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Curtiss XF15C: Curtiss’ half-rotor fighter combines aero propulsion and jet power

As World War II came to an end, the age of jet-powered aircraft dawned. The rapid progress of aviation technology presented engineers and designers with both new possibilities and challenges. Among these trailblazing aircraft was the Curtiss XF15C, a unique hybrid fighter prototype that aimed to combine the best of both jet and propeller-driven power.

Curtiss XF15C-1
Curtiss XF15C-1 in flight

Crafting the XF15C

In 1944, the United States Navy awarded Curtiss-Wright Corporation a contract to create an experimental mixed-power fighter. Ray Blaylock, a skilled aircraft designer known for the P-40 Warhawk and P-47 Thunderbolt, designed the resulting Curtiss XF15C.

The XF15C-1 featured a sleek, single-seat, low-wing monoplane design with a bubble canopy and tricycle landing gear. The design aimed to unite jet propulsion advantages with piston engine endurance and reliability. To accomplish this, both a 2,100 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W Double Wasp radial engine in the nose and an Allis-Chalmers J36 jet engine in the rear fuselage powered the aircraft.

 

Curtiss XF15C-1
Curtiss XF15C-1

Soaring Highs and Dipping Lows

Curtiss test pilot Harvey Gray took the XF15C on its maiden flight on February 27, 1945. The aircraft demonstrated promise during initial test flights, achieving a top speed of 466 mph at 20,000 feet. The jet engine contributed an extra 1,600 pounds of thrust, enhancing speed and climb rate.

Yet, as testing continued, problems emerged. The jet engine’s rear fuselage placement caused cooling and power transfer difficulties, while the propeller-driven engine faced overheating issues. The mixed-power configuration also led to a complicated and challenging cockpit layout for pilots.

The Race for Supremacy

The XF15C was not the only mixed-power aircraft in development at the time. Ryan’s XF2R Dark Shark and the Martin-Baker MB5 were also vying for a spot in the U.S. Navy’s fighter fleet. The XF2R, in particular, proved to be a formidable competitor, with a more advanced jet engine and superior overall performance.

Curtiss XF15C-1
Curtiss XF15C-1

A Dream Grounded

As the development of the XF15C continued, it became apparent that the aircraft was falling behind its competitors. The performance gains achieved through its hybrid configuration were modest and did not justify the added complexity and cost. Additionally, all-jet aircraft like the McDonnell FH Phantom and the North American FJ Fury were making rapid progress, rendering mixed-power designs obsolete.

By mid-1946, the U.S. Navy decided to cancel the XF15C program, and the three prototypes were eventually scrapped. The XF15C’s innovative concept had been overtaken by the rapid progress of aviation technology, and the era of the mixed-power fighter had come to an abrupt end.

 

Curtiss XF15C-1 diagram
Curtiss XF15C-1 diagram

A Forgotten Pioneer

Though the Curtiss XF15C never entered production or saw combat, it remains a fascinating footnote in the history of aviation. It represents a bold attempt to merge the best of both jet and propeller-driven power in a single aircraft, and the technological challenges it faced helped pave the way for future innovations.

Today, the XF15C is a reminder of the ingenuity and determination of engineers and designers who dared to push the boundaries of what was possible during a transformative era in aviation. As we marvel at the advancements made in the field since then, we should not forget the lessons learned from experimental designs like the XF15C. These daring ventures, even if ultimately unsuccessful, have contributed significantly to our understanding of aircraft design and have laid the foundation for the technological marvels we see in the skies today.

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