Nazi Germany (1940)
Prototype Passenger/Transport Plane – 2 Built
Born out of Deutsche Lufthansa’ vision of an advanced airliner to replace the aging Ju 52 after the war, the BV 144 is arguably one of the rather unique looking passenger airliner planes of the 20th century. Although designed by Blohm & Voss in 1940, the first flying prototype wouldn’t take to the air until 1944, when the development of the BV 144 was no longer relevant to its original purpose and the Germans were in full retreat.
With rapid advances in Western Europe throughout 1940, Nazi Germany was confident that the war would be over soon. With such conditions in mind, it was very reasonable for Deutsche Lufthansa to start drafting up plans for their commercial airliner services after the war. Looking for a new aircraft to replace their aging Junkers Ju 52 transport, Deutsche Lufthansa turned to Blohm & Voss in 1940 in hopes of an advanced airliner. The design was finalized in early 1941, and was ready to be constructed. With France recently defeated, the Germans decided to take advantage of the French industry and ordered two prototypes to be constructed at the Louis-Breguet Aircraft Company factory in Anglet, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine province of France.
Although construction started in 1941, the first prototype would not be completed until sometime between July and August of 1944. By this point, the war situation for Germany had became alarmingly worse and the BV 144 was no longer seen as important. Another factor which may have been the cause of the slow construction was the deliberate low effort put into construction by the French workers, as they didn’t wish to help Germany progress. Finally, in August of 1944, the first prototype of the BV 144 would take to the sky. Unfortunately for the Germans however, the Allied forces were moving rapidly through France after Operation Overlord. This meant the Germans were forced to abandon the BV 144 prototype due to their retreat.
After the Liberation of France, the Louis-Breguet Aircraft Company factory fell back into French hands, as well as the completed BV 144 prototype and the second unfinished prototype. Both were transported to Toulouse via road and received French registration numbers. Intrigued by the relatively advanced design, the French would continue testing the BV 144 post war. The second unfinished prototype was also completed by the French post war, but it is unknown whether or not this prototype flew before the termination of the BV 144 project once and for all. Both prototypes were scrapped.
The BV 144 was an all metal monoplane with a distinguishing high wing design and a tricycle landing gear configuration. It would have been powered by two BMW 801 MA 18-cylinder engines generating 1600 horsepower. The wings were located at the shoulder position of the fuselage, giving the engines a large ground clearance. Combined with the relatively short tricycle landing gear, the design would be advantageous to passengers as the fuselage would be close to the ground, allowing much easier boarding and disembarking.
The cockpit consisted of a pilot and a co-pilot in a stepped cabin, as well as a compartment for a radio operator. Following this compartment, there would have been a cargo storage, a passenger compartment, a toilet and another cargo storage. At the cost of some cargo and a less spacious passenger compartment, the passenger count could have been raised to 23 from the original 18.
Foreseeing problems with takeoff and landing, Blohm & Voss designed the plane with variable incidence wings, which meant there were electric-mechanical systems fitted into the BV 144 that allowed the wing to rotate 9 degrees around its tubular main spar within the plane. Such a system was previously tested in 1940 on the Blohm & Voss Ha 140V-3 hydroplane with success. This interesting system would have allowed the pilot to change the sweep angle of the wings during low speed landing and takeoffs without having to shift altitudes. It would also allow the pilot to have a slightly better view during landing. Along with that, long slotted flaps were also provided to aid in landing.
Another interesting feature of the BV 144 was the aforementioned tubular main spar, which was patented by Richard Vogt, the chief designer for Blohm & Voss. Although quite light in terms of weight, the spar would have been able to provide excellent load carrying characteristics. On top of this, as a surprising feature, the spar could also have been used to carry extra fuel. The last notable feature of the BV 144 was the defrosting system located at both wingtips and the tail section. The system would have allowed the tips and tail to stay warm using heated air provided through an oil burner.
Nazi Germany – The BV 144 was intended to be used by the Deutsche Lufthansa, and possibly even the Luftwaffe as an advanced airliner meant for short-medium distance routes.
France – The French took over both prototypes of the BV 144 once the Germans retreated out of France and continue development of the plane postwar for a while before ultimately scrapping the project in the end.
Republic of China (1942)
Prototype Fighter Plane – 10 Built
The 1st AFAMF XP-0 was a prototype fighter designed by China during the early stages of World War 2. Based off of the American Curtiss Hawk-75’s (P-36 Hawk) design, the XP-0 was essentially an improvement with performance increases. Relatively obscure to the Western world, the XP-0 is a unique plane to study as it came from the Republic of China, a nation with relatively poor industrial capabilities and a heavy reliance on aid from other countries such as the USA and USSR.
Prior to the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the ROCAF (Republic of China Air Force) was looking to modernize their equipment. Seeing an opportunity for economic gain, many American aviation companies such as Beechcraft, Consolidated, Ford, and Curtiss began to send out demonstration aircrafts and salesmen. On June 8th 1937, the first Curtiss H-75H (serial number 12327) made its way to Nanjing (Nanking) for demonstration flights. Flown by Curtiss representative pilot, Peter Brewster, in August, Chinese air force officials were very impressed with the characteristics of the H-75H and immediately bought the demonstrator aircraft. After more test flights, the decision to import more H-75s was approved, and as such, thirty models of the H-75M (serial numbers 12625-12654) with non-retractable landing gears were bought and imported some time between May and August, 1938. The final H-75 to be bought by the ROCAF is a H-75Q (serial number 12898), which arrived in Rangoon (nowadays Yangon) in December, 1938, where it was test flown against various other aircrafts in service with the ROCAF such as the Soviet Polikarpov I-15 and I-16 and proved superior to them.
When the Second Sino-Japanese war began on July 7th, 1937, there became an obvious increase in demand for combat aircraft. In 1940, wanting to take advantage of the H-75’s advanced design, the executive of the 1st AFAMF (Air Force Aircraft Manufacturing Factory) Zhu Jia Ren (朱家仁) proposed the idea to design a fighter plane based on the H-75 – the H-75 itself was no longer provided to China as the US could no longer supply China with weapons without ruining their diplomatic relationship with Japan. Once Zhu was given the go-ahead by the Chinese government, work immediately began on designing a fighter based on the H-75. After a very lengthy design stage, the final draft of the design was completed, allowing for a prototype to be built in 1942. After the prototype was manufactured, it was ready for flight evaluations. As such, the prototype was transferred to Yanglin (杨林) Airfield located near Kunming (昆明). The test pilot chosen was Lieutenant Wang Zhong Xiao (王中校), an experienced pilot who had considerable flight time in H-75 Hawks. Xiao was able to take off successfully without any problems, and flew around the airfield before coming down to land. During the landing, Xiao noticed that the XP-0’s landing speed was considerably higher than the H-75’s, and this threw him off. The left gear leg of the XP-0 hit the ground first, and caused the plane to tumble and crash into the ground. The wings, rear fuselage and landing gear were all torn off, with the cockpit area smashing onto the ground and leaving the plane belly up. Miraculously, Xiao was able to climb out of the cockpit unharmed. The conclusion of this mishap was that it was caused by pilot error. Xiao, however, was not punished or berated for this. Instead, the design team was even more determined and encouraged to keep on improving and polishing the design seeing as according to Xiao, the XP-0 performed similar to the H-75 in some aspects, but superior in other aspects such as speed.
