Grunwald Aeronautics's P-56 "Screaming Eagle" is the principle, frontline multirole fighter aircraft of the United States Army Air Forces, United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. It is perhaps the most modern and advanced, as well as the heaviest, single-engine fighter currently in service in the world. American forces have made the aircraft famous while fighting Russian Imperial troops for control of Alaska. It has seen good service with allies of the U.S. as well, being in limited use by several Allied nations: most notably the Imperial Japanese Military and the Bundeswehr of the German Confederation, particularly the so-called 'Condor Legion' - a large Corps-sized force of German anti-Stalinist volunteers with its own integral naval and air component attached to the U.S. Army of Northern Virginia.
The P-56, although a fighter, is a large, heavy, two-seat plane. Unlike most aircraft, which are given an engine that suits their design, the Screaming Eagle was designed around its engine - the R-4360-51 "VDT" variant of the massive 28-cylinder Wasp Major that first powered the B-29 and B-50 four-engine strategic bombers. This latest, highly-advanced derivative of the engine developes an almost ridiculous 4,300 horsepower, is fitted with twin-chargers (both a turbocharger and a supercharger) and drives large contra-rotating propellers with a total of eight blades (two sets of four). Its huge powerplant allows the fighter to be quite heavy while still developing an extremely formidable top speed and handling quite well, although it is less nimble in some regards as well as slower to accelerate compared to many competitors. Although loaded with advanced features [which will be covered later in the article], the airframe itself was designed with absolute simplicity in mind in order to increase its robustness, reliablity, ease of maintenance and to reduce weight.
Many pieces of the air frame make use of advanced and expensive Titanium rather than steel, which is lighter and also more durable, and several sections of the aircraft are protected by armoring made of that metal. The most famous defensive measure is by far the large, monobloc Titanium "tub" that protects the cockpit from shrapnel and smallarms fire, leading to the somewhat tongue-in-cheek monicker of "Roosevelt's Bathtub" after the beloved and long-serving American head-of-state. The fighter's ammunition, fuel tanks and engine compartment are also protected by plating, and most of the mechanical linkages for its control surfaces are forged from the metal, as are its drive shaft and even the propellers. This has imparted the P-56 with an almost-mythical ability to absorb punishment, allowing it to fly very low over Russian troops to deliver devestating damage in a Ground Attack role.
The airframe of the Eagle was designed to have a minimum of separate, potentially-breakable parts. For example, the lower engine housing is in the form of two big, intricately-shaped Titanium brackets that also act as mounting pivots for the landing gear and as the primary strongpoints of the wings, supporting a large spar running through the fuselage which takes most of the wing-loading weight off of the actual wings. This has the disadvantage, however, of attaching the landing gear directly to the plane's fuselage and prevents them from swinging out the full 90-degrees to vertical, meaning the struts take the fighter's prodigious weight at an angle. This leads to stress problems and control issues while taxiing on the ground, though the well-trained American pilots quickly learn to overcome this before being sent off to combat. The airframe was also designed to give easiest possible access to internal components for ease of maintenance while operating in relatively undeveloped forward airfields, and the engine cowling and many sections of the wing take the form of large, easily-removable panels. What's more, the fighter does not use a modern, single-piece "bubble canopy", but a series of heavy panels with moderate bracing. These thick, bullet-resistent sections and struts have a moderate impact on the pilot's vision ability but are more durable as well as more easily repaired and replaced.
ArmamentEditIn keeping with the mandate of simplicity in its design, the P-56's guns are located entirely within its fuselage. Its primary armament is four Colt Mk.16 25mm automatic cannons mounted above the engine, synchronized with the propellers and firing through ports in the engine cowling. These guns are in two tandem pairs so that each duo fires alternatingly, increasing the total number of rounds they put out within a given timeframe of firing. For good measure, the fighter also has a heavy 40mm cannon that runs through its propeller hub. A specialized variant of the plane's Wasp Major engine had to be produced to accomodate this weapon and, while relatively little ammunition is
carried for it, it is capable of downing heavier enemy aircraft in very short order. Most twin-engine Tactical Bombers and Heavy Fighters, the backbone of the Russian Air Force, can be brought down in as little as a single shot by this powerful weapon.
As a defensive measure, the second crewman of the P-56, who has a rear-facing seat, is given a dual .50-calibre M2 Browning mount. Operation of this weapon system is accomplished via a semi-remote electro-mechanical linkage, because the cockpit itself is sealed and pressurized - an air-tight glass partition separates him from his gun and the ammunition. This gives the P-56 cockpit its characteristic hunchback appearance. Although the 12.7mm cartridge has been phased out as a primary aircraft weapon since the 1940s, advanced armor-piercing / incindiary versions of the ammunition (capable of piercing about 20mm of steel armor from a range of 500 meters) make it still a potent defensive weapon, particularly against the lightweight wooden construction of Russian Yak interceptors.
