Before the Gooney Bird, there was the Condor
By Joe Gertler
The T-32 design originally focused on The Condor as a twin-engine biplane, bomber, ambulance and troop transport. It was first flown in 1933. Curtiss Company blueprints and reports showed the Condor with its many machine gun ports in the nose, and on the top and bottom of the plane. There were long lists of possible bomb and ammunition loadings, able to carry bombs weighing 120, 300, 600 and 1,100 pounds, along with a substantial amount of other ammunition for the machine guns. The two Wright SGR-1820 Cyclone engines provided for a substantial loading and excellent performance and speed and range. Military Condors were used in the air forces of Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Honduras, Peru, and the UK. In the U.S., it was used by the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Some were provided as twin-float seaplanes. The U.S. Navy and Marine versions were designated R4C-1.
Having experienced good performance as a troop carrier, Curtiss continued the evolution toward its use as a commercial aircraft, with modern and innovative features. It could be quickly converted from an 18-passenger day carrier, in six rows of three comfortable leather seats each to 12 sleeper berths. Night sleeper versions were flown by Eastern Air Transport, and American Airways. It had a novel feature of steam heating for the cabin, along with a toilet room at the rear, with both hot and cold running water. Baggage was carried in the compartments aft of the engine nacelles. The plane also had retractable landing gear. Civil Condors were operated by airlines in Chile, China, Switzerland, and the UK and U.S.
Perhaps the most famous Curtiss Condor was the one Admiral Richard Byrd used on his famous Antarctic expeditions of 1935. He was proud to report that during his surveying flights of some 30,000 miles, he did not experience a single engine or aircraft problem. His Condor was initially flown with the twin seaplane pontoons, and the fuel capacity was modified to 1,100 gallons of gasoline, to expand it from the normal range of 810 miles, to an impressive 2,000 miles. They had covered 250,000 square miles in all. It was widely featured in newspapers and news film reels all across the world, and was exhibited on Byrd’s post-expedition tour.
Performance and other specifications varied as to different configurations. Normal cruise speed of the military versions with the 82-foot wingspan, was 145mph at seventy-five percent power. Normal cruise speed of the commercial version, with the 91 foot, 8 inch wingspan, was a more modest 118mph. Both the military and commercial versions were produced at the 225,000 square foot factory in Buffalo, New York.