Vultee Aircraft Corporation

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The Vultee Aircraft Corporation was a short-lived company, originally formed as a subsidiary of the Cord Corporation in 1932. It became an independent company in 1939, but merged with Consolidated in January 1943 to form Consolidated-Vultee, or Convair.

The company was founded by Gerard Freebairn Vultee, a qualified engineer born in 1900 in New York, and who studied at the California Institute of Technology for three years from 1921. After leaving Caltech Vultee entered the aircraft industry, working as John K. Northrop's assistance at Douglas Aircraft in 1926. Northrop then moved to Lockheed, before leaving in June 1928 to form Northrop. Vultee replaced him as the chief engineer of Lockheed, remaining there until Lockheed's parent company failed in October 1931. He then worked at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute, before moving to Emsco Aircraft.

In September 1931 Vultee left Emsco to look for a financial backer, finding one in Errett Lobban Cord, already the owner of Stinson Aircraft and Lycoming Motors. Cord was interesting in producing Vultee's design for a single-engined passenger plane, and on 26 January 1932 the Airplane Development Corporation was formed as a subsidiary of the Cord Corporation. Cord's brother-in-law was president and Vultee became chief engineer. The new company was based in Cord's private hanger at United Airport, Burbank, before in June 1932 moving to the Century Pacific hanger at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale.

At about the same time Cord was involved in a corporate battle that ended with him in control of American Airways. The terms of the Air Mail Act of 1934 meant that Cord then had to sell off his aircraft manufacturing concerns, and so in November 1934 the Airplane Development Corporation became part of the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation, a subsidiary of AVCO, the company that had previously owned American. Vultee was now vice-president and chief engineer. Despite the acrimonious nature of the take-over battle American Airways then purchased most of the Vultee V1 passenger aircraft.

AVCO soon rearranged its aircraft manufacturing division, creating the Vultee Aircraft Division, which also controlled Stinson (from October 1939) and Lycoming (either on 1 January 1936 or in November 1937, with sources giving different dates). 

By 1938 Vultee Aircraft was profitable, but it had not yet received any lucrative Air Corps orders. Vultee and his wife Sylvia Parker went on a sales trip to the east coast, but on 29 January 1938 they were both killed when Vultee crashed his Stinson Reliant in a snow storm in Arizona. He was replaced as vice-president by Richard W Millar, an investment banker (and private pilot), and as chief engineer by Richard Palmer, his assistant.

On 14 November 1939 Vultee Aircraft Inc was formed as an independent company, taking over the assets of the Aviation manufacturing Corps. The independent company had a short life. In November 1941 Vultee purchased 34% of Consolidated, and the two companies gradually moved closer together. In January 1943 the two companies officially merged to create the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, known internally (and increasingly to the public) as Convair. Consolidated dominated the merged company, which survived until 1954 when it became part of General Dynamics. The Vultee name survived in the Vultee Field Division, which operated two factories that survived into 1945, and was involved in research and development before finally closing in July 1947.

During this period Vultee Aircraft produced a relatively small number of designs. The V11 attack bomber, based on the V1, flew late in 1935, and was produced in small numbers for China, while the USAAC placed an order for seven service test aircraft, as the YA-19, in June 1938.

In 1939 the company produced four aircraft with the same fuselage, wings and tail - one fighter and three trainers. The BC-51 advanced-trainer lost out to North American, but the BT-13 basic trainer was accepted, becoming Vultee's biggest success, with over 11,500 produced by 1944. The fighter version, the Vanguard, was ordered by Sweden, but the export licence was later rescinded by the State Department, and the aircraft taken over by the USAAF as the P-66. These aircraft then went to China.

The company's second most successful aircraft was the Vengeance dive-bomber, originally ordered by France, but then taken over by Britain in 1940.

Experimental designs included the XP-54, a twin-boom pusher-aircraft which was under development from 1939, but didn't make its maiden flight until 1943.

The XA-41 was a single-seat ground attack aircraft, originally designed as a dive-bomber, then as a low-level attack aircraft, before becoming an engine-test bed after it became clear that normal fighter aircraft could perform either task.

The Vultee design team was also responsible for the Convair XF-81, which became the first American turbo-prop powered aircraft to fly and the delta-wing XF-92A, the precursor of a series of Convair aircraft.

Major Military Aircraft
Vultee BT-13 Valiant
Vultee V-72 Vengeance (A-31 and A-35)

Other Military Aircraft
Vultee V11 attack-bomber
Vultee P-66 Vanguard
Vultee XA-41
Vultee XP-54

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 December 2009), Vultee Aircraft Corporation , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/company_vultee.html

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