Alternate History Combat Aircraft

In that kind of situation you might even get somebody to try and salvage the Bell FM-1 Airacuda, as its basically the ultimate bomber interceptor of its time. I think some of its flaws could be fixed somewhat easily by reengineering the cooling systems and cannon mountings, but you would likely still need more powerfull engines and find a way around the idiotic APU system.

I also think that such a force, if confronted with a "real" war would likely start to see the use of bombers at some point and evolve towards a more balanced approach, even though you would likely still end up with something quite different from OTLs american "airforce" and likely get more multi-role fighter bombers and none of the truly large strategic bombers, especially if the war is with countries not as far away as japan or germany (which the original specification for the airforce implies, as nobody would expect long range bomber attakcs from the US OTL enemies).
 
So what you are outlining is a stopgap measure interceptor force to be ready should any bombers ever try to threaten US territory from.... Well, I guess... Mexico, Cuba and Saint Miquelon.
No, specifically just the Pacific Theater, as that is where the US has armed forced deployed overseas before the war. I don't see the need/benefit for the USA to conduct air defense exercises within conus in 1939, but for our forces stationed in the Pacific, a training command on Oahu is ideal.
I also think that such a force, if confronted with a "real" war would likely start to see the use of bombers...
The concept of a USADF is to get the fighters that we could have had, and didn't in OTL, not to imply that bombers would not be built, just that they would have no say in the development of America's fighters. Presumably the bombers will get their own organization, perhaps at the same time, but I'm not interested in trying to have both those conversations at the same time, as keeping up with one will be hard enough for me.
If the war is with countries not as far away as Japan or Germany (which the original specification for the airforce implies, as nobody would expect long range bomber attacks from the US OTL enemies).
I'm mainly just looking at Japan, as they are the only likely enemies that pose a danger to the various US commands in the Pacific.

My main interest is in getting fighters, and lots of them, with a good faith effort to get a very large fighter force in the Philippines'. I'm wishing I could get both land based fighters (perhaps with folding wings, for reasons) and a mass of good amphibian/float fighters, because the islands provide a great set of possibilities for hiding your fighters from the enemy, up until they get troops on the ground, and even then, there are allot of islands that will all have to be occupied.

I would also like a bi or tri plane amphibian cargo/troop shuttle or even a poor mans bomber, if they could be small enough to be hidden easily, and built in great numbers. I'm thinking about the possibilities of a T3 Tanker, but converted into a quasi seaplane tender, with a flying off platform and the ability to haul seaplanes up onto its platform. Could such aircraft, with their low stall speed and short take off and landing characteristics, provide the US forces the ability to shuttle troops around, say a squad at a time?
 
@Naval Aviation Fan You will then certainly have to get away from "the bomber gets always through" towards a doctrine that actually believes in interceptor aircraft. This can be done but needs people in charge who understand how fast aircraft development proceeds in the interwar years and what kind of consequences that has for relative aircraft performance and that there is a "cap" to how fast bombers can get. Additionally earlier the need for (and effectivness of) heavier fighter armaments gets understood the better.

Japan as a credible threat that also gets taken seriously is a challenge, especially since the massive fighter focus you propose needs a credible bombing and CAS threat by your likely enemies, which with most of the distances involved in the pacific is difficult in the earlier 30s even if the political situation fits.

If you are outside of CONUS you might also end up with a kind of second-rate colonial force as a lot of the european powers deployed them outside the continent. The phillipines are likely your best bet for something that is more or less in range of Japan and can be properly equipped with airfields and aircraft.
If you get a US that is very keen on defending loads of small islands in the pacific, float planes are as you said a very good bet. The chaotic development during the interwar period helps mitgitate their overall lower performance and before the war airfields were a lot scarcer in a lot of areas. You can reasonably easy also put most regular fighters on floats, it was done or at least tested with the Zero, Spitfire and Wildcat and they all made for surprisingly good floatplanes.

For regular interceptor aircraft the best OTL bet is likely a properly turbocharged P-39, the 37 mm T-4 cannon might not be a great weapon but is exactly the kind of armament people might be drawn towards if they plan to bust some bombers. In the series of "XP-5X" experimental planes (though they came much later than your start date) also have the XP-54 which was proposed with a very heavy nose armament and even a possible carrier version later on, though for this bird you likely need to resolve the massive problems it faced with engine availability (which you also would need to do to get anything out of the XP-55 and XP-56).

