyond the monoplane arrangement that had become standard during the 1930s. Three of the designs to come out of this request featured pusher propellers: the Vultee XP-54, nicknamed the “Swoose Goose,” the Curtiss XP-55 Ascender, and the radical Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet. For the XP-54, Vultee intended to use the experimental Pratt & Whitney X-1800-A4G “hyper engine,” which they optimistically expected would provide up to 2200 turbocharged horsepower and carry the Swoose Goose to 510 mph at 20,000ft. But when the X-1800 engine was cancelled, they substituted a less powerful Lycoming engine, which turned out to be inadequate for such a large aircraft, so the specification was changed from fighter to bomber-interceptor.
With the change in role, the armament was also changed from the original six .50 caliber machine guns to two 37mm cannons and two .50 caliber machine guns. To deal with the lower muzzle velocity of the cannon, Vultee devised a system where the entire nose could be tilted up six degrees in order to lob the cannon shells forward, and also lowered three degrees for attacking ground targets with the machine guns. Another Vultee innovation was a pilot’s seat that lowered beneath the plane through a hatch so the pilot could be raised into the cockpit. This mechanism also served to drop the pilot through the bottom of the fuselage in case of emergency, making it essentially an early downward ejection seat.
Two prototypes were built, and the maiden flight took place on January 15, 1943, followed by 86 test flights. But as is so often the case in aircraft development of the period, the engine just wasn’t up to the task and the XP-54 never achieved the hoped-for performance. The project was cancelled in 1942. Vultee considered developing the XP-54 into the XP-68 Tornado by using a more powerful engine, but when that engine was also cancelled the Tornado followed suit.
This the first installment in our look at the R-40C aircraft. Tune in next week when we take a look at the Curtiss Ascender.
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