The Vultee Aircraft Corporation was very largely the brainchild of Gerard Freebairn Vultee, formerly chief engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during the period that Lockheed was owned by the Detroit Aircraft holding company. When Detroit Aircraft went into receivership, Vultee was out of work. He drifted from job to job for a couple of years, but eventually he went off on his own in pursuit of financial backing for some ideas that he and Vance Breese had for a single-engine passenger monoplane while they were at Detroit.
Vultee's passenger aircraft proposal attracted the attention of the "boy wonder" of Wall Street, Errett Lobban Cord, who already owned or controlled several airlines, automobile manufacturers, and aircraft companies. With $50,000 in cash (sounds like small potatoes today :-) ), Cord founded the Airplane Development Corporation (ADC) on January 26, 1932, as a subsidiary of the Cord Corporation. Vultee was established as chief engineer of this new company, assisted by Richard W. Palmer. Vultee was initially given space in Cord's private hangar at United Airport in Burbank, California, but in June ADC took over the former Century Pacific hanger at Grand Central Air Terminal in nearby Glendale.
Vultee began work on his single-engined airliner project in April of 1932. The project was assigned the designation V1. The V1 was a monocoque low-winged monoplane with "Alclad" sheet metal riveted to an aluminum alloy oval fuselage frame and a two-spar wing box. Only the rudder and elevators were fabric covered. There was accommodation for eight passengers in four rows in the cabin. A forward-sloping windshield (adopted so as to prevent glare at night) enclosed the single-pilot cockpit. Half of the cockpit space was occupied by a mail compartment. The main undercarriage retracted inward into wells in the center section of the wing. The powerplant was the 650 hp Wright SR-1820-F2 nine-cylinder air cooled radial.
The first flight took place on February 19, 1933. At the time of its appearance, the V1 could truthfully be advertised as the world's fastest airliner. However, its future was somewhat uncertain, since labor troubles had in the meantime forced Cord to divest himself of his two airlines, depriving the V1 of any built-in customers.
A copilot's position had to be added to the V1 because of safety considerations. To make space for the second crewmember, the mail compartment was moved aft of the passenger cabin. The roof line was raised and the shape of the vertical tail was modified. The wingspan was increased by two feet, the length from 35 feet 6 inches to 37 feet, the wheel track by two feet, and the height by six inches. The original three-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller was replaced by a two-bladed unit. Electrically-operated split trailing-edge flaps were installed. The changes were sufficient to result in a redesignation to V1-A.
The V1-A still lacked a ready customer. However, in 1934, the ADC was reorganized as a division of the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation, which was in turn a subsidiary of the Aviation Corporation (AVCO), which had recently been taken over by Cord in a stock deal. Vultee became a vice-president of the ADC, but retained his title as chief engineer. As it turned out, AVCO also controlled American Airways, which provided Vultee with a ready-made customer for the V1. American Airways placed a tentative order for 20 V1s in two batches of ten at a price of $35,000 each.
Work began on the first batch of ten V1-A airliners for American Airways in February of 1934. Two months later, AVCO lost control of American Airways, which changed its name to American Airlines (a name which it still retains today). However, the V1-A order stood. In July, American Airlines introduced the V1-A on its Fort Worth-Chicago route. The V1-A was fast, comfortable, and popular with passengers, but was too small to be an economically-viable aircraft.
On October 1, 1934, the Director of Air Commerce issued an order that single-engined aircraft would no longer be allowed to be operated by scheduled airlines except during daylight hours. This decision instantly dried up the airline market for the Vultee V1-A, but a few more were built as executive transports and several were used for record-setting flights. A few V1-As ended up in Spain during the Civil War, and actually ended up serving on both sides in that conflict.
With the advent of restrictions placed on single-engined commercial airliners in late 1934, Vultee turned to military aircraft. The company attempted to develop an attack bomber based on the V1 airliner. Designated V11, it used the wing, undercarriage, and tail surfaces of the V1 airliner joined to a new fuselage. The V11 prototype was powered by a 750 hp Wright SR-1820-F53 Cyclone air cooled radial driving a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The V11 featured two seats in tandem underneath a long transparent, four-section canopy that covered both cockpits. Armament consisted of two wing-mounted 0.30-inch machine guns, plus a flexible 0.30-inch machine gun operated by the rear cockpit gunner. The forward firing guns were sighted by the pilot using a pylon-mounted telescopic sight. Up to 1100 pounds of bombs could be carried internally and externally.
The first V11 (msn 28, civilian registry X14999) took off on its maiden flight on September 17, 1935. Unfortunately, the V11 crashed on takeoff on its second flight at Mines Field, Los Angeles the next day, killing pilot T. C. Van Stone and project engineer Duald L. Blue.
A second prototype (msn 29, civilian registry NR14980) took to the air on October 9, 1935. Designated V11-A, it differed from the first in having a three-bladed constant speed propeller and a ring and bead sight for the forward-firing guns.
The Chinese Nationalist government showed interest in the V11-A, and an order for 30 was placed. The first (msn 30) was completed in December of 1936 with an SR-1820-F53 engine. The rest (msn 36/64) were shipped between July 1973 and April 1938. They were delivered to China without engines and the later batches were actually delivered as kits of parts which were assembled at Shanghai and Hangkow. The 850 hp R-1820-G2 engines for these planes were acquired separately, and when installed, resulted in a designation change to V11-G.
The demands of the Chinese order forced Vultee to seek larger quarters. In June of 1936, the ADC moved its Glendale plant to Downey, California. The Downey facility had formerly been operated by the now-defunct Emsco Aircraft company (where Gerard Vultee had once briefly worked), but was now deserted. The paved runway was renamed Vultee Field.