Edit: Just for the sheer madness I would now like a float version of the XP-56...
 
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@Naval Aviation Fan You will then certainly have to get away from "the bomber gets always through" towards a doctrine that actually believes in interceptor aircraft.
Another of the reasons too exclude the 'Bomber Mafia' from the newly created USADF.
This can be done but needs people in charge who understand how fast aircraft development proceeds in the interwar years...
I'm thinking initially of a mandated 6 month cycle of design/development 'requests', where the new ADF regularly asked for better aircraft every 6 months, with the understanding that prototypes to pre-production versions flying needs to be as short as possible, but even then I could see the potential need to divide up your fighter manufacturing companies into fall and spring providers, if you used Sep and Mar as your specification publication months, so maybe Bell is a Spring Specification company, while Grumman is a Fall Specification company? This drives the manufacturers to regularly up their game, at no less than once a year (guaranteed), with the possibility of additional upgrades required as needed, and if this is done in Sep, 1939 by Sep, 1941 this process should be well in hand, meaning that US aircraft manufacturing should be used to this rapid pace and having multiple, upgraded aircraft designs in the pipe simultaneously.
and what kind of consequences that has for relative aircraft performance and that there is a "cap" to how fast bombers can get. Additionally earlier the need for (and effectiveness of) heavier fighter armaments gets understood the better.
Yep, I totally agree with you there. Why we couldn't see 'multi-engined' dedicated interceptors being designed to kill the heaviest of bombers included in the Sep 1939 batch of specification requests I don't know. If a multi-engined interceptor design gets floated in the very first batch of design specs, could we also get some twin engined, long range fighter options in the first batch? I would also like to see folding wing designs variants for the existing land based fighters (so folding wing P-38's, P-39's and P-40's), as well as a multi-engined variant based on each when building amphibious capability into the mix.
Japan as a credible threat that also gets taken seriously is a challenge, especially since the massive fighter focus you propose needs a credible bombing and CAS threat by your likely enemies, which with most of the distances involved in the pacific is difficult in the earlier 30s even if the political situation fits.
Yep, there will be needed changes in the way the USA does things, so new ideas and new people are a must.
If you are outside of CONUS you might also end up with a kind of second-rate colonial force as a lot of the European powers deployed them outside the continent.
For me, the reasoning would be the opposite, as which is better to spend all the logistical effort on, some obsolete, soon to be discontinued aircraft, cluttering up you supply chain with the need to support multiple types of fighters, far from home, that could best be used back in the states to train pilots how to fly, or the current state of the art 'bang bang' fighters?
The Philippines are likely your best bet for something that is more or less in range of Japan and can be properly equipped with airfields and aircraft.
If you get a US that is very keen on defending loads of small islands in the pacific, float planes are as you said a very good bet.
I would love to see all the different aircraft that would come of the USA trying to get a large and ever growing airforce in the far east, that had massive and ever growing stockpiles of everything it needed, in country and ready too go, prior to WWII breaking out. In such a world, what would the USADF be wanting for fighters to station all over the Philippine islands? For needs other than fighters, the FEAF could have made great use of large numbers of amphibious folding wing biplanes to offer troop shuttles, recon, air raids and air attacks on IJN and IJA shipping.
The chaotic development during the interwar period helps mitigate their overall lower performance and before the war airfields were a lot scarcer in a lot of areas. You can reasonably easy also put most regular fighters on floats, it was done or at least tested with the Zero, Spitfire and Wildcat and they all made for surprisingly good floatplanes.
I knew about the development and deployment of the Rufe, but not the US and UK types! When I read up on the Japanese variant, I was like, why the heck didn't we have something like that?!?!

An example of the Wildcat on two floats. Now, what if 2 engined Wildcat?
Edit: Just for the sheer madness I would now like a float version of the XP-56...
:eek:
Ouch! It would be different, lol.
 
Yep, I totally agree with you there. Why we couldn't see 'multi-engined' dedicated interceptors being designed to kill the heaviest of bombers included in the Sep 1939 batch of specification requests I don't know. If a multi-engined interceptor design gets floated in the very first batch of design specs, could we also get some twin engined, long range fighter options in the first batch? I would also like to see folding wing designs variants for the existing land based fighters (so folding wing P-38's, P-39's and P-40's), as well as a multi-engined variant based on each when building amphibious capability into the mix.

