U.S. Navy variants were used initially as fighter-bombers with the designation F8C Falcon, then as the first U.S. Marine Corps dive bombers with the name Helldiver. Two later generations of Curtiss dive-bombers would also be named Helldiver.
The type was introduced in 1925 and saw first-line service in the United States until 1934. Curtiss Falcons fought in the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932 in Brazil, used by the forces of São Paulo.
The Falcon XO-1 prototype was evaluated by the USAAC along with eleven other prototypes in 1924 and the Douglas XO-2 was declared the winner of that competition. So Curtiss re-engined the prototype with the Packard 1A-1500 for the 1925 trials, which it won. The engine failed to live up to expectations and the O-1 ordered by the Army was fitted with the 435 hp (324 kW) Curtiss V-1150 (D-12) engine.
The aircraft was a conventional unequal-span biplane design with wooden wings, while the fuselage was built using aluminum tubing with steel tie rod bracing. The landing gear was fixed and the tail included a balanced rudder with a rear skid originally, later changed to a tailwheel.
The initial A-3 Falcon order was placed in the winter of 1927 and delivery of the first plane was in October 1927. A total of 76 A-3s were received. Later, six aircraft were modified as pilot trainers with dual controls and redesignated A-3A. A second batch of 78 improved A-3Bs, based on the Curtiss O-1E, was purchased beginning in 1929.