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The Vultee P-66 in Chinese service (part 2)

continued from part 1

II. The Vultee P-66

Vultee Aircraft, Inc., Downey, California, having succeeded in the export market with its V-11 attack bomber, began the private development of a single-engine fighter in 1939. In its initial configuration the new fighter, designated model 48 (sometimes referred to as P-48 as in "prototype" 48), incorporated some innovative features including steel tube semi-monococque fuselage structures and some wood structural members (retained in later versions) and a long narrow cowling and pointed nose enclosing its radial engine (abandoned).

Flying Tigers: P-66 original
First prototype in original configuration

Flying Tigers: revised cowling
First prototype with revised cowling

A second prototype (model 48X) equipped with a conventional radial engine cowling flew for the first time on February 11th, 1940.

Days earlier Vultee received orders for 144 of the fighters from Sweden. The Swedish version received the company designation model 48C and the Swedish designation J10.

Flying Tigers: P-66 flying
Test flying the model 48

The model 48C flew for the first time on September 6th, 1940, powered by the export version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-33 engine rated at 1,200 h.p. for take off and 1,050 h.p. at 13,100 feet. Armament was two .50 caliber machine guns synchronized and firing through the propeller arc and four .30 caliber machine guns in the wings. Weights were 5237 pounds (empty), 7100 (normal gross) and, 7384 (maximum). Maximum speed was rated as 340 m.p.h. at 15,100 feet. Initial climb rate was 2,520 feet per minute and it took more than 9 minutes to reach 19, 680 feet. Service ceiling was 28,200 feet. Span was 36 feet and length 28 feet, 4 inches.

By the time the first model 48C flew in late summer 1940, the Germans had overrun Denmark and Norway. The Royal Air Force was engaged in the Battle of Britain. Fearing that Germany might take over Sweden and gain control of the Vultee fighters the State Department rescinded the Swedish export license.

The Vultee fighter did not meet British requirements as a fighter but they agreed to accept one hundred them. They received the designation Vanguard I and were assigned the serial numbers BW 208 to BW 307. The British planned to use them as operational or advanced trainers in Canada. The July 1941 edition of the magazine Aeronautics contained a photograph of Canadian World War One ace Air Marshall William Bishop, V.C., in front of a Vanguard in R.A.F. livery at Downey. The caption stated the fighter was powered by a 1,600 h.p. engine and credited it with an unconfirmed maximum speed of 400 m.p.h. This same information had been published in earlier articles in the magazine.

Flying Tigers: in RAF colors
Vultee Vanguard in British colors at Downey

The November 1940 request of the Chinese purchasing commission expressly mentioned the Vultee fighter as one of the fighters that would meet Chinese requirements. After obtaining 100 P-40s the Chinese sought radial engine fighters to complete the balance of their 350 fighters. By mid-1941 Lend-Lease financing of $238 million had been made available to the Chinese including $50 million for aircraft.

In May 1941 the British agreed to give up their claim on the Vanguards in favor of the Chinese. With initial deliveries scheduled for the autumn of 1941 and final shipments in the spring of 1942 the Chinese were more than willing to take the Vanguards. In keeping with Lend-Lease requirements the Vanguards were first assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps where they were given the designation P-66 and serial numbers 42-6832 to 42-6975.

Flying Tigers: sans national
P-66 sans national markings

The initial production schedule was not met. The Chinese added requirements for special radio equipment that delayed production. There were additional Chinese requirements for wing bomb racks and provision for external fuel and these may have added to the delay. During the autumn of 1941 no P-66s were shipped to China.

In December 1941 the Pacific War exploded in Hawaii a mere 2,500 miles west of Vultee Field at Downey, California. By the end of the year thirty-nine P-66s had been delivered at Downey. Many of these aircraft were assigned to the 14th Pursuit Group and sent to March Field outside Riverside, California. During December 1941 and January 1942 pilots of the 14th Pursuit Group trained on the new aircraft preparing to fly air defense missions along the U.S. west coast.

continued in part 3