After further adjustments and improvements to the XP-0 design, two examples were produced some time in 1944, with two more following in early-mid 1945. There are many indications that more test flights were made which were met with no mishaps and positive results, but the details of these alleged flights is unknown. After the victory against Japan, the ROCAF began to demobilize in 1946. Due to this, the XP-0 was no longer seen as a top priority, and new materials were not supplied to the 1st AFAMF for production of more examples. However, the 1st AFAMF used materials in storage to produce five more XP-0 fighters before stopping production once and for all. In total, ten XP-0 fighters were produced including the first one from 1942 to 1946. Unfortunately, the fate of these other nine fighters produced is not known, much like many other indigenous Chinese planes designed during the war. It would be reasonable to assume that these were probably destroyed or scrapped by the Nationalists to prevent them from being captured by the Communists, or the Communists captured the prototypes but destroyed them soon afterwards.
As mentioned earlier, the XP-0’s design was based off of the Curtiss H-75’s design. It is not a direct copy of it, although they share many aesthetic characteristics. The first XP-0 prototype was constructed using parts from crashed H-75s, namely the landing gears, the cockpit’s instrumental gauges (airspeed, oil pressure, fuel load, etc.), and perhaps spars. It is unknown to what extent the XP-0 used recycled or salvaged parts from the crashed H-75s. The fuselage itself is indigenously made using a combination of metal and wood taken from the Outer Mongolia region of China. With regards to armament , many sources stated the armament would consist of a single .50 calibre (12.7x99mm) M2 Browning and a single .30 calibre (7.62x63mm) M1919 Browning. However, this is debated. (See the Common Misconceptions section below) The first XP-0 prototype was unarmed and it is unknown whether or not the other nine machines were armed. Unfortunately due to relatively scarce reliable sources available publicly, the finer details of the XP-0 are unknown. As for the other nine examples produced between 1944 and 1946, it is unknown whether or not they continued using salvaged H-75 parts or indigenously produced parts. Seeing as the war situation gradually improved in China’s favor, it is not unreasonable to assume that the quality of the other machines went up too.
One of the most common mistakes people make is calling the XP-0 either the “Chu X-PO”, “X-PO” or anything similar. The official designation is “XP-0”, as the ROCAF structured their designation system similar to how the USAAF structured theirs. It would be illogical to have a such a name deviation for this project.
Another misconception is that the XP-0 was a stepping block to develop the XP-1, meaning that the XP-0 was some sort of a “prototype” to the XP-1. However, these two machines are not related in any way except for the fact that it is being manufactured by the same factory and both share the common “XP” (研驱) designation, which refers to a prototype plane.
The last notable dilemma to discuss is the armament of the XP-0. Many sources state that the XP-0 was to be armed with two or four 20mm Madsen cannons or Hispano-Suiza cannons while many other sources states that the intended armament was one 12.7mm M2 Browning and one 7.62mm M1919 Browning machine gun. While it is not impossible that cannons were to be used, it is very unlikely, as the airframe of the XP-0 was based off of the H-75A, and the H-75A was designed and armed with machine guns. The most probable and reasonable armament would therefore be the single M2 Browning and M1919 Browning setup. With the deviation of these armament setups, it is possible that the nine machines produced from 1944 to 1946 may have been armed with different guns.
Republic of China – The XP-0 was going to be solely operated by the Republic of China Air Force.
The Breda Ba.65 was an Italian ground attack plane that first saw action during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930’s. It was built in both single and two seat configurations, and was exported to various nations during the buildup to the Second World War, but only saw active combat with the Regia Aeronautica in Northern Africa.
According to Italian Colonel Amadeo Mecozzi, a WWI veteran fighter ace, the best use of aerial forces was the fast neutralization of military targets rather than unnecessarily wasting resources by attacking civilians or civil industry.He placed a big emphasis on the development of attack aircraft that could perform several different roles. Per his request, the major Italian aircraft manufacturers were to present their proposed planes that would be used by the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) in the future.
Two aircraft were selected to test the Mecozzi concept. The Caproni A.P. 1 and Breda Ba.64, which were both ready for use in 1933-34. Both of these monoplanes were relatively modern in appearance. The low performance of the Caproni A.P. 1 in the Spanish Civil War led to withdrawal from the front line, with some 54 – 57 being produced.
The Ba.64 prototype was powered by a Bristol Pegasus radial engine, license-built by Alfa Romeo, but was later replaced by a better new Alfa Romeo 125 RC35 engine with 650 hp. It was armed with four 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT guns in the wings and the bomb load was around 500-550kg. But despite the stronger engine the speed was low for an fighter or an attack aircraft (350km/h). A few were tested in the Spanish Civil War in 1938 but flight performance was disappointing and it was removed from service and replaced with the Ba.65.
The Ba.65 made its first flights in September of 1935. It was designed to be a multi-role aircraft as a light bomber/attack aircraft, reconnaissance, and interceptor aircraft. Ba.65 was a cantilever low-wing monoplane with the main landing gear units retracting rearwards into the underwing fairings. The materials used on the Ba.65 was the chrome-molybdenum steel alloy tubing, covered overall with duralumin sheet, except for some parts of the wing’s trailing edges which were fabric-covered.
The engine used on the prototype was the French Gnome-Rhone K-14 700 hp (522 kW) or 900hp according to some sources. The same engine would be used to equip the first production series of some 81 aircraft. The remaining planes would be built with one 1,000hp (746 kW) Fiat A.80 RC.41 18-cylinder radial piston engine. Maximum speed with the stronger engine was 267 mph (430 km/h) with the effective range of some 342 mi (550 km) and a service ceiling up to 20,700 ft (6,300 m).
The main armament was two 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine guns and two 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. All were placed in the wings plus a bomb load of around 500kg, with 300kg in the fuselage bomb-bay and 200kg more on the underwing racks. Theoretically it could carry around 1,000kg of bombs, but after some heavy load tests, the result was unsatisfactory and disappointing. The pilot claimed that the plane was impossible to fly with this heavy load. So as a result of this, the weight of the payload was limited to around 500 kg. This improved the flight performance but also reduced the offensive strength and the combat potential of the Ba.65.
Besides the single-seat, a new two-seat version, the Ba.65bis had been developed mostly for export orders and for training and use by the Regia Aeronautica. Besides the pilot, a rear observer/gunner, who used the rear 7.7 machine gun, was positioned in an open cockpit above the trailing edge of the wing. Small numbers were built with a new hydraulically operated Breda L dorsal turret mounting a 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine gun, but it was used mostly for export.
First combat action conducted by this aircraft was in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. 13 single-seat aircraft, equipped with Gnome-Rhone engine, were sent by the Italians in order to support the fascist forces. They were attached to the 65a Squadriglia Aviazione Legionaria. The Ba.65 saw heavy action in several battles during the Spanish Civil War such as the Battles of Santander, Teruel and River Ebro. Squadriglia Legionaria was reinforced with 10 new aircraft in 1938, 6 with Fiat engines, and 4 with the older Gnome-Rhone engine. Depending on the source, around 10-12 Ba.65’s survived the Civil War, and were all given to the new fascist regime. The experiences gained during the battles of the Spanish Civil War, had shown that the Ba.65 was capable only in the role of the attack aircraft, a role in which they would serve until the end of the North African Campaign.
