All posts by Leo Guo

About Leo Guo

Leo Guo is an avid aviation enthusiast based in West Vancouver, Canada. Having a particular interest in German and Chinese aviation, Leo has contributed numerous articles for Plane Encyclopedia, of which he holds the position of team manager, head writer and co-owner.

Messerschmitt Me 163S Habicht

Nazi flag Nazi Germany (1945)
Rocket Interceptor Trainer – 1 Built

A rear 3/4 view of the Soviet captured “White 94” Me 163S. Colorization by Michael Jucan [Yefim Gordon]
The Messerschmitt Me 163S (Schulflugzeug / Training Aircraft) Habicht (Hawk) was an unarmed two-seat training glider based off of the famous Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet. Originally designed for the purpose of training novice pilots for landing, the Habicht ultimately never saw active service with the Germans and only a single example was produced through the conversion of a serial Me 163B-1. With the sole example captured by the Russians after the war, the Habicht underwent extensive testing by the Soviet Air Force which helped them understand the flying characteristics of the Komet and prepared Soviet pilots for flying the powered Komets. The Habicht undoubtedly played a part in helping Soviet engineers understand the Komet and thus played a part in the future development of Soviet rocket aircraft.

History

A closeup view of the Me 163S showing the right wing. [Yefim Gordon]
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet was one of Nazi Germany’s most famous aircraft produced during the Second World War. Although bearing the title of the world’s first mass-produced rocket-powered interceptor, the Komet did have its fair share of flaws, such as the volatile and sometimes dangerous Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine, which prevented it from becoming an effective weapon against the Allies.

As the Komet was designed to have a limited amount of fuel to engage Allied bombers, pilots were expected to glide the Komet back to friendly airfields once they disengaged from combat. With gliding landings as a potential problem for the less experienced pilots, one of the ideas proposed by Messerschmitt designers in 1944 was to introduce a dedicated trainer variant of the Komet which would have a student pilot accompanied by an instructor pilot. Designated as the Messerschmitt Me 163S (Schulflugzeug / Training Aircraft) Habicht, the trainer glider differed from the production model with the addition of an instructor’s cockpit behind the forward cockpit. This addition was accompanied by the removal of the Walter HWK 109-509 rocket engine and the Habicht would have to be towed by another aircraft in order to get airborne. Another interesting addition to the Habicht was a second liquid tank behind the instructor’s cockpit for counterbalancing. All the liquid tanks would be filled with water for weight simulation and ballast. A total of twelve examples were planned for production, but only one was produced due to wartime production constraints.

The sole example of the Habicht was built by converting an earlier Me 163B-1 production model. Due to the scarcity of information regarding the Me 163S, it is unknown exactly when the Habicht was produced and what sort of testing it may have undergone during German possession. However, it is known that the Soviet Union was able to capture the only example during the final stages of the World War II’s Eastern Front. The sole Habicht was sent to the Soviet Union along with three Me 163B Komets during the Summer of 1945 for thorough inspection and testing. In historian Yefim Gordon’s book “Soviet Rocket Fighters – Red Star Volume 30”, he claims that in addition to the three Komets, seven Habicht trainer models were also captured. This, however, remains quite dubious as there is no evidence that more than one Habicht existed, and all current photographic material, research materials, and books all suggest that only a single example was produced.

The Me 163S in simulated flight configuration aided by struts. [Yefim Gordon]
As the Soviets were particularly interested in rocket propulsion aircraft, the State Defence Committee issued a resolution which called for the thorough examination of the Walter 109-509 jet engine and the Me 163 Komet along with captured German documents on rocket propulsion. The three Me 163B Komets, of which only one was airworthy, and the Me 163S Habicht were sent to the Flight Research Institute (LII), the Valeriy P. Chkalov Soviet Air Force State Research Institute (GK NII VSS), and the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI). The Habicht and Komets saw extensive testing in Soviet hands, undergoing several structural, static and wind tunnel tests. During the initial flight testing period, the Komet only flew as a glider as Soviet pilots and engineers were unsure of whether or not the Walter rocket engine was ready for use since bench tests were not completed. Securing the T-Stoff and C-Stoff propellants for the rocket engine was also a problem. In order to understand the handling characteristics of the Komet, the Habicht was flown numerous times at different altitudes, as was the unpowered Komet. A Tupolev Tu-2 bomber was responsible for towing the Habicht to these altitudes. Under Soviet ownership, the Habicht was given the nickname of “Карась” (Karas / Crucian Carp) due to the glider’s distinct silhouette. The test pilot responsible for flying the Habicht was Mark Lazarevich Gallaj. In general, the Habicht was considered relatively easy to handle by the Soviet test pilots. It is unknown how many test flights the Habicht underwent, but the aircraft certainly aided Soviet pilots in understanding the handling characteristics of the Komet. The Habicht’s service came to an end once the Soviet state trials of the Komet concluded. The sole example was scrapped sometime in 1946, along with seemingly all the other Komets.

If the Me 163S was able to be mass produced and flown with the Luftwaffe, the aircraft would have been a valuable tool to train German pilots. Landing the Komet was a problem for some pilots and in some cases resulted in fatalities but, with the use of the Habicht, the number of accidents would have certainly decreased.

Design

The Me 163S hung upside down in an unspecified TsAGI workshop for static testing. [Yefim Gordon]
The Messerschmitt Me 163S Habicht was a semi-monocoque aluminum based two-seat training glider developed off the standard tailless Messerschmitt Me 163B-1 Komet. The sole example was converted from a production Komet, which meant dramatic modifications had to be made to the aircraft. The Walther HWK 109-509 rocket engine was removed and in its place was a cockpit for an instructor. The fuel tanks in the airframe were all filled with water to simulate fuel weight while another water tank was added behind the instructor’s cockpit for ballast purposes. There was no armament fitted to the glider. There was a small transparent section between the student pilot’s cockpit and the instructor pilot’s cockpit, presumably for the purpose of communication. As there are no known German documents on the Habicht and Russian documents are scarce, not much is known on the other differences the Habicht may have had. Detailed specifications of the Habicht are unknown, but theoretically it should have been identical to the standard Me 163B-1 Komet except for possibly weight, air drag and center of gravity.

Operators

  • Nazi Germany – The intended operator and producer of the Me 163S Habicht.
  • Soviet Union – The main operator of the Me 163S Habicht. A single Habicht was captured and tested by the Soviets after the war. The Habicht was scrapped in 1946.

*Editor’s note: As noted above, the exact specifications of the Me 163S Habicht are unknown. However they are presumed to be similar to that of the Me 163B-1 Komet.

Gallery

Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

Me 163S Habicht “White 94” in Russian Service [Haryo Panji]
Me 163S Habicht in German Service [Haryo Panji]
 

 

Now known as the “White 94”, the Me 163S sits idly by. [Yefim Gordon]
A closeup view of the Me 163S showing the transparent section between the two cockpits. [Yefim Gordon]
The Me 163S in simulated flight configuration aided by struts. [Yefim Gordon]
A top down view of the “White 94” Me 163S. [Yefim Gordon]
A photo of the “White 94” Me 163S in flight being towed by a presumed Tupolev Tu-2. The pilot in the photo is likely Mark L. Gallaj. [Yefim Gordon]
The Me 163S inside TsAGI’s T-101 wind tunnel for testing. The struts support the Habicht and simulate its flight configuration. [Yefim Gordon]
An alternate closeup view of the Me 163S during static tests. [Yefim Gordon]

Yet another inverted static test, but this time the tail wheel strut and tire were removed from the Me 163S. [Yefim Gordon]

Sources

English Electric / Avro Canada Canberra T.25 “Hoverberra”

Canada flagUK flag Canada / United Kingdom (1960)
Experimental VTOL Aircraft Variant – 1 Converted

The prototype Canberra T.25 during it’s first vertical flight. The Avro-Stroker B.69-420 jet engines would explode and destroy the plane just seconds after this photo was taken. (British Archives)

The English Electric Canberra T.25 (nicknamed Hoverberra by the designer team) was an experimental VTOL variant of the British Canberra jet bomber which was patented and developed by Avro Canada designer Richard Stroker. With a standard Canberra B.2 converted to mount two experimental Avro-Stroker BS.69-420 turbojet engines, the aircraft was given the experimental title of T.25 and was vertically flown for the first time on April 1st of 1960. Unfortunately, the first and only test flight resulted in catastrophic failure when the two experimental Avro-Stroker J-69-420 engines spontaneously combusted and exploded shortly after the T.25 got off the ground. Soon after, all work on the project was halted.

History

In the recent months, an experimental variant of the English Electric Canberra jet bomber was discovered in the National Archives in Greater London. Surprisingly enough, the variant was developed in the Dominion of Canada, which never officially operated or received any Canberras! This experimental variant bears the title of Canberra T.25 and was a testbed for an obscure Canadian developed turbojet engine designated as the “Avro-Stroker BS.69-420”. Much of the information regarding this variant has been lost to history, but the fundamentals appear to have been recorded by a variety of sources. Although Canada was never a recipient or official operator of the English Electric Canberra jet bomber, a single example of the Canberra B.2 found its way to Canada in February of 1959. Details of this purchase are not known, but it would appear that the aircraft was purchased by a civilian firm. As such, the aircraft was stripped of much of its military equipment.

Sometime in late 1959, a relatively unknown Avro Canada employee known by the name of Richard Stroker (referred as “Dick” by most) patented a turbojet engine which he had been working on since 1951. Stroker was part of the occupational forces in Germany after the war, and he was one of the engineers who were tasked with studying experimental Nazi hoverjet technology. Details on the precise technologies he was tasked to study are unclear. It would appear that the Avro Canada had taken an interest in this experimental engine Stroker developed, and decided to manufacture a small batch for trials. The engine received the designation of “Avro-Stroker BS.69-420” and it would appear that only four examples were manufactured. Wishing to test the engines, Avro Canada reached out to the Canadian government for permission to utilize a test frame. With the rather small size of the turbojet engines, they were envisioned to power the aircraft horizontally, allowing it to lift upwards. Previous work done on the VZ-9 Avrocar assisted with this engine’s development. As the Canberra B.2 was obtained recently, the Canadian government allocated it to the Avro Canada designers. It would appear that the British Ministry of Aviation was notified of this development, and they took a keen interest in the modification. Soon after, a team of twelve British engineers were dispatched to Canada to observe and assist in the project’s development.

By March 3rd of 1960, much of the modified Canberra’s design was completed. The Canberra received the official designation of Canberra T.25 within the United Kingdom and was nicknamed “Hoverberra” by the design team. Two BS.69-420 turbojet engines were mounted within the bomb bay and rear fuselage at a 90-degree angle. According to official engine bench tests, the BS.69-420 was capable of producing 4410 lb (2,000 kg) of thrust, which would have barely been able to power the Canberra, even with most of its military equipment stripped. As such, the Canberra T.25 was transported to the Toronto Malton Airport (today known as Pearson International Airport) on March 27th. Preparations were being made to initiate the Canberra T.25’s first vertical flight. The Canadian test pilot’s full name is unknown, but documents identified him as “Pranks.” Soon after, all preparations for the Canberra T.25’s first flight was complete. The test flight was to take place within a hangar, as the maiden flight’s purpose was to see if the aircraft could get off the ground at all, and did not instruct the pilot to fly high.

