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American Secret Pusher Fighters of World War II

American Secret Pusher Fighters of World War II by Gerald H. Balzer. Specialty Press, 2008, 182 pp.

In 1940 the US Army held a fighter-design competition to produce an aircraft capable of reducing the time necessary to intercept enemy bombers. The three winners—the Vultee XP-54 Swoose Goose, Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender, and Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet—featured the unconventional pusher design, which placed the engine in the back. These aircraft had a significant impact on US aviation and aviation design.

The author, retired aeronautical engineer Gerald Balzer, is to be commended for this heavily illustrated (385 black-and-white and color photos), excellent work. During his career with Northrop, McDonnell, and TRW, he worked on various aircraft projects, including the F-89, T-38, F-4, F-5 and F-15 as well as the Snark missile and the Defense Support Program satellite constellation. With this book, Specialty Press adds another distinguished work to its aviation history series.

Following the foreword by retired Air Force colonel Walter J. Boyne—prolific aviation author and former director of the National Air and Space Museum—chapter 1 chronicles the origins of the pusher fighters; the state of military aviation prior to World War II; aircraft procurement; advances in the field in Europe; and government specification R-40C, which called for radical aircraft designs. Chapter 2 details Vultee’s two XP-54 prototypes, distinguished by their ducted and inverted gull wing, pilot seat, and entry to the aircraft. In chapter 3, Balzer describes Curtiss-Wright’s production of three prototypes of the XP-55, notable for being the company’s first fighter with a tricycle landing gear configuration. Finally, chapter 4 addresses not only the tailless design of Northrop’s XP-56 but also the company’s construction components and techniques. Although these three aircraft—all of them developed secretly—never reached full production, they influenced postwar airplanes and today’s remotely piloted aircraft.

Well written and researched, American Secret Pusher Fighters of World War II reflects the author’s mastery of the developmental history of these aircraft. All readers, but especially scale-model enthusiasts, aviation designers, and aviation historians, will appreciate the vast amount of detail on aerodynamics and construction features offered by this indispensable account, augmented by rare photos, cutaway drawings, sketches, and layouts. Without a doubt, Gerald Balzer has written the definitive work on the XP-54, XP-55, and XP-56.

CDR Mark R. Condeno

Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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