By the start of WWII, most if not all Ba.65’s, were involved in the battle for North Africa against the British forces stationed there. The Ba.65 was not used in any other front during the war. Most of the Ba.65’s in Africa were the two-seat versions, with a relatively small number of aircraft equipped with the Breda L turret. Due to difficulty of the desert conditions, low performance and superiority of the enemy’s fighters heavy losses were suffered and almost all Ba.65’s were lost by the end of 1941. Some of the last Italian Ba.65’s were abandoned at Benghazi airfield and were captured by the British on the December of 1941. Few if any survived by the beginning of 1942. Surviving pilots were transferred either to fighter squadrons or to dive-bombing units equipped with German Ju-87B.
Due to the lack of technical capabilities to improve the flying performance of this aircraft and the failing of the Ba.88 aircraft project, Italy was left with no adequate and contemporary attack aircraft, forcing them to use the older Fiat C.R.32, some modified SM.79s, German Ju-87 and later some modified fighter planes for this role.
In addition to the combat units, several B.65 were flown for a short time in flight schools. They were utilized alongside several Ba.64 and A,P.1 to train pilots for attacking and bombing operations.
They were used by Iraq, in the Anglo–Iraqi War during May 1941. All Iraqi Ba.65’s were stationed near Baghdad in the 5thSquadron and saw some limited action against British positions and airfields. Despite some military aid from Germany and Italy, the Iraqis failed to drive the British out, who were set to invade Iraq. On the 31st of May, an armistice was signed ending the Iraqi revolt.
Production and modifications
Production of this aircraft began in 1936, running several production series. First was in 1936 with 81 aircraft produced with the 700 kW engine. The second series ended in July 1939 with a total of 137 aircraft produced, 80 by Breda and 57 by Caproni-Vizzola, equipped with the Fiat A.80 engine. Total production run was 215 operational aircraft. Of the total produced, 55 were sold to Iraq, Chile and Portugal. Few modifications to the original aircraft were ever made:
Ba.65 – Single-seat version
Ba.65 – Two-seat trainers version
Ba.65 bis – Two-seat attack aircraft version (some equipped with a rear gun turret)
Italy – Utilized mostly the two-seat version and a few with the Breda L turret.
Iraq – Bought around 25 Ba.65 two-seaters aircraft in 1938. Next to two dual-control trainers, the rest were equipped with the Breda L turret. They were used in limited combat against British in 1941.
Chile – Bought 17 single-seaters, with Piaggio PXI C.40 engine, in 1938, and 3 dual-control trainers.
Portugal – In November 1939 had acquired 10 Fiat engined two-seat versions with the Breda L turret.
China –Planned to acquire some Ba.65, but no deliveries were made.
Fascist Spain – Used all surviving Ba.65s left by the Italians after the end of the Civil War.
With recent study trips to Russia, the Plane Encyclopedia team has been working closely with the Russian Archives to record and scan aircraft performance data and various other aviation related documents. While doing this, the team has accidentally rediscovered a series of then-classified documents regarding a secret biological weapon designed in 1941 intended to be used on Berlin in an attempt to stop or at least delay the German advance on Moscow. Classified “Project 337” by the Soviets, the weapon would have been able to bring havoc on any city it was deployed on. Come read the story of the newly discovered Project 337!
In the early stage of Operation Barbarossa during the shift of fall to winter, the Soviet high command became increasingly worried and desperate for a way to halt or at least delay the seemingly unstoppable German advance. On September 29th of 1941, a top secret meeting was held at the Kremlin to discuss the current losses of the Soviet Union, and how to replace the lost equipment. With mostly desperate ideas such as using outdated equipment such as 19th century rifles and cannons taken from stockpiles. Finally, a serious and feasible idea was brought up, which was to bomb Berlin with biological weapons, causing the city to plunge into chaos, and to warrant the retreat of the Germans. With Stalin liking the idea, he immediately agreed and ordered the project to be finished no later than November 29th.
Unfortunately, the dimensions, location, team and materials used to develop Project 337 is unknown as the documents that specifies these are still classified and withheld by the Russian government. What is known however, is that the disease which would be used in Project 337 was tularemia.
With extensive research in the Russian archives, two photos of Project 337 were able to be obtained. The first photo shows the roof of the weapon, which consisted of a bowl shaped canopy with more than a dozen holes. This would have been how the tularemia bacteria would be released. The second photo shows what seems to be the finished Project 337 prototype, which looked like a huge metallic peanut with the black canopy.
On December 1st of 1941, Project 337 was completed and was now ready to be tested on Berlin. To carry such a weapon, the Soviet Air Force began looking for a capable heavy bomber which would be able to fly at tall heights. Although scarce, the bomber chosen was the Petlyakov Pe-8 bomber. A single Pe-8 was transferred from the Far East Regiments and modified to carry Project 337. As for personnel, experienced pilots Lieutenant Igor N. Timoshenko, Junior Lieutenant Dima I. Pokryshkin and Lieutenant Mikhail Gorkin were chosen to complete the task of dropping the prototype biological weapon on Berlin. These pilots were not told of the contents they were carrying, and was only instructed to fly to Berlin, drop the payload and return to base as the Soviets still wished to maintain the secrecy of the project.
On December 5th, Lieutenant Igor N. Timoshenko, Junior Lieutenant Dima I. Pokryshkin and Lieutenant Mikhail G. Gorkin took off in the Pe-8 carrying Project 337 at 8:31 PM from an undisclosed secret airfield. With the intent of maintaining stealth, the Pe-8 crew would have maintained radio silence in order to not get detected. Approximately 1 hour and 14 minutes into the flight, the Soviet ground crew were surprised to receive an emergency radio call from the aircrew. According to the recently declassified Soviet documents, the ground crew reported that Lieutenant Gorkin shout in the radio in panic that the Pe-8’s inner starboard engine caught fire, and that the plane was rapidly losing altitude. Lieutenant Gorkin decided the best thing to do was to perform an emergency landing, and he made this decision known to the ground crew. Unfortunately, the documents stated that contact was lost with the crew during the botched emergency landing. One of the documents dated April 1st of 1944 stated that efforts to locate the Pe-8 has failed, and that the plane likely crashed into a body of water. Due to the loss of the sole bomb, tests were unable to be completed and the project was set back. This led to the eventual abandonment of the project as the Soviets couldn’t afford to spend more time development such a weapon.
The final document which referenced Project 337 dated April 20th of 1948 mentioned that the incident which caused the destruction of the Pe-8 was improper maintenance. It is said that the mechanics responsible for the maintenance were executed, while the radio crew were sent to the gulag. Timoshenko, Pokryshkin and Gorkin’s families were all sent a letter stating that they died in combat as heroes. In conclusion, Project 337 can be considered a failure. With the current evidence that the Plane Encyclopedia team has, it is reasonable to assume that the Pe-8 carrying Project 337 is perhaps still out there buried beneath layers of mud, sand, or water, never to be seen by mankind again.
