With its expansive “greenhouse” canopy, the Vultee V-11 attack bomber looked great but wasn’t quite state of the art when it first flew on September 17, 1935. Rarely has a new design gotten off to a more discouraging start. On September 18, the prototype crashed on takeoff at Mines Field in Los Angeles on its second flight, killing pilot T.C. Van Stone and engineer Dugald L. Blue.
American planemakers were doing modest business overseas in the late 1930s, and Gerald F. Vultee’s striving company was no exception. An entrepreneur and inventor—as well as an ardent surfer—with a deadpan manner, Vultee pushed hard for sales but turned out aircraft that, while quite useful, were not exactly brilliant.
Vultee managed to sell a handful of V-11s to Nationalist China, the Soviet Union, Turkey and Brazil. Brazil eventually acquired 26 V-11-GB2s, one of which participated in an attack on a surfaced German U-boat off the coast of South America on August 26, 1942. Brazil also purchased a single V-11-GB2F model equipped with outsized Edo floats for operation on water, but found it impractical for operational service.
The V-11’s pilot and radioman-gunner were seated in tandem beneath a long framed canopy, constructed in four pieces. A third crewmember was jammed uncomfortably into the lower aft fuselage as a camera operator and—when in a prone, rearward-facing position—as a second gunner.
Several engine types were fitted on V-11s built by Vultee, with most powered by the 850-hp Wright GR-1820-G2 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial. The U.S. Army Air Corps ordered a modified version in 1937, using the 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-17 Twin Wasp radial and designated YA-19. The Army purchase included a single XA-19A used to evaluate the 1,200-hp Lycoming P-1230-1.
After being evaluated for service, five Army YA-19s were redesignated as A-19s and assigned to the 17th Attack Group at March Field, Calif., where they served with no discernible distinction. They were soon transferred to the Panama Canal Zone for utility transport and liaison duty. The A-19 never flew operationally in combat and was quickly replaced in the early 1940s.
Gerald Vultee and his wife Sylvia died in a January 19, 1938, plane crash near Sedona, Ariz., when Gerald was 38. His company went through several changes before becoming Consolidated Vultee, later called Convair.
Some 224 airframes were built in this series or were planned but not built. Exact figures are elusive because there were more of the latter than the former. China expected to assemble 75, but apparently completed only a handful. Each V-11 was hand-tooled, with one-of-a-kind variations. But for all the vigor put into the bomber’s design and development, the V-11 ultimately was heavy, sluggish, short-ranged and underpowered.
Vultee could not compete with Douglas Aircraft Company, where Gerald Vultee had previously worked. Douglas’ chief designer Jack Northrop conceived the U.S. Navy’s SBD Dauntless, used by the Army as the A-24 Banshee. The V-11 and its Army A-19 version had been relegated to the dustbin of history by the time Dauntlesses turned the tide of war at Midway on June 6, 1942.