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Charles Lindbergh and Wright engine

Charles Lindbergh and a Wright Whirlwind JC-5 engine. This engine was used to power Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.

Curtiss P

The Curtiss P-40 Q, the last and most advanced model in the series. Although a good performer, other fighters—the Lockheed P-38 and North American P-51—held more promise and were farther along in development and manufacture.

Curtiss P-40

A standard mid-World War II Curtiss P-40 production model.

Wright R-3350 Cyclone engine

The Wright R-3350 "Cyclone" was one of the most powerful radial aircraft engines produced in the United States. The first R-3350 was run in May 1937, and later versions of this engine remained in production into the 1950s.


A Wright 3350 engine powered the DC-7.

Republic F-8 Thunderstreak

The Republic F-84F "Thunderstreak" used the Wright J65 engine. The prototype flew in June 1950.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation was established in August 1929 with the merger of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company and Wright Aeronautical. A number of smaller companies, including Curtiss-Robertson, Curtiss-Caproni, Keystone, Loening (through Keystone), Moth, and Travel Air, also became part of the holding company. There were three main divisions: the Airplane Division for military aircraft, Curtiss-Wright Airplane for civil aircraft, and Wright Aeronautical for engines. Guy Vaughan, who had risen through Wright Aero, became president in 1930.

The Great Depression affected business, which plodded along in the first part of the 1930s. The corporation posted losses for several years even while it remained the country's largest aircraft firm. Undoubtedly, it was export sales, particularly to China, and Wright Aeronautical that saved Curtiss-Wright during these lean years. During the first half of the 1930s, more than half of the company's revenues came from Wright Aero, which provided a cushion that helped the other divisions survive. The nature of the industry helped Wright here. There was really only one company—Pratt & Whitney—competing with Wright for the engine market, and the extreme precision needed to produce engines prevented other companies from joining the industry. The fact, too, that a particular airplane typically used a single engine model for all its units ensured a fairly steady stream of orders as long as that aircraft was being used. Engines wore out faster than airplanes, which also led to steady demand.

Other business came from the Airplane Division and from Curtiss Airplane. The Airplane Division designed the all-metal A-8 attack aircraft in 1930, the first Curtiss monoplane combat aircraft. The prototype flew in June 1931 and beat out a similar design from Fokker Aircraft, winning an order for 13 test craft. This led to the purchase in 1934 of 46 A-12 Shrikes, but no more were ordered. Curtiss Airplane produced the popular Curtiss Robin mail plane until 1932. The Condor airliner, developed from the B-2 bomber, first flew on January 30, 1933. It featured retractable landing gear, better streamlining, and was more comfortable than earlier airliners, but it was still a traditional biplane design with fabric and metal tubing construction. A total of 45 were sold domestically and abroad. Although it provided some badly needed cash, it was out-of-date as soon as it was built and failed to lead to any more designs.

In 1934, the company was forced to divest itself of its various subsidiaries when the Air Mail Act of 1934 became law. The Act required the aviation holding companies to break up.

Thomas A. Morgan, earlier with Sperry Corporation, was elected chairman in 1935. The company continued to develop the Wright Whirlwind series of small air-cooled radial engines, the more powerful Cyclone radial engine, and the liquid-cooled Curtiss Conqueror series, the best liquid-cooled engine around. Company resources went to vastly increasing the Cyclone's power and making it more durable. In 1935, Wright introduced the R-1820 Cyclone F-50 series, which produced up to 820 horsepower, and soon after, the Cyclone G, rated at 950 horsepower. In five years, Wright engineers had managed to nearly double the power of the Cyclone. This paid off with contracts from the Navy for engines for its large patrol planes and Hawk fighters and for the Air Corps' B-10 bomber. Wright engines also powered the DC-1/DC-2, and DC-3 aircraft and enabled Douglas to design the DC-1 as a twin-engine plane rather than as a tri-engine. A later Wright engine, the R-3350, which was troublesome at first, would power the B-29 bomber.

In 1937, Curtiss-Wright Airplane became the St. Louis Airplane Division. The CD-25 Coupe business aircraft, which later became the AT-9 Jeep in wartime service, was developed at St. Louis under a federal Bureau of Air Commerce contract. St. Louis also developed the CW-20 twin-engine airliner in 1937, to succeed the Condor as the Curtiss airliner. Although never to see commercial airline service, it became the famous C-46 Commando of the Second World War.

