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Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk

Biplane Parasite Fighter Aircraft

Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk

Biplane Parasite Fighter Aircraft


The Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk biplane was built to serve as a parasite fighter launched fro USN airships USS Akron and USS Macon.
National Flag Graphic
ORIGIN: United States
YEAR: 1931
STATUS: Retired, Out-of-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company - USA
OPERATORS: United States

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 20.57 feet (6.27 meters)
WIDTH: 83.66 feet (25.5 meters)
HEIGHT: 35.83 feet (10.92 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 2,116 pounds (960 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 2,778 pounds (1,260 kilograms)
ENGINE: 1 x Wright R-975-E3 radial piston engine developing 415 horsepower and driving a two-bladed propeller in the nose.
SPEED (MAX): 176 miles-per-hour (283 kilometers-per-hour; 153 knots)
RANGE: 295 miles (475 kilometers; 256 nautical miles)
CEILING: 19,193 feet (5,850 meters; 3.64 miles)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 1,700 feet-per-minute (518 meters-per-minute)

2 x 0.30 caliber (7.62mm) Browning machine guns synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades.
Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun

Series Model Variants
• XF9C-1 - Initial Prototype Model; tripod strut undercarriage; scrapped during 1936.
• XF9C-2 - Secondary Prototype Model; single-strut undercarriage; later reworked to F9C-2 production standard for active service.
• F9C-2 - Production Model Designation; six examples completed to the XF9C-1 design; four lost with USS Macon crash.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk Biplane Parasite Fighter Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 5/8/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
In between the great World Wars of the 20th Century, aviation advanced at a considerable pace. The canvas-and-wood biplanes of old began to evolve to include metal skinning, spatted undercarriages and more streamlining than ever before. This allowed far-off thinking to be had amongst warplanners and aviation engineers alike and, in tim,e the idea of a "parasite fighter" took hold within the ranks of the United States Navy (USN).

The parasite fighter concept involved a compact, single-seat fighter attached to mothership (an airship or fixed-wing bomber or similar) where the fighter could be launched and retrieved from. This pairing of weapon systems benefited the mothership in several ways - extending its range (particularly in reconnaissance sorties), self-defense or defending contested airspace. More advanced work on the parasite fighter topic was had during the post-World War 2 period and this involved jet-powered fighters and bombers but the concept was never fully accepted in any one form operationally.

Curtiss' F9C "Sparrowhawk" fighter was originally born under a USN requirement for a shipboard fighter and competed against designs from Berliner-Joyce and General Aviation. This requirement sheltered a secretive program for the USN which involved creation of a parasite fighter to field from its fleet of airships - namely USS Akron and USS Macon.

The USN fighter was eventually embodied in the "XF9C-1" prototype and a single example of this aircraft was realized. A second prototype, XF9C-2, was later completed, and this carried a single-strut main undercarriage. Serial production forms eventually totaled six F9C-2 "Sparrowhawk" fightersand used a similar tripod undercarriage as seen in the original prototype. XF9C-2 was eventually taken into the active inventory of the USN and reworked into a production F9C-2 standard fighter.

A first-flight was had on February 12th, 1931.

Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk (Cont'd)

Biplane Parasite Fighter Aircraft

Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk (Cont'd)

Biplane Parasite Fighter Aircraft

Design-wise the Curtiss aircraft was a traditionally-arrange biplane fighter. There was an upper and lower wing mainplane joined by extensive cabling and N-style struts. Over the midway span of the upper wing was a structure containing the retrieval hook, or "Skyhook", to work in conjunction with the retractable "trapeze" structure to be found under the belly of the airships themselves. The engine was fitted to a forward compartment in the usual way, driving a two-bladed propeller unit, and the fuselage was well-streamlined. The tail unit showcased a single fin and low-mounted horizontal planes as well as a tailwheel. The undercarriage was spatted at the main legs for aerodynamic efficiency and each was also wheeled. The pilot's position was set aft of the upper wing assembly he operated in an open-air cockpit.

The fighter was powered by a single Wright R-975-E3 air-cooled radial piston engine of 438 horsepower and armed through 2 x 0.30 caliber Browning air-cooled machine guns firing through the spinning propeller blades by way of synchronizing gear. The aircraft weighed 960 kilograms empty and 1,260 kilograms gross. It could manage a top speed of 176 miles per hour.

In practice the Sparrowhawk fighters were lowered from their hangar aboard the airship along their already-connected retractable trapeze assemblies. The pilot would then engage his engine and detach after having assessed conditions. The Sparrowhawk could then be used to reconnoiter the terrain far off from the mothership or engage enemy fighters one-to-one. Once the mission was completed, the pilot would return his aircraft to the mothership and, using the hook above the upper wing assembly, reconnect to the airship's trapeze system. The trapeze assembly was then retracted into the airship and Sparrowhawk returned to its hangar. Several Sparrowhawks could be held aboard a single airship.

The fighter series operated from the two aforementioned American airships from the period of 1932 until 1935 and were used in reconnaissance sorties over both American coastlines. However, the program was doomed by the loss of USS Akron in 1933 along the New Jersey coastline and USS Macon in 1935 off the coast of California. Some four Sparrowhawks went down with the Macon when it crashed on February 12th, 1935. A single Sparrowhawk example survived history and is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C. and represents an example to have served at one time with USS Macon.


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 200mph
Lo: 100mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (176mph).

Graph average of 150 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production (7)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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