The June Bug and Jenny


The bug which flew over a thousand people


The June Bug and the Jenny went on to establish Glen Curtiss as an aviator who understood what the user wanted. When the Scientific American announced a $25,000 prize for the first person who could demonstrate a flight of 1 km or more to the general public and to official observers on a date of his own choosing, there were few who expected anyone other than the Wright brothers to claim it. Indeed, the brothers had flown more than 20 miles in a single flight.

However, it was a racing bike driver, Glenn H Curtiss who first filed his intent to demonstrate such a flight on July 4, 1908.

The Scientific American, (possibly) was of the view that the Wright brothers deserved a go at the prize and (as the story goes) did ask them if they were interested in attempting before the date fixed by Glenn Curtiss. The Wrights declined due to a busy schedule and Curtiss’ date with destiny was fixed.
The airplane Curtiss pulled out of his hanger was the June Bug. It resembled a mousetrap more than a plane but it had flown well in trials and Curtiss was confident that it would not let him down. The morning passed with rain. More than a thousand people – including the public, the official observers and the press gathered at Hammondsport. N.Y.

Flight of the June Bug on

Figure 1 - Flight of the June Bug

The June Bug flew. It flew more than the one kilometer required by The Scientific American and Curtiss landed it straight ahead because he had not yet explored its behavior in turns! However, not many know that the airplane had crashed the previous day and repairs went on till late in the night before it could take to the air again.

Shortly after he had pulled off his historic public flight, Glenn Curtiss was attempting to convert the June Bug into a sea plane but fitting pontoons to it. It did not work, but the problem was an underpowered engine and not aerodynamics.

Cradle Of Aviation Sign on

Figure 2 - A Commemorative Board

The Jenny – Between the June Bug and the Jenny, Curtiss became a household name. The Jenny was designed to fill an Army requirement for a simple and robust trainer and Curtiss was able to do just that.
The Army was not happy with the conventional pusher designs that were popular then. They tended to get into flat spins due to the rear CG position and bailing out with a running engine was an invitation to becoming mince meat.

The Jenny changed all that. It was an amalgamation of two designs – the model J which was designed for the Army and the model N – built for the Navy. This gave the name JN which later was popularly altered to Jenny. Curtiss built the Jenny in a standard tractor configuration as a biplane. The Jenny was stable, slow and easy to fly – an ideal trainer.

The Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" on

Figure 3 - The Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" in Flight

The Curtiss Jenny JN-4 was built in several versions with successive improvements. Some of these were quite major such as changing the relative size of the upper and the lower wings, altering the dihedral of the airplane, putting ailerons on different wings and so on. All told, 6813 aircraft were built and tens of thousands of pilots earned their wings on a Jenny.

After the armistice, the need to train large numbers of pilots reduced and many of these 6813 aircraft were sold to civilians at very low prices. This produced a slew of barnstormers who introduced thousands more to the charm and thrill of flying. Many barnstormers became famous and traveling air circuses became show stoppers in towns.

While barnstorming gave a never before impetus to aviation in America, there were as a spate of accidents due to poor maintenance, unsafe maneuvers, poorly qualified pilots and financial pressures. This ultimately led to regulation and legislation to control flying that eventually caused the demise of barnstorming itself. At the same time the huge stock of surplus aircraft provided a disincentive to produce new aircraft.

Inverted Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" Stamp on

Figure 4 - A much valued stamp of the Jenny - Printed inverted by mistake

The Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” therefore, not only helped churn out a generation and more of pilots, its wide availability and surplus stock was instrumental in bringing about regulation and method to what had earlier been a madness. Even today, the barnstorming age is synonymous with the characteristic engine sound of the Jenny.

Glen Curtiss, with the June Bug and the Jenny achieved what the Wright brothers could not. He made flying available to tens of thousands of pilots the world over.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


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June 2011 Newsletter

Glenn Curtiss – Deserving a Place in Aviation History

“The first scheduled flight on earth…July 04, 1908”.


To begin this story about Glenn Curtiss – deserving a place in aviation history, let me give you an interesting bit of trivia. Time magazine, that venerable fountain of knowledge and opinion maker published a picture of Orville Wright on its cover in the issue dated December 3, 1928 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Aeronautics. This was the first time any of the brothers made it to the cover of Time magazine.

Guess when the magazine put Glenn Curtiss on its cover? October 13, 1924. A full four years before any of the Wright brothers made it there.