Americans need to up their game wrt. the late 1930s military engines 1st and foremost.
Once we saddle the P-39s and P-40s with folding wings they will be a tad slower, and climb worse, and neither P-39 nor P-40 were good climbers as-is - cue when F4F-3 morphed into F4F-4 and lost some speed and lots of RoC.
Multi-engined derivative of P-39 and P-40 will be a new aircraft.
Americans can go with a no-nonsense 2-engined aircraft like the Fw 187, F5F, or the Ro.58 - no twin booms (so the production is faster and cheaper, and airframe is lighter and with greater internal volume), no turbo (so no time and effort required to debug the thing), no tricycle (frees the internal volume for something else). Powered by V-1710 in some versions of the A/C, the R-1830 in some other versions.

I knew about the development and deployment of the Rufe, but not the US and UK types! When I read up on the Japanese variant, I was like, why the heck didn't we have something like that?!?!

An example of the Wildcat on two floats. Now, what if 2 engined Wildcat?

Grumman had the F5F in offering, there was no takers. Same with (X)P-50.
Actual combat value of floatplane fighters historically?
 
I'm thinking initially of a mandated 6 month cycle of design/development 'requests', where the new ADF regularly asked for better aircraft every 6 months, with the understanding that prototypes to pre-production versions flying needs to be as short as possible, but even then I could see the potential need to divide up your fighter manufacturing companies into fall and spring providers, if you used Sep and Mar as your specification publication months, so maybe Bell is a Spring Specification company, while Grumman is a Fall Specification company? This drives the manufacturers to regularly up their game, at no less than once a year (guaranteed), with the possibility of additional upgrades required as needed, and if this is done in Sep, 1939 by Sep, 1941 this process should be well in hand, meaning that US aircraft manufacturing should be used to this rapid pace and having multiple, upgraded aircraft designs in the pipe simultaneously.
Thats a very, very tight schedule for aircraft development especially considering how involved the process can become if any misshaps happen (which they constantly did OTL, both during war and peacetime). Aircraft development is also hugely expensive once you go to actualy building prototypes. In OTL various airforces already did a lot more tenders and experimental projects than most people realize. Most of them did only result in drawings or hypothetical technical specs but no actual prototypes produced, since improvements often werent great enough to be justifiable.
If you somehow find the money to fund a greatly increased number of development progamms you will also end up with a much larger variety of aircraft types in service, which would put a signifcant strain on procurement and logistics systems. I would thus advise you to go with a similiar development pace as in OTL (maybe with an increase in tenders offered) but shift the focus to the areas you are interested in, which is overall a sound premise.
If you are interested in all the experimental work and competitions the US did you should try to get a copy of "American Secret Projects, Fighters Bombers and Attack Aircraft 1939-1945" by Tony Buttler and Alan Griffith, which is an awesome ressource on the topic.

For needs other than fighters, the FEAF could have made great use of large numbers of amphibious folding wing biplanes to offer troop shuttles, recon, air raids and air attacks on IJN and IJA shipping.
Biplanes are already on the way out when your timeline is likely to start, so you should easily be able to get some actualy decent monoplane amphibians in service once the war starts, if you increase the focus on these types of aircraft. When WW2 (or whatever conflict you are building upt to) kicks of biplanes have also become basically obsolete in nearly all roles and would be at a severe disadvantage against anything more modern, so you should really try to get rid of them before that point.

For me, the reasoning would be the opposite, as which is better to spend all the logistical effort on, some obsolete, soon to be discontinued aircraft, cluttering up you supply chain with the need to support multiple types of fighters, far from home, that could best be used back in the states to train pilots how to fly, or the current state of the art 'bang bang' fighters?
Again: You should be carefull with not overburdening your logistics by building too many different types. The main reason the colonial forces of OTL used mostly older types was that they were not really expected to face serious opposition and were cheaper and often easier to maintain in adverse conditions.

I knew about the development and deployment of the Rufe, but not the US and UK types! When I read up on the Japanese variant, I was like, why the heck didn't we have something like that?!?!

An example of the Wildcat on two floats. Now, what if 2 engined Wildcat?

:eek:
Ouch! It would be different, lol.
I would go with a purpose build twin engine design, the Wildcats airframe is much too small to fit two of any usefully powerfull engine and Im also not sure if a twin engined float plane fighter would be a good idea, they would be pretty darn slow and likely increadibly clunky to fly. Maybe if you go with a very small twin engine aircraft (like the XP-50 / X-F5F @tomo pauk mentions) it could be done, but I would instead try to go with a reasonably small, land based twin engine interceptor if you want an aircraft of the type, here again the Skyrocket makes for an interesting option.
The americans and british briefly toyed with the idea of floatplane fighters early in the pacific war (hence the Float-Fire and Wildcatfish [thats the actual nickname and I LOVE IT!!]) but then found out that they could just build the airfields they needed quickly enough.