Rep. No. Поддельный источник, используемый для апрельских дураков (04.01.1944) (1944).
Rep. No. Полностью реальный источник, а не подделка (04.20.1948) (1948).
Empire of Japan (1943) Prototype Fighter Interceptor – 1 Built
The Kawasaki Ki-88 was a fighter interceptor designed in 1942 with the intent of intercepting enemy aircraft heading towards vital military locations. The Ki-88 would never see service, as it was cancelled in 1943 after a mockup and partial prototype were constructed. Although considered by many to be the Japanese copy of the American Bell P-39 Airacobra due to the exterior aesthetic similarities, this is only speculation.
The origins of the Kawasaki Ki-88 began in August of 1942 when Tsuchii Takeo, a designer for Kawasaki, responded to a design specification put forward by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service (IJAAS). The IJAAS determined that they needed an interceptor aircraft that would defend important military assets like airfields, gun emplacements, and others. The specification also stated that the aircraft had to be heavily armed, provide a stable gun platform and be easily flyable by new pilots.
Takeo began work on the Ki-88 and chose to use a 37mm Ho-203 cannon as the plane’s primary armament, with two 20mm Ho-5 cannons to complement the Ho-203. The placement of the guns prompted Takeo to place the engine behind the cockpit. Many sources state that this was done to copy the American Bell P-39 Airacobra, but that claim is debated. The P-39 Airacobra was in service at the time the Ki-88 was developed, but saw limited service with the United States. It did however, see service during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The Japanese were certainly aware of its existence and possibly captured an example of the P-39. If they did indeed capture an example, Takeo could have simply copied the gun and engine placement. It is important to note that such a “rear-engine” fighter configuration was a rarity in plane design at the time. Another common theory is that Takeo came to the same conclusion as H.M Poyer (designer of the P-39) did during the planning phase and designed the plane without copying the P-39. Other than the engine and gun placement, the two planes are quite dissimilar.
Takeo completed the Ki-88’s design in June of 1943. A full scale mockup and prototype were in the works in mid/late 1943, and estimated that the prototype would be completed in October of 1943. However, after the mockup and plans were inspected by representatives of the IJAAS, it was concluded that the Ki-88 had no real improvements over other designs of the time, and the top speed was only slightly better than the Kawasaki Ki-61 after calculations. The IJAAS immediately lost interest and ordered Kawasaki to cease all work on it.
The Ki-88 was a single seater, single engine fighter powered by a Kawasaki Ha-140 engine producing 1,500hp while driving a propeller using an extension shaft. The radiator was placed under the cockpit at the bottom of the fuselage. There was an air intake placed beneath the fuselage on the left to provide cooling for the supercharger in the Ha-140.
The Ki-88 used a conventional landing gear, in which the main wheels could be retracted into the wings while the tail wheel stayed fixed. There was a fuel tank in each of the wings, beside the landing gear wells.
The size of the Ho-203 canon prevented Takeo from placing the engine into the nose which led him to place it behind the pilot’s cockpit, much like the American P-39 Airacobra. Moving the engine to the back of the cockpit was a smart move, as it theoretically would have made the plane a more stable gun platform. Under the Ho 203, on both sides of the nose, there were two 20mm Ho-5 cannons.
Empire of Japan – The Ki-88 was supposed to have been operated by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service, but never did so due to the design being deemed as inferior to the Ki-61 and was thus cancelled.
Fighter Bomber and Reconnaissance – 155 Built
The Breda Ba.88 Lince, Italian for Lynx, saw service with the Reggia Aeronautica during the early days of WWII. The Lince prototype was initially touted as a propaganda tool for fascist Italy with its bona fide world records for airspeed. However it’s eventual service life was cut short by drastic performance problems by the time the weight of military armaments, eventually earning it a popular reputation as one of the worst aircraft failures of all time.
On January 20th of 1936, the Italian Air Force (Reggia Aeronautica) put in a request to all Italian aviation companies for a new multi-purpose twin-engine aircraft. The new aircraft’s specification is that it should be capable of achieving a top speed of least 300 mph (470 km/h), have a service ceiling of 20,000 ft (6000 m), a flight range of 1,250 mi (2000 km), and good takeoff and landing characteristics. The armament was to consist of several 12.7 mm machine guns or a few 20mm cannons. Several companies responded to this request, with their suggestions. In the end the Breda Ba.88 aircraft was chosen.
Italian designers Antonio Parano and Giuseppe Panzeri had plans to make the Ba.88 a multi-purpose two-seat aircraft, which in essence meant that it would be suitable for long-range reconnaissance, bombing operations, and to serve as a heavy fighter aircraft similar to the German Messerschmitt Bf 110.
The Ba.88 was a twin engine all-metal high-wing monoplane. The engines on the prototype were two 900 hp (671 kW) Gnome-Rhone K-14 radials. It had a retractable tailwheel landing gear. The prototype at first had a single vertical tail assembly but it was later changed to a new modified tail unit with twin fins and rudders.
The Ba.88 prototype, designated MM 302, had its first test flight in October 1936. The first test pilot was Furio Niclot Doglio, Breda’s main test pilot. In February 1937 the Ba.88 prototype was sent to the Guidonia for more army flight tests. In April 1937 two new speed over distance world records were achieved, with average speed of 321 mph (517km/h) over 62 miles (100km) and the second of 295 mph (475km/h) over a distance of 621 mi (1000km). These records were set by Furio Niclot Doglio. Later that year he reached a top speed of 325.6 mph (524 km/h) and 344.2 mph (554km/h). The results of these test flights were more than satisfactory, and often used by the Italian fascist regime for propaganda purposes. But this string of successes did not last for long.
With the installation of military equipment and weapon armament the performance and flight characteristics fell off dramatically, which affected the operational efficiency and history of this Lince. Top speed achieved with the full military equipment and armament was much lower than that on the test flights. This gave rise to a question of its use in the role of a fighter aircraft. Italian army test pilots expressed concern over its flight characteristics, since even the simple maneuvers were hard to achieve. In order to try to fix some of these issues, a number of weight saving modification were done, such as reducing the main armament and installing two new 1000 hp Piaggio engines. Later during the war, even the rear gun position was removed in order to save weight. But these problems would be never solved completely. Despite this an order was placed for 88 new Ba.88 aircraft.
The Ba.88 production model was powered by two 1000hp (746 kW) Piaggio P.XI RC.40 14-cylinder radial piston engines. Maximum top speed with the new engines was 304 mph (490 km/h), effective range was 1000 mi (1640 km) and the service ceiling was up to 26,000 ft (8000m).
The main armament consisted of three 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine guns plus one 7.7mm machine gun also Breda-SAFAT type, used by the rear gunner. Total bomb load was around 2,200 lbs (1000kg), in the fuselage bomb-bay or three 200kg bombs carried semi-exposed in individual recesses in the lower fuselage.
