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The Curtiss XP-11 was the designation given to three Hawk biplanes that were to have been powered by the Curtiss Chieftain engine, but the failure of that engine meant that none were completed as P-11s.
The Curtiss H-1640 Chieftain was a two-bank 12-cylinder air cooled engine that was being developed at the same time as the V-1570 Conqueror. Before the P-11s had been completed it became clear that the Chieftain was an unsatisfactory design, and it was decided to complete them with other engines.
Two were given Conqueror engines and became P-6Ds while the third was given a Wright Cyclone radial engine and became the YP-20. After some further work this became the prototype for the P-6E.
1200 Wall Street West
Lyndhurst, New Jersey 07071
Sales: $293.26 million (1999)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: CW
NAIC: 333995 Fluid Power Cylinder and Actuator Manufacturing 332811 Metal Heat Treating 332912 Fluid Power Valve and Hose Fitting Manufacturing 331491 Nonferrous Metal (Except Copper and Aluminum) Rolling, Drawing, and Extruding
Curtiss-Wright really does have the 'Right Stuff.' Formed from firms started by aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss and the Wright brothers, the company operates globally in the aerospace, marine, and industrial markets. For the aerospace industry, Curtiss-Wright performs treating of jet engine metal and makes actuation systems used to control wing flaps. It also makes highly engineered valves for U.S. Naval nuclear propulsion systems and performs shot peening and heat treating for metal durability and shaping in the automotive, construction, and agricultural equipment industries. Other customers include Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Insurance holding company Unitrin owns 43 percent of the firm.
1929: Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation merges with Wright Aeronautical Corporation.
1945: World War II lifts annual sales past $1 billion.
1951: Lead by Roy Hurley, CWC begins massive diversification drive.
1960: New chairman Roland Berner orders sale of several divisions.
1967: CWC drops jet engine business in favor of flap actuation systems and metal treatment.
1972: Excitement over CWC's Wankel rotary engine sends stock skyward.
1978: CWC attempts hostile takeover of copper giant Kennecott Corporation.
1981: Truce between CWC and Kennecott leaves Teledyne with 50 percent control of CWC.
1993: CWC attempts to sell three of four divisions but finds no suitable buyers.
1995: CWC opens a European Flight Systems subsidiary and expands overhaul business.
1998: New acquisitions and long-term airliner contracts brighten CWC's outlook.
The Curtiss-Wright Corporation (CWC), built on two of the most esteemed names in American aviation history, has evolved from an aircraft manufacturer to a highly diversified conglomerate to a focused engineering firm. Through its Motion Control segment, CWC literally opens doors (and drops flaps) for commercial and military aircraft makers. Metal Treatment makes aircraft wings stronger, and Flow Control produces valves for nuclear submarines and power plants. The company also makes a tool for freeing accident victims from automobile wreckage, and it has made a number of acquisitions to expand its markets and acquire related technologies.
Curtiss-Wright Corporation (CWC) was formed in 1929 as a publicly listed holding company for a variety of aviation concerns, when the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation and Wright Aeronautical Corporation merged, bringing together 18 affiliated companies and 29 subsidiaries. Bankers had tried for years to bring together the two rival companies, started by aviation pioneers and inventors Orville and Wilbur Wright and Glenn H. Curtiss, and the merger finally put an end to two decades of patent battles between the Wright brothers and Curtiss. Hailed upon its formation by Wall Street financiers as the world's most prodigious aviation concern, the company debuted with total assets of more than $70 million and stock valued at $220 million as it entered an industry battle with the recently created United Aircraft and Transportation Company.
Although its namesakes had little to do with the creation of the new firm, Glenn Curtiss did serve as a member of the company's technical committee prior to his death in 1930, the year the Curtiss Condor--a civilian version of a two-engine bomber plane--was being introduced by some airlines. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation maintained a position of preeminence in aeronautics throughout the 1930s, although the aviation industry remained relatively small and the firm's sales had reached only $49 million by 1939.
In 1940, the company created the Curtiss Propeller Division, a forerunner of the subsidiary Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems, Inc. Serving as a core source of government work after the United States entered World War II, Curtiss Propeller Division became one of the single largest defense contractors in the world. During the war, the company employed 180,000 workers and produced 146,000 aircraft propellers, 143,000 airplane engines, and more than 26,000 planes as Curtiss-Wright became the second largest manufacturer in the United States with annual sales surpassing $1 billion two years running. Curtiss-Wright engines powered the majority of American planes flown in World War II, including the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan and precipitated the close of the global conflict.