Actual combat value of floatplane fighters historically?
From what I have read they were actually pretty decent (especially the really advanced types like the N1K1) but they are at a measurable disadvantage against land based fighters and nobody (not even the japanese) ever used them in large enough numbers to gather good operational data.
They are a decent option if you have to defend lots of places where you cant build even a small airfield capable of servicing fighters and are good enough to intercept unescorted bombers or recce aircraft, but I would not put my money on them against serious opposition.
 
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Looks like a modified Arsenal VG-33, great job!
Belatedly, this is fully deliberate. It's the Vernisse V-110 because Vernisse and Gaultier were the designers behind the VG-33. French designs in the GCW lean a lot on stuff that dead-ended in our world - e.g. France's primary fighter engines are V12s derived from Renault engines originally built for racing seaplanes, but that's a class which France didn't pursue that much in our world.
 
The combat aircraft thread's version of the DBWI: A model builders' what-if guide in a what-if tineline:
What-if aircraft of the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939

After last years conversion kit for the P-40E by Squadron Hobbies and the recent release of the 'Texan Gunslinger' by Eduard, Project Faltboot and the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939 have suddenly become the latest craze amongst model aircraft builders and it is safe to bet that this Christmas season will bring several new kits in various degree of historical accuracy or what-if liveries. So it is time to give a little overview of the period, the project and the kits we can or may expect.

The Fighter Scare finds its origin in 1939 when the US military intelligence got wind of a real or perceived plot by several high-ranking Mexican generals to seize power for themselves either just before or during the upcoming 1940 elections and install a Fascist government that would align itself with Italy and Germany. Often mentioned in this context is 'Projekt Faltboot' (which roughly translate to 'project collapsible canoe') which was a German secret study on the possibility of smuggling prefabricated aircraft components into a strategically important region that then could be assembled into complete aircraft in relative little time using existing infrastructure like railway shops or medium-sized shipyards. Details are sketchy and different versions often contradict each ther. What is sure however is that the US Army air Force was suddenly facing the possibility that before too long German bombers could take off from Mexican airfields and reach cities as far north as San Francisco or Houston. for the Army Air Force, this came at the most inopportune time as it was just transitioning to a modern fighter and bomber force with especially the pursuit squadrons in full transition to the new generation of P-38, P-39 and P-40 fighters. Yet, despite the massive gearing-up, if German bombers arrived in Mexico before the end of the year, the number of fighter planes actually in the squadrons would not be enough. The Army Air Force needed more planes, and it needed them quickly.

Thus came the first two conversion projects of the Mexican Panic: the Curtiss P-40E 'Griffhawk' and the North American PT-6 series

1939MexicoPanicFighters1.gif


The Curtiss Griffhawk came about through an Army inquiry asking Curtiss how far it would be possible to prioritize speed of production over performance and still have a P-40 that could hold its own as a pursuit ship and dogfighter. The response was the P-40E which did away with some of the more complex features of the current -C and -D models like omitting the synchronized nose gun in favor of an all-wing armament. The most defining feature of the -E however was the replacement of the retractable landing gear with a fixed spatted undercarriage similar to the one Curtiss offered for their Hawk75 -M and -N export variants. After the Greman 'Greiff' for a hawk's talon, the aircraft was quickly dubbed ' the Griffhawk'. By September 1939, a prototype was ready and after the first factory flights, was transferred to Wright-Patterson airfield where it was flown against a number of fighters and bombers similar to those currently serving in Mexico or those expected to arrive there from Italy or Germany. While speed and climb rate were not as good as the latest P-40c and pilots had their reservations about the lack of a nose gun, it was deemed adequate for the foes it was expected to face. However the gain in construction time was noticeable but not substantial enough to make up for the time Curtiss' factories would need to halt production to retool for the new variant. Thus the Army went looking for a factory that could build the new P-40E while Curtiss would continue building the -C and -D variants for the overseas squadrons.

