Our legacy of innovation has its roots in the earliest successes of the Wright brothers and Glenn Curtiss. The eventual merger of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation with Wright Aeronautical Corporation in 1929, a few months before the start of the Great Depression, brought together 18 affiliated companies and 29 subsidiaries, which formally created the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. With total assets of more than $70 million and stock valued at $220 million, the company was immediately considered the world's most prodigious aviation concern.
On December 17, 1903, amid the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved one of civilized man's fondest dreams - flight. It lasted only twelve seconds, but that brief flight of a manned, heavier-than-air machine ushered in the age of aviation. Ironically, this milestone, which marked one of the greatest advancements in the history of man, was witnessed by only a handful of people and was largely overlooked by most newspapers of the day. We express thanks and gratitude to Orville and Wilbur Wright, Glenn Curtiss, and the other early pioneers of aviation who took those first steps.
The Wright brothers perfected their design to the point where they could sustain flights of 24 miles in which they could bank, turn and do "figure eights." But in 1905, when the Wright brothers offered their invention to the United States Army, it was rejected without any consideration. Even the patent office was skeptical; an application filed in 1903 was finally approved and granted in 1906 for a "flying machine." In 1909, the first great international aviation meet was held in Rheims, France. Sure of victory, the Wright brothers entered three planes in hopes of dominating the event. A young unknown won the competition. His name was Glenn Curtiss.
As a result of Glenn Curtiss' early success, The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company became the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world during World War I and went public in 1916 with Curtiss as president. Curtiss had become the world's largest aviation company, employing 18,000 at its Buffalo facility and 3,000 at its Hammondsport, New York location. They produced 10,000 aircraft during World War I, more than 100 in a single week.
World War I greatly accelerated the pace of airplane development worldwide; speed, range and reliability constantly increased together with a newly emerging engineering discipline, aerodynamics, that would guide airplane development forever after.
When Wright Aeronautical was incorporated in 1919, its charter was the design and manufacture of aero engines. Although the Wright brothers were no longer involved with the company (Wilbur had died and Orville had other interests), it can be said that the Wright Aeronautical engine tradition began with the first Wright brothers' engine in 1903.
Most engines of the period were water-cooled and suffered frequent cooling system failures. Radiators came apart; porous engine castings, lines, hoses and gaskets leaked. Failure rates were of great concern, particularly to the Navy where over-water flying was more hazardous. Wright did some work with air-cooled engines for the Army, but success came when the company developed a relationship with Charles J. Lawrance.
The Lawrance Aero Engine Corporation bore his name. Lawrance was an engineer devoted to the development of air-cooled radial engines. He had started the development of a series of promising engine designs and demonstrated a working model to the Navy. With a union between Lawrance and Wright, Lawrance could provide technical leadership and Wright its formidable financial, engineering and manufacturing resources. Wright bought his company and installed him as Chief Engineer, starting what would be their principal business for the next 40 years.
After purchasing the Lawrance Aero Engine Corporation, Wright Aeronautical was able to successfully design and build the J-5C Whirlwind. It had 9 cylinders; was light at 510 lbs.; had no water-cooling appurtenances. It was simple and easily maintained. The Whirlwind developed 220 HP at 1800 rpm, a low speed that contributed to its reliability.
Wright Aeronautical now had a first-class product and looked for a way to advertise the engine and show it to the world. On May 20, 1927, a sleek Ryan monoplane named "The Spirit of St. Louis" took off from Roosevelt Field in New York. Piloted by Captain Charles A. Lindbergh, the little plane touched down at LeBourget Airport in Paris, France, 33 hours, 39 minutes and 3,610 miles later. The powerplant which performed flawlessly on this epic journey: a Wright J-5 Whirlwind, Engine No. 7331. Lindbergh's story is aviation history. Lindbergh's flight was an international triumph for Wright Aeronautical. The Whirlwind engine never missed a beat. Lindbergh's feat made the J-5C the most popular engine for long distance air travel. Soon more flights were made to Europe, to the North and South poles and across the Pacific with Whirlwind power.
As a result of the successes of the pioneers of the aviation industry, Curtiss-Wright Corporation was formed from the merger of 12 Wright and Curtiss affiliated companies on July 5, 1929. On August 22nd of that same year, Curtiss-Wright Corporation was listed on the New York Stock Exchange where it still trades today.
