The Curtiss Condor is something of a forgotten footnote in American aviation history. Still, they marked a major step forward in passenger flight service in the United States, and were as ambitious as they were short lived.
In 1926, the US Army commissioned a B-2 concept plane from Curtiss Aircraft, who built the first Condor, the XB-2. It did well in its test flights, but better models by Sikorsky and Keystone led to only 12 production B-2 Condors seeing the light of day. One was wrecked two months after its arrival, but the rest saw meager peacetime usage until they were decommissioned in 1936.
In 1933, the plane made a name for itself when Admiral Robert Byrd made his historic flight over the South Pole in an extended-fuel Condor.
That same year, the recently formed American Airlines began flying the 18-passenger T-32 Condor on all domestic flights. With the advent of this larger, roomier airplane, American Air also introduced another staple of today's air travel: stewardesses. Later that year, they began the first in-flight meal service, and one year later they had developed the hot meal for onboard dining. On July 27, 1934, tragedy struck the lone Condor in the possession of Swissair when it crashed, killing all 12 people onboard.
American Airlines quickly grew to be the largest company of its kind in the country. It continued to improve on the Condor, adding sleeper cars and a cabin radio to listen to the news and sports.
However, the Condor was eclipsed by the sheer leaps and bounds being taken in technology. Its biggest drawback was that it was a biplane, and the new monoplanes coming out were less likely to malfunction during flight. The first Douglas DC-3 flew for American Air in 1936, and by 1937 the Condor had all but vanished from the skies overhead. In 1938, the US Army commissioned several Condors for military use, later developing the AT-32, BT-32, and CT-32. The T-32 was the last biplane ever mass manufactured by the aeronautical industry.
In March of 1999, a helicopter flying overhead in Honduras spotted wreckage and, upon landing, discovered the remains of a Curtiss Condor that had disappeared almost 60 years prior. The plane had been a gift from the United States to the new country's government to help train their pilots in multiple engine aircraft, but had crashed on February 27, 1942, after five years of intensive training usage.
Today, only one Curtiss Condor remains in any shape worth mentioning. It is being refurbished at an undisclosed military location in the United States.