After the German attack on the Allies in France in May 1940, Italy also declared war on the Allies on 16 June 1940 and started to attack the French positions to the south. The Lince saw its first combat actions during those operations. Some 12 planes from the Regia Aeronautica 19° Gruppo Autonomo (independent group) made several bombing attacks raids on airfields in Corsica. A few days later a group of nine Ba.88 planes made a new bombing raid. But after the end of the Battle of France, Italian combat analysis of this air attacks had led to the conclusion that the Ba.88 aircraft had only limited value as a effective operational aircraft.
The next combat use of the Ba.88 was in North Africa. The Linces of the 7° Gruppo Autonomo were used in Libya against the British forces. Although they were equipped with special sand filters, the engines overheated and failed to deliver their designed power. Many planned attacks, such as the one on targets at Sidi Barrani in September 1940, had to be aborted. The Ba.88 aircraft had failed to gain sufficient altitude or even maintain formation, but the biggest problem was the inability to reach the speed that the manufacturers claimed it had.
Because of these problems, most if not all surviving Linces were been stripped of all useful equipment and armament and were scattered around major airfields mostly to act as decoys for British attacks. Ironically at that time, a further two batches of new Ba.88s were being delivered. Some 19 from Breda and 48 examples from IMAM were mostly sent straight to the scrapyard.
But the story of the Ba.88 does not end there. Three or more Ba.88 examples were modified by the Agusta aircraft plant in 1942 to be used as a improved ground-attack aircraft. Sources are not precise of how many were modified, the number of modified aircraft ranges from 3 to 14. The modification included increasing the wingspan by 6.5 feet (2m) in the hopes of alleviating wing loading problems. Two new Fiat A.74s engines were installed and the armament was increased up to four 12.7mm machine guns and dive brakes were installed. This modified Ba.88, now called the Ba.88M, were delivered and used by the 103° Gruppo Autonomo Tuffatori (independent dive-bombing group) stationed at Lonate Pozzolo on 7 September 1943. They were also used and tested by Luftwaffe pilots. Their fate is not known.
The Breda Ba.88 has a popular reputation as the “worst operational aircraft.” This is in part due to the vast difference in performance from the sleek and advanced-for-the-time prototype that was able to set world speed records, until production aircraft fitted with the weight of wartime armament drastically hampering the plane’s flight characteristics as previously mentioned. However it should be noted that by most accounts there are no prominent records of catastrophic structural failure, crashes, accidents, or combat losses. Perhaps the primary reason for this reputation is how quickly the aircraft’s operational service life was dispensed with, the marked difference in the performance of the prototype versus the fully outfitted wartime production model, and the premature relegation to the scrapyard or the duty of airfield decoy.
Production of initial production run of the Lince started in May of 1939 and ended in October of that same year. The first batch of some 80 aircraft, plus eight dual-control trainers were built by Breda. Later, by the second half of the 1940 some 67 more examples were built in small batches, 19 by Breda and 48 by IMAM. In the end total production was 155 aircraft plus the initial prototype.
Ba.88 Prototype – Initial prototype, set several world speed records, 1 built
Ba.88 Lince – Main production model, 155 built
Ba.88Trainer – Dual-control trainers, 8 built
Ba.88M – Three modified aircraft in order to improve flight performance
Breda Ba.88 Lince Specifications
51 ft 3 in / 15.6 m
35 ft 4 in / 10.79 m
10 ft 2 in / 3.1 m
358.8 ft² / 33.3 m²
Two 1000 hp (746 kW) Piaggio P.XI RC.40 14-cylinder radial piston engines.
10,250 lb / 4,650 kg
Maximum Takeoff Weight
14,900 lb / 6,750 kg
419 U.S. Gal / 1,586 L
9,843 ft / 3,000 m in 7 minutes & 30 seconds
304 mph / 490 km/h
1,000 mi / 1,640 km
Maximum Service Ceiling
26,250 ft / 8,000 m
1 pilot & 1 rear gunner
Three nose mounted 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine guns
The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was an experimental attack aircraft stemming from a USAAF requirement for a two seated attack bomber. Two prototypes were constructed between 1944 and 1945, and saw extensive testing within the US. The Grizzly showed promising performance, but was ultimately cancelled due to the engines intended for use was given priority to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the inevitable victory of the Allies.
In 1942, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) issued a requirement for a two seater attack bomber. Beechcraft was quick to respond, and proposed their design to the USAAF. The USAAF was very interested in the design, and ordered two prototypes to be constructed in December of the same year after granting the contract to Beechcraft. In anticipation of the two prototypes, the USAAF assigned serial numbers to them, being “43-14406” and “43-14407”.
Beechcraft specifically designed the Model 28 to be able to destroy gun emplacements, ships, armored vehicles and bunkers while keeping great maneuverability and able to remain airborne after being damaged. All of this would be done by the addition of a powerful 75mm T15E1. The task of developing the Grizzly was given to a team led by Bill Cassidy with Jess Vint and Alex Odevseff in charge of designing the armaments, Bill Irig in charge of the control surfaces, Gus Ericson in charge of the design of wings, Mervin Meyers in charge of hydraulics, Ralph Harmon in charge of the landing gear structure and Noel Naidenoff in charge of the engine compartment. The Grizzly is common thought to be a modified Model 18 design, but this is untrue. The Grizzly did take inspirations from the Model 18, though.
The first Grizzly (43-14406) was delivered to the Army Air Force and flown on May 7th of 1944 by test pilot Vern L. Carstens. The first test flight went relatively well except for an unplanned touch-and-go during landing. This was due to Carsten’s inexperience with landing such a large plane. The first prototype had no armaments installed, but had a wooden mockup of the 75mm T15E1 cannon. In the next few test flights, the Grizzly proved itself to be very aerodynamically stable, and made a good impression with the designers. A memorable flight test includes a performance comparison between the Grizzly and a recently manufactured North American P-51B. The Grizzly and P-51B were put in a mock pursuit, and the P-51B was reported to have been unable to keep up. Afterwards on July 7th of 1945, the first Grizzly was transferred to Wright Field to be used by the USAAF. It then participated in 38 test flights from between October 13 and October 24 of 1944 flown by Captain Jack W. Williams. Williams affectionately noted that the Grizzly was a great aircraft and “very maneuverable” for an aircraft of its size. It is also interesting to note that the turrets on the first Grizzly were dummies.
The second Grizzly (43-14407) had its maiden flight on September 22nd of 1945, once again piloted by Carstens. The second prototype was intended for armament testing, so it had all weapons fitted. The 75mm T15E1 prototype cannon was already successfully tested the year before on July 1st. The second Grizzly flew a total of 38 hours afterwards in tests at Eglin Field in Florida.
As successful as the Grizzly was, it would never reach mass production status because of two reasons. The first reason was that the R-3350 engines were in short supply, as the Boeing B-29 Superfortress had top priority for the engines. Second, the war situation was already in America’s favor, thus cancelling out the need for such an aircraft. As a result, both of the Grizzlies were retired from active service. One was scrapped while the other one was transferred to the Davis-Monthan Airfield in Arizona, meeting an unknown fate.
The XA-38 Grizzly was an all metal, two seat, twin engined semi-monocoque plane with cantilever wings, conventional landing gears, oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers and hydraulic brakes. It was powered by two Wright R-3350-43 Duplex Cyclone engines, the same engine that powered the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. The propellers measured at 4.32m (170in) each in diameter.
