In the 1930s while at Vought, aeronautical engineer Charles Zimmerman advocated a unique discoid aircraft layout that was a form of a lifting body that became known as a “flying pancake”- such an aircraft would have low drag and high structural strength. The Vought V-173 was built as a proof of concept aircraft that first flew 23 November 1942. The large 16-foot props turned opposite each other, driven by Continental A-80 four-cylinder 80-horsepower engines on each side of the cockpit. The props turned in the opposite direction of the wing vortices, in effect nearly canceling them out which resulted in a significant drag reduction. The low aspect ratio wing-fuselage was rigid and generated a lot of lift that made the V-173 very maneuverable and gave it excellent low speed handling characteristics. High-speed, maneuverability and good low speed handling got the US Navy’s attention and Vought got the contract for a fighter version called the XF5U. Though the XF5U never flew (it was five times the weight of the V-173 and would have been an impressive carrier fighter), the V-173 made 190 test flights with its last flight on 31 March 1947. It resided in long term storage with the Smithsonian before it was restored by Vought volunteers here in North Texas and is now on display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field.
Photo: JP Santiago