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Book Review
Curtiss Ascender XP-55
Air Force Legends Number 217: Curtiss Ascender XP-55 by Gerry Balzer
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by: Matt Flegal [ NINJRK ]


The US Army Air Corps was thinking outside the box in their 1940 Fighter Competition and selected 3 atypical planes to further develop. The XP-55 was one of them, a canard pusher prop fighter that was hoped to achieve high maneuverability and a 425 mph maximum speed. Ultimately a disappointment, two were lost in crashes and the last prototype was stored by the NASM for a half century before being transported to the Kalamazoo Michigan "Air Zoo" museum in 2002 for a multi-year restoration process that ended in 2006. The aircraft is now on display in the museum for everyone to see, perhaps someday we'll see a restored J7W1 Shinden parked next to it. . .


Let me begin by stating that I have been fascinated with this aircraft for over 20 years ever since I stumbled upon a picture in a period magazine. I was extremely fortunate that I was living in Kalamazoo when the restoration started and was able to volunteer with Greg Ward's exceptional restoration group and help in a very small way to bring her back to life. OK, I mostly swept up the dust from the people who knew what they were doing but a few of those panels had my petrified self blasting the paint off. . . The outer surfaces were cleaned, refinished, and missing parts fabricated before being repainted with every askew marking slapped on there 70 years ago painstakingly charted, traced, and painted back in the original position. Leading to visitors commenting how the restoration staff put the markings on crooked. Sigh. The inside was cleaned but left untouched per the NASM, scrawled grease pencil notes by the testing engineers are still there on the interior surfaces.

The fact that the plane has been scarcely covered outside of sections in other books has been unfortunate. That lack has now been rectified.


As per this series, the book is a softcover of 72 pages of text, period and current photos (all in black and white, outside of the covers), and an overview of some of the current models available of the plane.


Mr. Balzer has done a very nice job with this book. The text is informative and covers both the development as well as testing in reasonable detail. The engineering diagrams he has found give a very good overview of the internal systems and would have been rather nice to have during the restoration. . . There are quite a few period photos that I've not seen before and a well chosen series of detail photos of the restored aircraft. The plan views are very useful to modelers looking to accurize their Czech Model or Combat Model kits. Speaking of which, while the brief discussions of the current 1/72 and 1/48th kits to offer useful tips I would have preferred covering the Combat Models vacuform instead of the Hasegawa Shinden. A minor complaint though to a solid reference book.

Final Thoughts

While an interesting and attractive aircraft, the XP-55 is also a failed prototype of no real historical impact. As with so many of these aircraft, we as modelers are indebted to the Air Force Legends and Naval Fighters series giving these obscure aircraft their moment in the sun. For $25 you get an informative and lavishly illustrated book about an aircraft that is barely a footnote. If you're interested in this aircraft, its not only a good book in its own right, it is in all likelihood the only one you'll ever get!

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE..
Highs: Detailed and informative text Engaging writing style Lots of high quality pictures
Lows: None really come to mind
Verdict: If you're at all interested in the XP-55, this is the book to buy.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:1
  Mfg. ID: 217
  Suggested Retail: $24.95
  PUBLISHED: Feb 03, 2014
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Matt Flegal (ninjrk)

Copyright 2021 text by Matt Flegal [ NINJRK ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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