The plane used flush riveting and butted skin joints to give the plane its pristine, shiny look. The foil used to construct the wings were derived from the NACA 23000 series which was good for high and low speeds. The engine hub was made from stainless steel and aluminum alloy. The oil coolers were placed in the wings. Four fuel tanks were installed in the wings with a capacity of 2,422 litres (640 US Gallons). Two self-sealing fuel tanks were also placed behind the cockpit which can carry 681 litres (185 US Gallons) if needed to. There were pumps and connectors installed onto the tanks, which would stop fuel flow if the tanks took damage.
As for armaments, the XA-38’s 75mm T15E1 was the defining feature. Could carry 20 rounds fed by a Type T-13 feeding system. There would be a Type N-6 reflector sight to help the pilot aim. The cannon would fire every 1.2 seconds if the pilot pressed the trigger button. Two .50cal (12.7mm) M2 Browning machine guns were installed under the cannon with 500 rounds each. The entire nose section of the XA-38 could be unhinged, where mechanics can easily access the guns for maintenance.
The Grizzly had two turrets, one located on the top of the fuselage and one on the bottom. The turrets were manufactured by General Electric and had two M2 Brownings each with 500 rounds. These two turrets were controlled by a single gunner seated in the rear fuselage. He would aim the guns with a periscope to control the turrets. Interestingly enough, the turrets can also be fixed to fire forward to accompany the T15E1. Ordinance wise, the XA-38 was designed to carry a wide range of things. It could have carried bombs, napalm, torpedoes, fuel tanks, smoke tanks and depth charges.
United States of America – The USAAF was the sole operator of the XA-38. The USAAF extensively tested the XA-38, and concluded it was a success. However, the XA-38 never reached mass production status.
Republic of China (1946)
Prototype Glider Aircraft – 6 Built
The XG-1 was a glider developed by the 3rd Air Force Aircraft Manufacturing Factory Republic of China in 1943 with the intended purpose of transporting paratroopers and supplies behind enemy lines. It holds a special place in aviation history, as it was the first glider in the world to be built with bamboo. It would never see service, as the war ended and the air force was demobilized. It would meet an unknown fate after 1947. With the lack of information and documents detailing it, the XG-1 remains one of the world’s most obscure gliders.
Ever since gliders were introduced to China in the early 20th century, they were never as popular as powered planes. In early-mid 1943, the Chongqing Aeronautic Research Institution received Allied gliders (such as the Waco CG-4A) and realized the practicality of glider based transport. The ROCAF (Republic of China Air Force) then decided to develop their own transport glider. Due to this need, the vice president of the Chongqing Aeronautic Research Institute, Wang Zhu (王助), began closely studying the development of gliders.
During the mid 1940s, the Chinese established paratrooper schools in Kunming with assistance from America. The paratroopers went through 9 months of training and were kept in reserve. The Chinese did not prioritize paratroopers but saw their potential near the end of the war.
In late 1943, the glider project was well under way. The glider would be named 研滑-1 meaning “Experimental Glider”. The Latinized designation would be “XG-1”. Wang Zhu designed the glider to be built with wood and high quality Sichuan bamboo, a first in glider development history. Everything except the landing gear, cockpit instruments, and control sticks were made with bamboo. The XG-1 was specially designed to be able to glide behind enemy lines, to drop and supply paratroopers. Due to unknown complications, the XG-1’s production was delayed until 1946, when a single example was produced by the 3rd AFAMF.* The XG-1 would have been able to carry 30 fully equipped paratroopers with two pilots.
After the XG-1 was produced, Wang Zhu immediately pressed the Air Force to begin trials. However, due to the end of the war and a massive reform in the Air Force, the XG-1’s test flight was denied. Very angry that all his work was for nothing, he resigned from his position as vice president of the Research Institute and went back to his former job at CNAC**. Interestingly enough though, the XG-1 was rumored to have been test flown in 1947. This was likely due to the need of a transport aircraft during the Chinese Civil War. Another 5 examples of the XG-1 was produced between the years of 1945 to 1947.
The XG-1 would meet an unknown fate after 1947, much like many other domestically designed prototype planes. There are theories as to what could have happened to the prototype:
Theory One: The XG-1s was scrapped sometime during the Civil War by the Nationalist for materials.
Theory Two: The XG-1s was buried or hidden to prevent capture by the Communists.
Theory Three: The XG-1s was destroyed during a test flight, or in a firefight.
However in the end, these are all theories with no evidence to prove it.
* – Air Force Aircraft Manufacturing Factory ** – China National Aviation Corporation
The XG-1 slightly resembled the Douglas DC-2, a relatively popular and common plane in service with the Chinese at the time in civilian airliners. As Wang Zhu used to work for CNAC, it could be assumed he used it as a base model during the development of the XG-1. The XG-1’s structure consisted mostly of bamboo and wood, but was painted over in metallic paint.
The landing gear and cockpit instruments were all American made, while everything else was domestically made. The landing gear was in a fixed position, meaning that it couldn’t be retracted. There were small windows installed on the side of the plane for the paratroopers to look out of. The glass that was installed was made domestically.
Republic of China – The XG-1 would have been used by the ROCAF to transport supplies and paratroopers.
The XB-19 was a heavy bomber designed in 1935 to fulfill a request made by the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) to develop an experimental heavy bomber with extreme range. Although slow in its development and obsolete by the time it was produced, it served as a test vehicle to evaluate plane and engine performances. The sole XB-19 was converted to a cargo transport plane and was eventually scrapped in 1949. The XB-19 was the largest plane operated by the USAAC and USAAF until the Convair B-36 came into service.
The roots of the XB-19 can be traced to 1935 on February 5th when the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) commenced “Project D”. The purpose of Project D was to experiment with the maximum distances achievable with bombers. The USAAC contacted and discussed the project with Douglas Aircraft Company and Sikorsky. Douglas representatives agreed to the terms of the design and plans were made during a conference on June 5th, 1935. The initial plan was to begin the basic design on July 31st of 1935, detailed designs on January 31st of 1936, and have the plane physically produced by March 31st, 1938. The plan however was soon found out to be too ambitious, with the designers underestimating the work required. The designers would be plagued with a lack of proper funding and the sheer enormity of the task. The project would finally be completed in May of 1941, nearly four years after the original deadline.
Douglas Aircraft Company received a contract to the project in October of 1935 which required Douglas to create a general and detailed design of the plane, create a mockup of the plane and test the wing centre section, undercarriage, and engine nacelles of the plane. Douglas accepted the contract on October 18th. Later that year, the USAAC would evaluate the mockups provided by Douglas and Sikorsky. Douglas’s design was ultimately chosen, and was given the task of further developing the plane.
