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Trivia Teaser: The real first swept-wing fighter

Question: America’s first swept-wing fighter was
A) J.W. Dunne’s D.5 tailless swept wing biplane
B) the Curtis-Wright XP-55 Ascender
C) an Allied version of the Messerschmitt P.1101
D) the North American F-86 Sabre

Question: America’s first swept-wing fighter was
A) J.W. Dunne’s D.5 tailless swept wing biplane
B) the Curtis-Wright XP-55 Ascender
C) an Allied version of the Messerschmitt P.1101
D) the North American F-86 Sabre

It’s choice B. Although the first aircraft with swept wings were those designed by the British designer John William Dunne actually by 1910, it wasn’t a fighter but a rather spindly looking (as were most aircraft back then) biplane (image at upper left). The P.1101 in choice C (lower left) never flew; by the time an American infantry unit discovered the German Oberammergau complex in April 1945, the prototype was still not complete. A characteristic feature was that the sweep of the wings could be changed before flight (further developed in later variable-sweep aircraft such as the Bell X-5). Now most of us have heard of the F-86 Sabre (lower right), which first flew in October 1947. However… although it wasn’t successful and never flew in combat, the XP-55 (upper right) first flew in July 1943. A highly unusual design for its time, it had a canard configuration, a rear mounted pusher engine, swept wings of course, and two vertical tails. Because of its pusher design, it was sarcastically referred to as the "Ass-ender". It had tricycle landing gear, uncommon in those days. Also, it had four 50-caliber machine guns in the nose.

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About This Author:
Jeff Pardo is an aviation writer in Maryland with commercial ASEL, instrument, helicopter, and glider ratings. He started flying in 1989 and has about 1500 hours. Jeff holds a bachelors in meteorology and oceanography, as well as an MS in marine science. Prior to his present tenure at SES, Jeff worked in flight dynamics for various telecommunication firms for 15 years. He has flown mostly Cessna and Piper airplanes and R-22 helicopters, and has about 70 hours in J3 and Citabria aircraft. He has flown as a mission pilot for the Civil Air Patrol, as a mission pilot for Angel Flight, and he was a contributing editor for AOPA Flight Training for about 10 years.
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