On April 1st at 0500 hours exact, the two BS.69-420 turbojet engines were ignited and the Canberra T.25 slowly lifted itself into the air. Canadian and British engineers and designers observed this process at a safe distance. Twelve seconds after the aircraft began hovering, a strange sound was reported by Pranks which he described as “a high pitched screeching.” As this was unusual and did not occur during engine bench tests, Pranks was ordered to immediately shut down the engine and descend. Just as this command was spoken, the B.69-420 turbojet engines exploded which completely destroyed the Canberra T.25 and killed Pranks. Two nearby engineers were also injured by flaming debris, one was severely burnt while the other made it off with relatively light injuries. Soon after this tragic incident, the Canadian government ordered the immediate cessation of work on this project.

As not much documentation seems to exist on this obscure project, much of the developmental history and post-cancellation history is unknown. However, the Canberra T.25 “Hoverberra” holds a special spot in aviation history as Canada’s indigenous endeavor to produce a VTOL aircraft. It is recorded that Richard Stroker soon resigned from Avro Canada following the catastrophic disaster. He soon moved from Toronto to Medicine Hat where he opened up a restaurant with his wife. He died in 1996 after suffering from colonl cancer.

Operators

  • Dominion of Canada – The Avro Canada firm developed the Canberra T.25 with assistance from British engineers. The aircraft would have likely entered service as a photo reconnaissance aircraft
  • United Kingdom – The Ministry of Aviation took great interest in the Canadian VTOL development of the Canberra and provided personnel assistance to the Avro Canada designers. It is unknown whether or not they would have adopted the type for service.

Sources

  • Fiddlesworth, R. (1962). Completely Reliable Report on Jet Aircraft: Ministry of Fictitious Aircraft & Aviation.
  • Realname, J. (1960). April 1st Report on VTOL Technology: The Canberra T.25
  • Stroker, R. (1959). Engine Patent: VTOL BS.69-420 Turbojet

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in Finnish Service

Finnish flag old Republic of Finland (1943)
Fighter– 1 Operated

The Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk/Warhawk is one of the most iconic symbols of American aviation. Having served with over a dozen nations throughout its career, the aircraft proved itself capable of handling its own in combat. Although the Republic of Finland was never a recipient or official operator of the P-40, they were still able to obtain a single example from a Soviet pilot who landed in Finnish territory with his pristine P-40M. Serving mostly as a training aid, the Finnish P-40 Warhawk would never see combat against any of Finland’s enemies.

History

The Curtiss P-40 (affectionately known as the Kittyhawk for early variants and Warhawk for later variants) is perhaps one of the most recognizable American fighters of the 1930s. Most well known for having served with the “Flying Tigers” American Volunteer Group in the Pacific Theatre, the P-40 also had a fruitful service life on the Western Front and Eastern Front. One of the lesser known parts of the P-40’s history however, is the story of the Finnish P-40M Warhawk. The Finnish Air Force (FAF) had quite an interesting history during the 1940s. Equipped with a wide variety of German, Soviet, British and American aircraft, the word “diverse” would certainly apply to them. Despite Finland never officially receiving Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk / Warhawks, they were still able to obtain and service a single P-40M Warhawk from the Soviet Air Force during the Continuation War through a forced landing.

P-40 KH-51 after repainting for Finnish service (Kalevi Keskinen)

On December 27th of 1943, a Curtiss P-40M-10-CU known as “White 23” (ex-USAAF s/n 43-5925) belonging to the 191st IAP (Istrebitel’nyy Aviatsionnyy Polk / Fighter Regiment) piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Vitalyi Andreyevitsh Revin made a wheels-down landing on the frozen Valkjärvi lake in the Karelian Isthmus region. Finnish forces were able to quickly retrieve the plane in pristine condition.

The circumstances of Revin’s landing are quite odd, stirring up a couple of theories on why Revin decided to land his undamaged aircraft in Finnish territory. According to the 2001 January edition of the Finnish magazine “Sähkö & Tele”, Revin intentionally landed his plane in Finnish territory, suggesting he may have been working as a German spy. This magazine sourced a report by a Finnish liaison officer working in Luftflotte 1. Other contemporary sources suggest that Revin had to land due to a snowstorm which disoriented him and resulted in him getting lost, or that he simply ran out of fuel and had to make a landing. The fate of Revin is unknown. Nonetheless, White 23 was dismantled and taken to the Mechanics’ School located in Utti where it was reassembled and refurbished. Now given the identification code of “KH-51”, the aircraft was delivered to Hävittäjälentolaivue 24 (HLe.Lv.24 / No.24 Fighter Squadron) based in Mensuvaara on July 2nd of 1944.

Warhawk “White 23” in Soviet service before its capture by Finnish forces. (Kalevi Keskinen)

Although KH-51 was never deployed in combat, it served as a squadron training aid where numerous HLe.Lv.24 pilots flew the P-40 for practice without incident. On December 4th of 1944, KH-51 was handed over to Hävittäjälentolaivue 13 (HLe.Lv.13 / No.13 Fighter Squadron). No flights are believed to have happened while the aircraft was serving with this unit. On February 12th of 1945, the P-40 was taken to Tampere where a week later it would be retired and stored in the Air Depot. The total flight time recorded with KH-51 in Finnish service was 64 hours and 35 minutes. On January 2nd of 1950, KH-51 met its end once and for all when it was scrapped and sold.

Variant(s) Operated

  • P-40M-10-CU – A single example of the P-40M-10-CU known as “White 23” belonging to the Soviet 191st IAP was captured by Finnish forces after the plane’s pilot (2nd Lt. Vitalyi Andreyevitsh Revin) made a landing on Lake Valkjärvi in the Karelian Isthmus area on December 27th of 1943. The aircraft was dismantled, sent to a mechanics school, given the identification code of “KH-51”, reassembled and given to HLe.Lv.24 where it served as a training aid. KH-51 would later be reassigned to HLe.Lv.13 for a short while.

Gallery

Finnish P-40M-10-CU Warhawk “KH-51”

Sources

  • Keskinen, Kalevi, et al. Curtiss Hawk 75A, P-40M. Vol. 5, 1976.
  • Curtiss P-40 M-10 White 23 (Later Finnish KH-51) .” Soviet Warplane Pages
  • Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

Sikorsky S-70C-2 Black Hawk in Communist Chinese Service

PRC flag People’s Republic of China (1984)
Utility Helicopter – 24 Operated

The Sikorsky Black Hawk family is one of the most well-known helicopters of recent history. In its dozens of guises, it serves over 20 militaries worldwide. One of the lesser known operators is the People’s Republic of China. Initially purchased to be operated in the mountainous terrain of Tibet and Xinjiang, the Black Hawk eventually found itself as an aid relief helicopter in the 2008 and 2013 earthquakes in Sichuan and an inspiration for the design of the Harbin Z-20 helicopter.

History

S-70C-2 in combat excercises [dser.com]
The harsh geographic characteristics of Tibet and Xinjiang undoubtedly presented many tough problems to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The extreme altitudes of the Tibetan and Xinjiang plateaus make the duties of border troop outposts quite difficult, with Tibet being especially problematic. The Tibetan border alone spans nearly 3,728 mi / 6,000 km, with guard posts on mountains reaching over 13,123 ft / 4,000 m. The highest guardpost is the Shenxianwan (神仙湾) post at 17,650 ft / 5,380 m altitude. At these extreme altitudes the temperature is quite low with snow covering the mountains all year around, and the air is also oxygen deficient. All these factors combined make patrols and resupplying quite difficult for the border troops. Helicopters are the only viable option for resupplying missions as there are nearly no airstrips or adequate roads. The oxygen scarcity prevents helicopter engines from working to their full capacity, as well as reducing the rotor efficiency. This means that flying a helicopter up to that altitude is risky and difficult. Even if the helicopter can safely arrive, the amount of supplies that can be transported is severely limited and it would require several trips to fully resupply a base. In order to find a solution for this problem, China began to look into the international market for a high performing utility helicopter capable of operating at high altitudes and replacing the aging Soviet Mi-8 they were using for transport duties. Adopting the principle of “comparing three products and buying the best” (货比三家,择优选购), China chose three models of helicopters from various Western companies to compete for their business. The American Bell 214ST, Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk and French AS332 Eurocopter were chosen as potential candidates and examples of these helicopters were promptly sent to Lhasa for flight trials in December of 1983.

S-70C-2 preparing for takeoff [seesaawiki.jp]
The flight tests were conducted on an airfield at an altitude of approximately 5,600 ft / 1,600 m and had all three helicopters fly to higher mountains. Upon reaching approximately 9,840 ft / 3,000 m, it was discovered that the power of all these helicopters dropped noticeably and the engines were not able to deliver sufficient amounts of thrust and the helicopters were unable to successfully complete the test flight. After three months of research, Sikorsky’s technicians were able to successfully address most of the issues and flight tests for the Black Hawk were continued. The improved Black Hawk was able to fly over the Tanggula Mountains at an altitude of over 17,060 ft / 5,200 m and land in the nearby Ali region. After numerous thorough examinations, the Black Hawk was ultimately crowned as champion and determined to be best suited for the Tibetan and Xinjiang environment. In July of 1984, the Chinese government officially placed an order for 24 unarmed S-70C-2 Black Hawk models, which would be specially built for China. They featured high performing General Electric T700-701A engines for high altitude flights and a nose-mounted weather radar. The first batch of Blackhawks would arrive in November of the same year, designated as civilian helicopters. The transaction cost China an approximated total of 140 million USD.

S-70C-2 LH92204 participates in an aid relief operation [Sina News]
Despite officially being classified as civilian helicopters, the S-70C-2 was used in a military capacity during their service with the People’s Republic of China. Initially assigned to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in 1986, the Blackhawks were later reallocated to the PLA’s air branch. In Chinese service, the Black Hawk would mostly be assigned to the Tibetan plateaus, where they resupplied and transported border troops. During the 1987 border skirmish with India, the Blackhawks were extensively used for tactical troop transport and supply runs in the Indo-Tibetan border region. The S-70C-2 was able to carry up to 8000 lbs / 3630 kg of equipment, 12 or 14 people in normal situations , and up to 19 people in emergency situations. Unfortunately for the Chinese, support and spare parts from Sikorsky would come to an abrupt end after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The result of this massacre greatly impacted Sino-American relations and future sales of military hardware were prohibited. It seems that Sikorsky made an attempt to reestablish relations with the Chinese in 1998 by asking the government to allow the sale of replacement engines and parts to the Chinese, arguing that the parts should no longer be considered military hardware. This request, if ever made, was rejected. It would appear that only 21 of the 24 Blackhawks purchased were in service after 2000. Three Blackhawks were supposedly written off during service, probably due to piloting error or equipment malfunctions. Numerous Blackhawks were deployed during the 2008 and 2013 earthquakes in Sichuan, China to administer aid relief, alongside numerous Soviet-era helicopters such as the Mi-8. The Blackhawks are still in service with the Chinese to this day, but will most likely be replaced by the Harbin Z-20.

China’s “Indigenous” Black Hawk

Harbin Z-20 [chinese-military-aviation.blogspot.com]
When taking in account of China’s long history of reverse engineering or copying technology from other countries, it should be no surprise that the Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Company’s (HAMC) latest Z-20 (直-20, or Zhi-20) helicopter bears a striking resemblance to the Blackhawks. Believed to have been in development since 2006, the Z-20 finally took to the skies on December 23rd of 2013. Contemporary sources seem to suggest that the Z-20 possesses superior characteristics to the Black Hawk due to the refined design, but this has yet to be confirmed. As the Z-20 has only recently entered service and is still kept in relative secrecy. One can only speculate about its capabilities.

Variants Operated

  • S-70C-2 – The People’s Republic of China operated 24 examples of the S-70C-2 which were specially built for them by Sikorsky. This variant featured a nose-mounted weather radar, improved General Electric T700-701A engines for high altitude flights and various other improvements to the fuselage.