The plane would be known as the “XBLR-2” (Experimental Bomber Long Range 2) in its early stages of development. The progress of developing the bomber proved to be tedious and slow. Lack of funding would severely hinder work on the plane. During that time the USAAC made a change to the requirements, the plane was suppose to be powered by four Allison XV-3420-1 engines producing 1,600 horsepower each, but was ordered to be replaced by four Wright R-3350 engines producing 2,000 horsepower each instead. This would also hinder work as the plane had to be slightly redesigned. As time went on, Douglas had to loan a Douglas OA-4A from the USAAC to test an experimental tricycle landing gear configuration intended for the XBLR-2. The tests proved to be a success. Later, the XBLR-2 would be redesignated as “XB-19” (Experimental Bomber 19). Douglas eventually managed to scrape together enough funds to produce a prototype, and the production was authorized on March 8th of 1938.
During its development, the Douglas company had many problems with the XB-19. They were forced to allocate more funds than initially expected, and needed design staff to work on other aircraft which had a more promising production future. They claimed the XB-19’s design was obsolete due to the production delays it suffered over the past three years and the fact that the plane’s weight was far heavier than expected. The Douglas company officially made a recommendation to cancel the XB-19 project on August 30th, 1938. This recommendation was denied by the USAAC. Interestingly enough, two years later, the USAAC would suggest that the slow development of the XB-19 already rendered the project obsolete when they removed the plane from the top secret classified list. The XB-19 would finally be completed in May of 1941.
Shortly after completion, the XB-19 was used in taxiing tests on May 6th, 1941. The flight test was scheduled to be on May 17th, but was postponed three times due to critical mechanical errors. The landing gear break was found to have defects, its engines had backfiring issues, and the propeller pitch control system had to be worked on. On June 27th however, the XB-19 would finally have its maiden flight. In the maiden flight, seven crewmembers were on board with Major Stanley M. Ulmstead in charge. The flight lasted 55 minutes from Clover Field in Santa Monica to March Field. The flight went by smoothly without any problems and was successful. Shortly afterwards, Donald Douglas would receive a congratulatory telegram from President Roosevelt. The USAAC unofficially accepted the XB-19 in October of 1941.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th of 1941, the United States was on high alert. The XB-19’s turrets were armed and a new layer of olive camouflage paint was applied, replacing its bare metal USAAC livery. It would make 4 more tests flights in California before being transferred to Wright Field on January 23rd, 1942 as another safety measure. By then, the XB-19 had over 70 hours of flight time.
The XB-19 was finally accepted officially by the USAAF in June of 1942 after minor modifications were made to the plane’s brake system. The contract cost to the United States government was $1,400,064. The Douglas Aircraft Company also spent $4,000,000 in personal company funds. The XB-19 was extensively tested by the USAAF for eighteen months to see the engine performances and different altitudes and the maneuverability of the aircraft. The results of these tests would later go on to influence the design of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the Convair B-36. The XB-19 performed well in all aspects and was generally free of problems. The only problem noted however was the inefficient engine cooling process. Due to this, the cooling gills on the plane had to be open the whole time in longer flights, thus reducing the effective speed of the XB-19.
After the XB-19 was thoroughly tested and experimented with, the USAAF no longer had a need for it. It was brought to the Wright Field and modified to be a cargo transport aircraft. It was refitted with Allison V-3420-11 engines and had its armaments removed. The new aircraft would be designated “XB-19A”. For the next two and a half years, the XB-19A would fly to numerous airfields within Ohio. It was documented to have been stationed at Wright Field, Patterson Field, Lockbourne Air Base, and Clinton Country Air Base. The XB-19A would make its last flight on August 17th, 1946, where it flew to the Davis-Monthan airfield in Arizona from Wright Field to be stored. It stayed in storage for three years before finally being scrapped in 1949, thus ending the legacy of the XB-19.
To this day, only two wheels of the XB-19’s landing gear survives. One can be seen in the Hill Aerospace Museum in Oregon, and the other can be seen in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.
The XB-19 is described as a colossal, all metal low wing monoplane installed with a conventional tricycle landing gear. The two main wheels of the landing gears measured at 2.44 m (8 ft) in diameter, which was impressive for the time. The original design specifications ordered wanted the engines to be four Allison XV-3420-1, but was swapped for four Wright R-3350-5 engines instead with a three blade metal propeller with a 5.18 m (17 ft) diameter. The engines would be switched once again to Allison V-3420-11 after the plane was repurposed as a cargo transport aircraft. The plane could carry an impressive amount of fuel, at 38,178 L (10,350 US Gallons) in its auxiliary fuel tanks, with an optional 3,210 L (824 US Gallons) that could be stored in the bomb bay.
The XB-19 carried 8,480 kg (18,700 lbs) of ordinance usually, but could be overloaded to 16,828 kg (37,100 lbs) if fuel was reduced significantly. As for armaments, the initial prototype was unarmed. Later though, two 37mm Oldsmobile T9 autocannons, five 12.7mm M2 Brownings and six M1919 Brownings were fitted to the plane. One T9 was fitted to the nose while the other was fitted to the upper front turret, each accompanied by a single M1919 machine gun. There would be one M1919 on each side of the bombardier’s position, and a M1919 on each side of the stabilizer. A single M2 Browning was fitted in the tail of the XB-19, two M2 Brownings on each side of the galley compartment, one in the bottom turret, and one in the upper powered turret.
In the crew compartment, there was eight seats and six bunks. The compartment could accommodate two flight engineers, and six relief crew members. The normal combat crew consisted of sixteen people. (Refer to Specifications Table).
XB-19 – The original model and design. Initially developed as a long range heavy bomber for the USAAC, but was outdated by the time it entered service. It served as a “flying laboratory”, testing engine performances and plane handling. It was converted to the XB-19A after the USAAF no longer had use for it.
XB-19A – The XB-19A was a converted XB-19 using improved Allison V-3420-11 engines. It was used as a cargo transport aircraft after the air force was done experimenting with it. All armaments were removed. It was scrapped in 1949.
United States of America – The XB-19 and XB-19A was operated by the USAAC and USAAF throughout its service life.
212 ft / 64.62 m
132 ft & 4 in / 40.34 m
42 ft / 12.8 m
4,285 ft² / 398.091m²
32.6 lb/sq ft / 159.5 kg/sq m
17.5 lb/hp / 7.9 kg/hp
4x Wright R-3350-5 Duplex Cyclone (2,000 hp)
10,350 US Gallons / 38,178 L – in auxiliary fuel tanks + 824 US Gallons / 3,120 L – in bombay (Optional)
140,000 lbs / 63,503 kg
86,000 lbs / 39,009 kg
650 ft/min / 198 m/min
Cruising: 135 mph / 217 km/h – Sea Level
Operational: 186 mph / 299 km/h – @ 15,700 ft / 4,785 m
Maximum Speed: 224 mph / 360 km/h – @ 15,700 ft / 4,785 m
Republic of China (1943)
Prototype Transport Aircraft – 2 Built
The Zhongyun was an indigenous designed Chinese passenger/cargo transport plane, which would see limited service within the Republic of China Air Force. In terms of speed, the Zhongyun series was evaluated by factory test pilots and deemed superior to the Douglas DC-2 the Chinese had in service at the time. Unfortunately, like many prototype planes of that time, the ones that were produced would meet an unknown fate as World War II ended and the Chinese Civil War began. However, a replica of the Zhongyun 1 can be seen in the Beijing Aviation Museum.
