|XP-87 Blackhawk prototype|
In the summer of 1945 the US Army Air Force was in the process of outlining its combat aircraft needs in the post-war world. For fighter aircraft, there were three classes of aircraft that the USAAF wanted- an all-weather offensive fighter, a point-defense interceptor, and a long-range penetration fighter. It was expected that because of the state of the technology of the day that the all-weather offensive fighter would be the biggest of the three. On 28 August 1945 the USAAF issued its RfP (Request for Proposals) for the all-weather offensive fighter- a speed of 525 mph at 35,000 feet, 12 minutes to reach 35,000 feet and a 600-mile combat radius. It was thought at the time that piston engines would be necessary, but a refinement of the USAAF requirements a few months later laid out the service's desire for an aircraft that could seek out and destroy both enemy aircraft and ground targets in all weather conditions, day or night. Bell, Consolidated (Convair), Curtiss, Douglas, Goodyear, and Northrop submitted entries; Bell, Convair, and Goodyear were eliminated quickly due to performance deficiencies. Curtiss submitted a large four jet design based on the XA-43 attack jet design they had been working on for a different ground attack specification. Douglas submitted a land-based version of their F3D Skyknight, and Northrop submitted three designs- a refined version of the P-61 Black Widow, one based on the XP-79 flying wing fighter, and an all-new twinjet design.
The political winds of change meant that the USAAF favored Curtiss heavily for the reasons that the previously dominant aircraft manufacturer had no contracts to sustain it in the postwar period and no civilian designs readily available for the growing passenger market. What was left of the funding for the XA-43 project was used to contract with Curtiss for prototypes of their design to be designated the XP-87. But the USAAF was sufficiently interested in Northrop's all-new twinjet design to contract for prototypes of that design as well to be designated XP-89. The USAAF also contracted with Martin Aircraft for a nose mounted turret that would allow the cannons to be swiveled to off-center targets that was to be fitted to both the XP-87 and XP-89.
|The XA-43. Note the differences from the XP-87 design.|
(The Unwanted Blog at up-ship.com)
By 1947 a review was underway to determine which of the fighters under development at the time might be suitable as a tactical reconnaissance aircraft- due to the size and carrying capacity of the XP-87, it was decided that it would also be developed into a reconnaissance version designated the RP-87. In order to not slow down the development, Curtiss was to complete both prototypes as all-weather fighters and then convert the second aircraft into the reconnaissance configuration at the completion of the prototype flight tests. In June 1947 Curtiss raised concerns with the USAAF on the power output of using four Westinghouse J34 engines in the paired nacelles and suggested changing to the Allison J33 as a single J33 engine had the power of two J34s not to mention the simplification of maintenance having only two engines instead of four. The change was approved for the production model but the prototypes would be completed with the four J34 engines.
|Only the XP-87 prototypes were to have four paired engines|
|The now-designated XF-87 from the rear|
It was a crushing blow for Curtiss-Wright as the XF-87 was its only postwar jet design to take to the air. The Navy had canceled the XF15C mixed-propulsion fighter a few years earlier after only three examples were built. The company, in effect, was betting its future as an aircraft manufacturer on the XF-87 Blackhawk. The first prototype was ferried to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio in December 1948 and was eventually scrapped by 1950. The second unfinished prototype was never completed and what was done got parted out for other projects that the company was attempting. With no other designs in advanced development, Curtiss-Wright was forced to shut down its Airplane Division and its assets were sold to North American Aircraft and the Columbus plant would be used for the manufacture of the F-86 Sabre. Curtiss-Wright's propeller division remained active into the 1960s and was responsible for the X-19 radial lift test aircraft. Some feel the X-19 was Curtiss' last aircraft design, but in reality it was the XF-87 Blackhawk that represented the end of the line for Curtiss-Wright Aircraft, a company that just ten years earlier was one of the dominant aircraft manufacturers of the United States.
Source: Experimental & Prototype U.S.Air Force Jet Fighters by Dennis R. Jenkins and Tony R. Landis. Specialty Press, 2008, p95-101.