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Through the Lens: WNY’s Industrial Past – Curtiss-Wright Plant #2

Curtiss Wright Buffalo Plant #2a

On December 7, 1941, seventy-five years ago tomorrow, P-40 fighter planes built in Buffalo defended Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attacks.  This picture shows Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s Plant #2, a 1.5 million ft2 factory built in 1940-1941 on the site of the present Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to manufacture Curtiss-Wright’s P-40, known variously as the Warhawk, Kittyhawk and Tomahawk.  Later in December 1941, P-40s carried the Flying Tigers into their first dogfights in the Far East and flew with the British in North Africa against the Luftwaffe.

The P-40 in the foreground has a woman worker standing on its wing who may have just filled the oil tank located in front of the cockpit (see the hose and nozzle laying on the wing).  Women played a critical role in manufacturing during WWII, while most men were in the service.  These “Rosie the Riveters” helped pave the way for women in the workforce today.  This picture reportedly dates from 1943 but shows no sign of a September 11, 1942 accident when a P-40 on a test flight crashed through the roof of Plant #2 killing 14 workers and injuring many others.  By 1943 the P-40 was outclassed by newer aircraft.  If you look to the left in the picture, you can see a second assembly line with a radial-engined fighter.  These are P-47 Thunderbolts, a Republic Aviation Corporation design, that were made under license by Curtiss-Wright.  After P-40 production stopped in 1944, Plant #2 built 2,674 Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando cargo planes which were best known for flying supplies into China from India over the “Hump” or the Himalya Mountains during WWII.

Following the war, aircraft demand plummeted, Curtiss-Wright moved to Columbus, Ohio and Plant #2 was sold to Westinghouse Electric.  For almost 40 years the factory made electronic parts and motors for Westinghouse’s Motor and Industrial Controls Division until it was shut down in 1985.  After several failed attempts at reuse, Plant #2 was sold to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and demolished in 1999 to make way for expanding the current airport terminal, tarmac and second runway.  Today, the only remnant of Plant #2 is a plaque dedicated to the workers lost in that P-40 crash on September 11, 1942.

For a larger version of the photo click here.