Quick Facts

Curtiss-Wright XP-55

The Ascender

Era: WWII

On loan from the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Location: Flight Innovation Center

Competing to develop a new age pursuit plane, the Curtiss-Wright Corporation built a unique prototype.  In 1943, the XP-55 Ascender took to the skies for the first time, and was accepted by the Army Air Force as an experimental model.1 The design underwent rigorous tests to determine various conditions and its ability as a frontline pursuit plane. The innovative design proved to be a challenge for XP-55 engineers. Of the three XP-55s built by Curtiss-Wright, two were destroyed, falling victim to fatal stall characteristics. All production efforts ceased after the third plane crashed.

A Deadly Characteristic
The Ascender’s unique design proved to be a challenge for engineers as they worked to overcome the aircraft’s fatal flaw: Its stall characteristics. Due to its design, the aircraft gave no warning to the impending stall. Once stalled, the aircraft became inverted and control was lost. Of the three XP-55s built by Curtiss-Wright, two were destroyed, falling victim to fatal stall characteristics. All production efforts ceased after the third plane crashed.

The Air Zoo’s XP-55

XP-55 with serial number AF42-78846, was used for official performance tests. Flying a total of 27 hours. After testing was completed in 1945, this XP-55 was given to the Smithsonian Institution2. The only remaining Curtiss-Wright XP-55 Ascender, it was sent to the Air Zoo in 2001 for restoration, and in 2006 was unveiled and put display.