 Gallery

Illustrations by Ed Jackson www.artbyedo.com

Sikorsky S-70C-2 – LH92207
Sikorsky S-70C-2 – LH92210
S-70C-2 Hovering (Unknown source)
Detailed closeup of cockpit exterior (afwing.info)

S-70C-2 LH92206 transports a jeep during a military exercise [Sina News]
An unidentified S-70C-2 Black Hawk evacuates civilians in the Tibetan region. [Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft]
An unfortunate incident involving a unidentified S-70C-2 [Army Star]

Sources

 

Gloster CXP-1001

Taiwan flag UK Union Jack Republic of China / United Kingdom (1947)
Jet Fighter – 1 Mockup Built

A modern interpretation of the Gloster CXP-1001 Blueprint (theblueprints.com)

The Gloster CXP-1001 jet fighter was the result of a joint Anglo-Chinese design venture initially conducted in 1946 to provide the Republic of China with a modern and efficient jet fighter. Based on the Gloster E.1/44, the CXP-1001 would have been the first jet aircraft to enter service in China. Plagued by slow development and lack of funding, the CXP-1001 was never fully completed, although a mockup was produced. Despite the fact that the Gloster CXP-1001 was one of the most important milestones of Chinese aviation, it is relatively unknown to both the Eastern and Western world due to its obscurity.

History

With the conclusion of the Second World War, both the Communist Chinese forces under Mao Zedong and Chinese Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek were preparing themselves for the inevitable continuation of the Chinese Civil War, a conflict between the two factions that had been going on since 1927. The American Lend-Lease programme greatly assisted the modernization of the Nationalist forces during the Second World War, equipping them with contemporary weapons and vehicles. The Communist forces, on the other hand, relied on mostly obsolete weapons from the Qing-era (pre-1912). Despite this, the Nationalists expected fierce resistance from the Communists, and the fact that members from the former Imperial Japanese Army Air Service and Manchukuo Imperial Air Force were helping the Communists build up an air force alarmed the Nationalist ranks. In order to gain an upper hand on the Communists, Chiang authorized a technical mission to the United Kingdom in early 1946 to investigate the possibility of a joint Anglo-Chinese program for a fighter, a bomber and a jet fighter. After extensive negotiating, the Gloster Aircraft Company agreed to initiate a collaborative jet fighter design with China. Following an agreement on July 18th of 1946, thirty Chinese designers and engineers were to be given facilities at the Design and Drawing Offices at Hucclecote, Gloucestershire for twelve months. A team of thirty-three British designers was to reside with the Chinese in order to mentor them on improving the Chinese aircraft industry. The Chinese team arrived sometime in September of the same year and they were brought to a section of the Brockworth factory where workshops and offices were set aside for the Chinese to study the British aircraft industry. Interestingly enough, each member of the Chinese delegation was gifted an Austin 8 car for the duration of their stay. Another term of the aforementioned agreement was that, after six months, the Nationalist government could send a list of specifications to Gloster and they would design and produce three jet prototypes for them within thirty months. The prototypes would then be shipped to mainland China, where the Nationalists could decide whether or not to acquire a manufacturing licence.

During the initial days, the Chinese designers were rarely allowed to see anything of value, as the Air Ministry had, quite expectedly, declared most of the projects that were being worked on as secret. Technology such as the Gloster Meteor fighter, the Rolls-Royce Nene Mk.2 and E.1/44 fighter were all hidden from the Chinese. Despite this, the Chinese were able to negotiate a Rolls Royce Nene Mk.1 jet engine manufacturing licence, but the British Ministry of Air secretly ordered Rolls-Royce to delay the contract as much as possible.

With the worsening situation back in China, the Chinese delegate in Britain reached out to Gloster and asked them to prepare a contract for the design of a single-seat fighter aircraft powered by either the Rolls-Royce Nene or de Havilland Ghost turbojet with assistance from the Chinese engineers. As such, Gloster representatives consulted the Ministry of Air for permission to adapt the Gloster E.1/44 jet fighter to the specifications set by the Chinese, but refrain from production. This request was granted and the new aircraft proposal was assigned the designation of “CXP-102” (Chinese Experimental Pursuit) on May 14th of 1947. During development, it was noted that the situation in China worsened every day for the Nationalists and a stable aircraft industry back home would take a considerable amount of time to set up. Colonel Wu, part of the military attache and negotiator with Gloster decided to once again contact the Gloster firm with the hopes of securing a more advanced design which could be immediately exported to China for use. This time, the Ministry of Air stepped in and voiced their objections to providing a foreign air force with a jet fighter whose performance would match or even surpass the latest British fighters fielded. To make matters worse for the Chinese, more and more Gloster staff were being reassigned to work on the Gloster F.43 and F.44/46 projects, as there was a limited design capacity in the United Kingdom at the time. The Foreign Office was also hesitant on supplying a future prototype to China due to the civil war China was facing. However, they did approve of a manufacturing license as they predicted that the design was still two or three years away from completion, and that the Civil War would be over by then.

With the proposal for an already completed design rejected, Gloster and the Chinese staff began to redesign the CXP-102 to meet higher standards. This new design would be based on the E.1/44 once again, but also incorporated many parts used on the Gloster Meteor (such as the landing gear) for simplicity and quicker design. Although considered to be a clean and efficient design by the designers, the CXP-1001 was unfortunately plagued with slow development and lack of funding. By early 1949, the design was almost completed and a preliminary plan for two prototypes was made. Only a mockup and a couple of components were made before Colonel Lin (another Chinese military attache member) contacted Gloster on February 3rd to halt all work on the CXP-1001 due to the string of defeats suffered by the Nationalists. Gloster received the confirmation to halt work on February 28th but agreed to complete all unfinished blueprints and ship them to Formosa (Taiwan) along with a scale model and the mockup of the CXP-1001. The Nationalists planned to finish the work by themselves, but this would never happen as on June 12st of 1949, the British freighter Anchises was inadvertently bombed by Nationalist aircraft whilst in Shanghai. The incident soured relations between the two countries, and the British decided to freeze the blueprint and mockup shipment in October of 1950. After two years in limbo, the CXP-1001 would finally meet its fate as on November 25th of 1952, the Gloster Aircraft Company decided to dispose of all the materials on the CXP-1001 without informing the Nationalist Chinese. The Ministry of Supply (MoS) commented on this saying that disposing of the materials was justified as this was an outdated design, but also stated that they were not responsible for the actions of Gloster.

No photos of the CXP-1001 mockup or scale model are known to exist to this day but the Jet Age Museum in Staverton, Gloucestershire appears to possess official sketches of the CXP-1001 which can be seen in Tony Butler’s book British Secret Projects: Jet Fighters Since 1950. Though ultimately not making it past the mockup stage, the CXP-1001 remains one of the most important milestones of Chinese aviation history, being the first jet fighter design in which Chinese engineers were involved and would have been the first jet to enter service with the Chinese.

Misconception – Meteor or E.1/44 Variant?

One of the biggest controversies that surrounds the CXP-1001 is the debate of whether it is a Gloster Meteor variant or E.1/44 variant. Most contemporary internet sources (such as the BAE Systems Website) states that the CXP-1001 is a Meteor variant, but does not cite any sources to substantiate their claims. As mentioned earlier, most of the British technology were kept secret to the Chinese and the British refused to supply a foreign air force with an aircraft comparable or superior to the ones fielded by the Royal Air Force. This adds on to the argument that the CXP-1001 was based on the E.1/44, as stated by many credible authors with a long history of published books on aircraft (ie. Tony Butler & Derek N. James). When the CXP-1001’s blueprints are examined, it is also quite obvious that the design resembles the E.1/44 more than it does the Meteor.

Design

The CXP-1001’s design was heavily influenced by the Gloster E.1/44, essentially being a redesigned and improved variant of it. The CXP-1001 was an all-metal stressed skin jet fighter powered by a single Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.1 engine producing 5,000 lbs / 22.2 kN of thrust and armed with four 20x110mm Hispano Mk.V cannons. The cannons would have been mounted in pairs above and below the nose intake. Each cannon would have been fed with 180 rounds, making a total of 720 rounds. The CXP-1001 would also have been able to carry two 200 gal / 757 L Drop Tanks to extend their range. Due to a lack of information, the details of the CXP-1001’s design is quite unknown and may never be found.

Variants

  • CXP-102 – Initial design concept based on the Gloster E.1/44 with estimated higher performance. The CXP-102 was redesigned into the CXP-1001.
  • CXP-1001 – Improved design based on the CXP-102 / E.1/44 which featured parts from the Gloster Meteor. Armed with four 20x110mm Hispano Mk.V cannons and powered by a single Rolls-Royce RB.41 turbojet, the CXP-1001 would have been the first jet fighter to enter service with the Chinese if it were to see production.

Operators

  • Republic of China – The CXP-1001 was designed with the assistance of the Chinese, and would have been operated solely by the Republic of China Air Force in a military capacity.
  • United Kingdom – The Gloster Aircraft Company was the main designer of the CXP-1001, and would have operated it in a testing capacity before shipping the prototype to mainland China.

Gloster CXP-1001*

* – Data taken from British Secret Projects: Jet Fighters Since 1950 by Tony Butler and Gloster Aircraft since 1917 by Derek N. James

Wingspan 38 ft 0 in / 11.6 m
Length 41 ft 9 in / 12.8 m
Height 14 ft 10 in / 4.29 m
Wing Area 360 ft² / 33.5 m²
Thickness to Chord Ratio 0.011
Wings Sweepback 20 °
Engine 1x Rolls-Royce RB.41 Nene Mk.1 turbojet (5,000 lb / 22.2 kN of thrust)
Internal Fuel Load 470 gal / 1780 L
Empty Weight 8,960 lb / 4,060 kg
Normal Weight 13,900 lb / 6,305 kg
Maximum Overload Weight 18,700 lb / 5,700 kg
Climb Rate 6,000 ft/min / 1,830 m/min at Sea Level
Service Ceiling 40,000 ft / 12,200 m
Maximum Range 410 mi / 600 km – Standard

1,000 mi / 1,600 km – With Drop Tanks

Maximum Speed 600 mph / 965 kmh at 10,000 ft / 3,050 m
Crew 1x Pilot
Armament 4x 20x110mm Hispano Mk.V cannon (180 rpg)
External Load 2x 200 gal / 760 L Drop Tanks

Gallery

Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji

Artist conception of the CXP-1001 in a late 1950s ROCAF livery. (Illustration by Haryo Panji)
Artist conception of the CXP-1001 in a late 1940s ROCAF livery. (Illustration by Haryo Panji)

Sources

Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa in Communist Chinese Service

PRC flag People’s Republic of China (1945-1952)
Fighter – 8+ Operated

An illustration depicting a Hayabusa in Communist service flying. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)

Widely known as one of Japan’s most iconic aircraft of the Pacific War, the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa’s service life was not limited to the Second World War. Shortly after the Japanese capitulation, Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces were able to capture stockpiles of firearms, tanks and planes left over by the fleeing Japanese forces. Among these were various models of the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa. These were pressed into service with the Communist Chinese as an advanced combat trainer and fighter. One of the rather obscure chapters of the Hayabusa’s service life was that it was the first plane used by the Communist Chinese in aerial combat.

