Curtiss SC Seahawk Scout Floatplane / Air-Sea Rescue Aircraft
Despite its floatplane pedigree, the impressive Curtiss SC Seahawk reconnaissance-minded floatplane displayed fighter-like performance.
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World War 2 (1939-1945) required an equal victory over the sea as it did over land, particularly for nations dependent on free access to critical ocean spaces of the world - nations such as the United States, Britain, and the Empire of Japan. In response to this need, a slew of floatplane and flying boat aircraft were fielded during the grand conflict and these designs ranged from prewar offerings to all-new developments. As the fighting raged on in the Pacific, the United States Navy (USN) looked to strengthen its stock of serviceable reconnaissance-minded floatplanes. One endeavor produced the Curtiss SC "Seahawk" of which 577 were ultimately built. First flight of the type was recorded on February 16th, 1944 with service introduction following that same year. It served into the post-war years and was not retired until 1949.
As early as 1942 the prospect of a new floatplane was in the works for the USN. America had been at war since the events of Pearl Harbor back in December of 1941 and reinforcement of all branches of service was now the call of the day. Preliminary interest led to the USN contracting Curtiss Aeroplane to develop a pair of prototypes based on a new floatplane design submission. The contract was signed on August 25th, 1942, less than a month after the company had submitted their proposal and this also included an order for several service test aircraft to evaluate the viability of the new airplane under service conditions.
As was the practice with many aviation products seen during the war years, Curtiss Aeroplane was already granted a serial production contract even before the first prototype had gone airborne - such was the expediency at which many aircraft designs evolved during the war. The USN called for 500 examples of the floatplane to be produced.
Curtiss unveiled a working form in time and this was designated "XSC-1". Its design was largely conventional as it featured a cylindrical fuselage, seating for one crew, and a standard single-finned tail unit. The monoplane wings were low-set under the aircraft and its undercarriage was dominated by a large central float housing a retractable wheeled undercarriage. The large float was originally designed to double as a bomb bay but this feature was dropped in favor of more internal fuel for increased operational range. Smaller floats were affixed under each wing element for stabilization on choppy water. Power was served from a Wright R-1820-62 "Cyclone" 9-cylinder supercharged radial piston engine driving a four-bladed propeller through 1,350 horsepower. Dimensions included a wingspan of 12.5 meters, a length of 11 meters, and a height of 4.9 meters.
While the aircraft was designed to be crewed by a sole operator, there was an integral rest/recovery area in the fuselage to serve downed pilots after at-sea rescues.
Standard armament was modest - 2 x Browning M2 heavy machine guns in fixed, forward-firing mountings. Each wing was also allocated a hardpoint for the carrying of a single 250 lb conventional drop bomb. The aircraft could therefore be used to attack targets of opportunity as needed in addition to flying in its defined reconnaissance role. The starboard side wing could also support an externally-mounted radar fit which increased the tactical value of the aircraft considerably.
Getting its start back in 1942, the XSC-1 product gestated for a lengthy period by wartime standards for it was not until October of 1944 that the series was officially in active service. They were formally designated as SC-1 "Seahawk" and were delivered with fixed wheeled undercarriages before having their standard floatation gear added upon arrival. First examples were delivered to the USS Guam, an Alaska-class cruiser commissioned in September of that same year.
In practice, Seahawks proved excellent floatplanes for naval military service and came to be highly regarded in their field of expertise. However, its protracted development period limited its availability during much of the war, its first notable actions not occurring until June of 1945. By this time, the war in Europe had ended and Japan would capitulate a few months later, bringing a formal end to the war.
Beyond the SC-1 production model there existed the proposed SC-2 - a version featuring a second crewman with appropriately revised cockpit and canopy. This version was not acted on despite some nine prototypes being commissioned.
The SC-1 held a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour with a cruising speed nearing 125 mph. Its range was out to 625 miles with a service ceiling up to 37,300 feet. Rate-of-climb was a useful 2,500 feet per minute.