This shows Curtiss’ position in the aviation world even while the Wright brothers were actively flying. There was great competition between the Wrights and Curtiss, resulting in several long running lawsuits. Many who have followed the history of that era would have no hesitation in saying that the Wrights were overly defensive about their invention. Glenn Curtiss, on the other hand, seems to have shrugged his shoulders and continued to define new roles for himself and for aviation.

Glenn Curtiss On Time Magazine Cover at

Figure 1 - Curtiss on Time Magazine

From Cycles to Aviation

Born in 1878 in Hammondsport, New York, Glenn Hammond Curtiss was formally educated up to grade eight. Nevertheless, his mechanical abilities showed up in his first job itself. At the Eastman Company where worked first, he produced a stencil machine that was promptly adopted for use in the plant. Later, his interest shifted to bicycles (he was a messenger boy for Western Union) and as the internal combustion engine became more common, he moved on to motorcycles.

This stint with motorcycles (including a new design of using a 4000 cc engine built for an aircraft) was not a waste of time. Curtiss got an unparalleled education in airplane engines and went on to design engines that were reliable, light and very high performance. There was a period when many races were won by planes flying Curtiss engines.

Aviation in the early 1900s was still finding its feet and there were many claims and counterclaims on inventions. When Curtiss announced his invention of the Aileron, the Wright brothers promptly challenged it as their own. The resulting lawsuits carried on for years.

Many are of the view that the tussle between the Wrights and Curtiss hampered the growth of aviation in its early years. The Wright brothers got so engrossed in defending their invention that they neglected to develop it much beyond what they had achieved at Kitty Hawk. Glenn Curtiss was different, he truly was deserving a place in aviation history. He let his lawyers fight the suits and continued to work on aviation.

Glenn Curtiss Pilot License # 1 on

Figure 2 - Aero Club Pilot's License #1 (Glenn Curtiss)

Pilot License # 1

So what is Curtiss famous for? To begin matters, he carried out the first publically announced flight. This was on July 4, 1908, in this flight he climbed to 5080 feet and won the Scientific American Trophy. Shortly afterwards, the Aero Club of America began issuing pilot licenses. Since they were issued in alphabetical order for the first lot of pilots, Curtiss was awarded license number 1, Orville Wright got number 5!

What assured Curtiss’ name in aviation history is not the number of races he won in the US and abroad (there were many) but the practical uses he put the airplane to.

The Father of Naval Aviation

Curtiss recognized early on that aviation could influence the outcome of military battles. As early as 1910, he demonstrated the possibility of aerial bombing and himself carried out a demonstration of gun firing on ground targets from an aircraft. Soon thereafter came a game changer – the first take off of an aircraft from a ship. On November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely, a pilot working with Curtiss took off from a temporary flight deck on US Birmingham (stationary in harbor) and landed conventionally on land a little later. The picture above shows the historic moment when a frail machine marked the beginning of naval aviation.

The First Aircraft Carrier Take Off on

Figure 3 - The First Carrier Take Off

The take off from a ship was soon followed by a takeoff and landing on a ship. Once again Eugene Ely was on the controls. This demonstrated the feasibility of naval aviation being able to project power well beyond national boundaries and began a process that ultimately led to the aircraft carrier taking over from the battleship as the principal tool of power projection.

Curtiss’ preoccupation with air power and the sea did not end here. Even while the first aircraft carrier experiments were on, he was experimenting with pontoons and motor cycle tubes on wings of airplanes to build sea planes and amphibious planes. The Navy loved him for this and the association between the two lasted several decades. On February 24, 1911 he demonstrated a plane that could land and take off from both water and land. Soon thereafter, he sold the first aircraft to the Navy, this was the A-1 Triad, a truly amphibious aircraft with a single large pontoon for over water operations. The A-1 was built primarily built for sea operations and also featured a retractable landing gear. A-1 Triads were soon purchased by Russia, Japan, Germany and Britain as well.

The A-1 Triad Aircraft on

Figure 4 - A-1 Triad

The beginning of the First World War saw a number of Curtiss’ seaplanes in active service; they were the only American design in service at that time. Later when a need arose for trainer airplanes, Curtiss responded with the JN-4 Jenny for the Army and the N9 Seaplane version for the Navy. Thousands were built and soon after the War, surplus Jennies were sold off to barnstormers who went on to write a colorful chapter of their own in American aviation history.

With the end of the War, a consolidation occurred in the Aviation industry and Curtiss sold out his stock in his company. He carried on as a Director and helped in design and development till his death from complications arising from appendicitis.