History

Developed in the late 1930s, the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Type 1 Fighter) enjoyed a relatively successful service record in the Second Sino-Japanese War once introduced in 1941. The Japanese 59th and 64th Sentai (Squadrons) were the first two squadrons to receive the new Ki-43-I fighter. With barely any resistance by the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF), the Ki-43-I helped reinforce Japanese aerial superiority over China, French Indochina, Malaya, and parts of India until the arrival of lend-lease Allied warplanes for China. Throughout the service of the Hayabusa, three major variants were issued to units: the Ki-43-I, Ki-43-II, and Ki-43-III. The Japanese also provided some of these variants to the Manchukuo Imperial Air Force in the Northeast region of China. With the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War, stockpiles of Japanese equipment was up for grabs between the Soviets, Nationalist Chinese, and the Communist Chinese. The Nationalist Chinese forces reoccupied Shanghai near the end of 1945 and captured warplanes formerly belonging to the Japanese. Among these were various models of the Hayabusa which were used to equip the 18th and 19th Squadrons of the ROCAF’s 6th Fighter Group. These Hayabusas were stationed at Shandong in preparation for the Chinese Civil War. Due to a lack of spare parts and adequate mechanics, the two squadrons were disbanded the following May.

The Communist Chinese forces were by no means idle during the immediate few postwar months. Countless guns were captured, with a considerable amount of tanks and planes as well. In October of 1945, the Communist Chinese forces captured their first five Hayabusas during the liberation of Shenyang during the Liaoshen Campaign from the Nationalists. These five captured Nationalist Hayabusas were Ki-43-II models that formerly belonged to the Japanese 4th Training Regiment. The exact model of the planes is unknown. (It is unknown if they are kō, otsu, hei, etc. variants). These five planes would be sent to the recently established Northeast Old Aviation School (东北老航校) after some refurbishing and repairs. In December of the same year, two of these planes were repaired and were planned to be ferried to the Northeast Old Aviation School. Two Japanese ferry pilots now loyal to the Communist Chinese took off from Fengjibao (奉集堡) to fly to Tonghua (通化), one of their destinations. The two Hayabusas and their pilots never made it to Tonghua however, and it is widely speculated that these Japanese pilots were unfamiliar with the geography and ended up getting lost. This is indeed a possibility but there are many other theories. It’s conceivable that the planes suffered from mechanical failure and crashed. Another possibility may be that the pilots were intercepted by ROCAF planes, but there is no proof of this.

Artwork Depicting a Ki-43 flying over Japanese trainers in the Northeast Aviation School. (Illustration by Chen Yingming / 陈应明)

The rest of the Hayabusas were eventually delivered to the Northeast Old Aviation School, where they were used as advanced trainers for fighter pilots. In April of 1948, men belonging to the Northeast Old Aviation school were able to capture an unspecified amount of Hayabusa fighters in the Chaoyang (朝阳镇) Town airport located in Jilin. This was followed by another unspecified batch of Hayabusas captured in Sunjia (孙家) Airport located near Harbin in the Heilongjiang province sometime in June of the same year. Four Hayabusas were recorded to have been repaired by the school from 1947 to 1948. Under the guidance of former Japanese and Manchukuo pilots, many of the Communist Chinese air cadets were soon able to graduate from flying in the two-seater Tachikawa Ki-55 trainer to flying solo in the Hayabusa.

In March of 1948, a number of experienced pilots and instructors were pulled from the school to form a “Combat Flying Wing” (战斗飞行大队). The 1st Squadron would use bombers and transport aircraft while 2nd Squadron would use fighters. Among these would be six Ki-43-II models. The intent of this formation was to combat Nationalist planes, but this wing never saw any combat action.

Considerations were made to use the Hayabusa in the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China parade on October 1st of 1949, but this did not happen. Despite what one may think, the Japanese planes were not withheld from the parade due to political and racial issues, but rather fear of them experiencing mechanical problems during the parade.

Communist Chinese service members standing in front of a captured Hayabusa. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)

As such, these worn out Hayabusas were grounded. By November of 1949, there were only five examples of the Hayabusa that were still in use. These final five fighters were used by the 7th Aviation School as trainers and teaching aids. By 1952, all of the Hayabusas were finally retired from service. There are no surviving examples of the Communist Chinese Hayabusa, but there is one known photo of the Communist Hayabusa in service.

First Air-to Air Combat of the Communist Chinese Air Force

In the afternoon of October 15th 1947, four Nationalist Chinese P-51D Mustangs belonging to the Shenyang Beiling airfield took off under the leadership of Xu Jizhen (徐吉骧), the co-captain of the squadron. They were tasked with the mission of patrolling the airspace of Harbin (哈尔滨), Jiamusi (佳木斯) and the Sino-Soviet border. Upon crossing the mountains near Mishan (密山), the Mustangs squadron noticed a Tachikawa Ki-55 trainer with Communist Chinese markings belonging to the Northeast Old Aviation School preparing to land at the nearby Tangyuan (汤原) airport. This Ki-55 was piloted by Lu Liping (吕黎平) and an unnamed Japanese instructor. Xu Jizhen immediately dove for the trainer and began firing. The area immediately behind the instructor’s compartment was hit, which resulted in a fire. Watching the attack from the ground, Fang Hua (方华), a veteran Communist soldier, scrambled for a nearby parked Nakajima Ki-43-II Hayabusa and took off. Unfortunately for him, the Hayabusa was not loaded with ammunition so he was unable to engage the Mustangs. However, he was able to lead the Mustangs away from the airfield and evaded their shots until they ran out of ammo. This unfortunate skirmish was the first air-to-air combat experience the Communist Chinese had.

Debunking the Numbers Operated

According to many Western sources, the Communist Chinese Forces only operated five Hayabusas. This is however incorrect. The author believes the reason that these sources mention only five models captured was due to translation errors or simply by overlooking facts. The most likely cause of the misconception is likely due to two facts:

  1. By the end of the Liaoshen Campaign, the Communist Chinese forces had captured five models.
  2. By the time the PLAAF was officially established, there were five models still in service.

What these Western sources may have overlooked however, was the fact that two of the first five models captured crashed during a ferry flight in December of 1945. This leaves only three models operational.

However, a commonly overlooked fact is that the Northeast Old Aviation School was able to capture an unspecified amount of Hayabusas in the Chaoyang (朝阳镇) Town airport located in Jilin sometime in April of 1946. Another unspecified batch of Hayabusas were also captured in Sunjia (孙家) Airport located near Harbin in the Heilongjiang province in June. Due to the unspecified nature of the amount of Hayabusas captured in these two places, it only adds to the difficulty of determining how much Hayabusas were truly captured and operated. But on an inventory check done in April of 1948, a total of six Hayabusas were accounted for serving with the 2nd Squadron. According to this record, that should mean three or more Hayabusas were captured in those two airfields. That should make a total of eight or more Hayabusas when accounting for the two crashed ones. In conclusion, the author believes that a potential total of eight or more Hayabusas were captured, and operated by the Communist Chinese forces to some extent until the retirement of all models in 1952.

Gallery

Communist Chinese Ki-43-II in the colors of the Northeast Old Aviation School by Brendan Matsuyama

Sources

Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2012). 中国飞机全书 (Vol. 1). Beijing: 航空工业出版社., Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2009). 中国飞机全书 (Vol. 2). Beijing: 航空工业出版社., Allen, K. (n.d.). PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION., 网易军事. (2016, May 24). 老航校70周年:“鬼子飞行员”在中国当教官., Zhang, X. (2003). Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea. College Station: Texas A & M University Press., Side Profile Views by Brendan Matsuyama

North American P-51 Mustang in Communist Chinese Service

PRC flag People’s Republic of China (1948-1953)
Fighter – 39 Operated

The North American P-51 Mustang is considered one of the world’s most iconic warplanes from the Second World War, seeing action in nearly all theaters, as well as the Korean War and many other conflicts thereafter. However, one of the lesser known stories of the Mustang is its service with the Communist Chinese forces who would go on to form the People’s Republic of China shortly after. A total of 39 Mustangs were obtained from the Chinese Nationalist forces either by capture or defection. These Mustangs were used in various roles with the Communists, and nine of them even had the honor of flying over Beijing on October 1st 1949 for a parade to commemorate the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Although never seeing combat, the Mustangs still had served with the Communist Chinese forces as one of their most advanced fighters until the arrival of Soviet aid.

A photo displaying the rather impressive cache of captured Nationalist planes now in Communist service. In this photo, there are around nineteen P-51 Mustangs visible. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)

History

The Republic of China (i.e, Chinese Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek) was a notable operator of the North American P-51 Mustang during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Since the United States entered the Second World War, plans were made to provide the Republic of China China with modern American warplanes to replace the worn and outdated planes that the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) were using. The Mustangs were initially flown by pilots of the Chinese-American Composite Wing (CACW) starting from November 1944. The models they operated were P-51B and P-51C, but later in February 1945, P-51D and P-51K variants were delivered and put to use against the Japanese along with the P-51B and P-51C. At the end of the Second World War, the ROCAF received 278 Mustangs from the USAAF, most of which were P-51D and P-51K models, but also with some F-6D and F-6K photo reconnaissance models. Soon after, the uneasy relationship between the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Nationalist government under the leadership of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) disintegrated. As such, the civil war between the two parties resumed after nearly nine years of truce. This time however, the Communist forces were more prepared to fight the Nationalist forces. As time went on, the Nationalist forces began losing their hold on mainland China and were forced to retreat to Formosa (Taiwan), but not before many of their soldiers, officers and generals defected, leaving a substantial amount of equipment behind.

The People’s Liberation Army obtained their first Mustang on September 23rd 1948 when Captain Yang Peiguang (杨培光) from the Nationalist 4th Fighter Wing based in Beiping (Beijing) defected with his P-51D to the Communist forces at Siping, Jilin Province. The bulk of the Mustangs which would be captured by the Communist forces were, however, from the Liaoshen Campaign which lasted from September 12th – November 2nd, 1948. With the Communist victory at the Battle of Jinzhou on October 15th, a considerable amount of Nationalist equipment was captured; among these were thirty one Mustangs in various states of repair at the Jinzhou Airfield. Though now with thirty four Mustangs in total, the People’s Liberation Army was not able to press any into service due to many factors; the most important two being the lack of able pilots and the varying states of disrepair that the Mustangs were in.

The city of Shenyang was finally captured by the People’s Liberation Army on October 30th 1948, and on the second day of the city’s capture on October 31st, the Northeast People’s Liberation Army Aviation School sent men to secure the Shenyang Beiling airport, factories, warehouses, personnel, and various other assets formerly belonging to the Nationalists. In November, the Shenyang Beiling airport was officially established as the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Repair Factory Number 5 (中国人民解放军空军第五修理厂). With the establishment of this repair factory, the first machines to be repaired were the Mustangs. The repairs took top priority and the first Mustang was ready for service on December 30th. Since then, thirty six Mustangs were repaired within a span of eighteen to twenty months lasting until 1950.

On December 10th 1948, the People’s Liberation Army was able to capture the Nationalist-held Beiping (Beijing) Nanyuan Airport as part of the Pingjin Campaign. Three Mustangs were found in relatively good condition, and a total of 128 Packard-built V-1650 Merlin engines were captured as well. This boosted the total amount of Mustangs in the People’s Liberation Army to thirty seven, and provided plenty of replacement engines for maintenance. After this, two more Mustangs would fall in the hands of the Communist forces.

On December 29th, Lieutenant Tan Hanzhou (谭汉洲) of the Nationalist 4th Fighter Group defected with his Mustang from Qingdao to Communist held Shenyang. The last Mustang to fall into the People’s Liberation Army’s hands occured on January 14th of 1949 when Lieutenant Yan Chengyin* (阎承荫) from the Nationalist 3rd Fighter Group’s 28th Squadron defected from his home base of Nanjing to Communist held Jinan.

