Glenn Hammond Curtiss
Father of Naval Aviation
This aviation pioneer’s original business was motorcycles, instead of bicycles. Glenn Hammond Curtiss was born in Hammondsport, NY in 1838 and his initial work was developing light weight, powerful motors for racing, which he sold and raced.
In 1904, he was asked by Tom Baldwin to sell an engine for the aeronaut’s dirigible. Soon thereafter, Alexander Graham Bell brought Curtiss into his team Aerial Experiment Association and that group designed a number of aircraft. Aerodrome #3, June Bug, was primarily the work of motorcycle engine manufacturer.
He was issued Pilot License #1 by the Aero Club and was extremely successful in US and international races. He is credited with inventing the aileron, which was the basis for a long and contentious patent lawsuit initiated by the Wright Brothers.
His Navy Air paternity started when he tried to sell planes to them for years. With Army Lt. Fickel firing an airborne gun, they were able to put two 30 caliber bullets into a ground target from 100 feet away. The clincher for the seafarers was Eugene Ely launching a Curtiss “Hudson Flyer” from a makeshift wooden deck on the USS Birmingham on November 14th, 1910. Soon thereafter, Ely landed a plane and took off from the deck of the battleship Pennsylvania.
The Navy vision was to design airplanes able to take off and land from the sea. The brass did not like the idea of aircraft on the decks of their ships. On February 17th, 1911 Curtiss flew his newly designed seaplane to the USS Pennsylvania in the San Diego Bay, landed it, taxied up to the massive ship and was then hoisted onto the ship. To complete the deal, Curtiss reversed his flight plan and brought it back to the starting point.
Among a long list of sales to the US Navy were a school for training naval aviators, famous OX-5 engine, the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”, NC-4, a multiengine Curtiss flying boat, the Curtiss H-16 and the Curtiss NC “Nancy.”
The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum is in Hammondsport, about 20 miles from Penn Yan, at the south end of Keuka Lake. If you have the appropriate equipment and skills, you don’t even have to drive: You can land at Ray Kolo’s private, 1,800-foot grass strip, just 1.5 miles west of the museum, at 42° 23.53’ N, 77° 15.07’ W. Ray mows it but reminds you that use is at your own risk; please call him prior to landing there (607/569-3587). Call the museum after landing for free pickup.
Anyone with an interest in the early history of aviation should make a point to visit the Curtiss Museum. Although the Wright brothers were in the air first, the achievements of Glenn Curtiss rank right up there with the Wrights, and this museum boasts a particularly rich and detailed array of exhibits. Curtiss broke speed and long-distance records with his airplanes, innovated constantly, and generously shared his innovations with others (unlike the Wrights). Curtiss invented seaplanes and is known as the “father of naval aviation.” The museum’s incredibly accurate reproductions have been produced in-house. The all-red reproduction of the twin-engine Curtiss America, with a 72-foot wingspan and 34-foot fuselage, is breathtaking. Museum pilots Jim Poel and Lee Sackett reported that the aircraft went from displacement to flight at 38 mph, without ever getting on the step, and that it was the softest-landing seaplane they had ever flown.
Here are some of the pictures from the Museum:
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