As war approached, business picked up. The P-36 was selected as the standard Air Corps fighter in July 1937, and from 1938 also was ordered in quantity by the British and French. The P-40, developed from the P-36, first flew in October 1938. Practically the only fighter the United States had in 1941 and 1942, it continued to be the mainstay of the U.S. Army Air Forces until 1943. Although not an exceptional performer, it was available in large numbers. The total number is officially listed at 13,738 units—the third most numerous fighter of World War II after the P-47 and the P-51. Curtiss also produced the SB2C Helldiver naval scout-bomber, which first flew in December 1940, but didn't enter service until 1943 because of an unstable design and other problems that had to be overcome. More than 7,000 were produced, and the plane went on to perform well in most of the Pacific campaign's major air battles during the last part of the war.

But even in times of war, Congress and the public were bothered by shoddy contract performance and possible profiteering. The Truman Committee was established in 1941 to investigate contractors and programs for graft and waste. One major investigation focused on Curtiss-Wright and its Wright engine plant in Lockland, Ohio. A 1943 report criticized the company for having poor management policies and inferior products. This set the stage for a lasting lack of confidence between the company and the government that may well have affected the company's decline in aircraft after the war.

Curtiss-Wright remained the largest aircraft firm through the war period in terms of total business. But despite its wartime importance, the company faced severe postwar difficulties. It failed to sell any of its postwar designs to the military, and shut down most of its plants. Its new president, Roy Hurley, reduced the engineering group, effectively ending the company's airframe business, which was officially abandoned in 1950.

The Curtiss Airplane Division closed in March 1951, as the company focused on engine and propeller manufacturing. Curtiss propellers went on several major airliners, and the R-3350 engine evolved into an efficient power plant, which was used until jets became dominant. A Wright engine powered the DC-7. The company's first foray into the jet age was with the British Sapphire jet engine, produced under license as the J65 beginning in 1952. It powered a number of military aircraft.

As the era of the reciprocating engine ended and sales of the R-3350 plunged, the company diversified and it became an aerospace industry subcontractor. It developed flight simulators for military and commercial aircraft, manufactured plastics, and produced military nuclear rod control equipment. Other business included automotive components, heavy road earth-moving equipment, a metal extrusion facility, production of the Wankel engine, and the U.S. distributorship of Mercedes-Benz automobiles.

In 1960, T. Roland Berner became chairman and president of the company. At the time, the company had a reputation for poor-quality products, and he embarked on a course to restore its credibility. He also decided to concentrate on a few key areas. In the meantime, the company had been hurt by the government's decision to cancel its contract with Curtiss-Wright for the rocket engines that powered the Polaris missile and to remove the company from its list of aero engine providers. This signaled the end of J65 production and effectively eliminated Wright from the jet engine market.

Beginning in 1960, Curtiss-Wright developed several convertiplanes, marking its return to the aircraft field, although only on an experimental basis. Its X-19A featured four lifting propellers, mounted in tandem on each side of the fuselage on stubby wings, which then tilted forward for forward flight. The project lasted through 1965, when the government canceled the program.

The company continued to diversify, entering the electricity-generating business and nuclear-product industry, and servicing and providing components for jet engines. By the early 1980s, the various divisions and subsidiaries were producing a wide range of products for U.S. industry. The company had become a diversified, multi-industry, multinational concern. After a period of decline, Curtiss-Wright was selected to be included in Forbes magazine's list of America's 200 Best Small Companies for 1999 and Aviation Week magazine's list of Best-Managed Small Companies.

—Judy Rumerman


Eltscher, Louis R. and Young, Edward M. Curtiss-Wright – Greatness and Decline. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998.

Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope: The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Wraga, William. "Curtiss-Wright Corporation: A Brief History." Curtiss-Wright Corporation. http://www.curtisswright.com/history/1941-1945.asp.

"The Spirit of Innovation." Curtiss-Wright Corporation. http://www.curtisswright.com/history/Default.asp.

Other References:

Bright, Charles D. The Jet Makers: The Aerospace Industry From 1945 to 1972. Lawrence, Kan.: The Regents Press of Kansas, 1978.

Cunningham, William Glenn. The Aircraft Industry: A Study in Industrial Location. Los Angeles: Lorin L. Morrison, 1951.

Simonson, G.R., ed. The History of the American Aircraft Industry: An Anthology. Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 1968.

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable

Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 6

Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 8

Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.