The Curtiss P-6E Hawk was a first-line pursuit aircraft for the Army Air Corps in the early 1930s. It was the last of the fabric-covered biplanes used by the Air Corps. The Hawk was never flown in combat, and only 46 were ever ordered because of the Depression’s effect on Air Corps budgets. Still, it is remembered as one of the most beautiful biplanes ever built.
Today, the Hawk, painted in the striking colors of the Snow Owl paint scheme, catches your eye from across the hangar, just as it caught Ralph Rosnick’s eye when he first saw a picture of it in his boyhood days working at the airport outside of Omaha, Nebraska. From that first glimpse a dream was born, and Rosnick knew that someday he would have to have his own Hawk.
Rosnick’s dream took him far from his home in Nebraska, once as far as the jungles of Central and South America. For all his travels (sometimes dangerous), Rosnick only managed to recover one wing of a Curtiss Hawk. The rest he would have to build himself.
Rosnick took another step toward his goal after acquiring a complete set of factory plans from Hank Leslie of Fort Worth, Texas. Leslie had seen Ralph’s ad in Trade-a-Plane, and, after determining that Ralph really was serious, agreed to loan his plans on the condition that he be sent regular updates and pictures of the plane.
In 1971 at the age of 53, Rosnick began work on the Hawk. Of crucial importance to the project was his tool and die business, which he started in 1948 as a one-man shop. He was able to have men in his shop make all the parts for the plane according to the factory prints. Even pieces that had originally been cast were machined, and then sandblasted to appear cast.
After all the pieces of the airframe were fabricated, Herb Tischler, a sheet metal craftsman who Rosnick brought from Florida to work on the project, began the exacting task of welding all the steel tubing and wires that brace the fuselage. The work of building the wings was done by Arnold Nieman, a woodworking specialist. Rosnick sent him the one wing he had obtained so it could be incorporated into the finished product. By adding this wing, his plane would include at least one original Hawk part.
Just as the Hawk was almost completed, a string of setbacks began that would dog the project for 15 years. The first was the bankruptcy of Rosnick’s business, which forced him to secret his Hawk away, to protect it from being sold off. Then he suffered a stroke, which put him out of commission for nearly two years. After recovering, Rosnick started a new tool and die business, but through the early 1980s he faced more setbacks in his business and personal life.
Finally, in June 1992, at the EAA Chapter 80 fly-in in Council Bluffs, the plane made its public debut.