vought v 173


     Charles H. Zimmerman designed this Navy funded, proof of concept fighter prototype in January of 1942. That year, on November 23, the Vought V-173 took her first flight. The idea was to design an aircraft that was capable of flying so slow, that she could more easily operate from aircraft carriers, but still fly at the fast speeds required for perusing and intercepting other aircraft. She would have had a tailhook that protruded from the top of the trailing edge of the fuselage; which is interesting, because almost every tailhook lowers from the underside of the aircraft. Her top speed was 138 MPH, but her minimum speed was more impressive; she could stay in the air while traveling very slowly, and she was nearly impossible to stall.

     This lower speed paid off during a test flight on June 3, 1943, when pilot R. H. Burroughs lost an engine to vapor lock over Lordship Beach in New York, and was forced into landing on the sand. While trying to avoid hitting some stunned sunbathers, he flipped the aircraft upside down. Burroughs was totally safe, and the aircraft was minimally damaged. Zimmerman, the aircraft’s designer, was watching the incident, along with the legendary Charles Lindbergh, who was very impressed with how the bird handled the accident. After that day, Lindbergh flew the V-173 many times.

     The V-173 experimental aircraft was one of a kind, meant to prove the idea of this all-wing design. A second design was created, called the Vought XF5U, which was larger, beefier version, and was tested for the role of a conventional fighter. The bird performed well, but it never got past prototyping because she fell at the beginning of the jet age, and was suddenly outdated. If she had been developed a couple years earlier, we might have had thousands of these bizarre looking all-wing fighters, instead of this solitary V-173, on display at the Frontiers of Flight museum in Dallas, Texas.