They landed at North American Aviation

However NAA's CEO, James 'Dutch' Kindelberger was not thrilled with the idea of giving up his facilities to build someone else's planes. so he came with a counter-proposal: They already had a cheap and easy-to-build plane in their T-6 trainer, an airframe with lots of potential in it. So instead of licence-building P-40's he would develop an aircraft based on the T-6, using as many common components as possible and have a suitable fighter ready by the time he would otherwise need to build a production line for the Griffhawk. And he even had already something to show:

That 'something' was the 'Texan Gunslinger': a private venture to build a one-person fighter trainer by basically taking a T-6 and replacing its two-seat greenhouse cockpit with a custom-built one-seat turtleback cockpit, giving the trainee the feeling of a real fighter. A gun pod under each wing even gave the pilot the opportunity to train with live ammunition. On Kindelberger's proposal, the 'Texan Gunslinger', now named PT-6a was transferred to Randolph Air Base near San Antonio to be tested by real fighter pilots, all the while, North American would build two more PT-6's with a more powerful engine and fixed wing guns instead of pods to be evaluated as fighters.

In order to spread the risks, one PT-6 would be designed around a 1100 hp Wright radial, the other would get the same 1100hp Alison V12 that currently powered the P-40, its main competitor. Changes seem to have been minimal because in January of 1940, the two planes, now designated P-46 and P-48 were ready for their first flights. In February they started their evaluation at Wright-Patterson Air Base. As the pilots seemed to prefer the inline engine over the radial, the fourth PT-6 was built as a P-48 and joined his brothers in the test program.

By that time however it was also clear that the perceived Mexican coup was not happening Instead President Cardenas had managed to get the whole army to back his successor Manuel Camacho and instead of becoming a German puppet, Mexico would even join the allies against Germany. This eliminated the need for a stopgap fighter and neither the P-40E Griffhawk nor the North American projects were developed any further. Feedback from the pilots testing the P-48 however would result in North American getting a government contract to further develop the concept, which would ultimately lead to the superb P-51 series.
 
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What-if aircraft of the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939
part II: the Proposals

This week Dragon Hobbies announced they will follow up on their 1/48 Northrop Gamma raceplane and 1/48 Gamma bomber of the Chinese air force with a newly tooled 1/48 Nortrop Epsilon. For us, this is the occasion to follow up on our earlier article on the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939 with a description of the aircraft proposals by Northrop, Douglas and Vought.

To recap, the Mexican fighter panic of 1939 came about because of some rumors that Mexico might turn fascist, join the axis and offer its airfields to the Luftwaffe. Questions about what planes the Luftwaffe could possibly station on those fields and how it would get them there notwithstanding, the idea that suddenly German bombers might be flying over Los Angeles sent the U.S. Army Air Force into a panic and got it scrambling for fighter planes.

We have already covered the 'panic fighter' development of a simplified fixed landing gear P-40E and a single-place armed T-6 Texan, as this were the only two project that were actually built, albeit only as prototypes.In this article we will focus on the fighter plane proposals that were submitted and reviewed, but not build, namely the panic fighters of Nothrop, Douglas and Vought.


1939MexicoPanicFighters2.gif


It is indicative of the general attitude of army intelligence in the prewar years that although the 'fighter panic' itself was supposed to be kept secret from the public, both John K. Northrup and Vought were able to submit unsolicited proposals for a quick and cheap fighter before the year 1939 had ended. Nothrup's case was at the same time the most natural and most perplexing as John himself was at that time without a company. In 1938 his old employer Donald Douglas needed production capacity for his new line of DC passenger planes and as a response outright bought the Northrop workshop, retaining Nortrup himself as a chief engineer. Still, even with his contacts to top defense contractor Douglas, Nothrup should not be able to know that the army was secretly looking for a panic fighter. And yet, in December of 1939, even while he himself was working full-time on the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber, Nothrup still submitted an unsolicited offer for a stopgap fighter.

Looking at the original project by John K. Northrup, its lineage becomes immediately clear. The lines of the plane can be traced back to the Nothrop Gamma record plane and raceplane. In effect, the plane was a simplified Gamma with a 1000 hp radial up front. It even retained the original Gamma's fixed landing gear trousers. This at a time when even before 1938 Northrop's later Gamma versions had already first a semi-retractable, then a completely flush retracting undercarriage. Yet, the fighter promised to be fast, cheap and more importantly based on proven technology. The army was interested, but... though the project was submitted as a Northrop plane and the name Epsilon was a direct reference to the earlier Nothrop Alpha, Gamma and Delta, Nothrop was in essence an aircraft manufacturer without an aircraft factory. If Northrup had submitted his proposal as a way to return to owning his own company it backfired. Instead of setting up Nortrup with the contract he needed to start another new company, the army took the plans to Douglas...