After the war, Curtiss-Wright was forced to deal with a rapid decline in military contracts, and enormous operational cutbacks were made as the company began converting military aircraft engines for use in commercial airliners. In 1949, Guy Vaughan, who had long directed the company's operations, was ousted in a management shake-up and replaced by Roy T. Hurley, who became president and chairperson. Hurley brought a reputation as a production cost-cutter to Curtiss-Wright, having served as a vice-president of production at Bendix Aviation Corporation and a director of manufacturing at Ford Motor Company.
With the United States' involvement in the Korean War during the early 1950s the company again benefited from a new round of government contracts for aircraft engines. As a result, Curtiss-Wright remained among the top ten U.S. defense contractors during the first half of the decade, producing ram-jet engines for guided missiles, aircraft engines and propellers, and flight simulators for the military.
During this time, Hurley initiated a massive diversification drive, beginning in 1951 when Curtiss-Wright acquired a plant in Buffalo, New York, where it began a specialized metal extrusion business. The company also purchased another plant in Carlstadt, New Jersey, to serve as foundation for a new electronics division. During the mid-1950s Curtiss-Wright entered the Canadian market with the creation of the subsidiary Curtiss-Wright of Canada Ltd. (later renamed Canadian Curtiss-Wright). The company also established a scientific products and research division and began construction of a research and development center at Quehanna, Pennsylvania, where it established a nuclear materials laboratory to support defense and peacetime applications of atomic energy.
By the end of 1955, Hurley's diversification drive had helped propel Curtiss-Wright's annual sales from $475 million a year to more than $500 million, with commercial sales generating about 40 percent of the company's income. By 1956, Curtiss-Wright had 16 divisions, and the company's stock had risen to a high of 49 .
Curtiss-Wright utilized acquisitions and joint developments with other companies to bolster its engine business, acquiring Propulsion Research Corporation and Turbomotor Associates. The company began developing engines in the low- to medium-range power categories for aircraft, helicopters, and missiles. Curtiss-Wright also teamed up with Bristol Aeroplane Company to develop a series of commercial engines. The company's military engine production continued to consist primarily of the J-65, initially licensed from Great Britain, and its principal commercial product was the 3350 Turbo Compound piston engine, used in the fastest commercial propeller airliners of the day.
In 1956, Curtiss-Wright agreed to loan $35 million to financially troubled Studebaker-Packard and provide management services for the automaker. In return, Studebaker-Packard sold Curtiss-Wright its subsidiary, Aerophysics Development Corporation, and leased the aviation concern its facilities in Utica, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana, where Curtiss-Wright began producing the army's new Dart anti-tank missile, which Aerophysics Development had helped to develop.
The following year, Studebaker-Packard received the rights to manufacture the Daimler-Benz engine from Germany's Mercedes-Benz in exchange for allowing the German automaker to produce a Curtiss-Wright plane. After two years of managing Studebaker-Packard, Curtiss-Wright terminated its management contract with the automaker and acquired the South Bend and Utica plants it had been leasing as well as the rights to manufacture and sell Daimler-Benz's diesel and multifuel engines, fuel injection systems, military vehicles, and buses.
By 1957, about two-thirds of Curtiss-Wright's sales were from government contracts and about two-thirds of its profits stemmed from nonmilitary sales. Seeking to widen its commercial activities and steer clear of government contracts, the company focused on the development of ultrasonic equipment, new products for its Buffalo extrusion business, and new uses for its plastic material, Curon, which had applications as apparel lining, wall and floor coverings, soundproofing, upholstery, auto trim, and cushions.
In 1958, Curtiss-Wright began operating a nuclear research reactor at its Quehanna facility. The company also established a solar research laboratory in conjunction with New York University, resulting in an agreement with Hupp Corporation to jointly explore, develop, and sell devices in the solar energy field, including heat storage and cooking devices. In 1959, Curtiss-Wright also began producing industrial x-ray inspection equipment, which was added to the firm's lines of quality control equipment, inspection equipment, and measurement systems using ultrasonic, radiographic, and nuclear energy technologies. During this time, Curtiss-Wright entered the earth-moving business with the acquisition of a Continental Copper & Steel Industries division that manufactured such equipment.
