Army Pursuits the Biplane Period, 1920-1932
Curtiss PN-1, Loening PW-2, Loening PW-2, & Loening PW-2B
The only example of the specialized night fighter was the Curtiss PN-l biplane ordered February 23, 1920, with a six-cylinder 220-hp Liberty L-825 engine, long exhaust pipes to hide the flames, and an overhanging upper wing with balanced ailerons. The theory behind this design seems to have been to get a low wing loading for easy operation out of small blacked-out wartime fields.
Since the top speed was barely above that of the bombers it was supposed to stop, only two such planes were built. The first had cantilever wings, but failed static tests in December 1920, so N struts were added to the second PN-l that began flight tests on August 18, 1921. The PN-1 project was terminated on December 2.
Grover Loening, the leading American advocate of monoplanes, received a contract for three PW-2 high-wing fighters on April 10, 1920. As was the procedure then, the first prototype was used for static tests and was delivered in February 1921, and the second began flight tests in May. Powered by a 320-hp Wright H, the PW-2 was armed with the usual .30 and .50-caliber guns.
A third PW-2 was delivered on November 22 with twin rudders and a four-bladed propeller. Although two PW-2As had been ordered June 21, 1921, and ten more Loening monoplanes added later, dangerous weaknesses appeared. While wing flutter was little known when Loening built his first monoplanes, but as the designer wryly remarked that after the first flights, “We knew all we wanted to know about it.”
A PW-2A with a new rudder first flew on January 31, 1922, and the second delivered as the PW-2B with a Packard lA-1237 and side radiators on March 24. After the PW-2A lost its wing and gave Lieutenant Harold R. Harris the unwanted distinction of being the first American pilot to save himself by parachute on October 20, the contract was cut back to four.
The PW-3 biplane began as the Orenco D-2 with wood construction and a 320-hp Wright H with side radiators. Three were ordered April 23, 1920, and the first delivered on April 26, 1921, but all were condemned as unsafe because of unsatisfactory workmanship, and never flown.
The contract to build the Army’s first fighter with an air-cooled radial attracted bids from nine companies on November 15, 1920. Loening won the right to build the
PA-l with a Wright R-1454 on January 20, 1921. A static test example was delivered in September, 1921, and the flight article delivered in April 1922 had a steel-tube fuselage, short for quick turns, and placed the gas tank up in the thick upper wing. Lacking an engine, flight tests were delayed until 1923, and the 3rd example was canceled on February 6, 1923.
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