Curtiss XF15C: Pushing The Limit

 In 1943, the US Navy ordered two new high-speed fighters from the Curtiss and Ryan Aeronautical companies. The demand for fast combat aircraft was growing, but the first designs of jet engines could not yet provide a radical improvement in power, while the proven piston engines were nearing the pinnacles of their design. The Navy wasn’t considering jet-powered fighters because their weak thrust at low speeds and altitude made them dangerous when operating from carriers. The solution was simple (and not very elegant) — combine a main piston engine and a supplementary jet motor in one aircraft.

Curtis began designing the XF15C in December 1943. The Navy’s request was quite vague: the fighter had to be fast and heavily armed. Curtiss chose the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-34W Twin Wasp engine that provided 2,100 hp thrust at takeoff and could be boosted to 2,400 hp via water-methanol injection. For the jet power, the British de Havilland-Halford H1 Goblin was chosen. Both engines could be used simultaneously or individually. The project was presented to the Navy and accepted, work on three prototypes began in April 1944.

Curtiss encountered many problems when developing the XF15C, which led to the first prototype being flight-worthy only in 1945. It took flight on 28 February 1945, the first test was conducted without jet power. On 3 May, Curtiss first tested the jet engine in flight, but 5 days later the prototype was lost in a crash. The second aircraft still wasn’t ready, so the tests were postponed until 9 July. This machine used an American analogue of the Goblin — the Allis-Chalmers J-36 jet engine. The third prototype took flight in March 1936. Finishing the design took a lot of time, the Curtiss engineers were forced to tackle a lot of issues that inevitably arise with developing a new and very complicated aircraft. Eventually, the two remaining prototypes were delivered to the Navy in November 1946.

The Navy pilots were not happy with the new fighter. Equipping the aircraft with two heavy engines and four 20-millimeter cannons made it very heavy and unstable in level flight. Curtiss began making improvements and eventually fixed the issue after changing the tail design. That’s when the XF15C got its characteristic huge tail boom. During the tests, the XF15C demonstrated speeds of 600 km/h at 7,000 meters when flying under piston power and 755 km/h when the jet engine was enabled. That satisfied the Navy’s requirements, but the XF15C still wasn’t accepted into service. The Navy already had (quite an unsatisfactory) experience with the rival Ryan FR Fireball fighters, and in general the aircraft with combined powerplants were not considered to be a next step in the evolution of piston engine fighters, or a promising type of aircraft overall. The Navy was starting to put the new jet-powered McDonnel FH-1 Phantom into service. The Curtiss XF15C became obsolete while it was being developed. One of the prototypes was scrapped, the other surviving aircraft, after being stored for some time, was eventually donated to a museum.

The Curtiss XF15C in World of Warplanes is a Premium Tier VIII US fighter. Its main advantages are its high speeds and excellent long boost. In conjunction with good energy conservation and four powerful wing-mounted M3 20-millimeter cannons, this makes the XF15C a good interceptor for hit-and-run tactics. It is not very suitable for dogfighting with other fighters: the XF15C is large and sluggish, although its high HP count makes “HP trading” somewhat viable, if you rely on its firepower and speed. In general the Curtiss XF15C is a great fighter for a specific gameplay style, it’s a good heavy fighter and bomber hunter, capable of providing cover for allies and quickly dealing with large enemy aircraft at high altitudes.