Lieutenant Tan Hanzhou with his Mustang shortly after his defection. (blog.163.com)

 

Now with thirty nine Mustangs in total, the People’s Liberation Army began to put them to use. Starting from late January 1949, a large number of Mustangs were presented to the Northeast Old Aviation School’s (东北老航校) 2nd Squadron of the 1st Air Group with the purpose of training pilots. On August 15th 1949, the People’s Liberation Army formed their first flying squadron named at the Beiping Nanyuan airfield. The squadron consisted of two Fairchild PT-19 trainers, two de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers and six Mustangs. Shortly after the formation on September 5th, this squadron was assigned the task of defending Beiping’s airspace from Nationalist forces. At some point before October, eleven more Mustangs were assigned to this squadron. The squadron saw no combat.

* Mr. Yan later changed his name to Yan Lei (阎磊) after his defection.

Perhaps the most notable use of the Mustangs in Communist Chinese service was on October 1st 1949. By then, the bulk of the Nationalist forces were in discord and in the process of retreating to Formosa (Taiwan). With the Communist victory inevitable, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A Soviet-style military parade was held in newly-renamed Beijing’s (Beiping) Tiananmen Square which included sixteen thousand and four hundred soldiers, one hundred and fifty two tanks, two hundred and twenty two cars and seventeen planes were displayed to the public. Of these seventeen planes, nine were Mustangs. The Mustangs flew in groups of threes in a V formation and led the aerial convoy. Once over Tiananmen square, these Mustangs increased their speed and flew past the square and out of sight, they made a turn and reentered Tiananmen square for the back just in time to link up with the two Fairchild PT-19A trainers flying last. Because they re-entered the square so quickly, the spectators were led to believe these were nine different Mustangs, with a total of twenty six planes appearing over Tiananmen square instead of the actual seventeen. This was mentioned in a government made propaganda newsreel. Of these nine Mustangs, at least one was a P-51K model.

After the parade, the Mustangs were once again deployed in a defensive state awaiting possible Nationalist intrusions in Beijing. By November 1949, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was officially established and a total of twenty two airworthy Mustangs were in service, with nine more awaiting repair. This meant that thirty one Mustangs still survived, with eight written off. It is unknown what precisely happened to these Mustangs but the author speculates that they could have been cannibalized for parts, destroyed in training flights, disassembled to study the structure, or simply scrapped.

One of the only known photos of the two seat P-51D trainer. The canopy seemed to have been removed to make space. (js.voc.com.cn)

On July 26th 1950, the Beijing defense squadron was renamed the “Air Force 1st Independent Fighter Brigade” (空军独立第一歼击机大队). By then, the Soviet Union was supplying the Chinese with more modern equipment and by mid-August, the brigade’s Mustangs were replaced by Soviet Lavochkin La-9 fighters. Once replaced, all Mustangs scattered across the country were collected and given to Aviation School No.7 to train new pilots. With this, Aviation School No.7 modified thirteen Mustangs to be two-seat trainers. This was done perhaps to speed up the training process, and to prevent accidents by rookie pilots without guidance. There is currently one known photo of the two seat trainer.

By September 1953, most Mustangs were retired from training service due to cracks in the landing gear. However, eight of them remained in service with Aviation School No.7 to train Ilyushin IL-10 pilots how to taxi their planes. A few more examples were used as teaching tools to train pilots on identifying plane parts. It is unknown when precisely the Mustang was retired once and for all.

An illustration showing three P-51 Mustangs flying over Beijing on October 1st of 1949. (thepaper.cn)

Surviving PLAAF Mustangs

To this day, only two Mustangs formerly in PLAAF service survive in museums. The first one is a P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” with the serial number 44-12458. This P-51K is on public display at the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆), sometimes also known as the Datangshan Aviation Museum located in Datangshan, Beijing. It remains in relatively pristine condition as it was in an indoors display and sheltered from the elements. Bomb hardpoints are visible under each of the wings which signifies that this Mustang perhaps once served as a fighter/bomber for the ROCAF.

P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” on display. It is in rather good condition due to being stored indoors. (George Trussell)

The other surviving PLAAF Mustang is a P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” with the serial number 44-73920. This Mustang can be seen at the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Haidian District of Beijing. What is notable about this specific plane is that it was one of the nine Mustangs that flew over Beijing on October 1st of 1949 for the Founding of the People’s Republic of China parade. This Mustang was displayed outdoors exposed to nature for the majority of its life until the museum went under renovation when it was finally moved indoors. The Mustang has gone through minimal restoration, as it looks considerably cleaner than when it was displayed outdoors. This Mustang also had bomb hardpoints under its wings.

The P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” in its new indoor display after the museum renovation. It looks considerably cleaner than when it was displayed outdoors. (Wikimedia Commons)
The P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” in its old outdoors display, dust and slight rust can be seen on the machine. (Wikimedia Commons)

Variants Operated

A total of 39 North American P-51D Mustangs were operated by the Communist Chinese forces, and later the People’s Republic of China. Within these Mustangs, an unknown amount were P-51D and P-51K models.

  • P-51D – An unspecified amount of P-51D Mustangs of various block numbers were operated by the People’s Republic of China. A P-51D-25-NA is confirmed to have been in service as it flew over Beijing as part of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China parade and is now in the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Beijing.
  • P-51K – An unspecified amount of P-51K Mustangs of various block numbers were operated by the People’s Republic of China. A P-51K-10-NT is confirmed to have been in service as it is in the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆) in Beijing.
  • P-51 Trainer – A total of thirteen Mustangs were modified by Aviation School No.7 in 1951 to be two-seat trainers. The instructor sat in the rear while the student pilot was at the front. No surviving examples are preserved to this day.

Note

The author would like to extend his thanks to Mr. Hemmatyar for restoring some of the photos used in this article.

Gallery

P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” displayed in the Chinese Aviation Museum in Datangshan, Beijing. Illustration by Brendan Matsuyama
P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” displayed in the China People’s Revolution Military Museum in the Haidian District of Beijing. Illustration by Brendan Matsuyama
A PLAAF P-51D/K with a blue rudder. The unit and serial number is unknown. Illustration by Brendan Matsuyama
A rare photograph of a mini P-51 Mustang model with PLAAF markings dated some time in the early 1950s. Two little boys accompany the cutout. This shows how impactful the Mustang was to the initial years of the People’s Republic of China. (eBay)
22 year old Lin Hu (林虎) with his P-51K before taking off to partake in the parade. (gogonews.cc)
A still frame showing three P-51 Mustangs flying over Beijing. (Establishment of the People’s Republic of China Parade)
A line of P-51 Mustangs awaiting inspection with their respective pilots standing at ease. (sohu.com)
A PLAAF Mustang taking off. Note the rocket rails. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)
Mechanics and ground crew doing engine work on a Mustang. (Encyclopedia of Chinese Aircraft: Volume 2)
Four Mustangs line up on the Beijing Nanyuan Airfield awaiting to take off for the participation in the 1949 parade. Two Curtiss C-46 Commandos can also be seen in the background. (windsor8.com)

Sources

Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2009). 中国飞机全书 (Vol. 2). Beijing: 航空工业出版社., 八一战鹰大全(一)—— P-51“野马”战斗机. (n.d.). , Armstrong. (n.d.). 天马行空: 纪念 P-51 野马战斗机升空六十年., 肖邦振, & 李冰梅. (2010). 新中国成立前后 国民党空军飞行人员驾机起义探析. 军事史资料., Allen, K. (n.d.). PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY AIR FORCE ORGANIZATION., (2016, December 19).开国大典——1949国庆大阅兵, Side Profile Views by Brendan Matsuyama

Plane side view

Consolidated Vultee XP-81

USA flag United States of America (1944)
Prototype Escort Fighter – 2 Built

The first XP-81 powered by the TG-100 engines (Convair)

The Consolidated Vultee XP-81 was a prototype mixed power fighter developed in late 1943 by the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation in order to meet an Army Air Force requirement calling for a high altitude escort fighter. Plagued by slow development and engine problems, the XP-81 would never see active service and development would be terminated in 1947. Despite this, the XP-81 still holds a distinct place in history as America’s first turboprop engine plane to fly and the world’s first plane to fly with a turboprop engine and a jet engine together.

History

With the formal introduction of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress on May 8th of 1943, it would be clear that a high altitude escort fighter would soon be needed to accompany the Superfortress on its bombing missions over the Pacific. In the summer of 1943, this need was realized and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) issued a list of design requirements that consists of the following:

  1. 1,250 mile (2,012 km) operating radius
  2. Fuel for 20 minutes of combat plus reserve fuel supply for landing
  3. Cruising speed of 250 mph (402 km/h) at 25,000 ft (7,620 m)
  4. Maximum speed over 500 mph (804 km/h)
  5. Combat ceiling of 37,500 ft (11,430 m)
  6. Climb rate of 2500 fpm (feet per minute) / 762 mpm (meters per minute) while at 27000 ft (8230 m)
  7. Two engines*
  8. 12 ° angle of vision over the nose

* – The USAAF recommended that the designers use a two engine setup consisting of a propeller engine for long range flights while complemented by a jet engine for high speed combat situations.

Promotional illustration of the XP-81 showing a diagram of the XP-81. (Consolidated Vultee)

Interested in this proposal, the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, later known as Convair, began work on an aircraft which would meet the specifications, appointing Charles R. Irving, who was a chief engineer of the Vultee Field Division and Frank W. Davis, the assistant engineer, who was also the chief test pilot, as the leaders of the design team. The project was known as the “Model 102” within Consolidated Vultee. In the early stages of development, the designers faced a dilemma of engine selection. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine was considered, as was the General Electric TG-100 turboprop engine. After some evaluating and testing however, the TG-100 was selected as it was deemed to have superior performance for combat and cruising situations. As for the jet engine in the rear, a relatively straightforward choice to mount a General Electric J33-GE-5 (also known as I-40) jet engine was made. After a couple of months of development, Consolidated Vultee submitted a preliminary design proposal to the United States Army Air Force in September of 1943. Relatively interested in this design, the plane was given the greenlight for further development and received the designation “XP-81” by the Air Material Command.  

Detailed work on the XP-81 began in January 5th of 1944 and on January 18th, Consolidated Vultee was given the contract (no. W33-038-ac-1887) by the USAAF worth about $4.6 million to construct two flying XP-81 prototypes and one airframe for ground testing under the USAAF project name “MX-480”. Another contract followed on June 20th of 1944 worth $3,744,000 for the two flying examples, the airframe and the testing data. The contract was later modified to include 13 YP-81 under the project name “MX-796”. The construction of the first XP-81 prototype would begin on January 20th at the formerly independent Vultee aircraft factory in Downey, California but problems soon surfaced. Some time in April, the Air Material Command was notified that there would be a delay in the delivery of the TG-100 due to a couple of technical difficulties. As such, construction of the first prototype was delayed as the designers sought out an alternative engine to replace the TG-100 in June.

Consolidated Vultee flight test crew poses with the first XP-81 prototype. (XP-81)

The Packard V-1650-3 (some sources state V-1650-7), which was the American copy of the British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, was selected to fill in the gap and the USAAF promptly provided Consolidated Vultee with such an engine taken from a North American P-51D Mustang. Within a week of receiving the engine, Consolidated Vultee engineers were able to install it after making considerable structural modifications to the first prototype’s airframe. A radiator similar to that of the Lockheed P-38J’s “beard” radiator would also be mounted on the XP-81, under the propeller spinner. Unfortunately for the designers however, the change of powerplant would add 950 lb (431 kg) to the plane while taking away 960 hp at takeoff and 1720 hp at top speed. With the relatively slow development, the first XP-81 prototype would finally be completed in January of 1945 bearing the serial number of “44-91000”.

