First generation ‘modern’ monoplane fighters – The US Vought V-141, V-143 & V-150

by Chris Chant on 05/05/2014

It was often claimed in World War II and the period immediately following its end that the classic Mitsubishi A6M Reisen carrierborne and land-based fighter of the Imperial Japanese navy air force was nothing more than a Japanese development of a US fighter, the Vought V-143, which was itself an improved version of the V-141. There was in fact no relationship between the A6M and the V-141 and V-143 experimental American fighters, other than the inspiration that the latter provided for the landing gear retraction mechanism and the system used to fasten the engine cowling and inspection panels. The myth concerning the relationship between the Vought and Mitsubishi fighters was born early in 1942, when the US popular press linked the fact that Vought had sold to Japan the sole V-143 to the overall similarity of configuration between the V-143 and the A6M.

The V-141 was derived from the Northrop Model 3-A (evaluated with the US Army Air Corps’ experimental designation XP-948), which was a single-seat fighter prototype of flush-riveted semi-monocoque monoplane of all-metal construction, which had been designed to compete for US Army Air Corps orders, and was based on experience gained with the XFT-1 single-seat shipboard fighter monoplane. The Model 3-A was flown to Wright Field at Dayton, Ohio, in July 1935 to provide the USAAC a preview of the fighter, but limited flight testing had already revealed some instability, and as the aeroplane was not ready for official evaluation it was flown back to the Northrop Corporation’s Inglewood plant. The Model 3-A took-off from Inglewood on 30 July for a test flight over the Pacific but failed to return, and no trace was subsequently found of either pilot or aeroplane.

Changed ownership

As Northrop subsequently decided to abandon further development of the Model 3-A, Eugene Wright, the president of Chance Vought Aircraft, arranged to purchase the project from Northrop and build a further prototype to enter in the USAAC contest. In a remarkably short time the new prototype was built as the V-141, which recorded its maiden flight on 29 March 1936. Like the Northrop-built prototype, the V-141 was a low-wing cantilever monoplane with tailwheel landing gear including retractable main units, and was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Junior air-cooled 14-cylinder two-row radial engine rated at 750 hp (559 kW), but by comparison with the Northrop type the engine cowling was redesigned, the main landing gear unit retraction system was revised and, most important, the rudder was enlarged in an attempt to eradicate shortcomings in directional control and spin characteristics that had been revealed by earlier Northrop testing. These changes were not fully effective and the V-141 still suffered from poor handling, unfortunate spinning qualities and tail flutter. The type therefore failed to attract USAAC orders, being bested by both the Seversky SEV-1 and Curtiss-Wright Model 75 contenders.

Despite the V-141’s lack of success in the Wright Field contest, Vought decided to solicit export orders for the fighter. The vertical tail surface was further enlarged and redesigned, and this V-143 prototype was shipped to Argentina for demonstration to the Argentine army. As a result of continued dissatisfaction with the spinning characteristics of the fighter, provision was made for a spin chute, this being pointed out to the Argentine army representatives by the Curtiss-Wright team demonstrating the competitive Hawk 75 fighter. The Argentine army insisted that the spinning capabilities of the V-143 be demonstrated with the spin chute removed. Although Edmund T. ‘Eddie’ Allen, who had been hired to fly the V-143 in Argentina, was willing to undertake this demonstration, permission was refused by the manufacturer. The V-143 was therefore shipped back to the USA, and the Hawk 75 won the Argentine army order.

Sole sale to Japan

The V-143 was subsequently evaluated by representatives of the Turkish air arm, which placed no order, and shortly after this Vought redesigned both the vertical and horizontal tail surfaces, simultaneously lengthening the rear fuselage by 3 ft 2 in (0.97 m) to increase the overall length from 22 ft 10 in (6.96 m) to 26 ft 0 in (7.93 m), and moving the horizontal tail surfaces farther to the rear. These changes, which markedly improved the spinning characteristics, had been introduced by the time the Imperial Japanese navy air force bought the prototype for $175,000 in 1937, the V-143 being shipped to Japan in July of that year. Designated AXV-1 (otherwise Navy Experimental Fighter Type V) by the Japanese, the V-143 was tested in competition with the Mitsubishi A5M and Nakajima Ki-27, but was found to be inferior in most respects to the indigenous fighters.

While still in the USA, the V-143 had been revised with a R-1535 engine down-rated to 525 hp (391 kW) for trials as the V-150.

Specification

Vought V-141

Type: fighter

Accommodation: pilot in the enclosed cockpit

Fixed armament: (proposed) two 0.3 in (7.62 mm) Browning fixed forward-firing machine guns with 500 rounds per gun in the upper part of the forward fuselage with synchronisation equipment to fire through the propeller disc

Disposable armament: none

Equipment: standard communication and navigation equipment, plus provision for an optical gun sight

Powerplant: one Pratt & Whitney R-1535-A5G Twin Wasp Junior air-cooled 14-cylinder two-row radial piston engine rated at 750 hp (559 kW) at 8,500 ft (2590 m)

Internal fuel: 75 US gal (62.5 Imp gal; 283.9 litres) plus provision for 37 US gal (30.8 Imp gal; 140.1 litres) of auxiliary fuel

External fuel: none

Dimensions: span 33 ft 6 in (10.21 m); area 187.00 sq ft (17.38 m²); length 22 ft 10 in (6.95 m); height 9 ft 8 in (2.94 m)

Weights: empty 3,515 lb (1594 kg); normal take-off 4,430 lb (2009 kg)

Performance: maximum level speed 238 kt (274 mph; 441 km/h) at 10,000 ft (3050 m); cruising speed 216.5 kt (249 mph; 401 km/h) at optimum altitude; climb to 10,000 ft (3050 m) in 3 minutes 54 seconds; service ceiling 28,300 ft (8625 m); range 611.5 nm (704 miles; 1133 km)

Vought V-143

Type: fighter

Accommodation: pilot in the enclosed cockpit

Fixed armament: (proposed) two 0.3 in (7.62 mm) Browning fixed forward-firing machine guns with 500 rounds per gun in the upper part of the forward fuselage with synchronisation equipment to fire through the propeller disc

Disposable armament: (proposed) up to 280 lb (127 kg) of disposable stores carried on two hardpoints (both under the wing with each unit rated at 140 lb/63.5 kg), and generally comprising two 140 lb (63.5 kg) free-fall bombs

Equipment: standard communication and navigation equipment, plus provision for an optical gun sight

Powerplant: one Pratt & Whitney R-1535-SB4G Twin Wasp Junior air-cooled 14-cylinder two-row radial piston engine rated at 825 hp (615 kW) take-off and 750 hp (559 kW) at 9,000 ft (2975 m)

Internal fuel: 112 US gal (93.25 Imp gal; 424 litres)

External fuel: none

Dimensions: span 33 ft 6 in (10.21 m); aarea 187.00 sq ft (17.38 m²); length 26 ft 0 in (7.93 m); height 9 ft 4 in (2.84 m)

Weights: empty 3,940 lb (1787 kg); normal take-off 4,400 lb (1996 kg)

Performance: maximum level speed 253.5 kt (292 mph; 470 km/h) at 11,485 ft (3500 m) declining to 222 kt (256 mph; 412 km/h) at sea level, cruising speed, maximum 232 kt (267 mph; 430 km/h) at 11,485 ft (3500 m); climb to 10,000 ft (3050 m) in 3 minutes 6 seconds; service ceiling 30,600 ft (9325 m); typical range 702 nm (808 miles; 1300 km)

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