In the spirit of fair play, Don Douglas gave John Nothrup full credit for the design and made him lead designer for the follow-up project, but he also teamed him with a young up-and-coming designer, Ed Heineman. Heineman, later known for such designs like the Douglas Skyraider, Skyhawk and B.66 was basically known for three principles: keep it simple, give it power to spare and make it roomy enough for future upgrades. In retrospect the Heineman touch in the new Epsilon-B are clearly visible. Starting with the engine, the same 1200 hp Pratt&Whitney that powered the two-person Dauntless dive bomber. Furthermore, for a stopgap fighter, the plane was big with enough room in the fuselage and wings to later add all possible extra weapons. It had a retractable landing gear, based on an earlier Nothrup design, but the mechanic was as sturdy as it was simple. Three months after the original design, the Epsilon-B wsa submitted to the army. However, like with the Curtiss and North American designs, by that time it was clear that the 'panic' that prompted the Army to request the stopgap fighter was just that: a panic, a pang of fear in anticipation of an event that did not happen. Being already overwhelmed with orders from the Navy, Douglas pulled the plug on the project.

The second unannounced proposal for a 'Mexican Fighter Panic' stopgap fighter came from Vought. Although later in the war the company would be responsible for the superb F4U Corsair, by 1939 the company was in a slump. Its latest fighter project, the model 141, had lost out in all navy competitions, first to the Brewster Buffalo, then - redesigned as the Model 143- against Grumman's F4F Wildcat. Even plans to sell the aircraft to the army, the Dutch and at one point even to Japan fell through. It is unclear when and how Vought got wind of the army's search for an uncomplicated poor-man's-fighter, but Vought immediately responded with its latest iteration of the 141, this time called the model 149.

In essence the 149 was a simplified version of the earlier designs with a fixed landing gear. The 141's perceived problems with lateral stability were countered by adding a massive tail-fin, which gave the effort immediately the nickname of 'project sailfish'. The proposal arrived at the desk of the army in January of 1940, but while it was reviewed with some interest, the army held back on any decisions until it arrival of the proposal for the Douglas Epsilon-B, so the two projects could be vetted against each other. And as seen above, by that time, the need for the fighter was already obsolete. Thus both the Nortrop-Douglas and the Vought projects stayed exactly that: projects.

Still, in an environment where model kit makers are increasingly searching for interesting lesser-known aircraft to add to their collection, may be someday someone will produce both an Epsilon-B and a Model 149 so we can finally witness the fly-off between the two contenders... even if only in a 1/48 scale model diorama.
 
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What-if aircraft of the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939
part II: the Proposals

This week Dragon Hobbies announced they will follow up on their 1/48 Northrop Gamma raceplane and 1/48 Gamma bomber of the Chinese air force with a newly tooled 1/48 Nortrop Epsilon. For us, this is the occasion to follow up on our earlier article on the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939 with a description of the aircraft proposals by Northrop, Douglas and Vought.

To recap, the Mexican fighter panic of 1939 came about because of some rumors that Mexico might turn fascist, join the axis and offer its airfields to the Luftwaffe. Questions about what planes the Luftwaffe could possibly station on those fields and how it would get them there notwithstanding, the idea that suddenly German bombers might be flying over Los Angeles sent the U.S. Army Air Force into a panic and got it scrambling for fighter planes.

We have already covered the 'panic fighter' development of a simplified fixed landing gear P-40E and a single-place armed T-6 Texan, as this were the only two project that were actually built, albeit only as prototypes.In this article we will focus on the fighter plane proposals that were submitted and reviewed, but not build, namely the panic fighters of Nothrop, Douglas and Vought.


View attachment 791565

It is indicative of the general attitude of army intelligence in the prewar years that although the 'fighter panic' itself was supposed to be kept secret from the public, both John K. Northrup and Vought were able to submit unsolicited proposals for a quick and cheap fighter before the year 1939 had ended. Nothrup's case was at the same time the most natural and most perplexing as John himself was at that time without a company. In 1938 his old employer Donald Douglas needed production capacity for his new line of DC passenger planes and as a response outright bought the Northrop workshop, retaining Nortrup himself as a chief engineer. Still, even with his contacts to top defense contractor Douglas, Nothrup should not be able to know that the army was secretly looking for a panic fighter. And yet, in December of 1939, even while he himself was working full-time on the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber, Nothrup still submitted an unsolicited offer for a stopgap fighter.