Although the aforementioned issues with weight gain and horsepower loss were present, the Packard engine powered XP-81 was still deemed safe for flight tests, and as such, the first XP-81 prototype was prepared for test flights at Muroc Dry Lake in California and finally took to the skies on February 7th of 1945 with Frank W. Davis in the cockpit. Amazingly enough, 46 test flights were made with the Packard engine and it accumulated a total of 47.75 flight hours. In the testing phase it was noted that with the Packard engine installed, the XP-81 had poor directional stability at low speeds and the occasional splatter of oil on the windscreen by the propellers. Plans to replace the Packard engine were brought up on May 18th of 1945 when the TG-100 turboprop was finally available. The conversion was completed and the first prototype was returned back to Muroc for more tests on June 11th. Due to the new engine installation, extensive ground work had to be accomplished before flight tests were to continue. Throughout June 23rd to December 20th of 1945, numerous ground tests were conducted and a few problems surfaced. For one, the TG-100 was difficult to start and once it did, the pilot would have difficulty controlling the propeller. As this was an early turboprop engine,

reliability was low and the turbine wheels had to be replaced constantly, sometimes only after half an hour of use. The 10 inch (25 cm) oil cooler for the TG-100 was also deemed a problem, and it was thus increased to a 12 inch (30 cm) system instead. Perhaps the biggest problem however, was the throttle lag the XP-81 suffered. Frank W. Davis describes the problem by stating “The pilot had about a 10 second lag when he wanted to go and about 2 seconds lag when he wanted to stop, with both thrust and drag being powerful and non-adjustable when they did occur.” (Consolidated Vultee XP-81, by Steve Ginter). The ground personnel concluded in these ground tests that the current Aeroproduct A542 propeller and drive shafts were incompatible with the TG-100, and that new propellers should be developed. An emergency engine feathering system was also recommended.

The first flight of the XP-81 with the TG-100 engine occured on December 21st of 1945. This was the 47th test flight the first XP-81 underwent. Performance was rather satisfactory, and the flight concluded after a mere 5 minutes. Excessive oil consumption was noted however. Test flights with the TG-100 proved disappointing as the turboprop did not perform as it was advertised, delivering less horsepower than was expected. Out of the estimated 2,300 hp the TG-100 was suppose to achieve, only 1,400 hp was achieved. The I-40 engine was no help either, as it developed nearly 250 lb (113 kg) less thrust than advertised as well. The estimated performance of 478 mph (769 kmh) at sea level was not achieved with only a mere 400 mph (643 kmh) achieved. Due to these factors, the performance achieved was similar to that of the Packard engine installation. Despite these problems, the XP-81 still did well in some aspects. The relatively decent handling and decent climb rate was complemented, as was the light controls. The second prototype (serial no. 44-91001) was produced some time before November of 1946, and was ready for flights by February of 1947. It featured a longer ventral fin than that of the XP-81 and had a four blade Hamilton Hydromatic propeller replacing the Aeroproducts propeller used on the first prototype. Unfortunately, it is unknown what date the second prototype made its maiden flight, but it is speculated that it first flew some time in February of 1947.

In total, 116 flights were made by both of the XP-81 prototypes, 22 of which were done by the second XP-81 prototype. More tests were planned, as on January 14th of 1947, Consolidated Vultee called for the following areas to be studied and tested:

  1. Firearms testing of the Browning AN/M2 and the Hispano T31. Bombs and rockets tests will also be included.
  2. Anti-icing equipment efficiency.
  3. Control characteristics and lateral stability.
  4. Cabin pressurization experiments.
  5. Power plant operations.
The first XP-81 prototype taxiing on the Muroc airstip in preparation of a flight on January 22nd of 1946 (SDAM)

However due to the previously mentioned issues of the XP-81 underperforming, the USAAF gradually lost interest in the XP-81 program. Consolidated Vultee was well aware of this, and they had been trying since December of 1946 to improve their design. A proposal was made in December 31st to the Air Material Command to fix the underperforming prototypes. This proposal suggested that an improved TG-110 (the ones that would have been used on the YP-81) should replace the TG-100 and a J33-19 jet engine should replace the J33-GE-5. The Air Material Command however was not impressed by the proposal due to the amount of redesigning and time needed and in early 1947, their engineering department ceased work on the TG-100 turboprop engine. Things would look even more grim for the XP-81 when on January 27th of 1947, the contract for the 13 YP-81 pre-

The first XP-81 prototype flies over the Mojave Desert. (Convair)

production fighters were cancelled. Finally on May 9th, the XP-81 program reached its end when the government decided to cancel the contract on its development. The two prototypes were then taken in by the USAAF on June 24th and 25th. Finalization of the cancellation was conducted on June 23rd of 1948 after the USAAF was reorganized into the United States Air Force (USAF) when Consolidated Vultee was reimbursed with $4,578,231 for their work on the program.

Though development stopped for the XP-81 program, the two prototype’s story did not end there. At the time when the USAAF took in the prototypes, the engine and propeller development branches of the Air Material Command was in the middle of developing more advanced propeller control techniques and a suitable machine was needed to perform tests on as wind tunnels and models were not available. The USAAF promptly provided the two XP-81s which were redesignated as “ZXF-81” for this new role. The two planes were then stored in Edwards AFB (previously known as Muroc AAF) for future use. Unfortunately, they were never used and on April 29th of 1949, all useful parts and gadgets were stripped from the two planes by order of the USAF. The two empty airframes were then dragged onto the photography & bombing range of the Edwards AFB.

Despite the XP-81s now sitting in the desert, Consolidated Vultee was still not willing to yield completely. The company tried proposing reviving the XP-81 program using different power plants and repurposing the role. The proposal called for the use of the British Armstrong-Siddeley Double Mamba turboprop producing 4,000 hp and a Rolls-Royce R.B 41 jet engine producing 6,250 lbf (2,835 kgf) of thrust replacing the original engines. The idea behind this was to create a ground attack aircraft which could be exported to other countries. However, this idea was understandably met with skepticism by the Air Force, but an investigation to see the feasibility of this proposal was made. On September 14th of 1950, a report was finalized stating that at least ⅔ of the airframe would need to be modified in order to mount the new engines.  New drop tanks, rocket rails, hardpoints and various other parts would also need to be redesigned. Another investigation was done on this proposal by comparing the hypothetical performance to the all-turboprop Douglas A2D Skyshark, a ground attacker aircraft in service with the USAF. It was determined that the Skyshark would outperform the XP-81 with British engines in all aspects, so there was no point in developing an inferior aircraft. Another factor that was noted was the excessive amount of maintenance, training and logistics needed to service the ground attacker. With all these factors in mind, the proposal was discarded by the USAF and Consolidated Vultee finally gave up on the XP-81.

Frank Davis sits in the cockpit of the XP-81. (Convair)

The two XP-81 airframes would remain in the desert exposed to the elements for decades until August of 1994 when Air Force Flight Test Center Museum curator Doug Nelson retrieved them. They were in derelict condition, with the second XP-81 prototype being more damaged than the first. As of 2018, the two airframes remain in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio awaiting future restoration. Although never seeing service, the XP-81 still holds a distinct spot in history as America’s first turboprop engine powered plane to fly and the world’s first plane to fly with a turboprop engine and a jet engine together.

The first XP-81 prototype at the Edwards AFB shortly before recovery. (AFFTCHO)

Design

Airframe:
The XP-81’s semi-monocoque fuselage was constructed using age hardened 24-SRT aluminum alloy, followed by the exterior surfaces being flush riveted. The entire fuselage is made from metal. The wing design was a NACA laminar flow type, made from aluminum-alloy. The design allowed for a stressed-skin wing which was flush riveted as well, with the rivet heads being milled. Due to the relatively heavy materials used in the wings, the surface was relatively smooth thus allowing for good aerodynamics. The majority of the heavy plating was mounted in the frontal 34.5% of the wings, and thus allowed a decent mount for aerial weapons and permitted ordinance to be mounted. There were spoilers present on each wing which automatically operated in accordance to the ailerons. Another interesting feature was a thermal anti-ice system derived from the hot hair emitted from the TG-100 turboprop and the exhaust. Within the fuselage two fuel tanks were installed directly behind the cockpit, making for a total 811 gallons (3670 L) of fuel. The fuselage also housed the XP-81’s tricycle landing gear which was electrically operated. The main gear was fitted with disc brakes, also doubling as a parking brake.

The first XP-81 prototype’s Packard engine installation being finalized at the Vultee plant. (Convair)

The canopy on the cockpit was based off of the British bubble design, which allowed for a relatively clean 360° view. This type of canopy was used on many planes in service with the United States and Britain. The canopy would be controlled by the pilot via a hand crank on the left hand side of the cockpit. For fatal combat situations, an emergency canopy jettison system was provided allowing for the pilot to bail out quickly. The pilot’s seat was an ordinary World War II styled seat, but this was eventually replaced with an ejection seat modelled after the one used on the Convair XP-54. As the XP-81 was a long range fighter, an automatic piloting system was also installed. The cockpit would also be pressurized using the air from the TG-100 engine. For pilot comfort, a temperature system was installed allowing for optimal temperatures in all climate and altitudes.

For communication, the XP-81 was fitted with a VHF (Very High Frequency) SCR 522-A radio set. The cockpit also had room for a BC-1206 beacon receiver and an SCR 695 identification friendly-or-foe system, but these were never installed. The pilot would operate the SCR 522-A radio from the right side of the cockpit, where the radio controls were based.

It is also interesting to note that the second YP-81 prototype had a longer ventral fin than the first prototype.

Powerplant:

The Packard-powered XP-81 prototype idle on the Muroc airstrip. (Convair)

The XP-81’s design called for a General Electric TG-100 (also known as XTG-31-GE-1) turboprop and General Electric/Allison J33-GE-5 (I-40) jet engine as its power plants. The first prototype had a four blade Aeroproducts A542 brand propeller driving the TG-100 while the second prototype had a Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 4260 propeller instead. The TG-100 had a capacity for 8 gallons (30 L) of oil while the I-40 had 3.5 gallons (13 L). In terms of fuel, 811 gallons (3,670 L) was available in the XP-81’s two standard fuel tanks in the fuselage, but could go up to 1,511 gallons (5,720 L) with the installation of drop tanks.

The TG-100 Turbo Prop Engine

Armament:
The standard armament envisioned for the production P-81 would consist of either six 12.7x99mm Browning AN/M2 machine guns with 400 rounds each or six 20x110mm Hispano T31 cannons with 200 rounds each. The loadout of these guns would be in groups of three in each wing. For ordinance, a single hard point was mounted under each wing, allowing the plane to carry two bombs size ranging from 100 lb (45 kg) to 1,600 lb (725 kg), allowing for a maximum of 3,200 lb (1,451 kg). Chemical tanks, drop tanks, depth charges could also be equipped. Alternatively, 14 High velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR) could be carried.