Curtiss-Wright's first decade saw the seeds of its corporate evolution being sown. The Company made advances in aircraft engines. In its engine development of the 1930's, Curtiss-Wright pioneered such innovations as forged aluminum pistons, the dynamic damper which absorbed crankshaft vibration, finned cylinder heads for cooling, and nitrided cylinder barrels, a metallurgical process which gave vastly improved wear resistance and life. Curtiss-Wright pioneered the concepts of air-cooled engines as well as the radial engine. By the end of the decade, Curtiss-Wright engineers had pushed output per engine above the 1,000 horsepower mark. The Cyclone Engine powered the venerable Douglas DC-3 transport, a potent combination that opened up the United States Airline Transportation System before World War II. In 1934, Curtiss-Wright was chosen to build the 9 cylinder radial engines for the four-engine Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
Curtiss made advancements in the development of propeller design with the variable pitch propeller, the hollow-steel propeller, and the concept of "feathering"- the disengaging of a propeller from an inactive engine to prevent engine rotation.
In 1937, the Curtiss P-36 Hawk Fighter Plane was developed, tested and accepted by the United States Army. It resulted in the largest peacetime aircraft order ever given by the Army Air Corps.
As war clouds formed in Europe, the Armed Forces of the United States began to accelerate defense preparations and Curtiss-Wright played a major part in the production of armaments for the war effort. Curtiss-Wright's incredible record of mass production, scale-up and management during World War II is a matter of documented history.
In 1940, Curtiss-Wright introduced the famous P-40 War Hawk, which through December, 1944 was to have a production run of 13,738 planes and serve with distinction in the Air Forces of 28 nations during World War II. Curtiss-Wright's aggregate war score: 142,840 aircraft engines; 146,468 electric propellers; 29,269 airplanes which included the Curtiss Commando transport and the Navy dive bomber, the Helldiver.
During the war effort the company had been required to place its focus on the development and mass production of reciprocating engines and propellers. With the jet age dawning, the company withdrew from military airplane competition.
The incredible growth of commercial aviation in the decade following World War II again placed tremendous demand on Curtiss-Wright's capability to provide reliable reciprocating engines and propellers. Curtiss-Wright engines powered the mainstays of commercial aviation in the fifties; planes like the Douglas DC-7 and Lockheed Super Constellation. Military demands for jet engines took Curtiss-Wright into that field and the J-65 engine enjoyed a long production run.
In the early and mid-fifties, Curtiss-Wright combined the wisdom gained from airplane design with the new science of electronics and pioneered the development of flight simulators for military and commercial aircraft. Sooner than anyone could have predicted, commercial aviation pushed into the jet age. Public enthusiasm for the speed and comfort of such planes as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 began to ring down the curtain on the reciprocating engine and the propeller. With this change in technology, Curtiss-Wright accelerated its activities to become a more diversified company and reduce what had been its historical dependency on the aviation industry.
We were involved early on in the development of the plastics industry as a manufacturer of plastics used for industrial, household and personal products. The Company had an electronics business segment and produced military nuclear rod control equipment. Other businesses included automotive components, heavy earth moving equipment, a metal extrusion facility and the distributorship of Mercedes-Benz automobiles in the United States.
Curtiss-Wright's transition from an overdependence on mature products such as reciprocating engines and propellers to the balanced multi-market, multinational structure in existence today truly began to accelerate in the 1960s. While Curtiss-Wright continued to support military and commercial users of their reciprocating and jet engines, and propellers, with parts and overhaul services, a new management team began to push the technological capabilities of Curtiss-Wright into new and allied growth markets. While the Company became involved in a number of businesses during the coming years, it was during this decade that the cornerstones of what the Company is today were put into place.
As the space program began to form, Curtiss-Wright was able to bring its skills in metalworking to bear on that new and growing area. The Company took on the role of major subcontractor, and developed the equipment and sophisticated methods for the mass production of precision-machined rocket motor cases and exhaust nozzles. Decades of expertise in precision design, engineering and machining in propellers and transmission systems were redirected to the engineering and production of mechanical, hydraulic and electro-mechanical control and actuation systems for aerospace and defense applications.
With the acquisition of Target Rock Corporation in 1961, the Company laid the foundation of what is now our industrial valves business. With this addition, Curtiss-Wright moved into the highly specialized field of safety and relief valves for use in United States Navy nuclear propulsion systems on submarines and aircraft carriers. This market entry was broadened in 1967 when Target Rock Corporation received their first order for valves for a commercial nuclear power plant - an offshoot of their original military programs.
