Curtiss-Wright CW-21

CW-21 B Demon, Netherlands East Indies Army Air Corps
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Curtiss-Wright Corporation
First flight 22 September 1938
Introduction 1939
Primary users Chinese Nationalist Air Force
Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force
Produced 1939–1940
Number built 62

The Curtiss-Wright Model 21 (also known as the Curtiss-Wright Model 21 Demonstrator, the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Interceptor, the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 Demon) was a United States-built interceptor fighter aircraft, developed by the St. Louis Airplane Division of Curtiss-Wright Corporation during the 1930s.


Design and development

In 1938, George A. Page, head of the Saint Louis Airplane Division of Curtiss-Wright, decided to develop a fighter aircraft based on Carl W. Scott's two seater Model 19. Page's concept was a lightweight interceptor fighter with as high a rate of climb as possible in order to allow bomber formations to be attacked with minimal warning. If faced by fighter opposition, it was intended not to dog fight, but to use its superior climb rate to escape.[1] While this was a direct contradiction of the United States Army Air Corps requirements for fighters, which stress low level performance, this did not concern Page as the new fighter was intended for export.[2][3]

Detailed design of the new fighter, the Model 21, or CW-21, was carried out by a team lead by chief engineer Willis Wells. It was a single-seat, all-metal cantilever low wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear, where the mainwheels retracted rearwards into fairings under the wing. The fuselage was a semi-monocoque structure that tapered sharply behind the pilots cockpit. It was powered by a 1,000 hp (746 kW) Wright Cyclone nine cylinder air-cooled radial Wright R-1820-G5 engine. It was designed to carry various combinations of two 0.3 or 0.5 in (7.62 or 12.7 mm) machine guns, mounted in the nose and synchronized to fire through the propeller, while no armor or fuel tank protection was fitted in order to save weight and hence improve performance.[2][4]

The prototype first flew on 22 September 1938, carrying the civil experimental registration NX19431.[2] Although the CW-21 was not commissioned by the U.S. military, it was test flown at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. The Army Air Corps immediately rejected the aircraft, with one officer commenting that it took a genius to land it.[5]

Operational history

The prototype CW-21 was delivered to China for evaluation by the Chinese Air Force. The Chinese were impressed by the CW-21's performance, and negotiation started on a Chinese purchase. While these negotiations were ongoing, the CW-21 prototype was flown in combat against Japanese bombers attacking Chungking, with Curtiss test pilot Bob Fausel claiming a Fiat BR.20 bomber shot down on 4 April 1939. In May 1939 a contract was signed, with China receiving the prototype and three complete examples built by Curtiss, as well as kits for 27 more aircraft. Assembly would be undertaken by the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) at Loiwing, near the China-Burma border. These were to be armed with four machine guns: two .50 caliber (12.7 mm) and two .30 caliber (7.62 mm).[6]

The three Curtiss-built aircraft were shipped to China in May 1940 and were eventually handed over to the 1st American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers), who intended to use them to tackle high-flying Japanese reconnaissance aircraft.[7] These crashed and were destroyed, due to poor visibility, on a flight from Rangoon to Kunming on 23 December 1941.[8] Of the 27 to be assembled by CAMCO, none were completed before CAMCO was forced by advancing Japanese forces to evacuate its Loiwing factory to India in 1942.[9]

Curtiss had meanwhile developed an improved version of the CW-21, the CW-21B. The main difference was a new undercarriage with inward-retracting mainwheels and a semi-retractable tail wheel which had been developed for the Curtiss-Wright CW-23 armed trainer, with other changes including hydraulically operated flaps. Although heavier, the CW-21B was 18 mph (29 km/h) faster than the original CW-21, albeit that climb rate was reduced.[10]

In April 1940, the Dutch Army Aviation Brigade Luchtvaartbrigade, desperate for modern combat aircraft, placed an order for 24 CW-21Bs from Curtiss-Wright. After the Battle of the Netherlands, which resulted in the Dutch Army surrendering to the invading Germans on 15 May 1940, the order for the CW-21Bs (together with a number of Curtiss Model 75 fighters and Curtiss-Wright CW-22 trainers), was transferred to the government of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), for the Militaire Luchtvaart van het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger ("Military Aviation of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army"; ML-KNIL).[11]

The 24 CW-21Bs were assembled at Andir airfield, Bandung, Java in February 1941, equipping Vliegtuigroep IV, Afdeling 2 ("Air Group IV, No. 2 Squadron"; 2-VLG IV). The lightweight construction of the Curtiss-Wrights gave rise to structural problems, and several aircraft were grounded by cracks in the undercarriage, and were still awaiting repair when war with Japan began on 8 December 1941.[12]