A Busy Inventor

In an active flying and designing career spanning two decades and a little more, Curtiss was responsible for more close to 500 innovations, He received several patents including one for Ailerons (in association with Alexander Graham Bell). A short list of his innovations and designs shows how great his influence on aviation was and how much he contributed. Just see the table below to get a flavor of the mind of this genius –

Ailerons Wind Tunnel design Hydro Aeroplane (seaplane)
Tricycle landing gear Amphibian airplane Single hull flying boat
Laminated wood propeller
and forming machine
Aerodynamically balanced
Enclosed cockpit design
Steel propeller design Reduction gear for propeller Steering system for landing
Wheel brakes for airplanes Gyroscopic aircraft stabilizer
(with Sperry)
Electrically operated throttle
Glenn Curtiss Stamp on

Figure 5 -- Stamp on Glenn Curtiss

No historian or commentator has discussed Glenn Curtiss as a team player. This also deserves a mention. Throughout his life, Curtiss worked with teams. You may remember that it was an employee who demonstrated deck take offs and landings. Similarly, the flying boat was developed in conjunction with John Cyril Porte, a retired British Naval officer. Many developments were in coordination with Alexander Graham Bell. It is notable that there were no tussles for control or for recognition. This is perhaps one reason why Curtiss was able to achieve so much more than other aviation greats who were confined to their personal achievements.

Starting as a message delivery boy and going on to create great innovations and inventions that pushed the envelope of aviation and formed the backbone of a war effort, Glenn Curtiss’ contribution to aviation is valuable and deserving a place in aviation history.

Pictures from –

  • TIME Cover – ;
  • Flying License – ;
  • Carrier take off – ;
  • A-1 Triad –;
  • Postage stamp –
Glenn Curtiss – Aviation Pioneer

Glenn Curtiss and the “Famous Curtiss Mile”

Poster Celebrating The Achievements of Glenn Curtiss on

Poster Celebrating The Achievements of Glenn Curtiss

And not even in an airplane!

As was true of so many early aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss was interested in anything that moved – and moved fast.

In 1907 Glenn Curtiss rode his Curtiss Motorcycle with an 8 cylinder 40 horsepower engine at Ormond Beach, Florida on January 23rd, covering a mile in just 25 and 2/5 seconds!

The motorcycle was considered better than Harley-Davidson, Indian, Merkel and other motorcycles when experts compared other motorcycles to the Curtiss Motorcycle. The attached brochure states “Exhaustive tests by experts such as Mr. Brush, designer of the Brush, Cadillac & Oakland automobiles. Henry Ford of Ford Auto together with Police Departments, Hill Climbers, Track & Endurance Racers all give Curtiss Motors the unanimous choice over NSU, Harley-Davidson, Indian, Merkel, R-S, Excelsior & three others.”

Ah, those were the days!

Photo of the Month
Glenn Curtiss on

Glenn Curtiss

Photo of Glenn Curtiss


John M. White, Editor

Each month we bring you informative, educational and entertaining articles about all things aviation.

You can find more timely and current articles here at our blog:

All Things Aviation Blog

The FAA urges pilots to protect their most precious sensory asset – their vision. And the very best way to do that is with a great pair of original aviator sunglasses by Randolph Engineering. Below is a sample of Randolph Aviator sunglasses – simply click on the image to see more:

Randolph Engineering Aviator Sunglasses


May 2011 Newsletter

The Wiley Post Story – Revolutionary Aviator and Adventurer

“Post’s plans are so revolutionary and so far advanced that it is hard even for the aeronautical engineer or aviation expert to grasp them fully.”.

S. E. Perry, Superintendent of Maintenance for Braniff Airways, Inc, 1934

The Wiley Post story is not going to be forgotten for centuries. Going around the world twice, once solo, pioneering the use of the autopilot, the radio compass and ADF, discovering jet streams and being the first to use them. Research on stratospheric flight and the world’s first practical pressure suits, discoveries on ‘Jet’ lag at a time when there were no jets. Imagine being feted by two Presidents, given keys to the city of New York.

A Postcard  Flown By Wiley Post  On A Transcontinental Fl

A Postcard Flown By Wiley Post On A Transcontinental Fl

Any one of these events would have been enough to ensure man fame for lifetime. Wiley Post had all of these and more.

Who was Wiley Post? What prompted him to do what he did and how could he make the one major mistake that cost him his life?

