Interwar Military Aviation

The airplane emerged from World War I recognized widely for its potential as a military weapon. In the United States, Army pilots and Navy and Marine aviators worked to realize their different visions of the airplane’s ultimate role in American defense.

These advocates faced institutional resistance and meager budgets. They also faced the danger of pushing the capabilities of a rapidly developing technology during regular operations, combat in foreign lands, and public flights that presented their visions to everyday Americans. Innovations in doctrine, organization, and technology resulted in the air forces that would fight World War II on a global scale.

The Museum’s collection of 1920s and 1930s military aircraft contains many one-of-a-kind and sole-surviving aircraft.


Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk
Operating from U.S. Navy airships during the early 1930s, diminutive Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawks tested one of the more imaginative ideas in aviation history. Deployed with the USS Akron and Macon, they turned these airships into flying aircraft carriers. The airplanes, which could be released and recovered in flight, were to be used for attack, for defense of the airships, and to greatly increase search range for the Navy's giant, helium-filled dirigibles.

Eight Sparrowhawks were produced for this purpose. The first arrived at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, in June 1932, and experimental trials with airship-based fighter support were brief. The Akron was lost in a storm on April 4, 1933; the Macon crashed off the California coast on February 12, 1935. Before these accidents, not a single Sparrowhawk was lost. However, with only three remaining, and no dirigible from which to operate, the aircraft were relegated to utility flying.

More information: Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk

Boeing P-26A Peashooter

Boeing P-26A Peashooter
The Boeing P-26A of the mid-to-late 1930s introduced the concept of the high-performance, all-metal monoplane fighter design, which would become standard during World War II. A radical departure from wood-and-fabric biplanes, the Peashooter nonetheless retained an open cockpit, fixed landing gear, and external wing bracing.

More information: Boeing P-26A Peashooter

Loening OA-1A "San Francisco"

Loening OA-1A San Francisco
The historic Pan-American Goodwill Flight of 1926 and 1927 through Mexico and Central and South America was intended to improve relations with Latin American countries, to encourage commercial aviation, and to provide valuable training for Air Corps personnel. The flight was made by ten pilots in five Loening OA-1A amphibian aircraft. To stimulate public interest, each airplane was named after a major U.S. city — the New York, the San Antonio, the San Francisco, the Detroit, and the St. Louis.

More information: Loening OA-1A San Francisco