Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk

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The Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk was designed to fill a U.S. Navy requirement for a small fighter to operate from aircraft carriers.  After trails with the XF9C-1 prototype, the Navy became disillusioned with the small fighter concept as a shipboard fighter.  However, the Curtiss design was given a second chance as a “trapeze fighter” based aboard the Navy’s airships USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5).
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Each of the airships could carry up to four Sparrowhawks in internal hangers with a fifth aircraft hooked to an external “perch”, although Akron required the redesign of some internal structural supports to accommodate the full complement of aircraft.  In a departure from normal Navy marking practices, each of the Sparrowhawks was marked as a Section Leader’s aircraft with fuselage band and cowling painted in the section color, as were the wheel fairings.
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The original intention was for the airships themselves to scout for the fleet with the Sparrowhawks providing protection.  However, fleet exercises demonstrated that the airships were vulnerable to interception so the concept was modified with the Sparrowhawks flying ahead of their mother ships to act as scouts.
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When operating over water, the wheeled landing gear were removed and replaced with a 30 gallon auxiliary tank to increase range.  The photograph shows BuNo 9057 approaching the USS Macon.
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To recover the aircraft, the airship would lower a trapeze.  The pilot would then match the airship’s speed and hook onto the trapeze bar with the F9C’s dorsal hook.
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This is BuNo 9057 again hooked on to the Macon.  The trapeze assembly had a retractable collar which could be lowered to stabilize the fuselage of the Sparrowhawk to prevent buffeting.
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This is the XF9C-1 prototype undergoing trials on the Akron.  The aircraft is within the airship, note that the engine is not running.
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BuNo 9059 in the hanger with the fuselage stabilized by the collar.  The countryside is visible below, certainly not a job for someone with a fear of heights!
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A fine in-flight study of BuNo 9058.  The XF9C-2 prototype was assigned BuNo 9264 and there were six production F9C-2, BuNo 9056 – 9061.   One Sparrowhawk survives today on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center.  It was reconstructed from 9056 using parts from the XF9C-2 prototype.  9058 – 9060 were lost at sea and are in the wreck of the Macon.
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A classic photograph of the USS Macon (ZRS-5) over New York City in the Summer of 1933.  I couldn’t resist!

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