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The Curtiss-Wright Corporation ( ) was the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United Statesmarker at the end of World War 2, but has evolved to become a component manufacturer, specializing in actuators, controls, valves, and metal treatment.


Curtiss-Wright came into existence 5 July 1929, the result of a merger of 12 companies associated with Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company of Buffalo, New Yorkmarker, and Wright Aeronautical of Dayton, Ohiomarker, and was headquartered in Buffalo, New Yorkmarker. With $75 million in capital, it was the largest aviation company in the country.

There were three main divisions: the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division, which manufactured airframes; the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, which produced aeronautical engines; and the Curtiss-Wright Propeller Division, which manufactured propellers. After 1929, most engines produced by the new company were known as Wrights, while most aircraft were given the Curtiss name, with a few exceptions.

Throughout the 1930s, Curtiss-Wright designed and built aircraft for military, commercial, and private markets. But it was the Wright engine division and the longstanding relationship with the US military that would help the company through the difficult years of the Great Depression. In 1937, the company developed the P-36 fighter aircraft, resulting in the largest peacetime aircraft order ever given by the Army Air Corps. Curtiss-Wright also sold the P-36 abroad, where they were used in the early days of World War II.

During World War II, Curtiss-Wright employed 180,000 workers and produced 146,000 aircraft propellers, 280,000 airplane engines, and more than 29,000 aircraft. During this period, it became the second largest company in the United States, with annual revenue surpassing $1 billion for two consecutive years (behind only General Motors).

Aircraft production included almost 14,000 P-40 fighters, made famous by their use by Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers in China, over 3,000 Curtiss C-46 Commando transport aircraft, and later in the war, over 7,000 SB2C Helldivers. Its most visible success came with the P-40 fighter, variously known as Tomahawk, Kittyhawk, and Warhawk, of which nearly 14,000 were built between 1940 and 1944 at the main production facility in Buffalo, New York. Major aircraft production was at Buffalomarker, with other airframe plants at Columbus, Ohiomarker, St. Louis, Missourimarker, and Louisville, Kentuckymarker. Engine and propeller production was at plants in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

In May 1942, the U.S. government assigned Curtiss-Wright a defense production factory for wartime aircraft construction at Louisville, Kentuckymarker, to produce the C-76 Caravan cargo plane, which was constructed mostly of wood, a non-priority war material. However, after difficulties with the C-76 (including a crash of a production model in mid-1943), as well as the realization that insufficient quantities of aluminum aircraft alloys would be available for war production, plans for large-scale C-76 production were rejected. The Louisville plant was converted to C-46 Commando production, eventually delivering 438 Commandos to supplement the roughly 2,500 C-46s produced at Buffalo. The C-46 cargo plane was fitted with two powerful radial engines, and could carry more cargo at higher altitudes than any other Allied aircraft. It was used extensively in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater.

Curtiss-Wright failed to make the transition to design and production of jet aircraft, despite several attempts. During the war the company hadn't invested as much as it should have in research and development, having to spend most of its resources keeping-up with wartime production orders. This was especially true in the first few years of the war, when Curtiss-Wright had most of the government aviation contracts, and was producing about as many aircraft as the rest of the industry combined. This allowed other companies the time to design more advanced aircraft and slowly ramp-up their production lines. Aviation technology was progressing very rapidly then, and a year or two of technology lag made all the difference. The final nail in the coffin was the choice of the Northrop F-89 Scorpion over the XF-87 Blackhawk; after the F-87 was cancelled 10 October 1948, Curtiss-Wright shut down its entire Aeroplane Division and sold the assets to North American Aviation.

While this marked Curtiss-Wright's departure from preeminence in the aviation industry, one notable spin-off involved Curtiss-Wright's flight research laboratory, founded in 1943 near the main plant at the Buffalo airport. During divestiture of the airframe division, the lab was given to Cornell University along with a cash gift to finish construction of a transonic wind tunnel. Cornell Aeronautical Labs, or CAL as it was known, was eventually spun-off from the university as a private company, Calspan Corporation, which has been responsible for many subsequent innovations in flight and safety research. For an aircraft company that failed largely due to lack of sufficient research and development during World War II, it is ironic that Curtiss-Wright's flight research division was one of the few parts of the once-huge aviation conglomerate to survive to the present day.

After the Government gave the development of the Whittle jet engine to GE, the company concentrated on reciprocating engines and propeller production for military transport and civilian airliners. With the approaching twilight of the big piston aircraft engine, Curtiss-Wright needed new design inspiration. For a brief time, Curtiss-Wright licensed rights to the Wankel rotary engine from NSU in 1958 as a possible aircraft power plant, but also as an automobile engine intended for the AMC Pacer. For this major innovative engineering project, Curtiss-Wright relied extensively on the design leadership of NSU-Wankel engineer Max Bentele. Design difficulties were challenging, and eventually the Wankel project was shelved.

In 1956, financially strapped automaker Studebaker-Packard Corporation entered into a management agreement with Curtiss-Wright as a means for the nation's fifth largest automobile manufacturer to avoid insolvency. The relationship lasted until 1959 at which time Curtiss-Wright withdrew from the agreement.

The shift of civilian aircraft to jets left the company with little of its old business, and during the 1960s it shifted to components for aircraft and other types of equipment, such as nuclear submarines, a business that was still being conducted in 2009.

Curtiss-Wright's revenue declined from US$2 billion in 1945 to US$200 million in 1980.



Curtiss Electric propellers

As well as manufacturing engines, a range of electrically actuated Constant speed three and four bladed propellers were manufactured under the name Curtiss Electric.

See also



  1. Curtiss Electric Propeller


  • Bowers, Peter M. Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-370-10029-8.
  • Eltscher, Louis R. and Young, Edward M. Curtiss-Wright Greatness and Decline. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-80579-829-3.

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