With its light construction, radial engine, low wing loading, limited pilot protection and lack of self-sealing fuel tanks, the CW-21B was the Allied fighter most similar to the opposing Japanese fighters. It had a rate of climb superior to the Nakajima Ki-43 ("Oscar") and Mitsubishi A6M ("Zero"). The CW-21B had similar firepower to the "Oscar", but worse than the cannon-armed "Zero". 2-VLG IV claimed four aerial victories during the Netherlands East Indies campaign but the ML-KNIL was overwhelmed by the sheer number of Japanese aircraft; almost all of its fighters were soon lost in combat or destroyed on the ground. [13]


Model 21
Interceptor. One prototype built in 1938 (c/n 21-1 / NX19431). Three production units: NX19441 (c/n 21-2); NX19442 (c/n 21-3); NX19443 (c/n 21-4). A total of 27 sets of components were sent to China to be assembled by CAMCO. Easily identifiable by the Seversky P-35 type of main undercarriage fairings.
Model 21A
Interceptor. Proposed design to utilize the Alison V-1710. Not built.
Model 21B
Interceptor. A total of 24 built for the Netherlands East Indies (c/n 2853 to 2872, NEI serials CW-344 to CW-363). It was easily identifiable by the inward retracting main landing gear that eliminated the need for the undercarriage fairings notable on the Model 21.


Netherlands Dutch East Indies


After the Dutch East Indies fell, the Japanese acquired at least one CW-21B, which was used as a liaison aircraft in the SE Asia area. Japanese photos were found showing it at the Tachikawa test center branch in Singapore. Photos show one CW-21B that was captured in excellent condition, along with a captured Boeing B-17, and other Allied aircraft.[14]

Curtiss-Wright company records list a single CW-21A in the company's inventory until 1945.[citation needed] No additional information has been located, and its fate is unknown.

Specifications (CW-21B)

Curtiss-Wright CW-21 A version

Data from Curtiss Aircraft 1907–1947[13]

General characteristics



See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists
  • List of fighter aircraft


  1. ^ Casius 1981, pp. 33–34.
  2. ^ a b c Casius 1981, p. 34.
  3. ^ Angelucci and Bowers 1987, pp. 153–154.
  4. ^ Bowers 1979, p. 431.
  5. ^ Edwards 1992
  6. ^ Casius 1981, pp. 34–35.
  7. ^ Casius 1981, p. 36.
  8. ^ Ford 2007, pp. 124–25.
  9. ^ Andersson 2008, p. 260.
  10. ^ Casius 1981, pp. 36–37.
  11. ^ Casius 1981, p. 37.
  12. ^ Casius 1981, pp. 38–39.
  13. ^ a b Bowers 1979, p. 463.
  14. ^ "Captured CW 21." Retrieved: 6 August 2011.
  15. ^ a b Green 1961, p.77.
  • Andersson, Lennart. A History of Chinese Aviation: Encyclopedia of Aircraft and Aviation in China until 1949. Taipei, Republic of China: AHS of ROC, 2008. ISBN 978-957-28533-3-7.
  • Angelucci, Enzo and Peter M. Bowers. The American Fighter: The Definitive Guide to American Fighter Aircraft from 1917 to the Present. New York: Orion Books, 1987. ISBN 0-517-56588-9.
  • Bond, Charles R. and Terry H. Anderson. A Flying Tiger's Diary. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-89096-408-4.
  • Bowers, Peter M. Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1979. ISBN 0-87021-155-8.
  • Casius, Gerald. "The St Louis Lightweight". Air Enthusiast, Number 16, August–November 1981.
  • Dean, Francis H. and Dan Hagedorn. Curtiss Fighter Aircraft: A Photographic History, 1917-1948. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-764325-80-9.
  • Edwards, Walter Dumaux. They Fought with What They Had: The Story of the Army Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1942. Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1992 (first edition 1951). ISBN 0-80949-758-1.
  • Ford, Daniel. Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942. Washington, DC: Harper Collins|Smithsonian Books, 2007. ISBN 0-06124-655-7.
  • Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Four: Fighters. London: MacDonald 7 Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961 (Sixth impression 1969). ISBN 0-356-01448-7.
  • Hagedorn, Dan. "Curtiss-Wright Model 21". Skyways, The Journal of the Airplane 1920-1940, Number 77, January 2006.
  • Miranda, Justo and P. Mercado. "Curtiss-Wright P-248-01". Unknown! Number 4; Madrid, Spain, 2006.
  • Munson, Kenneth. Fighters Between the Wars 1919-1939 (The Pocket Encyclopedia of World Aircraft in Colour, Blandford Colour Series). London: Blandford Press Ltd., 1970.
  • Taylor, John W.R. "Curtiss-Wright CW-21." Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.

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