Curtiss-Wright's experimental developments included a coal-based blacktop road paving material and an 'air car' that could travel six to 12 inches above ground, as well as a lightweight internal combustion engine with only two main moving parts. The rotary engine, which became known as the Wankel, was designed to burn gasoline in such a way as to turn a triangular shaped rotor, rather than driving pistons up and down like conventional piston engines. Developed in conjunction with NSU Werke of West Germany, the engine--for which Curtiss-Wright attained exclusive world rights for aircraft uses and exclusive North American rights for all applications--stemmed from an invention by the German firm's Felix Wankel.
A Management Flap in the 1960s
A series of defense cutbacks during the late 1950s hurt Curtiss-Wright's ramjet development business, and the company's earnings began to decline, falling from $25 million in 1958 to $14.3 million in 1959 as sales dropped from $388 to $329 million. In April 1960 Hurley was confronted by a hostile crowd at the firm's annual meeting and faced criticism over falling earnings, reduced dividends, high officer compensation, and insufficient information regarding the company's experimental developments. Hurley resigned as president and chairperson one month later and was replaced by one of his more vocal critics, T. Roland Berner. An attorney who had become a director at Curtiss-Wright after leading a nearly successful proxy battle against management in 1948, Berner had been instrumental in the 1949 shake-up that initially brought Hurley to power.
Berner quickly divested Curtiss-Wright of several divisions. The company donated its nuclear reactor to Pennsylvania State University and sold its South Bend and Utica facilities, Curon plastics business, West Coast research facilities, and its process for producing paving material from coal. Furthermore, the company's plant in Lawrence, New Jersey, which had been making ultrasonics as well as quality control and testing equipment, was closed, plans for commercial production of the air car were dropped, and operations at Quehanna ceased.
Seeking to return Curtiss-Wright to the status of a leading aircraft engine manufacturer, Berner shifted the firm's emphasis to defense and electronics products. During the early 1960s, Curtiss-Wright landed Air Force contracts for propellers, missile parts, and the modernization of the J-65 engine and began producing steel rocket casings for solid-fuel boosters for Titan III space launch vehicles. During the same period, Curtiss-Wright's electronics business was expanded through the acquisition of companies engaged in the manufacture of radar cameras and automatic timing controls for aircraft and missiles, as well as the manufacture of printed circuit board connectors for aircraft, missile, and computer applications.
Curtiss-Wright also expanded its activities in nuclear fields with the acquisition of an interest--and eventual complete control of--Target Rock Corporation, a manufacturer of hydraulic components and nuclear equipment. Curtiss-Wright also broadened its Canadian operations with the acquisition of companies engaged in the production of hydraulic equipment for oil companies and steel products for the building and mining industries.
In 1962, the company received a Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) contract to study compressor, turbine, and computer technologies for supersonic transport jet engines and began competing for a major government contract to develop and produce a supersonic commercial airliner engine. During the mid-1960s, the company sold its electronic fittings and components division at a time when it was plowing about $15 million of its own funds into the development of a supersonic transport plane engine.
Curtiss-Wright lost its bid to produce the supersonic engine, and, by 1967, the company had abandoned Berner's goal to build complete aircraft engines, opting to become a first-tier supplier, or subcontractor, for other companies involved in aerospace and other fields. By that time, when Curtiss-Wright landed a Boeing contract to provide flight actuators to extend and retract flaps on the wings of the giant Boeing 747 jet airliner, its 'power hinge' mechanics were already in use on a North American Aviation supersonic research plane, a General Dynamic's fighter bomber, and a Boeing helicopter. Curtiss-Wright's relations with governmental and commercial customers continued to improve, and, by the late 1960s, Curtiss-Wright was supplying components for Lockheed's air bus and military transport plane and had become for many aerospace firms a preferred supplier of components for jet engines, helicopters, and aircraft, as well as a supplier of nuclear equipment and high-precision products for firms in nonaerospace industrial fields.
