The Curtiss SC Seahawk was the last fixed wing scouting aircraft produced for service on the US Navy’s battleships and cruisers, and entered service late in 1944.
The specification that produced the SC-1 was issued in June 1942. At this point the US Navy was operating two outdated types – the biplane Curtiss SOC Seagull which had entered service in 1935 and the monoplane Vought OS2U Kingfisher, which entered service in 1940. A newer aircraft, the Curtiss SO3C, had made its maiden flight in 6 October 1939 and entered service in the summer of 1942, but it was an unsatisfactory design and would soon be withdraw from service (and in some cases replaced by the older SOC). The new aircraft was to be capable of being catapulted off battleships and cruisers, but also working from land bases or aircraft carriers.
Curtiss’s design proposal was approved by the Navy, and a letter of intent was issued on 30 October 1942. A contract for two XSC-1 prototypes was issued on 31 March 1943, and a contract for 500 production aircraft in June 1943. The first prototype didn’t make its maiden flight until 16 February 1944.
The SC was an all metal construction, cantilever low wing monoplane, with dihedral on the outer panel of the wings, a straight leading edge and tapered trailing edge. The wings could fold to reduce storage space on the ships. As a floatplane it had a single central float and wing tip stabilisers. The landing gear could easily be swapped between the two types. The float could also carry extra fuel. The prototype was powered by the Wright R-1820-82 Cyclone 9 radial engine. It was designed to be as simple to produce as possible, and a large number of them would be built in the last year of the war.
The Seahawk lived up to expectations, with a top sped of 313mph and service ceiling of 37,300ft, a vast improvement on the 171mph and 18,200 of the Kingfisher, the best of the previous generation. Range was somewhat down, but the Seahawk wasn’t meant to carry out long range reconnaissance.
The Seahawk replaced the Vought Kingfisher and the Curtiss SOC Seagull and Curtiss SO3C Seamew/ Seagull as the standard scout-observation aircraft on battleships and cruisers. However it didn’t stay in service for long after the war, and had largely been replaced by the first scout helicopters by 1950.
The USS Savannah (CL-42) is recorded as having received two SC-1 Seahawks during a period in Chesapeake Bay in September 1944, and she was equipped with three SC-1s from VCS-8 at the end of the war.
USS Guam received the type soon after October 1944.
In July 1944 the Iowa (BB-81) transferred her SC-1s to the cruiser Chicago (CA-136), which used them for spotting services during some of the attacks on the Japanese home islands.
The Columbia (CL-56) was given three SC-1s during an overhaul early in 1945.
The Seahawk was in use during the battle of Okinawa.
The Pennsylvania (BB-38) carried two Seahawks during the bombardment of Wake Island of 1 August 1945, although one was lost after suffering significant damage while landing in choppy seas.
Post-war photographs show the Seahawk still in use on the USS Iowa (BB-61) (1947), USS Missouri (BB-63) (1948), USS Columbus (CA-74) (1948),
The first of the initial two XSC-1 prototypes made its maiden flight on 16 February 1944. It was armed with two fixed forward firing .50in machine guns and up to 325lb of bombs under each wing, and was powered by the 1,350hp Wright R-1820-62. The first three aircraft on the first production contract were also designated as XSC-1 prototypes.
An order for 500 SC-1s was placed in June 1943. They were allocated the serial numbers 35298-35797. This entire batch was delivered before VJ-Day, along with another 66 aircraft from a second order for 450o aircraft (serial numbers 93302-93367). They were all delivered as land planes, and the US Navy ordered the floats separately from EDO.
One SC-1 was used as the prototype for an improved version, which was powered by the 1,425hp R-1820-76 engine, had a fully circular cowling for the engine (the SC-1’s cowling was a slight oval), and had a clear-blown cockpit canopy, replacing the segmented canopy of the SC-1. It also had a modified fin and rudder. When work began this aircraft was designated as the XSC-1A, but this was changed to the XSC-2 before it was completed. It was later given arrester gear, becoming the XSC-2A.
The prototype XSC-2 was followed by an order for 450 production SC-2s, but only ten aircraft (119529 to 119538) were completed before the rest of the contract was cancelled after VJ-Day.
Engine: Wright R-1820-62 Cyclone 9
Span: 41ft 0in
Length: 36ft 4.5in
Height: 12ft 9in
Height on beaching gear with tail down: 16ft
Empty weight: 6,320lb
Maximum take-off weight: 9,000lb
Max speed: 313mph at 28,600ft
Cruising speed: 125mph
Climb Rate: 2,500ft/ min
Service ceiling: 37,300ft
Range: 625 miles
Armament: Two .5in machine guns
Bomb load: Two underwing bomb racks, total capacity 650lb, two optional bomb cells in central float.