P-36 Hawk

The P-36 Hawk: A Classic Fighter of Its Time


The P-36 Hawk was an iconic and versatile fighter aircraft that played a significant role during the early years of World War II. Designed and manufactured by the American aviation company Curtiss-Wright Corporation, this single-seat, all-metal monoplane was vital to the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) and other air forces worldwide. Boasting impressive performance characteristics and a distinctive design, the P-36 Hawk contributed to the evolution of aviation technology and played a crucial role in shaping the history of aerial warfare.

Curtiss P-36 Hawk

Origins and Design

The origins of the P-36 Hawk can be traced back to the early 1930s when Curtiss-Wright aimed to develop a high-performance fighter aircraft to replace the aging P-6 Hawk, one of their previous successful designs. The company’s design team, led by Donovan Berlin and Raymond G. Protzmann, incorporated several innovative features and improvements to create an advanced fighter aircraft. The P-36 Hawk, initially designated as Model 75, marked a departure from the biplane configuration and introduced a sleek monoplane design, which enhanced both speed and maneuverability.

The P-36 Hawk featured a closed cockpit, retractable landing gear, and an enclosed wing structure, allowing reduced drag and increased speed. Another distinctive feature was its cooling system, consisting of a radiator positioned under the fuselage, allowing for efficient cooling at high altitudes. Initially powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engine, the P-36 Hawk could produce up to 1,100 horsepower.

Operational History

The P-36 Hawk entered service with the USAAC in 1938, just before the outbreak of World War II. It quickly proved a worthy adversary, earning a reputation for its exceptional maneuverability and solid performance. The aircraft’s operational record was further enhanced during the early stages of the war, particularly with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the defense of Singapore and Burma against the Japanese advance.

However, with the ever-evolving advancements in aviation technology, the P-36 Hawk faced some limitations. More advanced designs, such as the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, gradually replaced it in combat units. Nevertheless, the P-36 Hawk continued to serve with various air forces worldwide, including those of Finland, China, France, and Turkey, throughout World War II and into the post-war era.

Significance and Impact

The P-36 Hawk was vital in bridging the technological gap between early biplane fighters and the advanced monoplanes that dominated the skies during World War II. Its innovative design, speed, and maneuverability set new standards for fighter aircraft of its time. The lessons learned from the P-36 Hawk’s operational use paved the way for subsequent developments, such as the Curtiss P-40 and its famous successor, the P-51 Mustang.

Performance Characteristics

The P-36 Hawk’s performance made it stand out among contemporary fighter aircraft. With a maximum speed of approximately 300 mph (483 km/h) and a range of up to 1,200 miles (1,930 km), it offered speed and endurance. The P-36 Hawk had a service ceiling of around 32,000 feet (9,753 meters), which allowed for potential engagements at high altitudes. Additionally, the aircraft was armed with various combinations of .50 caliber and .30 caliber machine guns, offering pilots a significant firepower advantage.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many P-36 Hawks were produced?

Approximately 1,431 P-36 Hawks were produced between 1938 and 1941.

Did other countries besides the United States use the P-36 Hawk?

The P-36 Hawk was exported to several countries, including Finland, France, China, and Turkey, where it saw active combat service.

How does the P-36 Hawk compare to its successor, the P-40 Warhawk?

While the P-36 Hawk laid the foundation for the P-40 Warhawk, the latter featured evolutionary improvements, including more powerful engines and heavier armament.

How effective was the P-36 Hawk in combat?

The P-36 Hawk proved to be a capable fighter aircraft, but it faced limitations when confronted with more advanced enemy aircraft. Its maneuverability and firepower were considered advantages during its early years of service.

What is the surviving status of the P-36 Hawk today?

Unfortunately, no original P-36 Hawks are known to exist today, but replicas and restorations can be seen in various aviation museums around the world.


The P-36 Hawk was a pioneering fighter aircraft that paved the way for subsequent technological advancements in aviation. Its innovative design, performance characteristics, and operational history significantly contributed to the global defense efforts during World War II. While it eventually made way for more advanced aircraft, the P-36 Hawk remains an important chapter in the extensive annals of aviation history.


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