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Vultee/Convair XA-41

KJ_Lesnick

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The XA-41 is a design that has fascinated me and (frankly) considering the USAF would eventually adopt the A-1's (in the 1960's admittedly): It appears as if it could have been a fantastic design.

As I understand it, the USAAC didn't want it because
  • They generally didn't like dive-bombers: This was a mentality that predated WW2 because of the fact that they were often slow, carried small payloads, felt dive-bombing was too dangerous (despite the fact that the USMC and the USN showed they could be reliably used), felt fighters could do the same job if properly configured
  • The dive-bomber was often used in the mission of CAS, which was something the USAAC never particularly cared for as it tied them to the rest of the Army, rather than strategic bombing which allowed theoretically total autonomy
  • While the USAAC would momentarily take an interest in dive-bombers, even going so far as to purchase the SBD and SB2C (A-24 and A-25) after they saw the stunning effectiveness of the Luftwaffe in Europe; they never really dedicated the effort to employ them correctly
  • During the mid-1930's, they began taking an interest in twin-engined attack-planes (it appeared to start with an unsolicited proposal from Curtiss, for what would eventually become the A-14/A-18) which were able to fly faster, possibly farther with payload: This largely lead to a desire to build twin-engined aircraft such as the A-20, and A-26.
  • It was felt that dive-bombers had a poor survival rate, so it was reconfigured as a level-bomber
  • The P-47 and A-26 (particularly a new variant or two with cowls and a jet engine) was felt to be capable of doing everything the XA-41 could have done
While I'm partially curious as to where the claim of survivability issues came from (there were several nations using dive-bombers, and were operating in different environments), and why the USN and USMC didn't give up on them: One thing that I do notice about the A-41 that are quite remarkable
  • While it wasn't terribly fast (350-365 mph compared to the 400+ mph speed of the P-47): It could turn inside a P-51B, making it very difficult to attack
  • While the P-47 had a respectable radius (P-47D: 600 miles, P-47N: 1310 miles), and a respectable payload (2,500 lbs?): The XA-41 could fly a combat radius of 800 miles while hauling 1,000 pounds of ordinance
  • While the A-26 had a superior range and payload: I'm not sure if it was either capable of dive bombing, or good at it
What do you think it would have been in service in the Korean War, and Vietnam?
 

RLBH

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In the one theatre of WW2 where dive bombers operated in strength against major ground forces - the Eastern Front - they took atrocious losses. The Ju 87 spent much of the war as a conventional ground attack aircraft with cannon and level bombing because dive bombing was so risky. The Soviets hardly bothered operating them. That would suggest that the USAAF was right to be sceptical about the A-41's prospects.
 

KJ_Lesnick

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RLBH,

Then why was the USN not opposed to a dive-bomber/torpedo-bomber
 

r16

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ı would have said Pe-2 was quite a plane and didn't it dive bomb to the end ?
 

RLBH

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The air defence problem at sea was different from that on land. Even so, the maritime dive bomber died out as seaborne air defence became more capable. Rocket-armed fighter-bombers turned out to be just as capable in practice and more versatile; the likes of the AD and AM were primarily torpedo bombers in service.
 

Sundog

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My understanding is that the troops on the ground in the Med. theater loved the A-36's because they had a habit of actually hitting the target. It's also my understanding that the USAAC didn't like them because dive bombing is for the Navy. Level Strategic bombing is for the USAAC.
 

Abraham Gubler

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The RAAF had a wing of Vultee Vengeances (A-31) dive bombers in service in New Guinea in 1943-44. They were an effective strike asset and quite popular but were withdrawn due to a shortage of airfield space. Their airfield footprint was taken up by group (wing equivalent) of P-38 Lightning fighters while their mission was taken over by other RAAF strike assets (light bombers and Beaufighters). This was seen as a more efficient allocation of limited air power as the Lightnings could conduct counter air missions while the Jap ground targets could be hit by other aircraft types.
 

JFC Fuller

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RLBH said:
The air defence problem at sea was different from that on land. Even so, the maritime dive bomber died out as seaborne air defence became more capable. Rocket-armed fighter-bombers turned out to be just as capable in practice and more versatile; the likes of the AD and AM were primarily torpedo bombers in service.

Also, a navy had to consider what sort of package it could get on a carrier, they were essentially limited to single engine types in relatively small numbers and in that context the most accurate form of bomb delivery (all the more important against moving targets) was a dedicated dive-bomber. By contrast Air Forces could use multi-engine types with provision for complex sighting systems (Norden for instance) and higher bomb loads and generally hit fixed targets.
 

KJ_Lesnick

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Sundog said:
My understanding is that the troops on the ground in the Med. theater loved the A-36's because they had a habit of actually hitting the target. It's also my understanding that the USAAC didn't like them because dive bombing is for the Navy. Level Strategic bombing is for the USAAC.
So this was a matter of ideology than pragmatism?
 

cheesehead

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KJ_Lesnick said:
Sundog said:
My understanding is that the troops on the ground in the Med. theater loved the A-36's because they had a habit of actually hitting the target. It's also my understanding that the USAAC didn't like them because dive bombing is for the Navy. Level Strategic bombing is for the USAAC.
So this was a matter of ideology than pragmatism?