An Introduction to Aviation

The Wiley Post story begins, like many in American History with parents of humble descent, working their small farm with their children. Wiley Hardeman Post was born to William Francis and Mae Quinlan Post. The family moved to Oklahoma when Wiley was five.

Nothing distinguished the first 26 years of Wiley’s life except a capability to tinker with tools and machines. Like many others, he dropped out of school after completing eighth grade and went on to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma.

Wiley was 26 when he first felt the wind in his face. A flying circus had come nearby and since their regular parachutist was injured, Wiley, out of the blue, offered to take his place.

The first jump, with no prior experience, was magical. Wiley climbed on to the wing and threw himself off from 2000 feet. From then on, aviation was never far away from Wiley’s mind. He went on to take flying lessons and went solo on a Curtiss JN 4 Jenny sometime in early 1926 (although he had to provide a security deposit of $200 to his instructor for the use of his airplane).

Working on the oilfields, Wiley suffered an accident that would have put a stop to many a young man’s aerial dreams. A metal chip hurt his left eye and when the resulting infection threatened his good right eye as well, the left eye had to be surgically removed. Although distance vision requires two eyes, Wiley trained his right eye and mind to work together to give him a fair estimate of distances. While recovering at a relative’s house, he would continuously estimate the distances to objects and then measure the distance to make a comparison. Eventually he got good at it and the resulting mental math sharpened his thinking further.

Turning bad fortune around, Wiley used his compensation check to purchase a damaged Canuck for $200 which took another $340 to repair. Though Wiley had lost his left eye, this very loss gave him the means to buy an airplane.

A Licensed Pilot with an Eye Short

Shortly thereafter, Wiley got regular employment with two oil explorers Briscoe and F. C. Hall who were keen to use personal airplanes for work since they had lost lucrative oil contracts because of arriving late at a venue. This work however required a license to fly.

Licensing in Aviation was still in its infancy. Waivers on medical conditions could be granted if the Secretary for Commerce was convinced that the experience of the pilot overcame his disability. Apparently the Secretary agreed with Wiley and gave a license subject to 700 hours of probationary flying. This was successfully completed and a Transport License was awarded on September 16, 1928.

Wiley Post had arrived.

While flying for FC Hall, Wiley impressed him with the handling of his Lockheed Vega (christened the Winnie Mae after Halls’ daughter). In 1930, Wiley flew the Winnie Mae in the Men’s Air Derby Race from LA to Chicago. He came in first and beat the field by 1 ½ hours. This impressed Hall and he allowed Wiley to use the Vega whenever it was free.

Around The World – Twice

Wiley took Hall at his word and decided to go on a round the world flight. The previous record was held by the Graf Zeppelin that had taken more than 20 days and four hours. Flying his fixed wing Vega, Wiley predicted he would be able to circumnavigate the globe in less than 10 days. With Harold Gatty as his navigator, Wiley got airborne on June 23, 1931 from Roosevelt Field in Long Island. This was the same airfield Charles Lindbergh and his Spirit of St Louise had used just 4 years earlier for the historic Atlantic crossing.

The circumnavigation of the globe can be seen at many levels. It was a triumph of man over the elements and over fatigue. The flight opened up the vast Russian plains to aviation and proved to the world that aviation was finally coming of age.

Wiley undertook a great many modifications to the Winnie Mae before it was finally ready for the flight. One of the most important ones was the rearranging of the cockpit instrument panels to give himself a more systematic scan pattern. This grouping of instrument panels into a coherent pattern is followed the world over even today although it has been modified due to the newer instrumentation available.

There were other, more interesting innovations. During the 1930 Derby, Wiley had discovered that if he reduced the angle of incidence of the wing of the Vega, it would reduce the form drag and give him an extra 10 miles per hour. However, this resulted in increasing the landing speed of the Winnie Mae to 80 miles per hour. This was high even for fighter class of aircraft of the day and modifying the aircraft to put in flaps was out of question. You can read more about Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World’s First Pressure Suit here.

Wiley Post (L) and Harold Gatty - Germany 1931

Wiley Post (L) and Harold Gatty - Germany 1931 (Wikipedia)

Nobody knows where Wiley Post learned airframe structural engineering but he knew enough to reduce the tail skid length by four inches. This gave him a higher nose up attitude on landing which in turn compensated for the reduced angle of incidence which in turn gave him back his original landing speed!

This successful modification and many other similar ones may have eventually led to his death…but let me not overstep the story.

