The Curtiss P-36 Hawk


The Curtiss P-36 Hawk was an American built fighter aircraft that was used in the 1930s and 40s.It was a new generation of combat aircraft.   A sleek monoplane design using metal with aluminum  body and powered by a radial engine.  

The P-36 Hawk was the forerunner of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk – (used by the Flying Tigers in China,which were  were made up of American volunteer pilots before America’s engagement in World War II).  However once the hostilities started in December of 1941, the Hawk say little action with USAAC  

However other Allied countries did order the Hawk.  This would include (Free) French, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of China, India, and but not least, England.  

When France and Norway fell to Germany, many P-36s were captured by the Germans who turned them into good use against the Soviets.  

During the Franco-Thai war of 1940-41, Hawks were used by both sides.  The South African Air Force saw combat with P-36s against  the Italians in east Africa.  The British RAF fought  in the air over Burma with the Mohawk as they were called by RAF. 

There 215 P-36s built by Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company along with 900 variant “model 75” or Mohawk sold to foreign countries.

Design and Development

In the beginning of the life of the Hawk, it was called Model 75 as a private venture and the firs prototype was built 1934.  It was all metal fuselage and wings with fabric control surfaces (rudder, ailerons and trim tabs) 

It was powered by a Wright XR-1670-5 radial engine producing 900hp.  The common armament of the day was one .30 cal machine gun and one .50 cal machine firing through through the propeller.  Also common was no cockpit armor and no self-sealing fuel tanks.  

The prototype flew 06 May 1935 for the first time reaching a speed of 281 mph at 10,000 ft.  The Model 75 prototype then flew to Wright Field in Ohio to participate in a “fly-off”,  but another prototype of another company went down,  enroute to Ohio .  The competition “fly-off” was postponed to a later date.

The delay, allowing the competitor  to submit another aircraft,  allowed Curtiss to replace the engine on the Model 75 with a Wright XR- 1820-39 Cyclone engine producing 950 hp. 

 Some other fuselage work was done to  be done and to replace the rear window for improved visibility.  The new prototype was now called Model 75D with the changes from the delayed “fly-off” 

In  April of 1936, the long delayed “fly-off ” took place, but the new engine failed to perform as required, with a top speed of 285 mph.  

The competing Seversky P-35  also failed to produce the required speed.  Because of its performance, the Seversky P-35 was declared the winner of the “fly-off” and awarded a contract by the United States Army Air Corp (USAAC) for 77 aircraft.  

Because of the political unrest in Europe in 1936, the USAAC wanted a backup aircraft as Seversky had limited manufacturing experience.  The “back-up” aircraft, still a Curtiss Model 75, was revamped with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-13 Twin Wasp engine, a refined rear window.  

It was now called P-36A.  It had an excellent rate of climb (ROC), tremendous roll rate and a high power to weight ratio.  While there were deficiencies such as a poor supercharger which caused poor high altitude  performance, nonetheless, USAAC ordered 210 of the P-36A.  

Then in 1937, USAAC requested that Curtiss modify the Model 75 for an Allison  V 1710 supercharged, liquid cooled, inline engine.  This newly remodeled Model 75 was called XP-37. 

The cockpit was move way back in the fuselage as it had a new supercharger system with bulky side doors for the engine and supercharger.  It was test flown in April 1937 reaching 340 mph at 20,000ft.  

After much testing,  Curtiss found  the Supercharger was very unreliable and visibility from the cockpit was almost non-existence for take-off and landings. 

Thus the project was cancelled un favor of anther prototype called the XP-40.  Before the Xp-40 was produced, one more attempt was mad to use Model 75.  

The new prototype was  called the XP-42.    It had a long slek nose giving it the impression of having an liquid cooled in-line engine.  Instead it had a radial engine which had unresolvable cooling problems. 

This project was cancelled.  Thus the P-36 Hawk became the standard for combat operations of the Model 75 platform.

Operational History

The first production P-36As were delivered to USAAC in 1938.  But due to “teething” problems it took a long time to correct these problems.  By then the USAAC  considered the P-36A to be obsolete.  

However in February 1941, 39 P-36As were loaded on to the USS Enterprise in  California and when the aircraft carrier got near the coast of Hawaii, the non-carriered built P-36As flew off the Enterprise to Wheeler Field in Oahu.  

This was the first take-offs from an aircraft carrier by a non-carrier type aircraft.  We know later, of the famous Jimmy Doolittle raid of B-25s over Tokyo in 1942 that took off from the USS Hornet.   When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 07 December 1941, only 5 of the 39  of the P-36A got airborne.  

The 5  Hawks did a fine job as they downed two Japanese Zeros with a loss of one P-36.   This was the only action the P-36A Hawk saw in World War II for the USAAC.

Most of the USAAC P-36As were relegated to advance trainers for the great influx of new pilots coming in the military.  

Argentina  30 Curtiss P-750s were sold the Argentinians and a license to construct 20 more locally.

British-RAF   The Mohawk was tested and compared  against the Famous Spitfire.  It did have a few features that were better than the “Spit” but in over-all analysis the RAF did not order any. 

However due to the changing tides of war, the RAF inherited 229 Mohawks from the fleeing French pilots during the fall of France to the Germans.  Most of these were sento the Royal Indian Air Force in India.

China  The Hawk 75H which was a simplified version with fixed landing gear were sold to the Chinese Nationalists.

Finland  After the Germans had  taken France, they sold 45 Curtiss Hawks of various models to the Finns in their war against Russia.  The Hawk was well liked by the Finn pilots, scoring 190 victories over the Soviets.

Other countries to use the P-36 of various models were; Norway, Peru Portugal and Thailand.

Where you can see the Curtiss P-36 Hawk

38-001 P-36A  is on static display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio

Check With Your Local Air Museum for More Information on the Curtiss P-36 Hawk


Wingspan:     37 ft 4 in 

Length:           28 ft 6 in 

Height:            8 ft 5 in 

Weight:           4,567 lbs (empty) 

Max Speed:     313 mph

Cruise Speed:  270 mph

Ceiling:             32,700 ft 

Range:             625mi  (combat)

Engine:           1/Pratt & Whitney R-1830-17 Twin Wasp Air-cooled  radial                                   engine rated at 1,050 hp.

Crew:               1