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F-87 Blackhawk

The Curtiss XF-87 Blackhawk was a high-altitude jet fighter, capable of seeking out and destroying enemy aircraft and ground targets in all weather (Specified in the military characteristics of 23 November 1945). The low wing, cantilever XF-87 monoplane was fitted with two wing-mounted jet units in elongated nacelles.

The sleek and shiny-black night fighter looked just as deadly as its builders hoped that it would be. With it, on the flight test series just beginning, rode the last hopes of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. If the XF-87 should win the Air Force's competition for a turbojet all weather (night) fighter, a good production run would be assured. The Blackhawk would be up against formidable competition, however: Northrop's XF-89 Scorpion.

The aeronautical business had not been going well for Curtiss since the end of World War II. The company had been working at full capacity to turn out a huge number of its workhorse P-40 Warhawks and C-46 Commandos during the war, and its research and development (R&D) had suffered.

None of its new military designs satisfied the military's postwar needs and it had nothing to offer the civilian market. The jet era offered the company another chance. Its first jet-powered design, the XA-43, had been a large and heavy ground attack plane with two pilots, a bomb bay, and a revolving nose turret with four 20mm cannon. That was asking a lot of the puny jet engines of the day, so Curtiss designed the XA-43 with four Westinghouse J-43 axial-flow turbojet engines of 3,000 pounds thrust each, mounted in pairs in two pods on its straight wing. When the night fighter competition was announced in March 1945, Curtiss engineers adapted the attack design for an entirely new role.

The XF-87 looked deadly enough as Curtiss test pilot Lee Miller lifted it into Muroc's skies that March morning. If the wide fuselage and straight wings were not particularly inspiring, they were certainly reasonable by late 1940s standards. With smoke trailing from its two huge engine pods, the Curtiss XF-87 Blackhawk lumbered off the South Base runway for its maiden flight on March 5, 1948.

Alas, subsequent flights showed that the Blackhawk's performance was no more inspiring. It was cumbersome, lacked agility, and was plagued by buffeting problems which were never completely solved. The Air Force concluded that Northrop's Scorpion design offered a great deal more growth potential, and so the XF-87 disappeared from the skies forever and a more powerful XF-87A was never built.

This gave way to the XF-87A Blackhawk, a modified XF-87 equipped with J-83 engines designed to operate at night and in inclement weather. A total of 80 productions of the XF-87A were tentatively ordered, but later cancelled in favor of the Northrop F-89. The XF-87A was never flown.

A reconnaissance version of the Blackhawk was also seriously considered.

Not long afterward, Curtiss shut down its Airplane Division and eventually sold its assets to North American Aviation.



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