Curtiss R3C

Early in the development of aviation a spirit of sporting and competition became a major aspect of its ever-growing appeal. Air races began to enjoy a worldwide popularity, and two of the most coveted prizes were the Pulitzer Trophy and the Schneider Cup. In 1912 a wealthy French aviation enthusiast, Jacques Schneider, established a trophy to be awarded annually to the winner of a race to be flown over water in seaplanes. The Pulitzer Trophy Race, on the other hand, was sponsored by an American newspaperman, Ralph Pulitzer, to promote high speed in landplanes.

In 1925 the U.S. Army and Navy ordered from the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company aircraft of basically the same design but with individual variations. These airplanes ran away with first place in both trophy races in that same year. One of them also established a straightaway speed record for seaplanes.

This airplane was the R3C-1/R3C-2 (the -1 is the landplane and the -2 the seaplane version).

The R3C-1, piloted by Lt. Cyrus Bettis, won the Pulitzer Trophy Race on October 12, 1925, at a speed of 248.9 mph. On October 25, fitted with streamlined single-step wooden floats and redesignated the R3C-2, it was piloted to victory by Army Lt. James H. Jimmy Doolittle in the Schneider Cup Race held at Bay Shore Park, Baltimore. The average speed was 232.57 mph. On the day after the Schneider Race, Doolittle flew the R3C-2 over a straight course at a world record speed of 245.7 mph. In the Schneider Cup Race of November 13, 1926, this same airplane, piloted by Lt. Christian F. Schilt, USMC, and powered by an improved engine, won second place with an average speed of 231.4 mph.

The R3C-1 was similar in dimensions and plan to the R2C-1 of 1923 but had a more powerful Curtiss V-1400 610-hp engine (665 hp in the 1926 racer).

The R3C-1 was a single-seat, single-bay, wire-braced biplane. The wings were covered with twoply spruce planking. 3/32-inch thick, forming a box structure that required no internal bracing. Among the interesting features were the low-drag wing radiators made of corrugated brass sheeting, .004-inch thick, covering much of the surface of both upper and lower wings with the corrugations running chordwise. The upper wing was flush with the top of the fuselage, permitting the pilot to see over the wing. All ribs were of spruce conforming to the Curtiss C-80 airfoil section, and the ailerons, made of metal, were fabric-covered. The cantilever vertical fin and horizontal stabilizer were of wood.

An ingeniously fabricated streamlined monocoque structure, the fuselage consisted of a shell of two layers of spruce over which fabric was doped for added strength and protection. This shell was formed over seven birch plywood bulkheads that were connected by four ash longerons, making a rigid structure.

The unbalanced movable controls were metal. Only necessary navigation and engine instruments were installed. They consisted of gauges for water temperature, oil temperature, oil pressure, and fuel quantity, as well as a tachometer and an airspeed indicator.

The fixed landing gear in the R3C-1 was a tripod configuration. A laminated hickory tail skid was added to protect the rudder. As a landplane, the R3C-1 carried only 27 gallons of fuel, which gave 48 minutes flying time at full throttle. In the R3C-2, the fuel capacity was increased to 60 gallons, enough for 1.3 hours at full throttle, by installing fuel tanks in the floats.

The wings and elevators were painted gold; the fuselage, stabilizer, fin, struts, fairings, cowling, pontoons and/or wheels were all black. Contemporary star cockades were painted on the right and left sides of the upper surface of the top wing and the lower surface of the bottom wing, outboard of the wing radiators. The rudder was painted with red, white, and blue vertical stripes, the blue stripe being next to the rudderpost. Both sides of the vertical fin were lettered U.S. Army," in white. On both sides of the fuselage aft of the cockpit a large numeral 43 was painted in white. This was the number used in the Pulitzer Race. When flown in the 1925 Schneider Race, the aircraft carried the number 3, and in the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race it was numbered 6.

It was on loan for several years to the Air Force Museum, where it was restored by Air Force personnel. It now hangs in the Pioneers of Flight gallery at the National Air and Space Museum.