In 1968, Curtiss-Wright began an expansion program at its Buffalo extrusion facility, adding new forging and machining equipment for building aircraft and aerospace components. That year, the company acquired Metal Improvement Company, Inc. (MIC), an industry leader in shot peening technology used to create aerodynamic curvatures in aircraft and other products. The company's operations also were expanded through acquisitions of domestic companies involved in the production of aircraft wing ribs and airframe parts and a Canadian manufacturer of metal-working equipment and supplies for the steel processing industry. In 1969, Curtiss-Wright acquired a majority interest in Dorr-Oliver Inc., an engineering firm that made mechanized equipment for airline cargo terminals Curtiss-Wright eventually acquired complete control of Dorr-Oliver.
Curtiss-Wright entered the 1970s as a producer of components or systems for all new wide-bodied commercial jet airliners and most jet planes, at a time when cutbacks in defense and military spending resulted in fewer government contracts. When automakers and other firms began showing a growing interest in the Wankel rotary engine, Curtiss-Wright began extending licensing agreements for the engine. In 1970, General Motors Corporation (GM) paid $50 million to acquire a five-year nonexclusive license to develop and manufacture the rotary combustion engine in North America. Subsequent license agreements called for royalty payments to Curtiss-Wright for all sales of Wankel engines in addition to a licensing fee. Speculation on the potential for the development of the smaller, lighter, and more powerful Wankel intensified. By 1972, Wankel had become one of the hottest names on Wall Street, and Curtiss-Wright's stock was one of the most volatile and actively traded.
In 1972, Curtiss-Wright granted Wankel development licenses to Brunswick Corporation, a manufacturer of the Mercury line of outboard motors, and Ingersoll-Rand Company, for use in that firm's compressor, pump, and electric generator assemblies. The following year, American Motors Corporation became Curtiss-Wright's seventh Wankel licensee, about the same time that GM announced it would introduce the rotary engine in its 1975 Vega model. GM soon renegotiated its payment agreement with Curtiss-Wright, however, after indefinitely postponing the debut of the Wankel in its vehicles, citing emissions and gas mileage difficulties as motivating factors.
Takeover Battles of the 1970s
As interest in the Wankel declined, because of hydrocarbon emissions concerns, Curtiss-Wright began acquiring the stock of Cenco Inc., a maker of pollution-control equipment and medical supplies and an operator of nursing homes and hospitals. By July 1975, Curtiss-Wright had acquired 16 percent of Cenco's stock. Upon learning that Cenco was entangled in allegations of fraudulent auditors reports and was on the verge of bankruptcy, Curtiss-Wright took control of the firm and placed Shirley D. Brinsfield, president of Dorr-Oliver, as Cenco chairperson. During this time, Teledyne Inc., a diversified firm with interests in electronic and aviation control systems and insurance, began acquiring Curtiss-Wright stock, and, by mid-1976, it held a 12 percent stake.
Also during this time, Curtiss-Wright was producing a wide range of military nuclear components, nuclear handling equipment, and nuclear systems devices, including special valves and regulators and seal weld fitting machines. The company also began actively developing turbine-powered generators, which were sold both domestically and internationally.
In 1978, Berner launched a proxy challenge to gain control of Kennecott Corporation, the nation's largest copper company. Having already acquired a 9.9 percent interest in the mining concern, Berner charged that Kennecott had wasted assets in its $567 million acquisition of the Carborundum Company, and he proposed a dissident slate of directors committed to selling Carborundum and distributing the proceeds among shareholders, including Curtiss-Wright. Kennecott's directors narrowly won the election, but a federal judge ordered a second vote. To stave off a rerun election, Kennecott convinced Thomas D. Barrow, an Exxon Corporation senior executive, to take control of the copper company, and within two weeks Barrow and Berner had agreed to a new Kennecott board, which would serve through the spring of 1981 and would give Berner's faction a voice in the mining firm's affairs.
Over the next two years, Curtiss-Wright boosted to more than 22 percent its stake in Lynch Corporation, a manufacturer of glass-forming machinery and flow instruments that Curtiss-Wright had controlled for about 15 years. Curtiss-Wright also entered the heat treating market in 1980 with the acquisition of Diebel Heat Treating Company, serving the automotive, oil exploration, and agricultural equipment markets.
