Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Soaring Severskys

In the list of once-upon-a-time American aircraft manufacturers, the name of Seversky Aircraft Company rings few bells for people today. And yet, in the late 1930s, Seversky came up with some of the most modern fighter aircraft designs of its time, including the subject of today's image, the Seversky P-35, which was the Army Air Corps' first all-metal monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear.

Alexander de Seversky, who had flown as a fighter pilot in WWI, emigrated to America after the war. Seversky Aircraft Company was founded in 1931 and utilized the talents of a number of Russian engineers who Seversky "rescued" from the Stalinist purges of the time. Initially, the company concentrated on designing new all-metal monoplanes, and several variants were built as racers and flown in air races in the early 1930s.

For an Army fighter competition, Seversky modified the fixed-gear SEV-1P with rearward retracting main gear, and this became the Army's P-35, with contract award coming in 1936. There were 76 Army P-35s built (not including numerous civilian and foreign military versions), so the 13 shown in this photo represents a sizable percentage of America's P-35 fleet.

Things were different in those days, and Seversky built several civilian air racing versions of the P-35 (too bad that doesn't happen any more...would be interesting to see a civvie version of the F-35 race at Reno!), since air racing was one of the leading venues which manufacturers used to promote their products. In the 1938 Nationals, for instance, both Jackie Cockran and Frank Fuller flew race version of the P-35 (you can see photos of their planes here). But the state of the art was moving too quickly, and by the time that the last P-35 was delivered to the Army in 1938, they were already outclassed and essentially obsolete, no match for Japanese fighters on the eve of World War II.

After suffering some severe financial woes, Seversky was forced out, the company was reorganized, and re-emerged as Republic Aircraft. The P-35 design eventually led to the XP-41 and P-43, and ultimately to the enormously successful P-47 Thunderbolt.

No comments:

Post a Comment