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The Curtis P-36 Hawk

The Curtis Airplane and Motor Company previously established a relationship with the US Army, where in 1914 Curtis supplied a large scale of some 94 classic JN (Jenny) series of aircraft. Twenty years later when the Curtis Airplane Company became a division of the Curtis Wright Corporation, it was to design and develop as a private venture, a new monoplane pursuit fighter.

Known as the Curtis Model 75, it would incorporate advanced features as a retractable landing gear, and an enclosed cockpit for the pilot. It was these features that the company believed would prompt the US Army to consider the aircraft as a replacement for the lower-performance Boeing P-26.

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Contemporary with the famous wartime triad of the BF-109, Hurricane, and Spitfire, it failed to achieve the level of performance desired by a fighter of that time. At a later date the aircraft was redesigned in an attempt to upgrade the Model 75 which would include an Allison V-1710-21 engine, but during trials prototypes designated YP-37, failed to rise to the level of a higher standard of performance, not to mention were superseded by the P-40 Warhawk.

The model 75 prototype, powered by a 900 hp Wright XR-1820-39 Cyclone radial engine, was submitted to the USAAC in May of 1935 for evaluation in a design competition for a single seat pursuit fighter. This failed to materialize because no other designs by competing companies were ready, and it was not until April 1936 that the twice-postponed contest began.

By that time the Model 75 had been re-engined with an 850 hp Wright XR-1820-39 Cyclone radial engine, and was identified as the Model 75-B. The Seversky Aircraft Corporation won the competition with a similar aircraft, which was ordered into production as the P-35. However, Curtis was awarded a contract for just three examples of the design, to be powered by a under rated version of the 1,050 hp Pratt and Whitney R-1830-13 Twin Wasp radial engine, and to be used for test and evaluation under the designation Y1P-36.

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Service tests of the Y1P-36s were considered so successful that a contract for 210 production P-36As was awarded on July 7th, 1937. (Then the USAAC’s peacetime contract for pursuit fighters). Delivery of these aircraft began in April of 1938, but by late 1941 when the United States became involved in World War II, they were considered obsolete.

Circumstances compelled limited use of the P-36As in the opening stages of the war with Japan, but later they were soon regulated for a training role only. Variants included a single XP-36B with a 1,100 hp Pratt and Whitney R-1820-25 engine, and the last 31 of the original production aircraft were completed with a more powerful Twin Wasp engine. The designations XP-36D, 36E, and 36F were applied to experimental examples with different armament. Export Hawk 75As were supplied to the French as 75A-1, A-2, A-3, and A-4s but most of them were transferred to Britain after the fall of France. Britain designated the aircraft Mohawk I, II, III, and IV. The type was also supplied to Norway, Persia, Finland, Peru, Portugal, Netherlands East Indies and India.

The Curtis P-36 Hawk, developed from the Curtiss "Hawk" Model 75 originally designed for France, was first produced for the Air Corps in 1938. Both France and England used the Hawk 75A in combat over Europe in 1939 and 1940, even though the airplane was obsolescent when compared to its major adversary, the Messerschmitt 109. During 1941, the AAF transferred 39 of its P-36s to Hawaii and 20 to Alaska, and with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, two of the first six AAF fighters to get off the ground to meet the enemy were P-36s. Following the outbreak of hostilities, the outmoded P-36 was relegated to training and courier duties within the U.S.A.

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When France was overrun by Germany in June 1940, 291 assorted Hawk A-1, A-2, and A-3s had been delivered. From those not destroyed in the Battle of France, Germany sold Finland 36 of the Hawk fighters. Finland purchased an additional 8 Hawk A-7s from Germany when Norway was occupied to bring the total of 44. The first five Hawks delivered were serialled CU-501 to CU-505. The following thirty-nine were serialled CU-551 to CU-589. Some of the serials had a small subscript w, such as the aircraft I have modeled, after the CU. This indicated that the aircraft have been either refitted or repaired at the Finnish Aircraft Service Factory VL (Valtion Lentokonetehdas). All Hawk fighters were assigned to three flights of Flying Squadron 32 (Lentolaivue 32) and remained in service until the end on the Continuation War with the USSR. A few survivors remained in Finland's Air Force inventory until 1948. LeLv (Lentolaivue) 32 distinguished themselves very well with the Curtiss fighters and achieved 190 victories with them for the loss of only 15 in combat situations.

The aircraft I have modeled was the personal mount of Captain Aulis Bremer during the spring and summer of 1942. Captain Bremer was the Flight Leader of 2/LeLv32 for two years following the beginning of the Continuation War. He achieved 2 1/2 of his total of 7 1/2 victories while flying CU-556 and was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander of Training Squadron 33 (T-LeLv 33) in September 1943. He retired from the Finnish Air Force in May 1959 after a distinguishing career.

CU-556 was credited with 10 1/2 total victories while being flown by six different pilots, including Captain Bremer. It was the only documented aircraft in the Finnish Air Force, that for some unknown reason, had the swastikas on the wings painted in the reverse position.

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E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com
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