The Vought V80; A Poop Fighter

June 21, 2024

In my previous article I covered the Vought O2-and-O3U Corsair, a rather successful interwar design that saw usage with a whole range of countries and a fair bit of combat. Although it was originally designed as a two-seat spotter and reconnaissance aircraft, the Corsair turned out to be pretty efficient as an attack aircraft and as a fighter! Indeed, with a more powerful engine the type was developed into the SU-fighter series, primarily for use by the US Marine Corps. The Thai’s also used the Corsair successfully as a fighter as late as 1940, even though by that point the aircraft was badly outclassed by modern designs.

So, with the Corsair such a popular and versatile aircraft it probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to learn that in 1932 Vought also thought they might capitalize on this by producing a dedicated single-seat variant; the Vought V80.

Their thinking was that as so many countries had purchased the O3U, if they were to develop a fighter which used as many components as possible from the Corsair then these countries would probably be keen to buy it due to the simplification it would mean to their logistics and training programs.

I mean, it really isn’t a bad idea, when you think about it. The new aircraft, the Vought V-80, used the same structural build as the contemporary O3U, being of a steel tube structure with metal skinning to the back of the cockpit and the rest of the aircraft being fabric-covered. In common with the two-seat SU-fighter variants of the original Corsair, the aircraft was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340-SD Hornet engine that produced 700hp.

Also in common with the original O3 was that the undercarriage could be changed from either a two-wheel set up for land operations or a central float for aquatic ones. Armament was up to four forward firing .30-calibre machine guns, two in the upper wings and another pair mounted in the cowling and synchronized to fire through the propellor arc. Additionally, a bombload of 500-lb (227kg) could be carried, which was perfectly respectable for the day and pretty much equivalent to a lot of dedicated attack aircraft of the time.

Because it was so closely based on the exiting O3U, development was also very quick, and Vought flew the first aircraft in early 1933. An order was rapidly placed by Peru, the first of which flew in May 1933 and was delivered soon after with the designation of V-80P.

In 1934 a further single example, the V-80F, was ordered by the Argentines and then…nothing. The original demonstrator built by Vought was sold to the Connecticut State Department of Aeronautics who essentially gave it to Pratt & Whitney. The company then proceeded to use the aircraft as an engine test bed from 1935 onwards, with the designation of V-135.

And that was that; a grand total of five aircraft built. Considering the hopes that Vought had, and the seemingly logical idea of offering a dedicated fighter version of the two-seat Corsair, you have to wonder what went wrong.

Well, as said the V-80 became available for orders in early 1933. With the Hornet engine, it clocked a top speed of 197mph (317km/h) in its landplane configuration.

The trouble was that was pretty mediocre for the day. I mean it was OK, but it was obvious that fighter performance was really going to start ramping up in the very near future.

Already in 1931 aircraft like the Hawker Fury were surpassing 200mph (321km/h) in speed – too much fanfare – and in the United States Boeing had flown the first P-26 Peashooter in 1932. This had even better performance with a top speed of 234mph (377km/h) and would enter service with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) within less than a year of the first flight of the V-80.

So to be honest, though the concept behind the V-80 might seem logical, in fact it was pretty obvious that it was soon going to be completely outclassed by the new generation of aircraft that were not just on drawing boards, but actually already in production.

To finish with this aircraft I want to take a bit of a diversion and give some insight into the one “significant” purchase (if it can be called that) of the V-80; the three purchased by Peru.

And I do this because there is a particular detail on this sale that I consider pretty funny.

Now Peru was a user of the original O2U two-seater, and these aircraft saw heavy usage during the Colombian-Peru War, a border dispute that was fought between 1 September 1932 – 24 May 1933. As the Peruvian fighter contingent during the war was apparently both extremely small and equipped with inadequate fighters, they were desperate to acquire new aircraft that would be available as soon as possible to be thrown into the fray.

So, the V-80 seems like an excellent option. The aircraft was basically available for order off an existing production line immediately, plus the Peruvians had a broad familiarity with the aircraft already because of its relation to the Corsair.

There were ultimately two problems though.

Firstly, timing. Though the V-80 was going to be available as quickly as you could conceivably make a new fighter, it was still too late. The first V-80P flew on the 19 May, 1933…just five days before the war ended.

The aircraft therefore didn’t get delivered in time to see action.

Another reputed problem was payment, and here I do want to diverge a little into some Peruvian history.

Not many might know this, but in the 19th Century, Peru was basically the equivalent of Saudi Arabia today. And like Saudi, the root of Peru’s wealth lay in vast reserves of a natural resource that the rest of the world wanted and would pay handsomely for.

But it wasn’t oil that Peru had…it was guano.

Basically, bird crap.

Guano was the fertilizer of choice for the entire industrial world, boosting crop yields to feed the burgeoning cities, as well as being any important source of saltpeter, which was used in  munitions production. While it isn’t generally well remembered how important guano was to the Industrial Revolution, I can give you a couple of examples of the knock on effects of the industry.

In 1857 the United States started annexing a bunch of islands in the Caribbean and Pacific to grab their guano, which laid the groundwork for American imperial aspirations internationally.

Additionally, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52, which is estimated to have killed a million people and sparked a mass migration to the fledging United States and other parts of the world. Well, while the overall causes of this disaster are many and varied, the origins of the blight that killed off the potato crop in the first place are still unknown. But one suspicion is that it was bought in on shipments of guano, which is not an unlikely possibility.

So, for any Americans out there, the next time you are watching the local waterway turn green on St. Patrick’s day, well, you might well have the international guano trade to thank for that.

For Peru, guano turned into a bit of a mixed blessing. The huge wealth it generated was certainly welcomed, but it did cause Peru some issues, including war with Spain and some of the neighbours at different times. Again, it is a subject of historical argument, but the desire to control the lucrative guano and saltpeter trades is often given as a reason for the outbreak of the War of the Pacific, which saw Peru lose territory to Chile.

Guano became less important when artificial fertilizers began to be synthesized in Europe in the early 20th century which hit Peru’s bottom line. By the time of the Colombian War, Peru was a military dictatorship that mismanaged the economy and had killed several tens of thousands of its own people in repressing anti-leftist sentiment.

The country was basically broke.

So, what has this all to do with the Vought V-80?

Well, according to the folks at the Vought Heritage Foundation, the Peruvians couldn’t make cash payments for the aircraft, so they offered to pay in a product they had plenty of.

Yep. Guano.

And that is a detail that, though I haven’t been able to independently confirm it, has got to be worth telling. After all, there have been plenty of fighter aircraft that have been crap, but no others that I know of that have been paid for in it.

Sources/Related:

https://www.vought.org/products/html/v-80.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peruvian_Air_Force#20th_century

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_P-26_Peashooter

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