By November 1980, Curtiss-Wright had increased its stake in Kennecott to 14.3 percent, and its truce with the company was about to expire. Consequently, the copper company made a bid to acquire Curtiss-Wright, setting off a second round of corporate warfare. Curtiss-Wright responded to the Kennecott threat by initiating a buyback of its own stock to block takeover attempts, spurring a Kennecott offer to buy up Curtiss-Wright's outstanding stock. As a result, Kennecott acquired nearly 32 percent of Curtiss-Wright and surpassed Teledyne as the largest Curtiss-Wright stockholder, though falling short of its objective for majority control. In January 1981, Kennecott and Curtiss-Wright signed a ten-year truce agreement and Curtiss-Wright sold Kennecott its Dorr-Oliver subsidiary and its shares of Kennecott stock in return, Kennecott gave Curtiss-Wright $168 million and the shares of Curtiss-Wright it held, which, along with stock tendered in Curtiss-Wright's self-buyback, helped give Teledyne more than 50 percent control of Curtiss-Wright.
Reconfiguring in the 1980s and 1990s
Curtiss-Wright's sale of Cenco--resulting in $9.8 million in earnings--along with a $52 million gain from the sale of Dorr-Oliver and Kennecott shares helped push Curtiss-Wright's 1981 earnings to $85 million. Next, the company began investing in Western Union Corporation, acquiring a 21.6 percent stake in the telecommunications concern. This investment proved unsuccessful, however Curtiss-Wright lost $42 million on the company, and as its 1984 total earnings plunged to $1.9 million--down from $18.5 million a year earlier--the company sold its stake in Western Union. Also during this time, Curtiss-Wright abandoned its hopes for the Wankel, selling its rotary combustion engine business to Deere & Company after failing to discover a commercial application for the engines.
In 1986, Curtiss-Wright received an Air Force contract in excess of $40 million to provide wing-flap actuators for the F-16, leading to ongoing F-16 actuator business. The following year, Curtiss-Wright was forced to fire several Target Rock senior executives after discovering an embezzlement scheme that resulted in the indictment of several former employees and suppliers. Considered a victim of the embezzlements, Curtiss-Wright was not charged with criminal misconduct in the matter, although in 1990 the government initiated litigation against Target Rock Corporation related to embezzlements by former Target Rock officials and their alleged mischarging of government subcontractors.
During the late 1980s, Curtiss-Wright's sales and income remained fairly stable, fluctuating between $21 million and $28 million in earnings and $188 million and $212 million in sales. In 1990, the company's revenues climbed to $214 million while earnings sank to $6.8 million, in large part due to a $13.8 million after-tax environmental charge related to soil and ground water contamination at the company's former Wood-Ridge facility. Over the next two years, however, earnings rebounded to more than $21 million.
In March 1990, Berner died and was succeeded by Shirley D. Brinsfield, an outside director and former chairperson of Cenco who pledged to focus Curtiss-Wright's operations on manufacturing rather than investments. Charles E. Ehinger was elected president and Berner's son, Thomas R. Berner, was elected to the company's board. Less than four months after Berner's death, Curtiss-Wright declared a special dividend of $30 a share. The primary beneficiaries were Unitrin Inc., an insurance company once owned by Teledyne with a 44 percent interest in Curtiss-Wright, and Argonaut Group (formerly owned by Teledyne) with an eight percent interest.
In July 1991, Ehinger resigned as president and Brinsfield assumed the duties of president. Curtiss-Wright sold the engine distribution business of its Canadian subsidiary and discontinued its remaining Canadian operations soon thereafter.
In early 1993, Curtiss-Wright announced that it would explore the sale of three of its four business units, including Metal Improvement Company, its Flight Systems Group, and its Buffalo Extrusion Facility. In May 1993, Curtiss-Wright's presidency was turned over to David Lasky, a former senior vice-president, and, two months later, Curtiss-Wright abandoned attempts to sell its Flight Systems subsidiaries, as offers did not meet expectations. By October, Curtiss-Wright had reached an agreement to sell its extrusion business, while depressed conditions in the commercial and military aerospace markets led the firm to abandon the sale of MIC, which had garnered less than favorable offers. At the end of the year, Curtiss Wright's Target Rock subsidiary agreed to pay the government $17.5 million to settle remaining litigation. The Target Rock settlement, coupled with environmental clean-up charges, contributed to an annual loss of $5.6 million on declining sales of $158.9 million.
