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Curtiss P-6 Hawk - United States, 1929

Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss P-6 Hawk Biplane Fighter Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 9/9/2016; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Curtiss P-6 Hawk  
Picture of Curtiss P-6 Hawk
Picture of Curtiss P-6 Hawk Picture of Curtiss P-6 HawkPicture of Curtiss P-6 HawkPicture of Curtiss P-6 HawkPicture of Curtiss P-6 Hawk

The Curtiss P-6 Hawk biplane fighter saw limited procurement numbers with the United States Army Air Corps primarily due to the Great Depression.

Originally based on the existing Curtiss P-1B series of fighter aircraft, the Curtiss P-6 Hawk series became a frontline "pursuit" fighter aircraft for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) of the early 1930s. The Hawk became the last of the fighter biplanes to be built in quantity for the Corps and was eventually realized through no fewer than thirteen distinct sub-types that included eight different production models. Though never utilized in combat, the P-6 was to be remembered fondly as one of the best of all the peace-time, piston-engine U.S. Army pursuit aircraft to appear before World War 2 (1939-1945).

During the 1920s, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company joined other aviation concerns in producing an evolving class of racing aircraft for national competition. Many of these breeds would go on to influence new generations of high performance aircraft that caught the eye of the American military. With Curtiss' R-6 racer, which incorporated an important and effective engine cooling system, the USAAC became interested in a pursuit fighter form - laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the P-6 "Hawk".

Developed from a line of successful versions embodied through the original R-6 racer and subsequent PW-8 and P-1 fighter biplanes, the P-6 featured modifications to help convince its potential military customer. The P-6 was born through the company Model 34P which became the XP-6 prototype and its Curtiss V-1570-17 "Conqueror" series engine. The XP-6 netted second place at the 1927 National Air Races (Skopane, Washington). Untapered wings and radiators added to these wings produced the company subsequent Model 34K, also known as the XP-6A prototype. The original production model ordered by the USAAC was the P-6A of which eighteen were commissioned for evaluation in 1929 with manufacture beginning that same year. This version featured a revised cowling and deeper fuselage.

The XP-6B prototype existed as a P-1 fighter development with a V-1670 engine installed. The P-6C became a cancelled variant while XP-6D was an XP-6B prototype fitted with a turbocharged V-1570-C engine. The P-6D then followed as converted P-6A models to a new standard which incorporated a Prestone cooling system - during 1932 their engines were revised to a turbocharged V-1570-C. The XP-6E then followed - also known as company Model 35 and Y1P-22 - in July of 1931 to serve as prototype for a new major mark - the P-6E.

The P-6E became the most notable model of the P-6 family line, outfitted with a 700 horsepower Curtiss V-1570C "Conqueror" engine and capable of reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour. Compared to the earlier P-6D production model (which it shared many similarities to), the P-6E incorporated an all-new forward fuselage design which streamlined its appearance to a more pleasing cylindrical shape. Its armament was 2 x .303 caliber machine guns. The undercarriage - carrying faired-over wheels consistent with other interwar period fighter designs - were fixed and the cockpit left open-air. The biplane wings were staggered in profile with the upper unit ahead of the lower, joined by strong parallel struts and cabling. The USN also took on the aircraft but requested a version with manually-retracting legs.

The P-6E became the last biplane fighter to be taken on by the USAAC. Over 45 of the type were ordered in July of 1931.

Something of a transitional design bridging the classic biplanes of World War 1 and the modern all-metal monoplanes of World War 2, the P-6 was given superior performance against any biplane of the period. Procurement of the aircraft was only limited by the restriction set upon military spending during the tumultuous Great Depression years. The line went on to see modest export success, again in limited numbers, around the world with customers in Bolivia, China, Cuba, the Dutch East Indies, and Imperial Japan.

Many experimental marks dotted the history of the Hawk, taking advantage of technology advances of the time including superchargers, multiple machine gun mountings, improved radial piston engines, alloys, and the like. 1932 saw Captain Reuben Moffat flew a modified P-6 from Dayton, Ohio to Washington, D.C. on a record-setting run - reaching 266 miles per hour and an altitude of 25,000 feet.

The P-6 Hawk was still active into the late 1930s which saw the official start of World War 2 though it did not see combat in the conflict.

Curtiss P-6 Hawk Specifications

Service Year: 1929
Type: Biplane Fighter Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company / Curtiss-Wright - USA
Total Production: 70

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 1
Overall Length: 25.16 feet (7.67 meters)
Overall Width: 31.50 feet (9.60 meters)
Overall Height: 8.86 feet (2.70 meters)

Weight (Empty): 2,701 lb (1,225 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 3,439 lb (1,560 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Curtiss V-1570C Conqueror water-cooled inline engine developing 700 horsepower.

Maximum Speed: 177 knots (204 mph; 328 kph)
Maximum Range: 248 nautical miles (286 miles; 460 km)
Service Ceiling: 24,705 feet (7,530 meters; 4.68 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 2,480 feet-per-minute (756 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

2 x 0.303 caliber (7.62mm) machine guns synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blade.

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Bolivia; China; Cuba; Dutch East Indies (Netherlands); Imperial Japan; United States

Model Variants

XP-6 - Initial Conversion Model of a P-1 aircraft of which the P-6 is derived from featuring tapered wings.
XP-6A - Second Conversion Model of a P-1 aircraft of which the P-6 is derived from featuring untapered wings base on PW-8 aircraft and fitted with low-drag surface radiators.
P-6 - Initial Production Model of which 9 were produced; refined fuselage.
P-6A - Featured Prestone-cooled engines of which nine of this aircraft were produced.
P-6C - Production Model Cancelled Before Completion.
P-6E (Curtiss Model 43) - Fitted with V-1570C Conqueror 700hp engine; 46 produced.
P-3 - Experimental Radial-Engined Version
P-5 - Experimental Turbo-Charged Version
P-21 - Experimental Radial-Engined Version
P-23 - Experimental Turbo-Charged Version
Hawk I - Export Model
Hawk II - Export Model featuring Wright Cyclone radial engine.
F11C-2 - United States Navy Model fitted with Wright R-1820-78 Cyclone Radial generating 700hp; 28 produced.
BF2C-1 - United States Navy Model with manually-operated landing gears; 27 produced.
YIP-22 - Original United States Army Designation.

Images Gallery


Curtiss P-6 Hawk Cockpit