The Northrop XFT was the first Northrop designed aircraft to be built for the US Navy, and was an experimental all-metal low-wing monoplane single seat fighter aircraft rather surprising based on the Northrop Delta transport aircraft. Jack Northrop carried out the initial design work, reducing the span and length of the aircraft by about a third, before Ed Heinemann and his team completed the detailed designs.
The XFT was produced to satisfy Naval Specification SD-204 of 24 January 1933. Having seen the Delta the Navy issued Northrop with a contract to produce the XFT-1 prototype on 8 May. The prototype was completed in early January 1943 and made its maiden flight on 16 January, before being passed on to Naval Air Station Anacostia.
The result was a stubby looking aircraft some what similar in appearance to the Boeing P-26 'Peashooter', which entered service with the army in 1934. The P-26 was a slightly smaller aircraft, but with rather similar performance figures. Both aircraft used radial engines, and had a fixed undercarriage protected by a streamlined cowling, but the P-26 was a rather more successful design.
The initial version of the aircraft, the XFT-1, was powered by a 625hp Wright R-1510-26 engine, which powered a two-blade metal propeller. The pitch of the propeller could only be adjusted on the ground, presumably to allow for more efficiency during ferry flights and more speed during combat. It could carry either two .30in or one .30in and one .50in machine gun, mounted on the upper fuselage ahead of the cockpit, and could carry two 116lb bombs.
The Navy's test pilots detested the XFT-1. Although it was the fastest aircraft yet tested by the navy, with a top speed of 235mph, it was much less agile than the biplanes then in service. The poor forward visibility and difficult handling at low speeds meant that it was poorly suited for use from carriers. The aircraft was also difficult to bring out of a spin, while enclosed cockpits were unpopular with just about every test pilot of the early 30s, most of whom preferred the open cockpit, lower speeds and greater agility of the biplanes.
After the first round of tests the aircraft was given a 650hp Wright engine. In the summer of 1945 it was modified again. This time it was given a 650hp Pratt & Whitney R-1535-75 radial, the tail was modified and the aircraft was redesignated as the XFT-2. The aircraft returned to Anacostia in April 1936 for further tests. Performance was improved, but the handling was not, and in July the aircraft was sent back to Northrop. On 21 July 1936, while crossing the Allegheny Mountains, the aircraft's dangerous characteristics in a spin finally caught up with it, and it crashed and was destroyed.
Engine: Wright R-1510-26 engine
Wing span: 32ft
Length: 21ft 11in
Height: 9ft 5in
Empty Weight: 2,460lb
Loaded Weight: 3,756lb
Maximum Weight: 4,003lb
Max Speed: 235mph at 6,000ft
Service Ceiling: 26,500ft
Range: 976 miles
Armament: Two .30in guns or one .30in and one .50in
Bomb-load: Two 116lb bombs