Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender

The Curtiss-Wright XP-55 was a prototype Pursuit aircraft built to a USAAC request for proposals using unconventional designs.  The Curtiss-Wright submission was canard configuration with a rear-mounted engine driving a pusher propeller.  Its first flight was on 19JUL43.  This is a beautiful color photo of the first prototype, 42-78845, running up her engine.  (NASM Hans Groenhoff Collection)
The first prototype was the only one of the three produced to carry the mid-war U.S. national insignia with the serial numbers on the forward fuselage.
When the barred national insignia was introduced in June 1943 the serials were moved to the dorsal fin above the engine.  Finish on all the XP-55s was the USAAF standard Olive Drab over Neutral Gray with Yellow-Orange serials.  (NASM Hans Groenhoff Collection)
The intended design armament was two 20 mm cannon and two .50 caliber machine guns.  Maximum speed was 390 mph which was not an improvement over existing designs already in production at the time.  (NASM Rudy Arnold Collection)
Wind tunnel testing had warned of aerodynamic instability inherent in the design.  On 15NOV43 test pilot Harvey Gray was exploring the aircraft’s stall performance when it unexpectedly flipped onto its back and fell 16,000 feet.  Unable to regain control, Gray took to his parachute but the aircraft was a total loss.
Cockpit layout was conventional.  The canopy folded to the starboard side to allow the pilot to enter.  The propeller could be jettisoned in case the pilot had to bail out.  (Ray Wagner Collection)
The second prototype, serial 42-78846, featured enlarged canards on the nose and first flew on 09JAN44.  (World War Photos)
The third and final Ascender was serialed 42-78847.  It was fitted with four .50 caliber guns in the nose and four-foot wingtip extensions to improve stability.  The wingtip extensions were also refitted to the second prototype.
42-78847 was lost in a crash at an airshow at Wright Field on 27MAY45.  The pilot, William C. Glasgow and four civilians were killed.
42-78846 survived and was preserved by the National Air and Space Museum.  It was loaned to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo and is currently on long-term display there.  

Walk around of the Air Zoo’s Ascender here:

13 thoughts on “Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender

  1. I’ve been building the Modelsvit kit of this plane, and the three posts you did on it have been helpful! There is seriously not a lot published on the type. Although admittedly I don’t generally read about purely experimental types, there’s likely a couple of excellent books I’m missing!
    But none of my other sources mentioned that the lengthened wing tips and “trailerons” were in fact fitted to the second prototype during testing. I was thinking for a while that the kit was really only of the third aircraft in spite of having markings for the second. The kit does include armament, which your pictures from the Air
    Zoo show NOT in place. Oh well.
    The landing gear pictures were interesting, the parts visible have been refinished/restored while the interior of the gear wells show significant decay. I guess they don’t restore what most people will never see!

    Liked by 1 person

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