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The Republic P-43 Lancer was a single-engine, all-metal, low-wing monoplane fighter aircraft first delivered in 1940 to the United States Army Air Corps. This article also covers a proposed P-43 development, the P-44 Rocket.
The Seversky Aircraft Company, which in 1939 changed its name to the "Republic Aviation Company", constructed a range of one-off variants of its Seversky P-35 design that featured different powerplants and enhancements, with the designations AP-2, AP-7, AP-4 (which flew after the AP-7), AP-9, XP-41; and actually built a carrier-based version designated the NF-1 (Naval Fighter 1). The most significant of these was the AP-4 which served as the basis for future Seversky/Republic aircraft. It featured fully retractable landing gear, flush riveting, and, most significantly, a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC2G engine with a belly-mounted turbo-supercharger, offering 1,200 horsepower (890 kW) and good high-altitude performance. The exhaust-driven turbosupercharger had been refined by Boeing as part of the development program for the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, and the opportunities offered by it for improved performance were of great interest to other aircraft manufacturers.
The sole AP-4 built was used as a test platform to evaluate means of improving the aerodynamics of radial-engine fighters. It was fitted with a very large prop spinner and a tight-fitting engine cowling, following similar experiments that had been performed with the first production P-35. The AP-4's big spinner was later removed and a new engine tight cowling was fitted. Unsurprisingly, these measures led to engine overheating problems. On 22 March 1939, the engine caught fire in flight, the pilot had to bail out, and the AP-4 was lost. Despite the loss of the prototype, the USAAC liked the turbo-supercharged AP-4 demonstrator enough to order thirteen more in May 1939, designating them YP-43. The YP-43 differed from AP-4 in having a "razorback" fuselage with a tall spine extending back from the canopy. Air intake for the turbosupercharger was moved from the port wing to under the engine resulting in the distinctive ovoid cowling. The aircraft was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-35 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine with a General Electric B-2 turbosupercharger generating 1,200 hp (895 kW) and driving a three-blader variable-pitch propeller. Armament consisted of two synchronized 0.50 in machine guns in the nose and a single 0.30 in machine gun in each wing. The end result looked like an oddly proportioned P-47 Thunderbolt.
The first of the thirteen YP-43s was delivered in September 1940, and the last was delivered in April 1941. Early testing revealed a strong tendency of the aircraft to yaw during takeoff and landing rolls which was fixed by redesigning the tail wheel assembly. Although the aircraft exceeded the initial USAAC performance requirements, by 1941 it was clearly obsolete, lacking maneuverability, armor protection for the pilot, or self-sealing fuel tanks. USAAC felt the basic P-35/P-43 design had exhausted its reserves for further improvement in performance and shifted its interest to the promising P-47. However, because the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine intended for the new fighter was not yet available, it was decided to order 54 P-43 to keep the Republic production lines operational until the P-47 was ready. Production aircraft were identical to the YP-43 prototypes and were delivered between 16 May and 28 August 1941. Ongoing delays in the P-47 program resulted in USAAC ordering an additional 80 P-43A aircraft with the R-1830-49 engine with better high-altitude performance and 0.50 in machine guns replacing the 0.30 in in the wings. Additional 125 P-43A-1 were ordered for delivery to China through the Lend-Lease program. These differed primarily in being armed with two 0.50 in machine guns in each wing and no fuselage guns, and having rudimentary armor and fuel tank protection. Actually, as delivered, the P-43A-1 had the same armament layout as the P-43As that preceded them; all "A" models had two nose-mounted .50s and one in each wing. Externally they were identical, and one must resort to checking the serial numbers to determine a P-43A from a P-43A-1.
A total of 272 P-43 and its variants were built, a remarkable number considering the original intention was to not build any.
