Aircraft, awful and awesome:
Fisher XP-75 Eagle

Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

***image1***If ever an aircraft was misnamed, it was the XP-75, which should have been called the “Turkey” instead of the “Eagle.” The XP-75 was the 1942 brain child of Don Berlin, the designer of the undistinguished Curtis P-40 of “Flying Tigers” fame. 

Berlin came up with the idea of saving aircraft production time by taking pieces and parts of several established aircraft – the wings of his own P-40, the tail of the Navy’s Dauntless dive bomber, and the landing gear of the F4U Corsair – and attaching them to a large fuselage carrying the biggest engine available, the 24-cylinder, 2600-hp Allison.

The engine was mounted mid-fuselage and had a long shaft linked to a reduction gearbox in the nose that drove two three-bladed counter-rotating propellers. It also carried the very heavy armament of 10 50-caliber machine guns, when most U.S. fighters had only six. Berlin, who was then working for the Fisher Body Division of General Motors, claimed that by using automobile-type mass production he could produce several hundred fighters a day. In October 1942, the USAF ordered two XP-75 prototypes.

As the air war over Europe developed, it became clear that the Air Force needed a long-range escort fighter to protect Eighth Air Force bombers raiding deep in Germany. Air Force chief Gen. “Hap” Arnold gave orders to develop such a fighter, and Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Echols, the head of the Materiel Command responsible for the development, procurement and supply of aircraft and aeronautical equipment for the Air Force, decided that the XP-75 was the answer. 

The first XP-75 flew in November 1943, but its performance was completely inadequate (perhaps because its weight had grown from 12,000 to 18,000 pounds). It was alarmingly unstable because its center of gravity had been calculated incorrectly, and the torque from the huge Allison engine – also calculated incorrectly – reportedly tore one of the prototypes apart, even with the contra-rotating propellers. The idea of using parts from other aircraft was dropped and an entirely new aircraft developed, the XP-75A, but the program was finally cancelled in 1945.

The XP-75 has its own place in aviation history as a mainstay in books and articles that discuss the “world’s worst aircraft,” but there is a much more important and disturbing footnote.

For a variety of complex reasons, General Echols pushed the XP-75 and several other aircraft as long range fighters while strongly resisting first the development and later the deployment of the aircraft that many give credit to for winning the air war over Europe, the P-51 Mustang. But that’s a story for another day.