The drama and adventure of the flight is documented too extensively to bear repetition. On their return, Wiley and Gatty became instant celebrities. However, there was a constant background hum that the real hero of the flight was Gatty who had navigated the aircraft over uncharted territory. Probably true to a point but this was not something that pleased Wiley.

That is how Wiley began to plan his second trip around the world. This time solo.

Two major inventions, though still in their infancy, helped Wiley in his second endeavor. The first was an automatic direction finder or an ADF that locked on to commercial radio stations. The second was a two gyro autopilot that held altitude and heading. While both were still under development, Wiley got much needed sponsorship since he planned to use these instruments in his epic flight.

The solo trip was even faster than the first thanks in part to larger quantities of fuel that the aircraft could carry without the navigator. The Vega also traveled faster with its variable pitch propeller which produced more power. The autopilot and ADF helped reduce the load on the pilot. In spite of all the technology he had, Wiley was exhausted by the time he landed back. He could hardly speak more than a few words and slept every time he sat in a car.

Aiming High

However, in all of this flying, pushing himself and his airplane to the limits and beyond, Wiley discovered two new concepts. The first was the technical requirements of flying in the stratosphere and the second related to an understanding of jet streams.

Wiley Post in his pressurized suit

Wiley Post in his pressurized suit

Although it is not clear from literature or from his writings if Wiley understood the relationship between IAS and TAS at altitude, it is clear that he knew that high altitude flight was the way of the future. This would give him advantage of the thinner air and allow him to catch and ride jet streams.

Flying at 30000 feet and above was not a hurdle technically. Variable pitch props and highly supercharged engines required for this were available. Wiley hit a wall when it came to pressurizing the cockpit of an aircraft that was not built to take pressurizer.

Out of this necessity the pressure suit was born. Although submarines, diving bells and diving suits existed at that time, they were designed to keep the crushing pressure of the water out. The aerial pressure suit was designed to do just the opposite. After three prototypes and hundreds of technical innovations, Wiley succeeded in getting a practical model ready. It had been his intention to participate in the London – Melbourne race and use stratospheric flight in his pressure suit to beat the opposition. However, the suit was not ready in time and Wiley abandoned his plans to participate.

Nevertheless, the pressure suit went on to be developed further and formed the basis of the life support system used by astronauts and test pilots. Learn more about Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World’s First Pressure Suit in this book.

The Last Flight

In 1935, Wiley was working with his friend Will Rogers and the two were flying through Alaska in search of material for Rogers’ newspaper column. Wiley who was low on cash, had built a hybrid airplane using the fuselage of a Lockheed Orion and the wings of a wrecked Lockheed Explorer. For the Alaska trip he decided to fit the airplane with floats. Lockheed themselves refused to undertake the modification stating that the combination was unstable and dangerous. But Wiley, confident in his skills and knowledge (remember the time he changed the angle of incidence of the Winnie Mae), decided to undertake the mod himself.

A true testimony to Wiley’s skills, the aircraft flew and flew well. But it was nose heavy and on August 15, 1935 while taking off from a lagoon in Alaska, the engine quit at low altitude. The nose heavy aircraft never gave Wiley a chance to recover and plunged into the water. Both Wiley and Rogers died instantaneously.

This is how the Wiley Post Story ended. America lost one of her greatest aviators. Age just 37, barely ten years of aviation experience yet with monumental achievements. Who knows what else was to come?

Great Quotes: Will Rogers

Will Rogers and Wiley Post were good friends, and they often flew together.

Here are some of Will Rogers’ famous quotations:

Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.

Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate, now what’s going to happen to us with both a House and a Senate?

America is a nation that conceives many odd inventions for getting somewhere but it can think of nothing to do once it gets there.

Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.

There ought to be one day – just one – when there is open season on senators.

Why don’t they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth.

When you put down the good things you ought to have done, and leave out the bad ones you did do well, that’s Memoirs.

Photo of the Month
Wiley Post and Will Rogers Poster 

1935 photo Will Rogers and Wiley Post, half-length portrait, facing front historic photograph. Click on image to purchase a copy for just $ 9.99 and own a copy for yourself!

John M. White, Editor

Each month we bring you informative, educational and entertaining articles about all things aviation.

You can find more timely and current articles here at our blog:

All Things Aviation Blog

The FAA urges pilots to protect their most precious sensory asset – their vision. And the very best way to do that is with a great pair of original aviator sunglasses by Randolph Engineering. Below is a sample of Randolph Aviator sunglasses – simply click on the image to see more:

Randolph Engineering Aviator Sunglasses