P-36 (Hawk 75A-1)

H-75 and pilot[1]

Role Fighter
Crew One
First flight (Prototype) May 1935 (Production) April 1938
Entered service
Manufacturer Curtiss-Wright Corporation
Length 28ft 7in (8.7m)
Wingspan 37ft 3 1/2in (11.36m)
Height 9ft 6in (2.89m)
Wing area
Empty 4,541lb (2,060kg)
Loaded 6,662lb (3,020kg)
Maximum takeoff
Engine One Pratt & Whitney R-1830-13 radial engine
Power (each) 1,050hp
Internal Fuel 134.7 Imperial gallons, spread mover three tanks.[2]
External Fuel
Maximum speed 303mph (488km/h)
Cruising speed
Range (On internal fuel) 680 miles (1,100km)
Ceiling 30,000ft (9,144m)
Rate of climb
Guns One 0.5in and one 0.3in machine guns

The P-36 was a radial engine fighter used by various countries in the early months of World War 2.


In November 1934 Curtiss began the design of a completely new Hawk fighter with cantilever monoplane wing, backwards retracting undercarriage and all metal stressed skin construction. After testing by the Army Air Corps, this design was put into production as the P-36A. [3]

Even before the P-36A entered production, the French Air Force entered negotiations with Curtiss for delivery of 300 aircraft. The negotiating process ended up being very drawn-out because the cost of the Curtiss fighters was double that of the French Morane-Saulnier MS.406 and Bloch MB.150, and the delivery schedule was deemed too slow. Since the USAAC was unhappy with the rate of domestic deliveries and believed that export aircraft would slow things down even more, it actively opposed the sale. Eventually, it took direct intervention from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to give the French test pilot Michel Detroyat a chance to fly the Y1P-36.

Detroyat's enthusiasm, problems with the MB.150, and the pressure of continuing German rearmament finally forced France to purchase 100 aircraft and 173 engines. The first Hawk 75A-1 arrived in France in December 1938 and began entering service in March 1939. After the first few examples, aircraft were delivered in pieces and assembled in France by the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre. Officially designated Curtiss H75-C1 (the "Hawk" name was not used in France), the aircraft were powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC-G engines with 900 hp (671 kW) and had metric, translated instruments, a seat for French dorsal parachutes, a French-style throttle which operated in reverse from U.S. and British aircraft (e.g. full throttle was to the rear rather than to the front) and armament of four 7.5 mm FN-Browning machine guns. The aircraft evolved through several modifications, the most significant being the installation of the Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine. This variant , designated as Curtiss H751-C1, saw little operational use due to its late delivery and reliability problems with the new engine. A total of 416 H75s were delivered to France before the German occupation. On 8 September 1939, aircraft from Groupe de Chasse II/4 were credited with shooting down two Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109Es, the first Allied air victory of World War II on the Western front. During 1939–1940, French pilots claimed 230 confirmed and 80 probable victories in H75s against only 29 aircraft lost in aerial combat. Of the 11 French aces of the early part of the war, seven flew H75s. The leading ace of the time was Lt. Edmond Marin la Meslée with 15 confirmed and five probable victories in the type. H75-equipped squadrons were evacuated to French North Africa before the Armistice to avoid capture by the Germans. While under the Vichy government, these units clashed with British aircraft over Mers el-Kébir and Dakar. During Operation Torch in North Africa, French H75s fought against U.S. Navy F4F Wildcats, losing 15 aircraft to seven shot down American planes. From late 1942 on, the Allies started re-equipping French units formerly under Vichy and the H75s were replaced by P-40s and P-39s.[4]

Use in Piece of CakeEdit

The example in Piece of Cake is first mentioned just before Hornet Squadron's departure from Amifontaine. Following the loss of 'Flash' Gordon's aircraft, Hart remembers seeing a battered looking fighter parked behind a hanger. When Barton asks if the P-36 belongs to anyone, he is informed by one of the flight sergeants that the aircraft was rebuilt for Squadron Leader Rex, from the remains of two that had collided. Due to Rex's death, the P-36 hadn't actually been flown. In addition, the undercarriage wouldn't retract - the flight sergeant telling Flash the ground crew might have fitted it incorrectly - and when Flash eventually takes off, the aircraft proves incapable of climbing above 500ft.[5]

After traveling twenty or thirty miles, Flash comes across hordes of refugees who - due to him flying low in an attempt to locate a road sign - jump out of his way. Shortly afterwards, Flash encounters a Bf-110 firing on more refugees, which he quickly shots down, almost adding to the carnage in the process.[6]

The P-36 was last known to be at Mailly-le-Camp, where Flash had left it upon landing an hour after the other survivors of Hornet Squadron.[7] It was subsequently burnt, along with Fitz's Hurricane, during the withdrawal from France.[8]

The P-36 subplot did not feature in the miniseries.


  1. Historical Service of the French Air Force
  2. Key to cutaway on pages 136-137 of the Complete Book of Fighters
  3. Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II
  4. P-36 entry on Warbird Resource Group Website
  5. "Piece of Cake (novel) pages 434 - 437.
  6. "Piece of Cake (novel) pages 436 - 437.
  7. "Piece of Cake (novel) pages 438.
  8. Piece of Cake (novel) pages 468.