Charles Lawrance, originally a race car engine designer, built his first air-cooled aircraft engine in 1921 for a Navy contract. The 149 kW (200 hp) J-1 satisfied a Navy need for a compact lightweight engine for use on aircraft carriers and not plagued with water leakage problems.
Progressing through design stages, the most well known model J-5 used advanced engineering features; such as sodium cooled exhaust valves and aluminum cylinder heads. Despite its higher initial cost relative to other engines available at the time, its reliability and lower operating cost resulted in widespread use among many aircraft manufacturers. The Wright Whirlwind J-5 engine powered aircraft such as the Fokker F-7, Ford 4-AT Trimotor, Pitcairn PA-5, and Fairchild FC-2.
The most famous Wright Whirlwind application was the 1927 New York-to-Paris flight of Charles Lindbergh. In 1928, Charles Lawrance was awarded the Collier Trophy for the outstanding performance of his engines based on records set in 1927.