A real ‘batplane’

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

***image1***The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation − later McDonnell-Douglas − is justly famous for its two extraordinary fighters, the F-4 Phantom and the F-15 Eagle, as well as the lesser known early Navy jet fighters. But, their first fighter, although unsuccessful, can lay claim to being the most aesthetically pleasing of the brood.

In 1941, with World War II in full swing, the U.S. Army Air Force issued a request for a high performance, heavily armed fighter to attack large enemy bomber formations of the type the Luftwaffe had launched in the Battle of Britain.

The new McDonnell company proposed a single seat, high altitude twin engine fighter, the XP-67, with a new design concept. This design combined the “blending” of the wings, engine nacelles and fuselage together to make one flowing unit to improve lift and decrease drag. The exotic looking aircraft, originally named the “Moonbat”− but quickly changed to Bat − was powered by two Continental 1,200 horsepower engines with turbo-superchargers that increased the horsepower to 1,600 per engine at 25,000 feet, and the exhaust gases from the turbo-superchargers were used as a jet-assist to increase performance. It had a pressurized cockpit and tricycle landing gear (unusual for a fighter), but the main feature of the Bat was its heavy anti-bomber armament – six 37 mm cannons, which gave three times the weight of fire and twice the range of standard U.S. fighter armament, six .50 caliber machine guns.

***image2***By December 1943, the XP-67 was ready to fly, but a series of problems with cooling the engines in the sleek nacelles delayed its first flights and plagued the test program.

Additionally, when the engines did function properly, the engines did not develop the promised power, giving the Bat far less speed and acceleration and a far longer take-off roll than its smooth external design promised. Handling was generally satisfactory, but the engine problems were never cured, and as the war progressed, it became clear that the firepower of conventional U.S. fighters was adequate to destroy enemy bombers. After an engine fire damaged the first prototype beyond repair in September 1944 the U.S Army Air Force and McDonnell agreed to cancel the project, despite its advanced configuration. E-mail questions and comments to marshall.michel@ramstein.af.mil.