Pretty much. The USAAC pretty much banished anyone proponent of tactical airpower and was convinced that tactical airpower was irrelevant since they believed that strategic bombing would have similar effects to nuclear weapons and render nations incapable of sustaining fielded forces. (This was before the bomb in the pre-war years) If they absolutly had to do CAS and ground support, many thought that they could simply use high altitude bombing to do this as well. Coupled with the budgetary issues during the depression, they saw no need to waste limited resources on something the higher ups thought was obsolete.
 

ACResearcher

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The Air Force's romance with dive bombers began to change even before the U.S.'s entry into WWII.

There were several reasons for this.

* Existing dive bombers were too short-ranged for the Army/Air Force's battle plans.
* Existing dive bombers were too slow and needed a fighter escort to and from the target to keep from becoming easy targets for enemy fighters.
* Existing dive bombers were inadequately armed for the Army Cooperation Aircraft mission. Once they dropped their bombs that was pretty much it.
* The Air Force was not a fan of the two-man crew of the A-24 and the A-25. Even prior to the U.S.'s entry into WWII they were requesting redesigns to a one-
man crew. I have copies of the original drawings by Ed Heinemann of the A-24 so configured.
* The load-carrying capabilities of the A-24, A-25 and the A-31/35 were deemed completely inadequate. Multiple wing-mounted guns including various mixes
of .50 cal. 20mm and 37mm guns were desired by the AF. Both the XA-32 and the XA-41 were designed with this in mind, including internal bomb bays and the
ability to carry torpedoes. Early in the war the Air Force studied the ability of virtually ALL combat aircraft to carry torpedoes, including 4-engine bombers. This,
of course, was a direct result of the Japanese use of torpedoes in Pearl Harbor and elsewhere across the Pacific, as well as the fear of the West Coast being
attacked and the need to be able to torpedo and sink the Japanese Fleet (s),

By at least mid-1943 the Air Force decided to completely do away with the single-engine attack/Army Cooperation category of aircraft, keeping the A-32 and A-41 around for flight testing and to test various engines in large, single-engine aircraft. Experience with the P-47 and P-38 showed that a modern fighter plane had the ability to carry an acceptable bomb load a lot farther, were cheaper and faster and could always jettison their load and fight their way out of an attack by enemy fighters and had sufficient gun power to completely ruin the enemy's day. Combat experience with the B-25, A-20 and the promise of the A-26 (completely deserved) proved the combined-arms tactics of fighters as multi-purpose aircraft and two-engine attack aircraft and bombers cancelled out the need for additional expensive aircraft and the supply chain that would need to be created to maintain them.

So in the end it was a combination of factors that ended the XA-41 and all aircraft like her.

AlanG
 

Steve Pace

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The North American A-36A did an admirable job in WWII - especially in North Africa during Operation Torch. -SP
 

KJ_Lesnick

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I've got a variety of conflicting data on the XA-41: For example some sources seem to indicate it could carry 1000 pounds of bombs a range of 800 miles, others a radius of 800 miles. The more reliable sources seem to indicate 800 miles but even sources that are generally reliable occasionally screw up. For this reason, I'd like to put the issue to rest once and for all.

It'd seem that the most basic reason for cancelling the single-engine attack category was based on speed & payload-carrying capability over range (I'm not sure if there's any reason that they simply preferred two engines for other reasons), combined with a desire for heavy-cannon armament. The planes carried the desired cannon armament (XA-39: 2-4 x 37mm + 4 x 0.50"; XA-41: 4 x 37mm + 4 x 0.50"), and I'm unsure what kind of payload they desired over range, though the A-26 seemed to be able to carry 3000 pounds of bombs a range of 1400 and a radius of 560 miles and the XB-42 could carry 2000 pounds a distance of 2000-2500 miles which might have formed a baseline.

As for speed: They considered the plane too slow and, while I'm not really sure what kind of speed they wanted, I'd guess they were probably seeking something around 330-360 at sea-level based on the P-47's, and a maximum altitude speed of 375-450 based on the XA-38 and other high performance fighters.

ACResearcher said:
Existing dive bombers were too short-ranged for the Army/Air Force's battle plans.
Do you have any idea what kind of range/payload they wanted?
Multiple wing-mounted guns including various mixes of .50 cal. 20mm and 37mm guns were desired by the AF.
I assume they wanted the 37mm for tank busting right?


Steve Pace said:
The North American A-36A did an admirable job in WWII - especially in North Africa during Operation Torch.
I'm surprised nobody noticed.
 

Pasoleati

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In the one theatre of WW2 where dive bombers operated in strength against major ground forces - the Eastern Front - they took atrocious losses. The Ju 87 spent much of the war as a conventional ground attack aircraft with cannon and level bombing because dive bombing was so risky. The Soviets hardly bothered operating them. That would suggest that the USAAF was right to be sceptical about the A-41's prospects.

That's absolute horse manure. For example, Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey operating in the summer of 1944 in Finland used Ju 87Ds purely for dive-bombing missins while the Fw 190s operated as Jabos. And, during the same battles Soviets employed Pe-2s as dive-bombers against Finnish targets like railway stations.

Had A-26 Invaders been used as ground attack a/c in Europe, their losses would have been very high.
 
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