During the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Nationalist Chinese government lacked an effective means of transporting supplies to the frontlines due to Japanese aerial superiority and the rapid loss of ground. Due to this, the Ministry of Aviation issued an order to Chinese factories to design an effective cargo plane suitable for Chinese airfields. Another requirement was to be capable of transporting a reasonable amount of cargo while having decent performance. The Second Air Force Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (AFAMF) in Chongqing proposed a cargo plane made out of quality Szechuan wood, and was approved.
The design of the new cargo plane began in 1941 with 林同骅 (Lin Tong Hua) as the Head Designer, 顾光复 (Gu Guang Fu) as Vice Head Director, and about 20 people as assistant directors. The name assigned to this project was “C-0101” (later renamed Zhongyun). Due to the ongoing war, the factory wanted to complete the design as quick as possible, so they designed and manufactured at the same time. In the Autumn of 1942, the design was finalized, but the designers were faced with one big problem. They did not have a wind tunnel to use, making them oblivious as to whether or not the design was stable. All the performance estimations were calculated by hand and paper, which simply wasn’t safe enough due to possible defects the designers overlooked, or the designers calculated the performance wrong. Shortly after the design was completed, the project was temporarily halted for an unknown reason.
The project was revived in 1943, and the designers refined the C-0101 by reworking the ailerons and various other small things. Finally, in August of 1944, the C-0101 rolled out of the factory line, powered by two Wright R-975E-3 “Whirlwind” engines. The C-0101 stood by until the summer of 1944 when the Japanese launched Operation Ichi-Go, where it was evacuated along with the factory. The C-0101 was disassembled into smaller parts and loaded onto many trucks. It took a week for the convoy to reach the new factory in Chongqing. The convoy only travelled at night and hid during the day to avoid Japanese reconnaissance and fighter planes. When they finally arrived, the C-0101 was quickly reassembled.
In late October of 1944, the C-0101 would take off for the first time. It flew over the Chongqing Bashiyi airfield for 20 minutes before landing. The test flight was a success. Lin Tong Hua was thoroughly impressed with the performance, and opted to board the plane in its next test flight. The next test flight would be on November 18, 1944 from Bashiyi airfield to Chengdu. This time, the plane was piloted by 李新唐 (Li Xing Tang) with 彭成 (Peng Cheng), Lin Tong Hua and Gu Guang Fu as passengers. The test flight lasted around an hour without any problems. En route to Chengdu Airport, Li Xing Tang noted that the plane’s speed and handling was superior to the Douglas DC-2, the most popular cargo/passenger plane in China at the time. The C-0101’s landing was observed by members of the Institute of Aviation.
Shortly after landing in Chengdu, people wanted to see the C-0101 in action again, so a new pilot was assigned and 高作揖 (Gao Zuo Yi), a designer from the Institute of Aviation, boarded the plane with Lin Tong Hua again. The plane would then perform various flight tests before landing again. The plane performed exceptionally well and was met with positive feedback. In celebration of the successful testing, the C-0101 was renamed to “中运-1” (Zhongyun 1) meaning “China Transport 1”. However, with the abundant supply of American C-46 and C-47 transport planes, only one Zhongyun 1 model was built. The designers still worked on improving the design, however.
Sometime after the Zhongyun 1’s test flight, there was an idea to create a bomber variant of the Zhongyun 1. The bomber variant was still its very early design stages when the Japanese capitulated. The Chinese then cancelled all work on the Zhongyun bomber since there was no need for such a plane anymore. This was also due to the 2nd AFAMF already exceeding their budget.
In 1946, the Zhongyun 1 was given to the Republic of China Air Force to serve in a transport unit. The designers then began working on the Zhongyun 2. The Zhongyun 2’s construction was similar to the Zhongyun 1, with some minor improvements. For example, the Zhongyun 2’s landing gear was taken from a retired P-40B, the fluidity of the ailerons were improved, and the passenger cabin was made more comfy. The plane would once again be made out of a mix of wood and metal.
The Zhongyun 2 would be equipped with two Pratt & Whitney R-985 “Wasp Junior” engines, an improvement of the Zhongyun 1’s Wright R-975E-3 “Whirlwind” engines. The Zhongyun 2 would also be made completely out of metal. On December 19th of 1948, the Zhongyun 2 took off successfully for the first time. It is worth noting, however, the pilot reported slight shakiness during flight. The observers told the designers that the Zhongyun 2 looked beautiful in flight. With that in mind, the designers worked hard to improve the Zhongyun 2’s design.
In late 1949, the Nationalists lost the Chinese Civil War. This forced them to flee to Taiwan. During their evacuations, the Nationalists left behind the Zhongyun 2 in haste. As a result, the Zhongyun 2 was pressed into service by the Communists and performed a test flight by pilot 刘懊统 (Liu Au Tong). The flight path was intended to go from Nanchang airfield to Hanko. During the test flight, the Zhongyun 2 allegedly suffered from an engine malfunction mid way, and tried to return to Nanchang. The Zhongyun 2 would never make it back to Nanchang, and was assumed to have crashed.
The Zhongyun was a domestically designed plane made from wood and metal. The design resembles a tubular cylinder with a rounded, pointed nose. The Zhongyun series used components taken from scrapped planes, and used American instruments in the cockpit. Zhongyun 1 had three windows on each side of the passenger’s compartment, followed by a door near the tail. This would later change to four windows in the Zhongyun 2, with the last window after the door.
Zhongyun 1 – Initial design powered by two Wright R-975E-3 “Whirlwind” engines. Made from a combination of metal and wood. The sole prototype met an unknown fate, but a replica can be seen in the Beijing Aviation Museum.
Zhongyun 2 – Improved design of the Zhongyun made completely out of metal. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-985 “Wasp Junior” engines. The flaps, ailerons, passenger compartment and the tail wheel was all refined and improved. The landing gears were replaced by the P-40B’s landing gear. The Zhongyun 2 would meet an unknown fate during a test flight by Communist Chinese pilots.
Zhongyun Bomber– Shortly after testing the Zhongyun 1, the Chinese realized that this plane had great potential for being a light bomber. However, this never happened due to the Japanese capitulation and lack of funds.
Republic of China – The Republic of China Air Force was the primary operator of the Zhongyun series.
Communist Party of China – The Communist Party of China briefly operated the Zhongyun 2 before it supposedly crashed during a test flight.
51.1 ft / 15.58 m
39.2 ft / 11.95 m
8.7 ft / 2.67 m
2x Wright R-975E-3 “Whirlwind” (450 hp)
6660 lbs / 3021 kg
214 mph / 344 km/h
6940 lbs / 3148 kg
17500 ft / 5334 m
1054 miles / 1696 km
8x Passengers or Cargo
Gang, W., Ming, C. Y., & Wei, Z. (2011). 中国飞机全书. Bei jing: Hang kong gong ye chu ban she.,中國自行設計的第一種雙發運輸機—中運一號及中運二號. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2017., Huang, X. (2012). 中華民國飛機百年尋根. Tai bei shi: Gao shou zhuan ye., Chen, Y., & Liu, W. (1991). Kang Ri zhan zheng shi qi Zhongguo kong jun fei ji. Taipei?: Zhongguo ji yi zhu ban she.