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Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon

Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft

United States | 1939

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

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 09/09/2016 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this 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.

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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.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Curtiss-Wright CW-21B Demon Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft.
1 x Wright R-1820-G5 9-cylinder, air-cooled radial piston engine developing 1,000 horsepower.
314 mph
505 kph | 273 kts
Max Speed
34,449 ft
10,500 m | 7 miles
Service Ceiling
631 miles
1,015 km | 548 nm
Operational Range
4,500 ft/min
1,372 m/min
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21B Demon Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft.
27.2 ft
8.29 m
O/A Length
35.0 ft
(10.66 m)
O/A Width
8.2 ft
(2.50 m)
O/A Height
3,384 lb
(1,535 kg)
Empty Weight
4,497 lb
(2,040 kg)
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
Available supported armament and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft .
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
Notable series variants as part of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon family line.
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.
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 62 Units

Contractor(s): Curtiss-Wright Corporation - USA
National flag of Australia National flag of China National flag of the Netherlands National flag of the United States

[ Australia; China; Netherlands; United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 400mph
Lo: 200mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (314mph).

Graph Average of 300 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
1 / 1
Image of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon
Front right side view of the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon at rest; Public Domain image.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon Fighter / Interceptor Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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