Number Produced: ~42,756 and counting
Manufacturer: Grunwald Aeronautics, Massachusetts Aircraft Works
Crew: 2 (Pilot, Flight Officer / Rear Gunner)
Length: 12.5 meters / 41 feet
Wingspan: 15.5 meters / 50'10"
Height: 4.5 meters / 14'9"
Powerplant: Pratt & Whitney R-4360-51-B VDT "Wasp Major" Variable Discharge Turbine V-28 Radial [4,500 hp] x 1
- Note: Specialized -B variant of the R-4360-51 VDT used only in the P-56, modified to accomodate 40mm propeller hub cannon
Maximum Speed: 772.5 km/h (475 mph)
Combat Radius: 2,500 km / 1533 miles [without external tanks]
Service Ceiling [Approximate]: 11,400 km / 37,500 feet
Rate of Climb: 14 m/s (46 feet per second)
Colt Mk.16 25mm automatic cannons x 4 (mounted in engine cowling), 120 rounds of ammunition each
40mm M21 Automatic Cannon (derivative of the Bofors anti-aircraft gun) x 1 (fires through propeller hub), 40 rounds of ammunition
Browning M2 0.50-calibre HMG x 2
- Twinned AN/M3 variants in sealed rear-facing cockpit mount, operated by Flight Officer
Up to 3,000 kg / 6613.9 lbs of external ordnance OR a pair of 1000 kg [2204.62 lbs] torpedoes
- Normally some variety of unguided air-to-air or air-to-ground rockets, such as the Mk 4 7cm Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket or 16.5cm Anti-Tank Aircraft Rocket
The P-56 "Screaming Eagle" can be thought of as an omni-role fighter. Standard land-based variants of the plane have folding wings, allowing them to be easily converted for Carrier Aviation use by simply fitting them with arresting gear. This also permits the large planes to be stored in relatively small spaces. The only other difference between USAAF & U.S. Naval Aviation / U.S.M.C. versions of the fighter is the paint scheme: carrier-based P-56s are painted in Navy Blue.
The 'Eagle performs primarily four operational roles: air superiority, interception, ground-attack and bomber escort. Compared to its primary competitor, the Yakovlev Yak-3, its range, protection & armament are far superior. It has a higher top speed and service ceiling, but inferior rates of acceleration and climb. It also has much greater endurance than the lightweight, short-range wooden Russian fighters and can carry a large load of air-to-air rockets. The Yak-3, with its lightweight frame and small V-12 engine, is essentially incapable of carrying anything apart from its guns.
The standard Yak-3 has an operational range of 650km and an armament consisting of three 23mm cannons, with 120 rounds of ammunition for the central gun and 130 for each of the side weapons. By comparison, the P-56's operational range is 2,500 km and it boasts a quartet of 25mm cannons with a total of 480 rounds (120 per-gun). Normally, when combat against other fighters is expected, the P-56's monstrous 40mm axial cannon is not loaded, as it is essentially impossible to hit fast-moving single-engine aircraft with such a large and slow-moving shell. When acting in an air-superiority role, the fighter also normally packs as many as two-dozen air-to-air FFAR 70mm rockets (12 under each wing), depending on whether or not drop tanks are necessary.
The P-56's powerful engine - which is the same as those used on U.S. heavy bombers - and semi-pressurized cabin allow it to fly alongside USAAF B-50 & B-36 bomber formations to provide protection. When fitted with drop tanks, Screaming Eagles are capable of making a trip all the way to Vladivostok and back. At such high altitudes - normally 10km or more - Russian single-engine fighters cannot properly operate, forcing the Imperial Airforce to use twin-engine heavy fighters to intercept the American bombers. Although heavily armed, these aircraft cannot compete with the P-56 in terms of maneuverability and are normally quite easily dispatched.
For Ground Attack missions, the P-56 can be fitted with a mixture of "Ram" 16.5cm Anti-Tank Aircraft Rockets and "Holy Moses" 12.7cm HVAR rockets (High-Velocity Aircraft Rocket). The powerful 40mm axial cannon, when loaded with armor-piercing ammunition, can knock out hostile armor with a single shot by penetrating the vulnerable, relatively thin top of the hull. Alternatively, the Screaming Eagle can be armed with either four Mk. 83 or eight Mk. 82 general-purpose bombs (with a nominal weight of 500 kg & 250 kg, respectively). These are simply the most common arrangements: Mk. 81 120 kg bombs, napalm canisters and even the heavy 900kg Mk. 84 bomb are also possible, but less frequently used. Oftentimes, combinations of the above-mentioned ordnance will be employed, such as a mixture of rockets and 250 kg bombs. This is, however, assuming that the P-56 does not need to make use of drop tanks, which considerably reduces its payload capacity.
For attacking surface vessels, P-56s are equipped with a combination of specialized anti-ship rockets and the Mk. 42 500 kg anti-ship torpedo. Considerable Research & Development efforts have also been put into anti-ship guided missiles, but the weight of these weapons means that they cannot yet be deployed by P-56 fighters. One weapon which is just beginning to enter service is the 500kg radar-guided, rocket-assisted ASM-3-N "Gargoyle" anti-ship glide bomb. The Mk. 44 25 cm torpedo is used against submarines.