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F9C: Sparrowhawk

Initially conceived in 1930 for use onboard aircraft carriers, the prototype, XF9C-1, was delivered in March 1931. The aircraft had a crew of one, and was approximately 20 feet in length. For armament, there were two .30 inch Browning machine guns. Despite showing good performance, they were not suitable use onboard carriers. The aircraft found a use aboard the dirigible USS Akron (ZRS-4) as they fit through the hangar door. Modified with a skyhook, the airship’s “trapeze” airplane handling device could launch and recover the aircraft while in flight. With the production and testing of F9C-2 in October and successful testing aboard Akron in early 1932, six more aircraft, Sparrowhawks, were constructed and delivered to the U.S. Navy by September.

The F9C-2 aircraft were utilized onboard Akron until her loss on April 4, 1933. Following this accident, the aircraft were transferred to USS Macon (ZRS-5). Beginning in mid-1934, Sparrowhawks had their wheeled landing gear replaced with a teardrop fuel tank which improved their endurance, which helped with aiding in scouting. On February 12, 1935, Macon crashed at sea. Four F9C-2 aircraft were lost with her. Two of the remaining craft were used for Fleet utility work, with a further aircraft disposed of in 1937. FC9-2 (BuNo 9056) remained in service until 1940 when she was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution for preservation.

In 2006, an expedition led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration investigated the Macon crash site and recorded four Sparrowhawk aircraft.

Image: NH 71617: Curtiss F9C-2, Sparrowhawk, fighters, circa 1933-35. Flying in a V formation. Planes were based aboard USS Macon (ZRS-5). NHHC Photograph Collection.