Wright R-975 Whirlwind

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R-975 Whirlwind
Wright R-975 für Sherman-Panzer.jpg
A Continental-built R-975 from a Sherman tank
Type Air-cooled 9-cylinder radial piston engine
National origin United States
Manufacturer Wright Aeronautical
Built by Continental Motors
Major applications Beechcraft Staggerwing
North American BT-9
Vultee BT-15 Valiant
M4 Sherman tank
Piasecki HUP Retriever
M18 Hellcat
Produced 1929-1950s
Number built over 7,000 by Wright
over 53,000 by Continental

The Wright R-975 Whirlwind was a series of nine-cylinder air-cooled radial aircraft engines built by the Wright Aeronautical division of Curtiss-Wright. These engines had a displacement of about 975 cu in (15.98 L) and power ratings of 300–450 hp (220–340 kW). They were the largest members of the Wright Whirlwind engine family to be produced commercially, and they were also the most numerous.

During World War II, Continental Motors built the R-975 under license as a powerplant for Allied tanks and other armored vehicles. Tens of thousands of engines were built for this purpose, dwarfing the R-975's usage in aircraft, where it was overshadowed by the similar Pratt & Whitney R-985. After the war, Continental continued to produce its own versions of the R-975 into the 1950s. Some of these produced as much as 550 hp (410 kW).

The R-975 powered the American World War II M18 Hellcat tank destroyer which was claimed to have been the fastest tracked armored vehicle until the introduction of the turbine powered M1 Abrams in the 1980s.[1]

Design and development[edit]

Wright introduced the J-6 Whirlwind family in 1928 to replace the nine-cylinder R-790 series. The J-6 family included varieties with five, seven, and nine cylinders. The nine-cylinder version was originally known as the J-6 Whirlwind Nine, or J-6-9 for short. The U.S. government designated it as the R-975; Wright later adopted this and dropped the J-6 nomenclature.

Like all the members of the J-6 Whirlwind family, the R-975 had larger cylinders than the R-790. The piston stroke of 5.5 in (14.0 cm) was unchanged, but the cylinder bore was expanded to 5.0 in (12.7 cm) from the R-790's bore of 4.5 in (11.4 cm). While the R-790 was naturally aspirated, the R-975, like the other J-6 engines, had a gear-driven supercharger to boost its power output.

Wright gradually developed the R-975, at first using suffix letters to indicate successive versions. The original R-975 (or J-6-9) was rated for 300 hp (224 kW),[2] while the R-975E of 1931 could do 330 hp (246 kW) thanks to an improved cylinder head design.[3][4][5] Wright later added numeric suffixes to show different power levels. The R-975E-1, introduced the same year as the R-975E, was rated at 365 hp (272 kW) thanks to higher-compression pistons and a slightly greater RPM limit.[3][6][7] An even more powerful version, the R-975E-3, was also introduced that year, with greater supercharging and a still higher RPM limit, and was progressively refined until the final model of 1935 could reach 450 hp (336 kW) for takeoff.[3][8][9]

Operational history[edit]

As the most powerful Whirlwind to be produced commercially was also the most successful. It powered a wide variety of civil utility aircraft, such as the Beechcraft Staggerwing, and various airliners, such as the Ford 4-AT-E Trimotor and the Lockheed 10B Electra. In addition, it powered U.S. military training aircraft including the North American BT-9 and Vultee BT-15 Valiant for the Army and the Curtiss-Wright SNC Falcon for the Navy. The Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk parasite fighter operated from U.S. Navy airships was also powered by the R-975.

