Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stearman's Odd-Man Out

In the late 1930s, the Army Air Corps solicited designs (to be built at the manufacturer's own expense) for a new light attack aircraft from five manufacturers. Stearman, which was a subsidiary of Boeing but operated independently, proposed a design which they called the X-100. The Army bought the prototype for testing, re-designating it the XA-21.

In its original form, as seen on the right, the pilot sat behind and above the bombardier under a common green-house style canopy. First flight took place in 1938, but initial testing showed that the pilot's forward visibility was less than ideal, and so the aircraft was returned to Boeing (who by then had re-absorbed Stearman) where it was modified with a more traditional nose, giving the pilot a regular windshield (you can see the difference in this photo from the Museum of the US Air Force). While the pilot gained better vision, the aircraft suffered a slight loss in airspeed from the added drag.

The Army still didn't bite, and only this one aircraft was built. The NA and the Douglas prototypes both crashed during testing, and Bell's proposal was withdrawn early on, before any hardware was built. Eventually, the Army cancelled the competition, but then revived it again, and all the originally competing designs were resubmitted, without hardware being required to be built. The winner of this paper competition was Douglas' Model 7B, which became the A-20 Havoc. The North American NA-20 design eventually was upgraded and entered into a medium bomber competition, to became the B-25 Mitchell. Martin went on to sell their Model 167F to the British to become their Maryland. Boeing chose, instead, to focus on the really big bombers.

Our image, an 8x10 glossy, apparently was a press publicity photo, and it ran in the June 1939 edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine (scroll down to pg 827).

A much more detailed history of the XA-21 can be found here.

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