|Maiden flight||September 1939|
|Primary users||United States Army Air Force|
The Vultee P-66 Vanguard was an accidental addition to the USAAF's inventory of fighter aircraft. It was initially ordered by Sweden, but by the time the aircraft were ready for delivery in 1941, the United States would not allow them to be exported. Eventually, 129 were sent to China, with the Army Air Force keeping 15 and designating them as P-66s. They were used as trainers in America during World War II.
The Vultee P-66 was the product of an idea conceived in the late 1930s by the Vultee Aircraft Division of the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation of developing four aircraft designed for different roles from a set of common wings and aft fuselage and tail assemblies. The company assigned four model designations: V-48 to a single seat fighter, BC-51 to a basic combat trainer, B-54 to an advanced trainer, and BC-54D as a basic trainer. Eventually the BC-51 would become the Army Air Corps BC-3 and the BC-54D the BT-13.
In 1938, the detailed design of the V-48 fighter member of the quartet began. The aircraft featured a metal covered semi-monocoque fuselage and fully retractable landing gear powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial air-cooled engine. During construction of the first prototype a decision was made to lengthen the propeller shaft and install a tight cowling to provide a pointed nose to reduce drag. In September 1939 the first aircraft flew, and was assigned NX21755 registration number. The name Vanguard was given to the airplane. At once, in flight test the aircraft was suffering from inadequate cooling. Measures to modify the cooling ducting were of little avail. After re-evaluating the design, and noting that the insignificant drag decrease was not worth the added weight and ducting problems, the second prototype, which was assigned a model number of V-48X and registration of NX19999, was finished with a conventional cowl, and the first aircraft was also modified. This second aircraft first flew on February 11, 1940. As a result of flight tests a number of changes were made to the design including substantially increasing the areas of the horizontal and vertical tail surfaces.
On February 6, 1940, the Swedish government ordered 144 Vanguards from Vultee. To these Vultee assigned a model designation of V-49C. The production prototype flew on September 6, 1940. The model V-49C was similar to the V-48X except for installation of a later version of the R-1830 engine with better higher altitude performance and provision for four 0.3 in wing mounted machineguns and two 0.5 in fuselage guns.
When production deliveries began in September 1941 the U.S. government placed an embargo on exporting the aircraft to Sweden. The British government took over the contract with plans to use the Vanguard as an advanced trainer in Canada. However, the British then relinquished the aircraft for China to whom 129 Vanguards were shipped under the Lend-Lease program. However, although the aircraft enjoyed higher speed, it was no match for the agile Japanese fighters in high-g maneuver, and thus the 3rd Group and the 5th Group that were equipped with P-66 adopted hit and run tactics against the Japanese. The remaining aircraft were retained by the U.S.A.A.F. and used at pursuit training bases in the Western U.S. These aircraft were assigned the designation of P-66. Production ended in April 1942. The aircraft in Chinese service was replaced by P-40 in 1943.
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