Variants

  • XP-81 – Prototype fighter variant powered by a TG-100 turboprop and I-40 jet engine. Two examples were produced and extensively tested up until the cancellation of the project. Both prototypes were redesignated as “ZXF-81” in 1948 and stored in Edwards AFB. They would be stripped of useful parts and towed to the photography/bombing range near Edwards AFB and left there in derelict condition until August of 1994 when they were retrieved by Doug Nelson. The two airframes still survive to this day and are currently awaiting restoration at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
  • YP-81 – Planned batch of 13 pre-production fighter variant powered by a lighter but more powerful TG-110 turboprop engine and an uprated General Electric J33-GE-5 turbojet engine. These planes would have been armed with either the Browning AN/M2 machine guns or the Hispano T-31 cannons. It would have differed from the XP-81 by having the wings moved back 10 inches (2.54 cm). No YP-81s were produced.
  • ZXF-81 – Post development termination designation for the two XP-81 prototypes. This designation signified that the prototypes were now flying test beds. However, no use of the prototypes after its termination was noted.
  • XP-81 (British Engines) – Unofficial variant proposed by Consolidated Vultee some time in 1949/1950 calling for the revival of the XP-81 project using British Armstrong-Siddeley Double Mamba turboprop producing 4,000 hp and a Rolls-Royce R.B 41 jet engine producing 6,250 lb (2,835 kg) of thrust replacing original engines. This new variant would be used as a ground attacker that would be solely used for export. This proposal never saw any development and was thus discarded.

Operators

  • United States of America – The XP-81 was intended to be used by the USAAF, but development carried over to the USAF. The project was eventually cancelled.
Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation XP-81
(Taken from “Consolidated Vultee XP-81 by Steve Ginter”)
Wingspan 50 ft 6 in / 15.39 m
Length 44 ft 8 in / 13.61 m
Height 13 ft 10 in / 4.21 m
Wing Area 425 ft² / 39.48 m²
Wing Loading 45.9 ft² /  4.26 m²
Tire Loading 80 in² / 516.12 cm²
Wings Sweep Back
Wing Dihedral
Root Cord 13-1
Engines 1x General Electric XTG-31-GE-1 (TG-100) turboprop
1x General Electric / Allison J33-GE-5 (I-40) jet
Oil Capacity TG-100: 8 gallons / 30 L
I-40: 3.5 gallons / 13 L
Empty Weight 12,755 lb / 3,887 kg
Normal Weight 19,500 lb / 8,845 kg
(Maximum internal fuel with reduced armaments)
Maximum Combat Weight 24,650 lb / 11,181 kg
Fuel Capacity 811 gallons / 3,070 L – Internal Fuel Tanks
1511 gallons / 5,720 L – Internal Fuel Tanks + Drop Tanks
350 gallons / 1,325 L – Individual Drop Tank
Center of Gravity Max Forward – 17%
Max Aft – 27%
Rate of Climb 0 to 5,000 ft / 0 to 1,524 m – 5,200 fpm / 39.31 mps
Time of Climb 30,000 ft / 9,144 m in 9.6 minutes
Speed 299 mph / 481 kmh at Sea Level
253 mph / 407 kmh at 15,000 ft / 4,572 m
224 mph / 360 kmh at 30,000 ft / 9,144 m
Maximum Speed 546 mph / 877 kmh
Diving tests were never finalized due to propeller and engine problems. Flight #90 on September 4th of 1946 achieved the highest speed as mentioned above.
Range Conditions under maximum combat weight

Ferry Range – 2,393 mi / 3,851 km
Speed at 247 mph / 397 kmh – 2,002 mi / 3,222 km
Speed at 274 mph / 441 kmh – 1,622 mi / 2,610 km

Service Ceiling 47,000 ft / 14,000 m
Crew 1x Pilot
Radio Equipment SCR 522-A VHF Radio
Armament 6x 12.7x99mm Browning AN/M2 (400 rpg, 2,400 total)
or
6x 20x119mm Hispano T31 (200 rpg, 1,200 total)
Never Fitted on Prototypes, Intended Armament
Gunsight 1x K-14 Gyro Gunsight
Ordinance 2x hardpoints capable of carrying 3,200 lb / 1,452 kg of either bombs, depth charges, chemical tanks or drop tanks
or
14x 5 inch / 12.7 cm High Velocity Aircraft Rockets (HVAR)

Gallery

Plane side view
Sideart of the XP-81 by Escodrion

 

XP-81 parked on a ramp.
Side view of the XP-81 on the ground.
Rear view of the XP-81 on the ground. Note the position of the exhaust pipe relative to the two fuselage mounted air intakes.
XP-81 in flight.
Instrument panel of the XP-81. (USAF)
Controls of the XP-81. (USAF)
The second XP-81 prototype at the Edwards AFB shortly before recovery. (AFFTCHO)
The second XP-81 prototype at the Edwards AFB shortly before recovery. The helicopter shadow visible is possibly an H-21 ‘Flying Banana’ (AFFTCHO)
The second XP-81 prototype preparing to be transported. (AFFTCHO)
The second XP-81 prototype preparing to be transported. (AFFTCHO)

Sources:
Ginter, S. (2006). Consolidated Vultee XP-81. Simi Valley: Steve Ginter.Jenkins, D. R., & Landis, T. R. (2008). Experimental and Prototype: U.S. Air Force Jet Fighters. North Branch: Specialty Press.Wegg, J. (1990). General Dynamics Aircraft: And their Predecessors. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books.Baugher, J. (1991). Convair XP-81. National Museum of the US Air Force (n.d.). Convair XP-81. Images: Side Profile Views by Escodrion – https://escodrion.deviantart.com

 

Gasuden Kōken-ki

 Empire of Japan (1937)
Long Range Research Aircraft- 1 Built

The Gasuden Kōken-ki was Japan’s attempt at building a world record setting plane for the longest distance covered in a non-stop flight. First conceived in 1931 to surpass John Polando and Russell Boardman’s flight, the Kōken-ki would have a slow development finally completed and ready for flight on August 8th of 1937. Though 6 years late and many other world records for distance had been set, the Kōken-ki still managed to prove its worth on May 13th of 1938 where it made a non-stop flight in a closed-circuit course in Japan covering 7239.58 mi (11651.011 km), a record that Japan would hold until 1939.

History

In the 1920s and 1930s, many countries were competing against each other for setting aviation-related world records, be it endurance, speed or distance. The goal of establishing a long distance world record was one of the most popular ambitions a country could have. The 1931 world record was established by John Polando and Russell Boardman, flying a Bellanca J-300 Special nicknamed “Cape Cod” from Floyd Bennett Field in New York to Istanbul, Turkey. The distance covered by these two men spanned 5011 miles (8066 km). The Empire of Japan was by no means idle in the conquest for setting the world record. The Kōkū Kenkyūjo (Aeronautical Research Institute) began to formulate a design proposal in the latter half of 1931 for a plane that would be able to beat Polando and Boardman’s record flight. The Kōkū Kenkyūjo was on good terms with the Tokyo Imperial University, and convinced them to put their design forward to the Monbushō (Ministry of Education). The design proposal moved rapidly through the approval process and eventually made its way to the Kokkai (Diet). Relatively confident in the design, the Kokkai approved the Kōkū Kenkyūjo’s design and provided them with a monetary grant.

A factory worker fitting parts on the tail section of the Kōken-ki. (Arawasi)

With adequate funding and support of the government, the Kōkū Kenkyūjo began to formally investigate the matter of designing the plane. The plane was now named the Kōken-ki (航研機). The man responsible for overseeing the project was Dr. Koroku Wada, with professor Keikichi Tanaka assisting him. Many members of the design staff were from the engineering department of the Tokyo Imperial University. Various committees were also formed for the purpose of designing the Kōken-ki. It would take two years until the basic design was completed. By the time the design was finished in August of 1934 however, another world record had been set by French aviators by the names of Maurice Rossi and Paul Codos. The French aviators were able to surpass the previous record set by Polando and Boardman by 645 miles / 1038 km by flying their Blériot 110 monoplane from New York to Rayak, Syria on August 5th of 1933. The Japanese were confident that they would soon be able to best this record, as they’d designed the Kōken-ki to endure 8078 miles (13000 km) of flight.

The next step for the Kōken-ki was construction, but this process would be slow as the advanced design of the Kōken-ki had to be completed first. Various components and tooling would be manufactured the following year. The Tokyo Gas and Electric Industry (known as Gasuden) was selected to be the manufacturer of the airframe, while Kawasaki Kokuki KK. was selected to manufacture the powerplant, which would be a licensed Japanese made version of the German BMW VII engine. Once the advanced design was completed, construction began. Due to the fact that Gasuden was relatively inexperienced with metal fabrication, the construction of the Kōken-kid would be delayed. The major components of the Kōken-ki were finally completed on March 31st of 1937, and were promptly moved to a hanger owned by the Teikoku Kaibo Gikai (Imperial Maritime Defence Volunteer Association) at Haneda Airport where it was to be assembled. On August 8th of 1937, the assembly was completed and the Kōken-ki was ready for its maiden flight.

Test pilots for the plane were carefully selected as testing the potential record setter was a matter of great importance to the Japanese. A decision was finally made with Major Yuzo Fujita as the pilot, Master Sergeant Fukujiro takahashi as the co-pilot and Flight Engineer 

From left to right is Major Fujita Yuzo, Flight Engineer Sekine Chiaichi and Master Sergeant. (Arawasi)

Chikakichi Sekine as the flight engineer. All of these men belonged to the Imperial Japanese Army’s Rikugun Kokugijutsu Kenkyū (Air Technical Research Institute) and had been involved with the design of the Kōken-ki since the start. The long awaited maiden flight finally took place on May 25th of 1937. The test flight went well with no problems to report, so plans for the Kōken-ki’s official record setting flight was set in motion. More test flights had to be completed, so the three men continued fly the Kōken-ki. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s own Tupolev ANT-25 made its record flight on June 18th of 1937 where it flew from Moscow over the North Pole and landed in Vancouver, Washington. This flight took the Russian pilots 63 hours and covered 5670 mi (9130 km). The Japanese however, were not concerned as the Kōken-ki’s range was surely able to surpass this. 

The first attempt for setting the world record was conducted by Japan on November 13th of 1937. Unfortunately for the Japanese, a landing gear failure surfaced and the Kōken-ki had to be grounded for months until May 10th of 1938. This second attempt was also met with a problem, as the autopilot system malfunctioned. This problem was far simpler to remedy than the landing gear, and was rapidly repaired. On May 13th at 4:55 AM, the Kōken-ki successfully took off from Kisarazu Naval Air Base near Tokyo Bay to break the world record. To verify the authenticity of the flight, Imperial Japanese Navy Lieutenant-Commander Tomokazu Kajjiki was to monitor the

A poster advertising Nisshin’s salad oil, with the Kōken-ki displayed in the background. (Arawasi)

flight as he was the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale’s (World Air Sports Federation) representative for Japan. The flight plan of the Kōken-ki was to follow a square shaped course that would lead to Choshi from Kisarazu, then to Ohta and back to Kisarazu. Many minor problems occurred during the flight, such as a tear in the water cooler. The Kōken-ki flew the square course for 29 laps nonstop, and finally completed its task of setting the world record, amassing a total distance of 7239.58 mi (11651.011 km). The Kōken-ki landed back at Kisarazu at 7:21 PM of May 15th after almost 63 hours. Upon landing, the flight of the Kōken-ki was officially approved as a world record by the FAI. It is noteworthy that the Kōken-ki was reported to still have about 132 US gallons (500 L) of fuel left, meaning that it could have potentially flown another 745 mi (1200 km). Nonetheless, it was an achievement which made the nation proud. The Kōken-ki was then featured on many advertisement posters in Japan.