Looking at the original project by John K. Northrup, its lineage becomes immediately clear. The lines of the plane can be traced back to the Nothrop Gamma record plane and raceplane. In effect, the plane was a simplified Gamma with a 1000 hp radial up front. It even retained the original Gamma's fixed landing gear trousers. This at a time when even before 1938 Northrop's later Gamma versions had already first a semi-retractable, then a completely flush retracting undercarriage. Yet, the fighter promised to be fast, cheap and more importantly based on proven technology. The army was interested, but... though the project was submitted as a Northrop plane and the name Epsilon was a direct reference to the earlier Nothrop Alpha, Gamma and Delta, Nothrop was in essence an aircraft manufacturer without an aircraft factory. If Northrup had submitted his proposal as a way to return to owning his own company it backfired. Instead of setting up Nortrup with the contract he needed to start another new company, the army took the plans to Douglas...

In the spirit of fair play, Don Douglas gave John Nothrup full credit for the design and made him lead designer for the follow-up project, but he also teamed him with a young up-and-coming designer, Ed Heineman. Heineman, later known for such designs like the Douglas Skyraider, Skyhawk and B.66 was basically known for three principles: keep it simple, give it power to spare and make it roomy enough for future upgrades. In retrospect the Heineman touch in the new Epsilon-B are clearly visible. Starting with the engine, the same 1200 hp Pratt&Whitney that powered the two-person Dauntless dive bomber. Furthermore, for a stopgap fighter, the plane was big with enough room in the fuselage and wings to later add all possible extra weapons. It had a retractable landing gear, based on an earlier Nothrup design, but the mechanic was as sturdy as it was simple. Three months after the original design, the Epsilon-B wsa submitted to the army. However, like with the Curtiss and North American designs, by that time it was clear that the 'panic' that prompted the Army to request the stopgap fighter was just that: a panic, a pang of fear in anticipation of an event that did not happen. Being already overwhelmed with orders from the Navy, Douglas pulled the plug on the project.

The second unannounced proposal for a 'Mexican Fighter Panic' stopgap fighter came from Vought. Although later in the war the company would be responsible for the superb F4U Corsair, by 1939 the company was in a slump. Its latest fighter project, the model 141, had lost out in all navy competitions, first to the Brewster Buffalo, then - redesigned as the Model 143- against Grumman's F4F Wildcat. Even plans to sell the aircraft to the army, the Dutch and at one point even to Japan fell through. It is unclear when and how Vought got wind of the army's search for an uncomplicated poor-man's-fighter, but Vought immediately responded with its latest iteration of the 141, this time called the model 149.

In essence the 149 was a simplified version of the earlier designs with a fixed landing gear. The 141's perceived problems with lateral stability were countered by adding a massive tail-fin, which gave the effort immediately the nickname of 'project sailfish'. The proposal arrived at the desk of the army in January of 1940, but while it was reviewed with some interest, the army held back on any decisions until it arrival of the proposal for the Douglas Epsilon-B, so the two projects could be vetted against each other. And as seen above, by that time, the need for the fighter was already obsolete. Thus both the Nortrop-Douglas and the Vought projects stayed exactly that: projects.

Still, in an environment where model kit makers are increasingly searching for interesting lesser-known aircraft to add to their collection, may be someday someone will produce both an Epsilon-B and a Model 149 so we can finally witness the fly-off between the two contenders... even if only in a 1/48 scale model diorama.
Good stuff man. 😎
 

Pangur

Donor
What-if aircraft of the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939
part II: the Proposals

This week Dragon Hobbies announced they will follow up on their 1/48 Northrop Gamma raceplane and 1/48 Gamma bomber of the Chinese air force with a newly tooled 1/48 Nortrop Epsilon. For us, this is the occasion to follow up on our earlier article on the Mexican Fighter Panic of 1939 with a description of the aircraft proposals by Northrop, Douglas and Vought.

To recap, the Mexican fighter panic of 1939 came about because of some rumors that Mexico might turn fascist, join the axis and offer its airfields to the Luftwaffe. Questions about what planes the Luftwaffe could possibly station on those fields and how it would get them there notwithstanding, the idea that suddenly German bombers might be flying over Los Angeles sent the U.S. Army Air Force into a panic and got it scrambling for fighter planes.