Curtiss-Wright entered 1994 seeking expanded commercial markets in the area of pollution control, for which its electronic control valves were well suited. The company faced cutbacks in the production of commercial aircraft, a reduction in pricing levels and Air Force procurement of the Lockheed F-16 fighter plane, the termination of valve orders for the Navy's Seawolf program, and reduced production activity in the Navy's nuclear program. The future of Curtiss-Wright, which abandoned the sale of its subsidiaries in 1993 in favor of optimum shareholder value, appeared contingent on both the economics of the company's traditional markets and the company's success in broaching new markets. The company's future also seemed dependent on its ability and desire to maintain its business units under the Curtiss-Wright name in an era of increasing consolidation and cutbacks in the defense and aerospace industries.
After losing $5.6 million in 1993, CWC posted net earnings of $19 million on total revenues of $166 million in 1994. These figures remained flat for 1995. At the time, government contracts accounted for about 35 percent of the company's business. Military cutbacks, primarily for the F-16 program and military valves, affected the Aerospace and Marine segments. The company also weathered development costs relating to the new Lockheed-Martin F-22, McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 E/F, and Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey programs. It also supplied Sikorsky Black Hawk and Seahawk military helicopters.
CWC won some contracts for which it was not the original supplier, as in several lines of Boeing aircraft, while its Metal Improvement Company subsidiary supplied peen-forming services for Airbus and McDonnell Douglas. CWC sold its Buffalo Extrusion Facility in June 1995. In spite of cost overruns for commercial nuclear valves, the industrial segment showed improvement.
A European subsidiary, Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems/Europe, opened in 1995. Overseas business, growing significantly, accounted for 18 percent of sales and 34 percent of profits in 1996. The company also opened shot-peening facilities in Belgium and Germany. CWC expanded its overhaul and repair business, capitalizing on the trend of airlines keeping planes in service longer. It bought Aviall, Inc.'s Miami-based Accessory Service unit for about $17 million. The company doubled the capacity of its aerospace plant in Shelby, North Carolina.
Sales were $219 million in 1997 and $249 million in 1998. The company announced another ten-year contract with British Aerospace Airbus for treating the metal surfaces of wings. At home, the company consolidated its actuation system operations at its Shelby plant due to military cutbacks, while the plant in Fairfield, New Jersey continued to handle management, engineering, and testing for military programs.
Boeing announced a slowdown in production in late 1998. CWC predicted little immediate fallout, however, and the company soon announced a new eight-year agreement for flight control systems with Boeing. It also was invited to equip two prototypes in Boeing's Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle program. Within months, CWC announced a ten-year contract to provide shot-peening metal treatments for the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and its commercial derivative. (It also joined Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation in a rescue tool venture.)
Government contracts averaged less than 20 percent of sales in the late 1990s as CWC sought out new technologies and markets. Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems acquired SIG-Antriebstechnik GmbH, the drive technology unit of SIG Swiss Industrial Company Group, in early 1999. Its products were used mainly in commercial marine craft, high-speed trains, and military vehicles. In June, CWC acquired Metallurgical Processing, an automotive and industrial heat-treating company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The next month, it bought flow control business from Teledyne Fluid Systems.
Annual sales, at $293 million, were up 18 percent in 1999. Net earnings rose nearly 30 percent to $39 million. Motion Control sales rose 18 percent to $124 million, primarily due to the Drive Technology acquisition and a surge in commercial aircraft production at Boeing. After a banner year in 1998, Metal Treatment sales slipped a bit to $106 million. CWC's Flow Control segment showed the greatest improvement, with sales jumping 71 percent to $65 million.
Forbes named Curtiss-Wright Corporation one of America's 200 best small companies in 1999. David Lasky retired in April 2000 and was succeeded by Martin R. Benante as CEO and chairman. Lasky had been with the company 38 years Benante had joined in 1978.
Principal Subsidiaries: Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems Inc. Metal Improvement Company Inc. Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Corporation Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Service Corporation Curtiss-Wright Flow Control Company Canada Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems Europe A/S (Denmark) Curtiss-Wright Foreign Sales Corp. (Barbados) Curtiss-Wright Antriebstechnik GmbH (Switzerland).
Principal Divisions: Motion Control Metal Treatment Flow Control.
Principal Competitors: Parker Hannifin Corp. Aeroquip-Vickers Inc. Telair International Inc. Rexroth Corp.
Carley, William M., and Tim Metz, 'Proxy Pugilism: Curtiss-Wright's Bid for Kennecott Has David-Goliath Aspects,' Wall Street Journal, April 18, 1978, pp. 1, 39.