One notable record set by a Wright J-6 Whirlwind-powered aircraft occurred during July 28–30, 1931, when Russell Norton Boardman and John Louis Polando flew non-stop from Floyd Bennett Field, on Long Island to Istanbul, Turkey in the Cape Cod, a Bellanca Special J-300 high-wing monoplane in 49:20 hours, establishing a distance record of 5,011.8 miles (8,065.7 km), the first nonstop record flight to surpasse 5,000 mi (8,000 km).[10]

However, the R-975 faced heavy competition from Pratt & Whitney's R-985 Wasp Junior and from their larger R-1340 Wasp. Pratt & Whitney R-985 outsold the Wright R-975 by a wide margin.

Wright's production of the R-975 ceased in 1945, with over 7,000 engines being produced by the company.[3][11]

Production by Continental Motors[edit]

In 1939 the U.S. Army, which had been using Continental R-670 radial engines in its light tanks, chose Continental Motors to build the R-975 under license as the engine for its M2 medium tanks. Subsequently, the same engine was selected for the M3 Lee medium tank, the M4 Sherman medium tank, the Canadian Ram tank (which used the M3 chassis), the M7 Priest self-propelled gun, the M18 Hellcat tank destroyer, and other Allied armored vehicles based on these. Continental versions of the R-975 for armored vehicles included the R-975E-C2, the R-975-C1, and the R-975-C4. In contrast to the 7,000 built by Wright, Continental built over 53,000 R-975 engines.[3]

When installed in a tank, the R-975 did not have the benefit of being cooled by air slipstream or propeller blast, so a cooling fan was attached to the power shaft and surrounded by a shroud to provide the same effect.

After the war, Continental introduced its own R-975 version for aircraft, the R9-A. Though it was basically similar to other R-975 engines, and its compression ratio and supercharger gear ratio were unchanged from the R-975E-3, other improvements in the R9-A allowed it to achieve 525 hp (391 kW) for takeoff,[12] surpassing any Wright version. A military version, the R-975-46, could reach 550 hp (410 kW), and was used in Piasecki's HUP Retriever and H-25 Army Mule helicopters. Continental's production of R-975 engines continued into the 1950s.

Other license-built R-975s[edit]

The engine was built in Spain as the Hispano-Suiza 9Q or Hispano-Wright 9Q without modification apart from the use of Hispano's patented nitriding finishing process and, on one version only, the 9Qdr, an epicyclic output speed reducer.[13] The R-975 was also produced under licence by Fábrica Nacional de Motores in Brazil.[14]


J-6-9 (R-975)
300 hp (220 kW) at 2,000 RPM.[2]
300 hp (220 kW) for airship use
330 hp (250 kW) at 2,000 RPM. Higher power from improved cylinder head.[3][4][5]
365 hp (272 kW) at 2,100 RPM. Higher compression ratio.[3][6][7]
420 hp (310 kW) at 2,200 RPM up to 1,400 ft (430 m), 450 hp (340 kW) at 2,250 RPM for takeoff. Increased supercharging, slightly higher compression ratio.[3][8][9]
400 hp (300 kW) at 2,400 RPM. Built by Continental Motors under license for use in armored vehicles.[3][15]
Continental R9-A
500 hp (370 kW) at 2,300 RPM at 4,000 ft (1,200 m), 525 hp (391 kW) at 2,300 RPM for takeoff. Continental's improved post-war version.[12]
Hispano-Suiza 9Q
Licence built R-975 J-6 Whirlwind
Hispano-Suiza 9Qa
variant of the Licence built R-975 J-6 Whirlwind
Hispano-Suiza 9Qb
variant of the Licence built R-975 J-6 Whirlwind
Hispano-Suiza 9Qc
variant of the Licence built R-975 J-6 Whirlwind
Hispano-Suiza 9Qd
variant of the Licence built R-975 J-6 Whirlwind
Hispano-Suiza 9Qdr
variant of the Licence built R-975 J-6 Whirlwind


Wright J-6-9 and R-975[edit]

Continental R-975[edit]

A Grant tank R-975 engine being removed by Royal Army Ordnance Corps mechanics

Engines on display[edit]

Some museums which have R-975 engines on display:

Specifications (Whirlwind R-975E-3)[edit]

Data from FAA type certificate data sheet for the R-975E-3;[9] dimensions from Curtiss-Wright (1983).