The Japanese were able to hold the world record for about 15 months before being beaten by the Italians in August of 1939. The Italians flew a Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 and covered a distance of 8038 mi / 12936 km over a closed-circuit course. Nonetheless, the flight by the Kōken-ki was still an incredible feat for the Japanese, as it was the first and only Japanese plane to obtain a FAI world record at the time. After the record setting flight, the Kōken-ki would mostly remain in the Kaibo Gikai hangar where it was first assembled. Occasionally, the Kōkū Kenkyūjo would and perform test flights for various purposes. After the Kōken-ki was past its prime, the Japanese wanted to see if they could further improve their long distance flight. In the eyes of professor Hidemasa Kimura, the Kōken-ki was only useful for challenging the world record for distance, but not for anything else. As such, Kimura decided to design a plane which would be capable of flying from Tokyo to New York, a route spanning 6737 mi (10842 km). The work of this would result in the Tachikawa Ki-77, or A-26.

From left to right, Chikaichi, Takahashi and Fujita receiving the Japanese “Yokosho” medal for their feat. (Arawasi)

The Kōken-ki flew for the last time on June 14th of 1939 as a commemoration for Major Fujita, the pilot of the record flight who was killed in combat in China.  After Major Fujita’s funeral flight, the Kōken-ki was stored in the Haneda Airport and remained there for the entire duration of World War II in relatively pristine condition. However after Japan surrendered, American occupational forces began to arrive and began a long process of demilitarizing Japan. Upon reaching Haneda airport, all of the Japanese planes there ,military or not, were targeted for destruction. The Kōken-ki and every other Japanese plane present at the airport was towed to the field and burnt in a mass pile, thus bringing an ungraceful end to the Kōken-ki.

Design

A closeup on the Kawasaki-built BMW VIII engine.

The Gasuden Kōken-ki had an all-metal semi-monocoque fuselage which housed a Kawasaki-built German BMW VIII engine driven by a Sumitomo SW-4 two-bladed metal-shrouded wooden propeller. The wings of the Kōken-ki were carefully designed with the intent of allowing it to operate in thinner air. The cantilever wings were constructed using a Kōken-ki Model 4 aerofoil shape, with about 17.5% thickness. The wingtips however, had a different material which was Kōken-ki Model 11 alloy. This aerofoil only had 4% thickness. The resulting wings had an aspect ratio of 8.7. As the plane was designed with range and endurance in mind. 14 fuel tanks were installed in the wings allowing for 1538 US gallons (5822 L) of fuel. A system was also installed which would allow the fuel to even out in all the tanks in order to maintain center of gravity. The landing gear of the Kōken-ki was retractable in order to reduce drag and once retracted, fairings would cover the landing gear wells. The cockpit was set on the left side of the plane, giving it an asymmetrical design. The Kōken-ki’s windshield could be extended and folded in order to reduce drag. Only when taking off and landing would it be extended. This design was a hindrance for the pilots as they reported poor visibility and control. The Kōken-ki was completely metal, with the exception of fabric covers which were fitted over the control surfaces and wings.

Operators

  • Empire of Japan – The Gasuden Kōken-ki was operated solely by Japanese pilots for all the flights it flew.

Gasuden Kōken-ki

Wingspan 91 ft 7 in / 27.9 m
Length 49 ft 5 in / 15.1 m
Height 11 ft 9 in / 3.6 m
Wing Area 939.7 ft² / 87.3 m²
Wing Loading 21.6 lb/ft² / 105.9 kg/m²
Power Loading 25.3 lb/hp / 11.5kg/hp
Engine 1x Kawasaki-built BMW VIII 12-cylinder water cooled V-engine (715 hp)
Propeller 1x Sumitomo SW-4 two-bladed metal-shrouded wooden propeller
13 ft 1.5 in / 400 cm
Fuel Load 1538 US gallons / 5822 L
Empty Weight 9314 lb / 4225 kg
Loaded Weight 20317 lb / 9216 kg
Maximum Speed 155 mph / 250 kmh at Sea Level
152 mph / 244 kmh at 6562 ft / 2000 m
Cruising Speed 131 mph / 211 kmh at 6562 ft / 2000 m
Range 8078 mi / 13000 km
Maximum Service Ceiling 11187 ft / 3410 m
Crew 1x Pilot
1x Co-Pilot
1x Flight Engineer

Gallery

Kōken-ki sideart by Ed Jackson
The Kōken-ki being prepped for flight by ground crew and an armed guard. (Arawasi)
The Kōken-ki taking off. (Arawasi)
Underside view of the Koken with its gear retracted.
The Kōken-ki in the factory during construction. Note the exposed engine. (Arawasi)
Engineers working on the Kōken-ki. (Arawasi)
A poster advertising Nitto’s black tea. The Kōken-ki is featured in the background. (Arawasi)
A 1939 postage stamp commemorating the Kōken-ki’s record flight. (Arawasi)
A replica of the Koken-ki on display in a museum in Japan

A Series of Youtube Videos on the World Record Attempt:

Sources

Takenaka, K. (2007). Koken Long-range Research-plane.Swopes, B. (2017). 13–15 May 1938.Tupolev ANT-25 Soviet Long Range Record Setter. (n.d.). Fiddler’s Green.Mikesh, R. C., & Abe, S. (1990). Japanese aircraft, 1910-1941. Ann Arbor, MI: Naval Institute.Dyer, E. M. (2015). Japanese Secret Projects: Experimental Aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1922-1945. Ian Allan Publishing. Images: Side Profile Views by Ed Jackson – Artbyedo.com, Other images from http://arawasi-wildeagles.blogspot.com/

 

Mitsubishi G7M “Taizan”

 Empire of Japan (1941)
Strategic Bomber- 1 Scale Mockup Built

The Mitsubishi G7M “Taizan” (泰山/Great Mountain) was a planned long range strategic bomber for Imperial Japan’s Army Air Service. Developed out of the need for a bomber capable of striking the continental United States, the Taizan would face a series of developmental problems, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the project.

History

Prior to the start of World War II, Japan had foreseen that in a potential future conflict with the United States, it would require a long range bomber capable of striking the US mainland. In order to fulfill this requirement, a review was conducted in 1941 of all the Imperial Japanese Navy’s bomber aircraft in service. It was revealed that the entirety of the Japanese bomber arsenal was incapable of striking targets in the United States from the Japanese airfields. The Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” was one of Japan’s newest aircraft being pushed into service. Despite its superior range of 3,749 mi (6,043 km) compared to previous IJN bombers, it still was not sufficient enough to strike the US mainland or targets deep in the Soviet Union. As a result of this, the Naval Kōkū Hombu (Aviation Bureau) issued the 16-shi specification in 1941 for a long range bomber. The 16-shi specification would call for a bomber capable of flying at least 361 mph (580 km/h) with a maximum range of 4,598 mi (7,340 km).

Interested in this specification, Mitsubishi’s staff began work on a design that would meet the criteria set by the Kōkū Hombu. Mitsubishi engineer Kiro Honjo (the designer of the G3M and G4M) proposed a four engine design, but this was promptly rejected by the Kōkū Hombu. As a result, another Mitsubishi engineer by the name of Kijiro Takahashi submitted his own design. Upon inspection by the Kōkū Hombu, Honjo’s design was approved and given the green light to proceed. Within Mitsubishi, the 16-shi design was known as the “M-60”. Takahashi’s design was to be powered by two “Nu” engines. The Nu was a 24 cylinder liquid cooled engine which was able to provide 2,200 hp at 16,404 ft (5,000 m) but, due to the start of Operation Barbarossa, Germany was unable to export machinery and tools needed to manufacture the Nu engine. Unfortunately for Takahashi, this turn of events would prevent his design from being completed. As a result of this, Takahashi fell out with the Kōkū Hombu and Kiro Honjo would take over the M-60 project. This time, Honjo followed the Kōkū Hombu’s suggestion and used two engines instead of his idea of four. Under Honjo’s lead, the Taizan’s power plant was changed to two 18 cylinder Mitsubishi Ha-42-11 engines capable of generating 2,000 hp each. It was also seen that Honjo’s design was less aerodynamic than Takahashi’s due to the weaker engines and heavier armament.

On October 31st of 1942, an evaluation was conducted on the work done so far, and a performance estimation gave the Taizan a range of 3,454 mi (5,559 km) and a speed of 332 mph (518 km/h) at 16,404 mi (5,000 m). Falling short of the original 16-shi specification, Mitsubishi scrambled to make adjustments but further revised estimates stated that the design didn’t see any improvements, and actually saw some deterioration. By the time the Taizan’s design was completed in late 1942 and ready for construction of a wooden mockup, a new 17-shi specification was released calling for a new bomber design. Kawanishi took up the design and created the K-100 bomber project. Seeing promise and a better alternative to the Taizan, the Kōkū Hombu ordered all work on the Taizan to be halted until the K-100 could be completed and evaluated. Kawanishi completed initial work on the K-100 and a comparison was made between K-100 and Taizan in the summer of 1943. The Taizan’s range differed significantly from the proposed normal range from 2,302 mi (3,705 km) to 1,726 mi (2,778 km). Due to the significant range reduction, the Kōkū Hombu stopped supporting the Taizan. With no more interest and reason to develop the Taizan, Mitsubishi would finally shelve the project and stop all work on it.

Design

From an exterior aesthetic point of view, the Taizan bears a striking resemblance to the German Heinkel He 177. The nose of the Taizan was rounded and glazed over, a new design not in use by any Japanese bombers at the time. The wings of the Taizan were mounted mid fuselage, and were to be constructed out of metal. Fabrics, however, were to be used for the cover of the Taizan’s ailerons and rudder.

Ordinance wise, the Taizan was to carry a maximum bomb load of 1,764 lbs (800 kg). The defensive armament underwent several changes. Takahashi’s Taizan design was to be armed with two 20mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons and two 7.7mm Type 97 machine guns. Honjo’s initial design would carry two 20mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons, two 13mm Type 2 machine guns and two 7.92mm Type 1 machine guns. Later on, the armament finalized at two 20mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons and six 13mm Type 2 machine guns. There would have been one Type 99 Mk.2 in the nose and one in the tail. There would have been two Type 2 machine guns in the forward upper fuselage turret, two in the rear fuselage turret and two in ventral position, firing rearwards.

Operators

  • Empire of Japan – The Taizan would have been operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.

 

Mitsubishi G7M1 “Taizan” *

*Estimated performance of Mitsubishi’s G7M1 proposal

Wingspan 82 ft / 25 m
Length 65 ft 6 in / 20 m
Height 20 ft / 6.09 m
Engine 2x Mitsubishi Ha-42-11 (2,000 hp)
Power Loading 8.8 lbs/hp / 3.99 kg/hp
Empty Weight 23,368 lbs / 10,600 kg
Usual Weight 35,273 lbs / 16,000 kg
Fuel Capacity 4,497 L / 1,188 US Gallon
Climb Rate 32,808 ft / 10,000 m in 10 minutes
Maximum Speed 344 mph / 544 kmh @ 26246 ft / 5,000 m
Typical Range 1,739 mi / 2,799 km
Maximum Range 4,598 mi / 7,400 km
Crew 7
Defensive Armament 6x 13x64mm Type 2 machine guns

2x 20×101mm Type 99 Mk.2 cannons

Ordnance / Bomb Load 1,764 lb / 800 kg – Maximum

Gallery

 

Artist’s conception of the operational G7M Taizan

Sources

Dyer, E. M. (2013). Japanese secret projects: experimental aircraft of the IJA and IJN 1939-1945. Burgess Hill: Classic.Aircrafts of Imperial Japanese Navy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 06, 2018, from http://zenibo-no-milimania.world.coocan.jp/epljn.htmlImages: Side Profile Views by Ed Jackson – Artbyedo.com