The Curtiss-Wright Corporation was once a leading aircraft manufacturer of the United States, but has since become a component manufacturer, specializing in actuators, controls, valves, and metal treatment.
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. In May 1942, the U.S. government assigned Curtiss-Wright a defense production factory for wartime aircraft construction at Louisville, Kentucky, originally to produce the C-76 Caravan cargo plane, which was constructed mostly of wood, a non-priority war material. However, after numerous difficulties with the C-76 (including a crash of a production model in mid-1943), as well as the realization that sufficient quantities of aluminum aircraft alloys would be available for war production, plans for large-scale C-76 production were rejected. Both the Louisville and Buffalo, New York Curtiss-Wright plants were converted over to C-46 Commando and other aircraft type production. 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. Overall, the company produced over 29,000 aircraft during the war.
Curtiss-Wright failed to make the transition to design and production of jet aircraft, despite several attempts. Its wartime factory in Louisville, Kentucky was repossessed by the U.S. government and sold to the International Harvester Corporation. 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.
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.
The overall decline of the corporation from US$2 billion in 1945 to US$200 million in 1980 caused the company to become a study in business management classes.
The shift of civilian aircraft to jets which the company predicted would not happen as late as 1952 when it had designed a propeller for the B-52 bomber (originally designed as a turboprop) 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 2005.
The president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had issued a Joint Resolution of Congress which had been approved in May 28, 1934. The proclamation stated that it was illegal to sell arms or munitions of war to countries engaged in armed conflict. The company challenged the validity of this proclamation as exceeding the legislative powers delegated to the president and that it was therefore unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of the United States, in United States v. Curtiss-Wright, held that "there is sufficient warrant for the broad discretion vested in the President to determine whether the enforcement of the statute will have a beneficial effect upon the reestablishment of peace in the affected countries."
The company lost the case when the court held that the president was properly vested with the legislative power to make such a proclamation.
Some Aircraft types using Curtiss Electric propeller units: