Army Pursuits the Biplane Period, 1920-1932
Verville VCP-1, VCP-R, PW-1, & PW-1A
Fighter development from 1920 to 1932 was usually based on traditional biplane designs, and began with a group of prototypes exploring the immediate technical possibilities available when the war ended.
The first single-seat fighter of the postwar generation was the VCP-l designed by Alfred Verville (1890-1970) of the Army’s Engineering Division. Verville had been on a technical mission sent to France to evaluate the latest innovations in fighter design. Although the mission’s report on November 1, 1918, was too late to affect wartime projects, the Engineering Division began the “Verville Chase Plane”, and two examples were ordered, the first for static tests and the second for flight trials.
Powered by a 300-hp Wright-Hispano and armed with two Browning guns, the VCP-l had a laminated wood-
veneer fuselage and “I” struts between the tapered wings with balanced ailerons on the lower surfaces. The first was delivered for the sandbag ordeal in August 1919, and the second made flight trials on January 12 and 26, 1920, with an odd “annular” radiator arranged around the nose. When this proved unsatisfactory, it was replaced with a conventional nose radiator by April 12, 1920.
Since increased speed was becoming the chief objective of pursuit development, a practical way of promoting speed was for the services themselves to participate in the air racing becoming popular. The Air Service obtained a May 25, 1920, appropriation to convert the original VCP-1 to the VCP-R racer with a 636-hp 12-cylinder Packard
First flown with the new engine and the same wings on July 15, the racer was provided with smaller wings by August 1920. An attempt at the Gordon Bennett Race failed, but the VCP-R won the first Pulitzer Race on November 25, beating standard MB-3 and Orenco D entrants. The Verville would be rebuilt as the R-l for the 1922 Pulitzer, but then it was eclipsed by the speeds made by the Curtiss R-6. That Curtiss was the best of a series of Army racers built in 1921-22.
The Army adopted a system of aircraft designation to replace the previous confusion of builders’ letters and numbers. The new system provided for PW, PA, and PN types (Pursuit, Water-cooled, Pursuit, Air-cooled, and Pursuit, Night). The first of these fighters was the Engineering Division’s PW-1 ordered April 23, 1920. Based on Verville’s VCP design, it would retain the VCP-l’s tapered I strut wings with an RAF-15 airfoil section, but had a Packard
lA-1237 with a tunnel radiator and introduced a fuselage of fabric-covered welded steel tubing.
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