We have already covered the 'panic fighter' development of a simplified fixed landing gear P-40E and a single-place armed T-6 Texan, as this were the only two project that were actually built, albeit only as prototypes.In this article we will focus on the fighter plane proposals that were submitted and reviewed, but not build, namely the panic fighters of Nothrop, Douglas and Vought.


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It is indicative of the general attitude of army intelligence in the prewar years that although the 'fighter panic' itself was supposed to be kept secret from the public, both John K. Northrup and Vought were able to submit unsolicited proposals for a quick and cheap fighter before the year 1939 had ended. Nothrup's case was at the same time the most natural and most perplexing as John himself was at that time without a company. In 1938 his old employer Donald Douglas needed production capacity for his new line of DC passenger planes and as a response outright bought the Northrop workshop, retaining Nortrup himself as a chief engineer. Still, even with his contacts to top defense contractor Douglas, Nothrup should not be able to know that the army was secretly looking for a panic fighter. And yet, in December of 1939, even while he himself was working full-time on the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber, Nothrup still submitted an unsolicited offer for a stopgap fighter.

Looking at the original project by John K. Northrup, its lineage becomes immediately clear. The lines of the plane can be traced back to the Nothrop Gamma record plane and raceplane. In effect, the plane was a simplified Gamma with a 1000 hp radial up front. It even retained the original Gamma's fixed landing gear trousers. This at a time when even before 1938 Northrop's later Gamma versions had already first a semi-retractable, then a completely flush retracting undercarriage. Yet, the fighter promised to be fast, cheap and more importantly based on proven technology. The army was interested, but... though the project was submitted as a Northrop plane and the name Epsilon was a direct reference to the earlier Nothrop Alpha, Gamma and Delta, Nothrop was in essence an aircraft manufacturer without an aircraft factory. If Northrup had submitted his proposal as a way to return to owning his own company it backfired. Instead of setting up Nortrup with the contract he needed to start another new company, the army took the plans to Douglas...

In the spirit of fair play, Don Douglas gave John Nothrup full credit for the design and made him lead designer for the follow-up project, but he also teamed him with a young up-and-coming designer, Ed Heineman. Heineman, later known for such designs like the Douglas Skyraider, Skyhawk and B.66 was basically known for three principles: keep it simple, give it power to spare and make it roomy enough for future upgrades. In retrospect the Heineman touch in the new Epsilon-B are clearly visible. Starting with the engine, the same 1200 hp Pratt&Whitney that powered the two-person Dauntless dive bomber. Furthermore, for a stopgap fighter, the plane was big with enough room in the fuselage and wings to later add all possible extra weapons. It had a retractable landing gear, based on an earlier Nothrup design, but the mechanic was as sturdy as it was simple. Three months after the original design, the Epsilon-B wsa submitted to the army. However, like with the Curtiss and North American designs, by that time it was clear that the 'panic' that prompted the Army to request the stopgap fighter was just that: a panic, a pang of fear in anticipation of an event that did not happen. Being already overwhelmed with orders from the Navy, Douglas pulled the plug on the project.

The second unannounced proposal for a 'Mexican Fighter Panic' stopgap fighter came from Vought. Although later in the war the company would be responsible for the superb F4U Corsair, by 1939 the company was in a slump. Its latest fighter project, the model 141, had lost out in all navy competitions, first to the Brewster Buffalo, then - redesigned as the Model 143- against Grumman's F4F Wildcat. Even plans to sell the aircraft to the army, the Dutch and at one point even to Japan fell through. It is unclear when and how Vought got wind of the army's search for an uncomplicated poor-man's-fighter, but Vought immediately responded with its latest iteration of the 141, this time called the model 149.

In essence the 149 was a simplified version of the earlier designs with a fixed landing gear. The 141's perceived problems with lateral stability were countered by adding a massive tail-fin, which gave the effort immediately the nickname of 'project sailfish'. The proposal arrived at the desk of the army in January of 1940, but while it was reviewed with some interest, the army held back on any decisions until it arrival of the proposal for the Douglas Epsilon-B, so the two projects could be vetted against each other. And as seen above, by that time, the need for the fighter was already obsolete. Thus both the Nortrop-Douglas and the Vought projects stayed exactly that: projects.

Still, in an environment where model kit makers are increasingly searching for interesting lesser-known aircraft to add to their collection, may be someday someone will produce both an Epsilon-B and a Model 149 so we can finally witness the fly-off between the two contenders... even if only in a 1/48 scale model diorama.
Excellent
 
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