General characteristics

  • Type: 9-cylinder supercharged air-cooled radial piston engine
  • Bore: 5.0 in (127 mm)
  • Stroke: 5.5 in (140 mm)
  • Displacement: 972 cu in (15.93 L)
  • Length: 43.0 in (109.2 cm)
  • Diameter: 45.0 in (114.3 cm)
  • Dry weight: 675 lb (306 kg)



Specifications for different R-975 variants
Engine Power, continuous Power, takeoff Compression ratio Supercharger gear ratio Octane rating Dry weight
R-975E[5] 330 hp (246 kW) at 2,000 RPM 5.1:1 7.8:1 73 635 lb (288 kg)
R-975E-1[7] 365 hp (272 kW) at 2,100 RPM 6.1:1 7.8:1 73 660 lb (299 kg)
R-975E-3[9] 420 hp (313 kW) at 2,200 RPM 450 hp (336 kW) at 2,250 RPM 6.3:1 10.15:1 80 675 lb (306 kg)
Continental R9-A[12] 500 hp (373 kW) at 2,300 RPM 525 hp (391 kW) at 2,300 RPM 6.3:1 10.15:1 91 705 lb (320 kg)

See also[edit]

Related development

Comparable engines

Related lists



  1. ^ Patton's Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division, By Don M. Fox. P.25
  2. ^ a b Curtiss-Wright (1940), p. 11
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Curtiss-Wright (1983), p. 2
  4. ^ a b Curtiss-Wright (1940), p. 13
  5. ^ a b c FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet ATC 21
  6. ^ a b Curtiss-Wright (1940), p. 14
  7. ^ a b c FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet TC 87
  8. ^ a b Curtiss-Wright (1940), pp. 14, 16, 18
  9. ^ a b c d FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet TC 125
  10. ^ "'Cape Cod's' Success Climaxes 5 Years [of] Bellanca Records". The Sunday Morning Star, Wilmington, DE. August 2, 1931. Retrieved September 4, 2013.
  11. ^ Summary of Wright Engine Shipments: 1920 to 1963 (PDF), retrieved December 15, 2009. Transcribed from Wright Aeronautical documents by Robert J. Neal T; available from the Aircraft Engine Historical Society's reference page Archived 2010-02-04 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ a b c FAA Type Certificate Data Sheet E-245
  13. ^ Lage (2004) pp152-163
  14. ^ "O bom caminhão a casa torna". Jornal O Globo (in Portuguese). March 21, 2013. Retrieved October 1, 2018.
  15. ^ Curtiss-Wright (1940), p. 19
  16. ^ Wright R-975 Whirlwind 9, retrieved 2009-12-25.
  17. ^ Image Galleries by Gary and Janet Brossett: Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, archived from the original on 2009-08-27, retrieved 2009-12-15. This page has a photo of a Wright R-975.
  18. ^ Aircraft Engines, retrieved 2009-12-17. This personal collection of museum aircraft engine photos includes a photo of the museum's R-975 under the section for the Hiller Museum.
  19. ^ Image Galleries by Gary and Janet Brossett: National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida, archived from the original on 2009-08-27, retrieved 2009-12-15. This page has a photo of a Continental R-975-46A.
  20. ^ Continental R-975-46, retrieved 2009-12-16.
  21. ^ Queensland Air Museum: The Engine Collection, archived from the original on 2009-10-04, retrieved 2009-12-15.
  22. ^ Queensland Air Museum: Courtesy of Bruce Vander Mark, retrieved 2009-12-15. This page has a photo of a Continental R-975.


The following Federal Aviation Administration type certificate data sheets, all available from the FAA's Regulatory and Guidance Library:

External links[edit]

  • Engine Data Sheets: US Aero Engines — R-975 page