Although the P-43 was clearly obsolete, Republic made one last attempt to extract more performance from the basic design by outfitting it with a Pratt & Whitney R-2180-1 engine making 1,400 hp (1,044 kW). Contemporary drawings show an aircraft similar to P-43 with a large propeller hub reminiscent of early Fw 190 prototypes. USAAC was sufficiently interested to assign this AP-4J study an official designation P-44 Rocket and order 80 production aircraft sight unseen. However, combat reports from Europe soon made it clear that even this aircraft lacked the performance and the project was cancelled with no prototypes built and 54 P-43 ordered into production instead to keep Republic production lines open. Alexander Kartveli and his team focused their efforts on the advanced AP-10 / XP-47 which eventually became the fabled P-47 Thunderbolt.
The USAAC considered P-43 and its variants obsolete from the start and used them only for training purposes. Several photoreconnaissance aircraft were loaned to Royal Australian Air Force in 1942 with none seeing combat. In the fall of 1942, all surviving P-43 were redesignated RP-43 indicating they were unfit for combat. Most of the aircraft that were not sent to China were modified for photo-reconnaissance duties and used for training.
The Lend-Lease aircraft were delivered to China through Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group, the "Flying Tigers." Pilots involved in the ferrying flights commended P-43 for its good high-altitude performance compared to their Curtiss P-40s, good roll rate, and a radial engine without the vulnerable liquid cooling system. Apparently, several AVG pilots asked Chennault to keep some P-43s but the request was denied due to the aircraft's lack of armor or self-sealing fuel tanks. Furthermore, the turbosupercharger proved unreliable and "wet wing" fuel tanks leaked constantly. The P-43 performed poorly in combat in the hands of Chinese air force against Japan due to its great vulnerability, and was replaced by other aircraft in the early 1944. Rudimentary protection added on P-43A-1 was insufficient. In addition, P-43's R-1830 engines were in high demand by the numerous Douglas C-47 transports in the theatre, effectively grounding the surviving aircraft.
- YP-43 - pre-production prototypes, 13 built
- P-43 - first production version, identical to YP-43, 54 built
- P-43A - R-1830-49 engine, 0.50 in machine guns in the wings instead of 0.30 in, 80 built
- P-43A-1 - version for China, rudimentary armor and wing fuel tank protection, armed with 4x 0.50 in machine guns in the wings, centerline hardpoint for an external fuel tank or up to 200 lb (91 kg) of bombs, 125 built
- RP-43 - all USAAC aircraft redesignated as "restricted from combat" in 1942
- P-43B - photo-reconnaissance version with cameras in the tail, 150 converted from P-43A and P-43A-1
- P-43C - photo-reconnaissance version differing from P-43B only in equipment, two converted from P-43A
- P-43D - photo-reconnaissance version, R-1830-47 engine, six converted from P-43A
- P-43E - proposed photo-reconnaissance version with R-1830-47 engine based on P-43A-1
- P-44 Rocket - proposed version with Pratt & Whitney R-2180-1 engine with 1,400 hp (1,044 kW), none built.
- Crew: One
- Length: 28 ft 6 in (8.7 m)
- Wingspan: 36 ft 1 in (11.0 m)
- Height: 14 ft 1 in (4.3 m)
- Wing area: 222.7 ft² (20.7 m²)
- Empty weight: 5,982 lb (2,713 kg)
- Loaded weight: 7,418 lb (3,365 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 8,460 lb (3,837 kg)
- Powerplant: 1× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-49 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 1,200 hp (895 kW)
- Maximum speed: 356 mph (573 km/h)
- Range: 650 mi (1,046 km)
- Service ceiling: 35,990 ft (10,970 m)
- Rate of climb: 2,500 ft/min (13 m/s)
- Wing loading: 33 lb/ft² (163 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.16 hp/lb (0.27 kW/kg)
4x 0.50 in Browning M2 machine guns
- Template:AUS: Royal Australian Air Force
- China: National Revolutionary Army
- Template:USA: US Army Air Corps, US Army Air Force
- Davis L. (1994) P-35: Mini in Action (Mini Number 1). Squadron/Signal. ISBN 0-89747-321-3
- Swanborough, G, Bowers, PM. (1989) United States Military Aircraft Since 1909. Smithsonian. ISBN 0-87474-880-1
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