Thursday, August 4, 2016

Brewster's Bane

Interrupting our series on the P-51 once again...

The Brewster Aeronautical Corporation's legacy is one of failure. Through a combination of poor designs and production techniques and, most importantly, utterly deplorable management, Brewster would seem to have been doomed from the start. Its greatest achievement, the F2A Buffalo, could be termed only a moderate success at best, with two other original Brewster designs, the SBA/SBN and SB2A Buccaneer, each barely worthy of the term 'successful'. Even the F3A-1, Brewster's license-built variant of the otherwise grandly successful Vought F4U Corsair, was deemed a failure because of substandard materials and components as well as poor overall workmanship.

When war came for America in 1941, only the Buffalo was to see action with American combat outfits... and then only very briefly during the early months of fighting. Past mid-1942, the Buffalo and all other aforementioned types, including the license-built Corsairs, would see service only with training units. Obsolete well before entering production in 1941, the mere thirty examples of the SBA/SBN to be produced (and produced by the Naval Aircraft Factory, not by Brewster) were withdrawn from service in August of 1942 and scrapped or relegated to duty as instructional airframes for ground crews.

If the poor records of all these types produced by Brewster were deemed detrimental to the company's health, then the XA-32 could be considered its death knell.

The XA-32 was slow in jumping from the drawing board to the production floor... its first flight was on May 22nd, 1943... nearly two years after it was originally designed. The type was also slow... well, it was just slow... and fell short in nearly every other category of performance. Maximum speed achieved by either of the two prototypes built was 279mph, which, on the surface, seems to be on par with the type's contemporaries... until you take stock of the fact that that speed was just barely attained without internal armament and other weighty equipment, or external stores... the addition of which naturally degraded performance.

1943... a fine inflight view of the first XA-32, serial number 42-13568.

Project 914 Archives

Long story short, the XA-32 was poorly designed and fell short of projected performance numbers. Waaaaay short. Brewster was already in hot water with the government for its piss-poor management practices and the apparent ineptness demonstrated by the company's design section was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. In April of 1942 the government literally seized control of the company, placing the head of the Naval Aircraft Factory, G.C. Westervelt, in charge.

Two views of the second XA-32, serial number 42-13569, circa 1944.

National Museum of the United States Air Force

National Museum of the United States Air Force

The XA-32 was the last original design to be built by Brewster and its failure is credited as having put the company out of business. Brewster was shut down in October of 1944, shortly after testing on the XA-32 ceased, and the company was officially dissolved by its shareholders in April of 1946.

Fade to Black...

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