The Company's Surface Technologies division began with an acquisition made in 1968 that took the corporation into the industrial service field. Metal Improvement Company, which provided shot-peening and shot-peen forming services to industrial and aerospace customers, had only three plants at the time of acquisition.
The decade of the seventies saw Curtiss-Wright move forward in a number of areas of emerging and innovative technology.
The Company owned the North American rights to the Wankel Rotary Engine and development of this was carried on. It finally came into its own by the end of the 1970's, powering the highly successful Mazda RX-7 sports car, and adapted by Ingersoll-Rand for a series of highly reliable rotary compressors. New strides in the clean and economical combustion of coal and coal waste products for the generation of electricity and process steam were being achieved by Curtiss-Wright engineers and scientists.
Through its Target Rock subsidiary, a supplier of valves for nuclear applications in the U.S. Navy and the commercial nuclear power industry, Curtiss-Wright entered the commercial fossil power market in 1980 for similar critical steam valve applications.
Curtiss-Wright's aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul business was transformed over the years. With the decline of Curtiss-Wright's engine business, the Company redirected the skills and physical facilities of its overhaul business to refurbishing and rebuilding industrial gas generators, which were essentially derivatives of jet engine technology.
The strong growth in commercial aviation and airline traffic was underlined by two significant multi-year projects involving the Surface Technologies division. They would peen form wing skins for the complete family of McDonnell-Douglas commercial transports. They also would provide peen forming services to the British Aerospace/Airbus Industrie consortium for its family of air transports that included the new generation A-320 and the proposed A-330 and A-340 wide bodies.
At the end of the 1980s, Curtiss-Wright was heavily oriented toward the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Programs while only a small portion of shipments were to the Commercial Nuclear, and, to a lesser extent, Fossil Power Industries. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, the U.S. Navy continued to apply cost reduction and increased quality requirements while construction of nuclear submarines had ramped down rapidly from prior levels. In response to the production rate reductions, the Company looked to expand into related products and markets.
The unprecedented replacement cycle of the world airline industry coupled with increased traffic growth and new routes combined to swamp the three major commercial airframe manufactures - Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Airbus Industrie - with new orders. At the time, Curtiss-Wright supplied actuation and control systems and components to Boeing for the 737, 747 and 757 programs. Peen forming of wing skins for commercial programs at Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Airbus Industries were being performed. Curtiss-Wright now possessed some of the most technologically advanced capabilities in our industry to design and manufacture, or form and peen, aerospace components.
However, developments in the military and commercial aerospace industry provided some cause for concern. Improvements in East-West relations and the growing pressure to reduce the Federal deficit resulted in a reduction in military spending by the US Government. A slowdown in the commercial airline industry led to declines in commercial airline ridership and reduced orders for new aircraft. These changes in the aerospace/defense industry in the 1990s required participants to re-examine how they would conduct business in the future with one result being a consolidation movement within the industry that is, to some extent, still in progress. While production rates of commercial aircraft eventually began to increase, there would be few new commercial and military aircraft programs. Under these circumstances, the ability to gain position on these programs became increasingly important.
In order to deal with the cyclical nature of the industry, Curtiss-Wright expanded first into the overhaul servicing of the Company's manufactured transmissions and actuators primarily for the wing-flap systems. In 1996, we acquired a maintenance, repair and overhaul business from Aviall and became a complete overhaul and repair provider by expanding our capabilities to include other aircraft components and systems.
In 1995, because of the Company's diversification efforts, our nuclear business commenced shipment of multiple valve programs for the Korean commercial nuclear power generation construction program, which included safety relief valves, solenoid valves and motor operated valves. In addition, we expanded the products we could offer our commercial nuclear customers when we acquired Enertech in 1998. In addition to marketing our own products, Enertech is also a distributor for other manufacturers. When added to Curtiss-Wright's existing line, we were now fully equipped to meet the needs of our customer base.
Another sign of our diversification efforts was the 1998 acquisition of Curtiss-Wright Drive Technology. Drive Technology designs and manufactures drives and suspension systems for armored military vehicles and tilting systems for high-speed railway car applications. Headquartered in Switzerland and now part of the Defense Solutions division, its addition not only introduced us into these new markets but also provided us with hydraulic and electronic capabilities that are applied to the Company's aerospace product lines.