When you live in the Aerospace Valley, you’re aware of the interesting and exotic aircraft routinely taking to our skies over the years. For decades it was always a treat to go to the Edwards air shows since we used to have so many contractors involved with varied programs that walking the airshow flight line was like a candy store of exotic aircraft.
Now times have changed; only a few manufacturers display their projects for public view since in today’s world secrecy is paramount to national security.
Many times, people feel that all flight testing managed to find its way to our lake beds sooner or later, but many aircraft developed over the years never made it out this way except for maybe a curiosity check or some specialized assignments. That brings me to an aircraft that never hit the big time but became one of the most bizarre projects of all time. My interest was piqued when I saw a photo of the only remaining Fisher P-75 sitting in front of the XB-70 in Dayton, Ohio.
When somebody mentions the Fisher P-75 Eagle most people would think they are referring to something other than an airplane, but an airplane it was, and it grew from the World War II panic that set in when the United States was scrambling to build an air force that could take on the world.
General Motors wanted to get into the aircraft building business, and in 1942 had just come out with the Allison V-3420-19 engine. GM decided to build a new fighter around the engine design. Designer Don Berlin, the driving force behind the P-40 Warhawk, sent a proposal on the new aircraft to the government in September 1942 and in less than a month a contract was signed for two prototypes. GM’s Fisher Body division would undertake the construction of the new aircraft.
One of the strangest practices took place to get the aircraft into the air as quickly as possible, when other aircraft components from other companies were used in its construction. From Bell Aircraft the wings from the P-40 Warhawk were used, from Douglas Aircraft the tail section from the SBD dive bombers was used and from the Vought Company the landing gear from the F4U Corsair was utilized. Even its designation drew from a strange source as the XP-75 was a patriotic gesture taken from the famous French 75 cannon of World War I fame.
The idea was to build a fighter in a very short time and even as it was being hatched, pens and paper were flying. Before it had even flown contracts were drawn to produce 2,500 P-75A’s that would be armed with six fifty-caliber guns in the wings and four fifty-caliber guns fitted to fire through the propeller. That feature alone would be a real challenge, as the Eagle was also fitted with counter rotating propellers.
As you would expect, such a mishmash of aircraft components and a newly designed engine became an albatross in the air. When flight test began on Nov. 17, 1943, it was found that the aircraft had all kinds of aerodynamic problems including poor spin recovery, instability, slow rate of roll and a top speed 30 mph slower than expected. With all the issues the projected date of at least 600 long range Eagles being in combat in October of 1944 was instead replaced with a cancellation order on the 27th of that month.
When it came to an end only six examples had been built at a cost of $50 million dollars and General Motors was now worried that they would be tasked to build B-29’s for Boeing when their main objective was to become a fighter plane company. Their only other project was building the TBM Avenger for Grumman, and they wanted their own logo on an aircraft.
In the end it was labeled a monumental failure as the P-75 was passed off as being one of the very first overpriced and underdelivered aircraft of the era. Thankfully the P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning were more than capable of picking up the slack for the over-hyped Fisher Eagle.
After the war the P-75 faded into the sunset quickly, since disasters like this needed to be quickly buried from the public eye. The big corporate names involved do not care much for answering for failed projects as these. It’s amazing that after all this time one example of the Fisher Eagle managed to survive ó tail number 44-44553. For decades it was in ìdeep storage,î as they say in Dayton, Ohio, and when finally given the nod it was restored back to its original luster by a skilled museum restoration crew, and became a monument to a failed attempt at creating a new type of fighting machine.
Many aircraft over the years never managed to make the grade, and the forgotten Fisher fighter that was known as ìThe Spare Parts Fighterî was the champion. Like many things conceived under stress it was the perfect example of ìlet’s just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.î Luckily, we had a lot of other aircraft that did stick, and we overcame the war nerves of building things without really thinking about what we were going to end up with.
Next time you visit Dayton, take the time to search out this strange beauty that looks like a million dollars! Well, in all honesty, $50 million.
Until next time, Bob out …