Two Minute Read, WWII

Curtiss SC Seahawk – Eyes and Ears of the Navy’s Reconnaissance

When it comes to the unique interplay of aviation and naval technology, the Curtiss SC Seahawk is an intriguing subject to explore.

One of the last seaplane scouts built in the United States during World War II, the Seahawk was designed to operate from battleships and cruisers, offering a new perspective on the role of naval aviation.

Despite the limited production run and a somewhat belated entry into the war, the Seahawk has etched its unique legacy in military aviation history, becoming the epitome of a generation of maritime combat aircraft.



The story of the Curtiss SC Seahawk began in the late 1930s as military strategists around the world were awakening to the potential of aerial reconnaissance and combat.

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The US Navy was no exception, realizing that aircraft equipped with floatation devices could extend their fleets’ operational reach and provide valuable intelligence.

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation, a dominant player in the American aviation industry, was commissioned to develop a new scout plane to meet these requirements.

The predecessor of the Seahawk was the Curtiss SO3C Seamew, an aircraft that failed to impress due to various issues including poor handling and underpowered engine performance.

The SO3C with floats.
The SO3C with floats.

The harsh lessons learned from the SO3C spurred Curtiss to rectify these issues in their new creation.

They embarked on a mission to develop a new, superior floatplane – a challenge that led to the birth of the Curtiss SC Seahawk in 1944.

Design & Development

The development process of the Seahawk reflected a blend of ambition and necessity.

The design of the aircraft was significantly influenced by the lessons drawn from its underperforming predecessor.

The SC-1 was a huge improvement over the previous Seamew.
The SC-1 was a huge improvement over the previous Seamew.

The designers aimed to craft an aircraft that could outperform its predecessors and contemporaries in all key performance parameters, from speed and range to payload capacity and handling characteristics.

At the heart of the Seahawk was the powerful Wright R-1820-62 Cyclone radial engine, providing 1,350 horsepower, a considerable upgrade from the Seamew.

This choice of engine imparted the Seahawk with robust performance, allowing it to reach a top speed of over 313 miles per hour.

The powerful engine gave the Seahawk a decent top speed for the type of aircraft.
The powerful engine gave the Seahawk a decent top speed for the type of aircraft.

The airframe design was also innovative, adopting a sleek, streamlined shape. An arresting feature of the Seahawk was its pontoons, necessary for water landings.

These were made retractable to reduce drag during flight, and its main pontoon could be jettisoned in an emergency, a first for a naval aircraft.

In terms of armament, the Seahawk was fitted with two forward-firing 12.7mm machine guns in the wings and could carry two 100lb bombs or depth charges. It was also equipped with advanced (for the time) radar and communications equipment, ensuring its role as a scout and spotter for naval artillery was a success.

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Operational Use

By the time the Seahawk entered service in 1944, the United States had made significant strides in the Pacific War.

A Seahawk being recovered by the USS Manchester.
A Seahawk being recovered by the USS Manchester.

However, the strategic advantage the aircraft provided was not to be underestimated.

While it saw limited combat, its role as a scout and gunnery spotter was invaluable, proving a game-changer in the final stages of the Pacific theatre.

The Seahawk was primarily operated from battleships and cruisers.

The catapult-assisted launch and recovery system, a common feature of warships of the period, allowed the Seahawk to be quickly deployed and recovered, even in the open ocean.

This provided warships with an eye in the sky, extending their effective combat range and enhancing their tactical awareness.

One notable operation involving the Seahawk was during the Battle of Okinawa.

Here, the Seahawks played a crucial role in reconnaissance and provided gunnery spotting support for the US fleet, proving instrumental in the overall victory.

Cranes were used to recover the aircraft.
Cranes were used to recover the aircraft.

However, with the war coming to an end in 1945 and the advent of the jet age, the Seahawk’s operational life was short-lived. By 1949, the last of these fascinating aircraft were retired from service.


Despite its relatively brief service history, the Curtiss SC Seahawk is an enduring symbol of a unique era in military aviation.

It represented the pinnacle of floatplane design at a time when the world was transitioning into the jet age and carrier-based aircraft were becoming the norm for naval aviation.

The Seahawk’s combination of speed, range, and versatility demonstrated the potential of seaplane scouts as force multipliers for naval operations.

A Seahawk on the water.
A Seahawk on the water.

It is also a testament to the spirit of innovation and adaptability that characterized wartime aircraft development.

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In many ways, the Curtiss SC Seahawk was the last of its kind, marking the end of an era for seaplane scouts in the United States Navy.

Despite the advances in technology that led to its obsolescence, the Seahawk’s legacy endures, a testament to its role in the grand tapestry of aviation history.

As we look back, the Seahawk’s story reminds us of the role of necessity and innovation in the face of daunting challenges – a lesson as relevant today as it was during the tumultuous times of its creation.

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  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: Facility for single stretcher patient
  • Length: 36 ft 4.5 in (11.087 m)
  • Wingspan: 41 ft 0 in (12.50 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 0 in (4.88 m) on beaching gear
  • Empty weight: 6,320 lb (2,867 kg)
  • Gross weight: 9,000 lb (4,082 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Wright R-1820-62 Cyclone 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 1,350 hp
  • Maximum speed: 313 mph (504 km/h, 272 kn) at 28,600 ft (8,700 m)
  • Range: 625 mi (1,006 km, 543 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 37,300 ft (11,400 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,500 ft/min (13 m/s)