The Chinese V11-G attack planes served at Hangkow with the 14th Squadron, an international unit of American, French, and Chinese aircrews. They saw limited action against Japanese forces in 1938.
The V11-GB was a version of the V11-G intended for use as an attack bomber. It differed from the V11-G primarily by the addition of a third crew member in the lower aft fuselage. The third crew member entered the aircraft via a door cut into the rear port fuselage and acted as a bomb-aimer/camera operator. He could also operate a 0.30-inch machine gun which was mounted on a retractable position that extended downward from the rear fuselage. Four 0.30-inch guns were mounted in the wings, and another 0.30-inch machine gun was operated by a gunner sitting at the rear of the long transparent canopy. It could be operated as an attack plane, with 600 pounds of bombs carried on internal racks over a 1125 mile range. Alternatively, it could be operated as a bomber carrying a 1000 pound bombload over a range of 2380 miles.
Four V11-GBs were purchased by the Soviet Union, along with a manufacturing license. The first V11-GB for the USSR (msn 32, civilian registry NR17328) was flown on January 31, 1937, followed by msn 33 (NR17329) on February 26. These planes both had the 850 hp R-1820-G2 Cyclone engine. The other two (msn 34 and 36) were delivered to the Soviet Union without engines, and the first was dismantled for parts.
At least 31 V11-GBs were built in the Soviet Union as the BSh-1 at the Menzhinskii factory at Moscow. They were powered by the 920 hp M-62 radial, which was a license-built version of the Wright Cyclone. With armor plate fitted, the aircraft had a reduced performance and was rejected for service by the VVS. It was decided that that the Polikarpov I-15bis would make a better interim attack aircraft while awaiting the development of the BSh-2, the prototype of the famed Il-2 *Shturmovik*. Most of the BSh-1 aircraft were turned over to Aeroflot in 1939 under the designation PS-43 and were used on mail flights. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June of 1941, they were returned to the VVS for communications duties. A few survived until after the war. I do not know if any survive today.
One V11-GB (msn 31/NR17327) was completed as a European demonstrator on January 20, 1937. It was scheduled to go to Europe in an attempt to attract more customers, but was used instead for experimental flying in connection with an order for forty V11-GBTs (msn 65/104) from Turkey. These were delivered between September 1937 and April 1938 to the 2nd Regiment at Diyarbakir. It seems that the demonstrator aircraft went to Turkey as well.
In November of 1937, the Downey plant was renamed the Vultee Aircraft Division of the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation. The Downey plant now finally carried Gerard Vultee's name.
On January 24, 1938, Gerard Vultee and his wife were killed in a crash of their Stinson Reliant on the slopes of Mt Wilson near Flagstaff, Arizona. The couple left behind a six-month old son. They were returning from a sales trip to the East Coast, where Vultee had attempted to interest the US Army Air Corps in the V11-GB. Vultee was succeeded as chief engineer by his assistant, Richard Palmer. The Vultee Aircraft Division retained its name.
Following the death of Gerard Vultee, work on the V11 continued on, and more overseas customers were attracted. 26 V11-GB2 aircraft were built for Brazil (msn 105/130). These were completed between June 1938 and March 1939. The last example was fitted with Edo floats and a modified tail as a V11-GB2F, but was not accepted by the Brazilian navy.
The last customer for the V11 was paradoxically the US Army Air Corps, to which Gerard Vultee had been attempting to sell when he was killed. On June 24, 1938, the US Army Air Corps ordered seven V11-GBs (USAAC serials 38-549/555, msn 132/138) as service test aircraft. They were designated YA-19 and, unlike the export versions, were powered by 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-17 Twin Wasp radials. The armament consisted of six 0.30-inch machine guns and a 1080-pound bombload. The first YA-19 was flown on January 27, 1939. Five more were delivered in June and July.
The YA-19s initially served at March Field, California, and then were transferred to the Panama Canal Zone, where they served with military attaches on duty in neighboring countries. The concept of a single-engined attack bomber was, however, now thoroughly obsolete, and no further YA-19s were ordered by the Air Corps. None of the YA-19s ever saw any combat.
The last YA-19 on the Air Corps order was delivered as XA-19A with a twelve-cylinder Lycoming O-1230-1 liquid-cooled engined offering 1200 hp. It had an enlarged vertical fin to balance out the longer engine. It first flew on May 22, 1940. This aircraft was subsequently re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-51 and redesignated XA-19C.
The second YA-19 was redesignated XA-19B and was assigned to Pratt & Whitney for engine development work. It was equipped with an 1800 hp R-2800-1 at Rentschler Field..
Engine: One Pratt & Whitney R-1830-17 air-cooled radial, rated at 1200 hp for
takeoff and 1050 hp at 6500 feet.
Performance: Maximum speed 230 mph at 6500 feet. Cruising speed 207
mph. Landing speed 80 mph. Initial climb rate 1320 feet per minute.
Service ceiling 20,400 feet, absolute ceiling 22,100 feet. Range 1110
miles with 1080 pounds of bombs, maximum range 1385 miles.
Dimensions: Wingspan 50 feet 0 inches, length 37 feet 10 inches,
height 10 feet 0 inches, wing area 384 square feet.
Weights: 6452 pounds empty, 10,421 pounds gross.
Armament. Four 0.30-inch machine guns in the wings. One flexible
0.30-inch machine gun in rear cockpit. One 0.30-inch machine in
retractable ventral position. Up to 36 30-pound bombs internally and
a 1100-lb external bombload.