The Curtiss SO3C Seamew was designed to succeed the SOC Seagull as the primary floatplane scout for the United States Navy.
Initially named the Seamew by Curtiss, the US Navy later adopted the name Seagull for this aircraft in 1941, which led to some confusion as it shared the same name as its predecessor, the Curtiss SOC biplane.
However, the British Royal Navy continued to refer to the aircraft as the Seamew, maintaining the original Curtiss designation for the SO3Cs they had ordered.
The replacement for the SOC Seagull, as per the US Navy’s primary design requirement, needed to possess the capability of operating from both ocean vessels with a single centre float and land bases with a wheeled landing gear substituting the float.
Upon its deployment, the SO3C encountered two significant issues. Firstly, it faced inflight stability problems, and secondly, it experienced difficulties with its distinctive Ranger air-cooled, inverted V-shaped inline engine.
To address the stability problem, various measures were taken. These included the incorporation of upturned wingtips and the enlargement of the rear tail surface, which extended over the rear observer’s cockpit. These modifications played a crucial role in resolving the stability concerns.
The stability issues persisted despite the attachment of an additional tail surface to the rear observer’s sliding canopy, which was frequently open due to the aircraft’s primary role as a spotter.
Although efforts were made to address the in-flight stability problem, it was not completely resolved.
Furthermore, the Ranger XV-770 engine proved to be a significant disappointment, even after numerous attempted modifications.
The combination of poor flight performance and a subpar maintenance record resulted in the SO3C being withdrawn from active duty in the US Navy by 1944.
In contrast, the older biplane SOC, which had previously been used for training purposes within the United States, was restored and utilised on various US Navy warships until the conclusion of World War II.
Prototype, one built originally as a landplane and later modified as a floatplane.
Production variant, 141 built.
SO3C-1 aircraft modified as target drones, some to the Royal Navy as the Queen Seamew I.
Similar to SO3C-1 but with arrester gear, landplane variant could be fitted with a ventral bomb rack, 200 built.
Lend-lease variant of the SO3C-2 with improved radio and 24V electrical system, for the Royal Navy as the Seamew I, 259 ordered but only about 59 were built.
Reduced weight variant with detailed improvements and catapult operation ability removed, 39 built with a further 659 cancelled.
Proposed variant of the SO3C-3 with arrester hook and catapult capable, not built.
Lend-lease variant of the SO3C-4 for the Royal Navy as the Seamew II, not built.