Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

November Mystery Airplane Contest


January 1, 2022

Tom Lymburn

Curtiss (Model 85) O-52 Owl

Military aviation began before WWI with an emphasis on observation of the enemy. A large number of "two-seaters" emerged during the Great War to be the eyes of the army. Post war, the United States and other nations continued to depend on large, relatively slow aircraft that would make good targets for fast, heavily armed fighters. One of the last of these for the United States was the Curtiss O-52 Owl.

Ordered to U.S. Army Air Corps specification W-535-ac-13362 on 12 October 1939, 203 Curtiss O-52 Owls were delivered from Buffalo, New York, between June 1941 and January 1942 at an average unit cost of $50,826. First flying in February 1941, and powered by a 600 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radial, the O-52 was capable of 220 mph and carried a pair of .30 caliber machine guns.

Most were assigned to Army observation squadrons or the National Guard. Thirty were sent Lend-Lease to the USSR, 11 being lost enroute. Ten more were sent to the Philippines for the 2nd Observation Squadron. A few flew anti-submarine patrols off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and over the Gulf of Mexico.

The O-52 (AAC 40-2769) in this June 1996 photo taken at the Yanks Museum in Chino, California, was delivered to the Army on 27 August 1941 and assigned to the 108th Observation Squadron, Illinois National Guard at Chicago's Midway Airport. By October 1941, it had been reassigned to the Observer Training School at Brooks Field, Texas. During its short Army service, it was involved in at least four ground or landing accidents. By August 1944, it had been struck off charge at Cimmaron Field, Oklahoma, and assigned to the War Assets Commission for sale. Surplus O-52s were offered for $1225 and could be registered under Limited Type Certificate LTC-16 of 6 May 1947, held by the Holmberg Aerial Survey Company.

Registered NL61241, to B & F Aircraft Company in 1954, 40-2769 was one of at least eight to appear on the USCAR.

I first ran across 40-2769 at the old EAA Museum at Hales Corners, Wisconsin, in June 1977, and photographed it in black and white (remember Plus-X?). By 1981, it was with Charles Nichols, and the Yankee Air Corps at Chino, where I took this photo. The Air Force Museum (40-2763) and the Pima Air Museum (40-2746) display restored Owls. One other is noted as under restoration and a pair of wrecks were stored at the Polar Air Museum back in the 1990s.

I didn't fool anyone with the Owl. This month's winner is Mike Harden of Minneapolis, who also knew it was the O-52 based at the Yanks Museum. CAVU for the New Year. All the best to all our great Minnesota Flyer readers.


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