United States of America (1944)
Prototype Ground Attack Aircraft – 1 Built
The Vultee XA-41 was a single-engine aircraft that began life as a dive bomber. Months later, its role was changed to a low-level attack aircraft. The XA-41 performed admirably in flight tests, but the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) eventually decided that the fighter aircraft then in service were already performing well enough in the attack role. Despite its job being erased, the XA-41 continued development as a testbed, showing off the powerful XR-4360 engine it mounted and how much it could carry. The aircraft itself would have been deadly had it been produced in large numbers, as it boasted four 37mm cannons. As the war went on, the XA-41 was still being tested. Throughout the trials, the aircraft had extremely good performance, even being able to outturn a P-51, but its speed wasn’t quite enough for its role. At one point, it was given to the Navy for testing and eventually it would wind up at Pratt & Whitney (PR). At PR, it served as a testbed through the war and was eventually scrapped in 1950.
The XA-41 began as part of a United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) requirement in October 1941 for a new single-seat attack aircraft. The Douglas A-20 Havoc (and soon to be produced North American A-36 Apache) was performing well at the time, but the USAAC wanted something new. The aircraft requested had to be able to reach at least 300mph (482.8kph) at sea level, have a service ceiling of at least 30,000ft (9,144m), and a range of 1,200 miles (1,932km). For the attack role, the aircraft was to have either 37mm, 20mm, or 50. cal guns mounted in the wings. Given this imposing armament, it is likely the aircraft would have attacked soft targets or even been used for tank-busting.
The USAAC commissioned Vultee Aircraft Corporation, Kaiser Fleetwings, and Curtiss to design a new aircraft for the role. Kaiser Fleetwings developed the XA-39, which would have mounted the R-2800-27 engine. Their aircraft didn’t progress beyond the mockup stage. Curtiss reused their naval XTBC-1 prototype for their part, renaming it the XA-40. This also didn’t go beyond the mockup stage. Vultee’s answer was the V-90, a ground attack aircraft mounting the fairly new and powerful R-4360 engine. Interestingly, the XA-41 started off as a dive bomber, despite it being commissioned as an attack aircraft. It isn’t often stated, but the Army had been interested in dive bombers since 1940, going as far as purchasing several Navy designs. The Army bought several SB2D-1 Helldivers in December of 1940 and renamed them the A-25 Shrike. They also had a troubled history with one of Vultee’s own aircraft, the A-35 Vengeance, which they tried numerous times, but to no avail. The XA-41 was most likely a chance for the Army to have a successful dive bomber or attack aircraft. The Army was satisfied with Vultee’s V-90 design and awarded a contract for two prototypes on November 10, 1942. Shortly after a mockup inspection, the Army interestingly switched the role from a dive bomber to a dedicated attack aircraft. The switch was rather abrupt and caused a delay in the development.
On April 30th, a new contract was signed which included a static mockup. Vultee continued construction on the project until the prototype was halfway completed, at which point the Army decided that the most current aircraft, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and North American P-51 Mustang, were already quite capable in the attack role. But this wouldn’t be the end of the XA-41. Maj.Gen Oliver P. Echols, Chief of the Material Division, opted not to cancel the program and instead complete it in order to show the true potential of a new attack aircraft with the new R-4360 engine. This decision went through on November 20th, with the prototype ¾ the way through completion. The 2nd prototype was cut at this point and only one would be built (Serial No. 43-35124/5).
On February 11th, 1944, the XA-41 flew for the first time from Vultee Field, California, with test pilot Frank Davis at the controls, and landed at March Field, California. Several flights after this were conducted at the nearby army base. The aircraft was flown by both Vultee and Army pilots, and both agreed it handled well. There were some problems here and there, which Vultee quickly fixed with some additions to the airframe. On June 25, the Army accepted the XA-41. On July 16th, on its 60th flight, the aircraft was ferried to Eglin Field, Florida. Testing proved the XA-41 was an exceptional aircraft, with many great features. The craft had an excellent turn rate, being able to outturn the P-51. For its size, it carried an impressive arsenal of weapons. But the Army wanted an attack aircraft that could also defend itself if the need would arise, and the 350mph (563.2 km/h) of the XA-41 wasn’t that impressive compared to other aircraft in service. The United States Navy became interested in the XA-41 at some point and the prototype was given to them for testing at Patuxent River, Maryland. The Navy wanted to see if the aircraft could be flown from aircraft carriers. After the Navy briefly tested it, the XA-41 was given to Pratt & Whitney (PR) on August 22, 1944. It was obvious at this point that the XA-41 would never see combat, but would remain in the US as a testbed aircraft. Serving with PR, it was used as a flying testbed for their R-4360 engine, as well as having a supercharger mounted. As testing continued, the aircraft was purchased by PR on October 9 and re-registered as NX6037N. There are few documents that reference the XA-41 post-war. The only thing mentioned is that the sole XA-41 was finally scrapped in 1950, having served for many years at PR.
The XA-41 was a conventional single-engine aircraft. It had a slight gull wing and a tail sitter configuration. The landing gear in the wings would retract inboard and was placed widely to allow better landing performance. During development, the tail wheel had doors installed to completely cover it in-flight. The cockpit was placed far forward and raised to allow the pilot to see over the engine, giving him better visibility when attacking ground targets. The ventral tail had an extension that spanned most of the length of the aircraft. This was added during development. A spinner was also added at some point. The XA-41 mounted the PR XR-4360 Wasp Major engine, which was the main reason the Army and PR were so interested in the project.
For armament, the XA-41 had four M2 Browning .50 cal machine-guns mounted in the wings. For the attack role, it was meant to mount four more 37mm cannons (sources don’t mention what particular kind of gun) in the wings. All armament in the wings was placed outside of the propeller’s range. For bombing, the XA-41 had a bomb bay that could carry four 500Ibs bombs, a torpedo, additional fuel, or two 1,600Ibs weapons. In total, it had up to 6,500Ibs of ordnance. Documents mention that up to 1,100Ibs of additional bombs could be mounted to the wings. The aforementioned competing XA-39 only sported the four Brownings, two 37mms, as well as a predicted carrying capacity of six 500Ibs bombs.
- XA-41 – [The sole prototype built, used as a testbed for the XR-4360 engine.]
- United States of America – The United States Army Air Corps would have operated it had it entered production. After serving as a testbed for the Army, the Navy and Pratt & Whitney also did tests with the aircraft.
|Wingspan||54 ft / 16.4 m|
|Length||48 ft 7 in / 14.8 m|
|Height||14 ft 5 in / 4.4 m|
|Wing Area||540 ft² / 164.5 m²|
|Engine||1x 3,000 hp ( 2240 kW ) XR-4360-9|
|Propeller||1x 4-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller|
|Maximum Speed||353 mph / 568 kmh at 15,000 ft / 4572 m|
|Cruising Speed||270 mph / 434.5 kmh|
|Range||800 mi / 1287.4 km|
|Maximum Service Ceiling||27,000 ft / 8229.6 m|
llustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji
- Buttler, T. & Griffith, A. (2015). American secret projects. Manchester: Crecy Publishing, Ltd.
- Norton, B. (2008). U.S. experimental & prototype aircraft projects : fighters, 1939-1945. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press.
- Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji