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The Republic P-43 & P-44

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The P-43 Lancer

 

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YP-43 Lancer picture
P-43 Lancer picture

After Republic had finished the production run of the P-35A, it set about to develop a more advanced version of that aircraft. Two different projects resulted from this, the XP-41, and the P-43. Both had more powerful engines than the P-35A, and a redesigned airframe that was far more aerodynamic than its predecessor. Testing of these prototypes resulted in a USAAC contract for 13 P-43s in March 1939. While all P-43s were in service by April 1941, it had become obvious that the latest improvements were still not up to par with the new aircraft developed in Europe. Although Republic had already developed a more advanced version known as the P-44, all types that had been ordered were cancelled in September 1940 in favor of a more advanced design which was to become the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. While the P-47 was being developed, the USAAC ordered 54 P-43s and 80 P-44s, and 107 more examples were delivered to China. The P-43s and P-44s in USAAC service were considered unsuitable for combat operations, and all were converted for use as photo-reconnaissance aircraft.

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The Republic P-43 Lancer was a progressive development of the Seversky P-35. It can be regarded as an "intermediate" between the P-35 and the superlative P-47.

During 1938, the Seversky Aircraft Corporation initiated work on two developments of the P-35. One was the AP-2, a conversion of an existing P-35 airframe with a Pratt and Whitney R-1830-19 radial containing an integral, medium altitude supercharger. The other was the AP-4, with a similar engine but with a turbo-upercharger mounted in the rear fuselage aft of the cockpit. The airframes of the AP-2 and AP-4 were almost identical to each other, and both featured inward-retracting main undercarriage members.

The AP-2 was eventually delivered to the USAAC as the XP-41. It was unsuccessful in attracting any production orders. Initially, the AP-4 featured a close-fitting engine cowling and an inordinately large propeller spinner in an attempt to reduce drag. However, this arrangement caused cooling problems and a more orthodox radial cowling was fitted at an early stage. Initially, the AP-4 looked a lot like its P-35 predecessor--the cockpit was raised quite high and there was a large area of transparency behind the pilot.

On March 12, 1939, thirteen service test models of the AP-4 were ordered by the Army under the designation YP-43. Serial numbers were 39-704/716. The YP-43 differed from the original AP-4 in several respects. The cockpit was lowered in an attempt to reduce drag, the rear fuselage upper decking was raised, and the transparent area behind the cockpit greatly reduced. The tail-wheel leg was made longer. The air intake for the turbosupercharger was moved from the port wing root and was mounted underneath the engine inside the deeper, oval-shaped cowling. The two 0.5-inch machine guns in the engine cowling were supplemented by a pair of wing-mounted 0.3-inch machine guns. The Pratt and Whitney R-1830-35 engine was adopted, offering 1200 hp for takeoff and 1100 hp at 20,000 feet.

The first YP-43s were delivered to the Army in September 1940. By this time, Major de Seversky had been ousted as president of Seversky, and his company had changed its name to Republic Aviation Corporation. The last YP-43 was delivered by April 1941, the type being given the name *Lancer*. Maximum speed was 349 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 2850 feet per minute. Service ceiling was 38,000 feet, and range was 800 miles. Wingspan was 36 feet, length was 27 feet 11 inches, height was 14 feet, and wing area was 223 square feet Weights were 5656 pounds empty and 7300 pounds gross. Although the weight of the YP-43 was excessive, the turbo-supercharger gave the new aircraft a considerable advantage in both speed and operational ceiling over the earlier P-35.

However, by 1941, the Lancer was already outdated by the rapid advances in air combat technology that had taken place in Europe. It suffered from poor maneuverability and climbing performance, and lacked such modern innovations as armor protection for the pilot and self-sealing fuel tanks. Consequently, the Army did not anticipate ordering any more P-43s beyond the initial service-test contract. In fact, on September 13, 1939, the Army had already ordered eighty examples of the more advanced AP-4J from Republic under the designation P-44. However, combat reports coming out of Europe in the spring of 1940 indicated that even the P-44 would not be up to the task, and Alexander Kartveli began to consider the successor which was eventually to emerge as the P-47 Thunderbolt. On September 13, 1940, all work on the P-44 was cancelled in favor of the P-47.

It would seem, therefore, that the P-43 would have a rather bleak future. However, since the R-2800 Double Wasps that were to power the P-47 would not be available for some time, the Army felt that Republic's Farmingdale production lines needed to be kept busy in the interim. Consequently, the P-43 was ordered into production as a stop-gap measure.

Fifty-four P-43 Lancers were ordered by the Army in late 1940. Serial numbers were 41-6668/6721. They were virtually identical to the YP-43. The engine was the turbo-supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-1830-47, delivering 1200 hp. The first P-43 was delivered on May 16, 1941, the last example being delivered on August 28, 1941. Maximum speed was 349 mph at 25,000 feet. Initial climb rate was 2850 feet per minute. Service ceiling was 38,000 feet, and range was 800 miles. Wingspan was 36 feet, length was 28 feet 6 inches, height was 14 feet, and wing area was 223 square feet Weights were 5654 pounds empty and 7810 pounds gross. Maximum takeoff weight was 7935 pounds. Armament consisted of two 0.50-inch and two 0.30-inch machine guns.

The P-43 was immediately followed by the P-43A, 80 examples of which were ordered. Serials were 40-2891/2970. Deliveries began in September of 1941. The P-43A was essentially the same as the earlier P-43, but differed in having the turbo-supercharged R-1830-49 which afforded its full 1200 hp at 25,000 feet. Armament was increased to a full four 0.50-in machine guns, two in the fuselage and two in the wings. Deliveries began in September 1941. Maximum speed was 356 mph at 25,000 feet. An altitude of 15,000 feet could be reached in 6 minutes. Service ceiling was 36,000 feet, and range was 650 miles. Wingspan was 36 feet, length was 28 feet 6 inches, height was 14 feet, and wing area was 223 square feet Weights were 5996 pounds empty and 7435 pounds gross. Maximum takeoff weight was 8480 pounds.

In the USAAF, the P-43 went to the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan, to the 55th Pursuit Group at Portland Field, and then to the 14th Pursuit Group at March Field, California. Their service life with these groups was quite brief, and they were quickly replaced by P-38 Lightnings as soon as they became available.

On June 30, 1941, 125 further examples were ordered with Lend-Lease funds for supply to the Chinese Air Force, although their primary purpose was still to keep the Farmingdale production lines occupied until the Thunderbolt could be ready. The Chinese Lend-Lease P-43s were designated P-43A-1. Serial numbers were 41-31448/31572. The P-43A-1 differed from the P-43A by having a Pratt and Whitney R-1830-57 engine with the same power. The four 0.50-inch machine guns were all concentrated in the wings. Some attempt was made to make the design more combat-worthy by adding such modern features as armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. Provision was made for the carrying of a 41.6 Imp. gall. drop tank, one 200-pound bomb, or six 20-pound bombs. maximum speed was 356 mph at 10,000 feet, service ceiling was 36,000 feet, and maximum ferry range was 1450 miles. Weights were 5996 pounds empty, 7435 pounds loaded, and 8480 pounds maximum. Wingspan was 36 feet 0 inches, length was 28 feet 6 inches, height was 14 feet 0 inches, and wing area was 223 square feet.

Production of the P-43A-1 was completed in March of 1942, and 108 of these aircraft were ultimately transferred to China. They saw a certain amount of action there, but they proved uniformly unequal to the task at hand. They were handicapped by poor maneuverability and inefficient self-sealing fuel tanks and achieved little success against the Japanese.

The USAAF always viewed the P-43 as only an interim type and considered it unfit for any combat role. None of the USAAF P-43s ever saw any action, being used strictly for advanced training in Stateside units. In 1942, most of the surviving USAAF P-43 and P-43A Lancers were converted as specialized photographic reconnaissance aircraft and re-designated P-43B. These were fitted with cameras in the rear fuselage. Most of these were used to train squadrons until Lockheed F-4s became available.

Conversions to P-43B standards also included those P-43A-1s which did not get sent to China. A total of 150 Lancers were eventually converted to P-43B standards.

Two other P-43As (serials 40-2894 and 40-2897) were modified as P-43C photographic reconnaissance aircraft, which were similar to the P-43B but with different photographic fixtures. Yet another set of modifications of existing P-43s (serials 41-6685, 41-6687, 41-6692, 41-6695, 41-6707, 41-6718) took place to produce the P-43D photographic version, which differed only in minor details from the P-43C.

The designation P-43E was applied to a projected but unbuilt photo- reconnaissance version of the P-43A with different types of fixtures.

In August of 1942, six Lancers were withdrawn from USAAF stocks and transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). They served with No. 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit, based at Coomlie, Northern Territory. The aircraft were two P-43Ds (A56-1 and -2) and four P-43A-1s (A56-3 to 6). Two more P-43Ds (A56-7 and A56-8) were delivered in November of 1942. A56-6 was damaged beyond repair in a landing accident, and A57-7 went missing on April 28, 1943 on a flight from Wagga Wagga in central New South Wales (the wreckage was not found until 1958). The remaining six were returned to the USAAF 5th Air Force at Charters Towers in 1943. I don't think that the RAAF Lancers ever saw any combat.

In October 1942, surviving P-43s were re-designated RP-43, the R standing for "restricted from combat use".

By Joe Baugher

Sources:

  1. War Planes of the Second World War, Fighters, Volume 4, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.
  2. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion Books, 1987.
  3. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.
  4. American Combat Planes, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982
  5. E-Mail from Gary Barns, Melbourne, Australia
  6. Website of RAAF Museum, http://www.raafmuseum.com.au/research/index.htm

 

Republic P-43 Lancer

Type:                single seat fighter
Crew:               1: Pilot
Armament:       four .50 cal machine guns plus six 20 lb. bombs

Specifications:
        Length:                 28' 6" (8.69 m)
        Height:                  14' 0" (4.27 m)
        Wingspan:              36' 0" (10.97 m)
        Wing area:            223 sq. ft (20.72 sq. m)
        Empty Weight:   5996 lb (2720 kg)
        Max Weight:      8480 lb (3846 kg) max at takeoff

Propulsion:
        No. of Engines:  1
        Powerplant:       Pratt & Whitney R-1830-57 Twin Wasp radial
        Horsepower:     1200 hp

Performance:
        Range:               650 miles (1046 km)
        Cruise Speed:    280 mph ( 451 km/h)
        Max Speed:       356 mph ( 573 km/h) at 20,000 ft
        Ceiling:         36,000 ft (10,975 m)
 

The Republic P-44

On a crisp early May morning in 1941, as a newly completed Republic AT-12, sat waiting for delivery. Another, larger aircraft was rolled out and pushed alongside. The larger aircraft looked familiar, not unlike the P-43ís which were being built that very day. Yet, this plane was far more massive with an engine cowling which was oval instead of round. The huge propeller had 4 blades, unlike the P-43ís three blades. As the morning sun reflected off the polished Alclad skin, the passersby on the adjacent road would not remember having witnessed the birth of the fighter that would determine who owned the sky over France and Germany 3 years later.

Although never placed in production, the, P-44 was the evolutionary link between the  P-43 ant the P-47 Thunderbolt

The XP-47B would soon demonstrate its brute power and rugged construction by evolving into one of the warís most important fighters. Named the Thunderbolt, a name which would foreshadow its reputation, it was the first truly successful aircraft to be manufactured by Republic Aviation. Republic having evolved from Seversky Aircraft Corporation, reorganized after the ouster of Alexander Seversky. More so than any other American WWII fighter plane, the P-47 was the result of an evolutionary process that began as early as 1935. It is very easy to see the basic lines of the Thunderboltís elliptical shaped wing in the SEV-1XP, from which, was developed the P-35. The SEV-1XP had won the fighter competition and was awarded a contract in 1936. The P-35 was the result. With good range and excellent handling, the P-35 was well liked when it first deployed to the 1st Pursuit Group. Nonetheless, there were some glaring faults in the aircraft. The design of the landing gear was poor, in that the wheels simply folded back into fairings, instead of folding flush as on the Curtiss P-36. The design of the short coupled gear made the P-35 an easy aircraft to ground loop. From the outset, the P-35 suffered from problems with its propeller, which were only exacerbated as time accumulated on the engine. However, viewed alongside its contemporaries, the P-35 was a solid design for itís era.

Seversky P-35

After being reorganized as Republic Aviation, an order was taken from Sweden for the EP1-106, essentially a development of the P-35 with 20 inches added to the length of the fuselage. There were other minor changes, not easily spotted. Interesting enough, the Italianís thought highly enough of the P-35/EP1-106 to blatantly copy it as the Reggiane Re.2000. The Italians improved the landing gear, designing a flush folding system. A reworked greenhouse and a different engine installation do little to hide the aircraftís ancestry. The Swedes were very happy with the EP1-106, keeping them in service until 1947. They marveled at the little fighterís manueverability, noting that it gave their older Gloster Gladiator biplanes fits. As of this writing, only two are known to have survived. One EP1-106 currently resides in the Swedish Air force Museum. The second was presented to the USAF museum at Dayton Ohio.

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Seversky XP-41

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EP1-106 in the Swedish Air Force Museum

Development at Seversky/Republic continued despite very tight finances. For the 1939 Pursuit Competition, two new designs appeared in the name of the XP-41 and AP-4. Even though these aircraft looked very much alike, there were significant differences between them. Being the brainchild of Alex Seversky, the AP-4 employed a different design of the main landing gear than Kartveliís XP-41, both, however, being flush folding. Both aircraft shared tooling and components. Yet, Severskyís design was very different than the XP-41 internally. The most important difference was that "Shasha" Kartveli selected a supercharged P&W R-1830 powerplant, Seversky installed a turbo-supercharger in the aft fuselage. This installation was a foretaste of things to come. The XP-41 did not offer any improvement in performance over the AP-2 of 1937 and was shipped to Langley Field for wind tunnel testing, never to be heard of again. The AP-4, on the other hand, arrived too late for the competition. The Curtiss XP-40, which did not win the competition, was selected and a contract for 524 P-40 fighters was issued.

Yet, not everyone involved was near sighted or politically motivated. The only aircraft displaying good high altitude performance above 20,000 feet was the AP-4. Even though the prototype was destroyed by a fire and crash (a crack in the exhaust plumbing set fire to the fuselage in flight), itís performance was good enough that a contract was issued for 13 additional aircraft, designated the YP-43.

The first YP-43 was ready for flight testing in March of 1940. Its appearance was somewhat different from the prototype having lost the oversized spinner and the cockpit glass was revised to resemble what would eventually appear on the P-47B. Other than these changes, the aircraft was essentially the AP-4. The turbocharged R-1830-35 engine mated to the B-2 type turbo produced 351mph at over 20,000 feet. Clearly, this was better than the P-40B, but it was no better than the Supermarine Spitfire Mk I or the Messerschmitt Bf-109E. At least, in the P-43, the Air Corps was in the ballgame.

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The Republic P-43 Lancer

Shortly after receiving the contract for the YP-43, Republic presented the Air Corps with itís proposal for the P-44 to meet the requirements of AAC Circular Proposal 39-770. Originally designated internally as the AP-4B, the design was to incorporate the R-2180 engine and the early design sketches reflect this engine (see the 3 view drawing at the top of this page). When that engine failed to live up to its promise, Republic selected the Wright R-2600. Unfortunately, as Grumman was to later discover, the R-2600 did not respond well to turbocharging. Luckily for Republic, before actual engineering drawings were laid down, the newly developed Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine became available. This new engine, powering Voughtís XF4U-1 to over 400 mph, was quickly selected for the AP-4C or P-44-IV. Republic received a preliminary order for 80 of the aircraft based solely upon "Shasha" Kartveli's written proposal.

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Bob Boyd / Warren Bodie

The engineering staff at Republic went to work on a mock-up of their new proposal. The P-43 Lancer was selected to be the basis of the new design. The new engine required a major modification to the cowling and as a result, the fuselage. The new cowling was oval in shape to accommodate the oil cooler being installed below the engine. To properly blend the cowling, the fuselage was deepened as well. A new 4 blade Curtiss Electric prop was fitted. Even as the mock-up approached completion, the requirements of the USAAC were undergoing a radical change.

The Air Corps was becoming unsure about placing all their marbles into that bag called the Allison V-1710 liquid cooled V12 engine. If the Allison did not live up to expectations, what were the alternatives? The time required to redesign an existing fighter to use one of the newer radial engines would be excessive. More so in the event of war. An investigation of the AAC pursuit plane program was set in motion, called the Emmons Board, it strongly recommended that alternatives to the Allison powered fighters be developed using air cooled radial powerplants. Moreover, they pushed for the design and/or development of different liquid cooled engines as well. That General "Hap" Arnold signed off on the report, was very important. Arnold, being the Chief of the Air Corps, sent a strong message by endorsing the recommendations, despite his being a leading advocate of the Allison. The Experimental Aircraft Division, in anticipation of the Emmons Board report, sent for the senior officials of Republic Aviation. Having drawn up a new set of requirements, the EAD surprised Kartveli and co. by informing them that any new design must attain at least 400 mph at 25,000 feet. It must be armed with a minimum of six .50 cal. Machine guns, 8 were preferred, and they must be mounted in the wings. Armor and self sealing fuel tanks were expected as well.

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XP-47B Thunderbolt

Instantly, Kartveli understood that the P-44 could not hope to be modified to meet these new parameters. The wing could not accommodate the armament. The basic P-43 airframe used for the P-44 mock-up was not readily adaptable to the changes necessary to meet the specifications now in place. When Kartveli departed to return to Long Island, he carried several written agreements. The development of the P-44 would cease immediately. All development work on the Allison powered XP-47 and XP-47A would cease immediately. Republic was to begin work on designing a new fighter to be designated the XP-47B. It would be powered by the P&W R-2800-11 radial rated at 2,000 bhp @ 25,000 feet. Kartveli decided that the basic wing shape was more than adequate. The cockpit was good enough as well. A better G.E. turbocharger was now available, which promised even better performance than the B-2. Before Kartveli's train had arrived in New York City, the basic design was already sketched on paper. Compared to the P-44, the new aircraft would be far larger and heavier. Yet, the general appearance would be a distinct reminder of itís ancestry. Eight months after receiving the contract, on a crisp May morning, the first Thunderbolt was rolled out in preparation for its initial test flight. Little did anyone realize the impact this new fighter would have on the air war.

The P-44 mock-up was disassembled, to be largely forgotten as the precursor of the fighter that ultimately broke the back of the Luftwaffe in western Europe.

 

 

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