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Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon

United States (1939)
Picture of Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft

Developed for export, the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon held many faults in its attempt to stay a lightweight interceptor.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft.  Entry last updated on 9/9/2016. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©

In the pre-World War 2 world, engineers at Curtiss-Wright began work on an export-minded, single-seat, single-engine fighter-interceptor influenced by the company's previous twin-seat "Model 19" utility aircraft. Performance was to be the key quality of the lightweight design - particularly in its rate-of-climb - affording the pilot the ability to take-off and meet incoming bomber formations in short order and escape potential fighter-versus-fighter dueling if pressed . The aircraft was christened "Model 21" and took on the formal designation of CW-21 "Demon" in sales.

The aircraft was given a typical configuration for the period with its low-set monoplane wings. Metal was incorporated throughout its construction. The radial piston engine, driving a three-blade propeller unit, was fitted to a forward compartment. The pilot sat in a cockpit at amidships looking down the rather long nose assembly. There was a raised fuselage spine aft of the cockpit to incorporate the needed internal volume but this also limited rearward visibility. The cockpit was covered in a framed canopy with decent views of the surrounding area - again limited by the spine, the long nose and the monoplane wings underneath. The fuselage tapered at the rear in the usual way, the tail capped by a small-area rounded vertical fin and low-set horizontal tailplanes. The undercarriage was of the "tail-dragger" configuration that included two main legs under the wings and a small tail wheel. All three systems were retractable into the design with the main legs retracting into underwing fairings. Power was served through a Wright R-1820-G5 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial piston engine of 1,000 horsepower and performance from this was as expected - a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour with a strong rate-of-climb.

The aircraft was to be armed with a combination machine gun arrangement. When first flown on September 22nd, 1938, it was fitted with 1 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine gun and 1 x 0.30 caliber medium machine gun in the engine cowling. Conversely, a customer could accept a fighter with 2 x 0.50 machine guns or 2 x 0.30 machine guns as needed. In any case, both machine gun mounts were synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades which limited their rate-of-fire but lightened wing loads.

Of mention here is the decision by Curtiss-Wright to delete several key life-saving qualities from the design to maintain its impressive lightweight stature and performance. The aircraft lacked cockpit armoring and self-sealing fuel tanks - two qualities that would become commonplace for any World War 2 classic fighter design. Armament was deliberately lightweight which limited the aircraft's offensive "punch" and overall construction was not as robust as required of a military fighter.

Budget-conscious China took an early interest in the CW-21 and a single prototype was delivered for review. The Chinese liked what they saw and pressed for a procurement contract with Curtiss-Wright. During this time, the prototype was actually fielded in combat against Japanese forces with reportedly good results when the aircraft managed to down an enemy bomber. The contract called for retainment of the single prototype and the addition of three more flyable units. To this was added a contract for twenty-seven operational-quality aircraft - these to be delivered with 2 x 0.50 and 2 x 0.30 machine guns as standard armament. Manufacture of the batch would be conducted locally at a Chinese plant using kits delivered by Curtiss-Wright.
The three evaluation models arrived in May of 1940. It proved something of an omen for the seires when all four of the early acquired birds (prototype included) were lost in crashes. The twenty-seven-strong order never materialized for the Japanese expansion soon neutralized the expected production facility. As such, the CW-21 Demon was not used in anger by the Chinese during their war with Japan.

Despite the setback, Curtiss-Wright continued development of their product. Changes to the undercarriage (now recessing flush with the wing line) and flaps (now hydraulically-operated) followed which produced a slightly heavier airframe with a decreased rate-of-climb but still managing approximately the same maximum speed (314mph). The original Wright powerplant was retained and armament was 4 x 0.30 caliber medium machine guns. There proved enough changes to the design to warrant the variant designation of "CW-21B".

Twenty-four of the B-models were sold to the Netherlands Army in April 1940. However, the nation capitulated to Germany the following month and this forced the order to the Dutch East Indies instead. While managing to score a few kills against the Japanese, the CW-21Bs proved fodder for the more skilled and battle-hardened Japanese aviators. The lack of self-sealing fuel tanks led to airframes catching fire or exploding outright when hit and no cockpit armoring exposed the pilot to lethal dangers. Standard light armament meant that the aircraft could do little against heavier Japanese designs and the airframes were fragile with some aircraft grounded due to fractures. The only category the CW-21B shined in was rate-of-climb - but this proved of little value to the faltering Dutch forces. The aircraft was also remembered for its terrible landing qualities - partially due to the long nose assembly.

Such was the reign of the CW-21 that only 62 total examples emerged in all (including B-models). A two-seat version was revealed by Curtiss-Wright as the CW-22 in time and this aircraft, again, managed a limited armament arrangement of 1 x 0.30 in a fixed, forward-firing position with a 0.30 gun on a trainable mount in the rear cockpit. The cockpits both sat under a long, greenhouse -style canopy with generally good views.

Netherlands became the primary customer of the CW-22 but these were also rerouted to the Dutch East Indies when Netherlands fell to the Germans. Thirty-six were ordered by the country and, when Japanese expansion forced it, the examples were delivered to Australian soil in the end. The United States Army eventually took up use of the CW-22 through twelve examples. The United States Nav operated a few as the SNC-1 "Falcon" trainer. Some additional seventy-five CW-22 airframes were built and these delivered to Turkey (as the CW-22B) and a select few Central American countries.

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.

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Relative Maximum Speed Rating
Hi: 400mph
Lo: 200mph
    This entry's maximum listed speed (314mph).

    Graph average of 300 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Curtiss-Wright CW-21B Demon's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
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Unit Production Comparison
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
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Origin: United States
Year: 1939
Type: Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Curtiss-Wright Corporation - USA
Production: 62
Global Operators:
Australia; China; Netherlands; United States
Historical 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 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 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
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
Measurements and Weights icon
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Weights:
Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Curtiss-Wright CW-21B Demon model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.




27.20 ft

8.29 m


34.97 ft

10.66 m


8.20 ft

2.5 m


3,384 lb

1,535 kg


4,497 lb

2,040 kg

Engine icon
Installed Power - Standard Day Performance:
1 x Wright R-1820-G5 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial piston engine developing 1,000 horsepower.


314 mph

505 kph

273 kts


631 mi

1,015 km

Nautical Miles
548 nm


34,449 ft

10,500 m

6.52 mi


4,500 ft/min

1,372 m/min

Supported Weapon Systems:

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun
Armament - Hardpoints (0):

1 x 0.30 caliber medium machine gun with 1 x 0.50 caliber heavy machine gun in nose
2 x 0.30 caliber machine guns in nose
2 x 0.50 caliber machine guns in nose
4 x 0.30 caliber machine guns in nose
Variants: Series Model Variants
• CW-21 "Demon" - Base Series Designation; original model with underwing landing gear fairings.
• Model 21 - Company Designation
• CW-21B - Improved CW-21 with revised flush undercarriage; hydraulically-powered flaps.
• CW-22 - Two-seat variant based on the CW-21
• CW-22B - Export Designation to Turkey
• SNC-1 "Falcon" - US Navy designation of CW-22; used as trainer.