Combs, Harry, and Martin Caidin, Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979 Englewood, Colo.: TernStyle, 1986.
'Curtiss-Wright Engine Has Only 2 Moving Parts,' Wall Street Journal, November 24, 1959, p. 4.
'Curtiss-Wright Redefines Itself,' Aerospace Daily, December 10, 1998, p. 388.
'Curtiss-Wright Sees Its Earnings Growth Continuing This Year,' Wall Street Journal, February 18, 1969, p. 8.
'Curtiss-Wright, Studebaker-Packard Paths Marked by Mergers in Plane, Auto Fields,' Wall Street Journal, August 6, 1956, p. 4.
Eltscher, Louis R., and Edward M. Young, Curtiss-Wright: Greatness and Decline, New York: Twayne, 1998.
'Facing Reality,' Forbes, November 15, 1967, pp. 24-25.
'Hurley Gives Up Curtiss-Wright Posts Berner, a Director, Is Named Chairman,' Wall Street Journal, May 26, 1960, p. 9.
'Kennecott and Curtiss-Wright End Corporate Battle by Agreeing to 10-Year Truce Involving $280 Million,' Wall Street Journal, January 29, 1981, p. 3.
Lee, Loyd E., review of Curtiss-Wright: Greatness and Decline, by Louis R. Eltscher and Edward M. Young, in Business History Review, Autumn 1999, pp. 533-35.
Lavelle, Louis, 'Curtiss-Wright To Lay Off 90 Employees from Essex County, NJ Plant,' The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), November 19, 1998.
Lenckus, Dave, 'Benefit Termination Not Unlawful: Ruling,' Business Insurance, May 18, 1998, pp. 3f.
Martin, Richard, 'Wondrous Wankel: Engine Not Only Drives Vehicles, But It Also Puts Stocks into Orbit,' Wall Street Journal, June 16, 1972, pp. 1, 25.
Shao, Maria, 'Kennecott's Battle with Curtiss-Wright Involves Ambitions, Strategies and Money,' Wall Street Journal, January 5, 1981, p. 19.
Stevens, Charles W., 'Curtiss-Wright Picks Top Officers After Berner Death,' Wall Street Journal, March 23, 1990, p. C18.
Tannenbaum, Jeffrey A., 'Curtiss-Wright Slates Payout of $30 a Share,' Wall Street Journal, July 13, 1990, p. C9.
'The Well-Deserved Decline of Curtiss-Wright,' Forbes, November 15, 1967, pp. 24-26.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories , Vol. 35. St. James Press, 2001.
Curtiss XP-11 - History
Curtiss-Wright, perhaps best known as the manufacturer of the legendary P-40 Warhawk fighter plane, was the largest aviation company and the second largest company in the world (behind only General Motors) during World War II.
These photos are from the Life Magazine Archive, taken by photographer Dmitri Kessel during the winter/spring of 1941 (likely March or April) at Buffalo, NY.
Curtiss-Wright was headquartered and had most airframe engineering and production facilities at Buffalo. Curtiss, along with several other aircraft companies such as Bell and Consolidated, effectively turned the city into the center of the U.S. aircraft industry from World War I through World War II.
This set contains three aircraft, mainly the P-40 (B or C variants) "Warhawk" / "Tomahawk" / "Kittyhawk" and the O-52 "Owl," (both produced by Curtiss at the Kenmore Avenue Plant), as well as a few incidental photos of the SBC-4 "Helldiver." Also pictured are flights over the Buffalo area, and several photos of Curtiss' visibly makeshift Buffalo Airport facilities, before the huge Genesee Street Plant was completed there later in the war.
The set clearly shows a company frantic to fill both domestic and Lend-Lease orders during early 1941, well before the United States became directly involved in World War II (at the very end of that year, after Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941).
In many of the photos, aircraft are shown being assembled outside—even, apparently, during the late winter or early spring. This is a telling indication of the huge demand and Curtiss' lagging production capacity at that time. Never had the world needed aircraft so quickly and in such large numbers, and not since World War I had aircraft been produced in any significant quantity.
In fact, between Curtiss-Wright and Bell Aircraft, more airplanes were built in Buffalo in 1940-1942 than the rest of the U.S. aircraft industry combined. These two Buffalo firms helped win the war by keeping the Allies in the fight during the tenuous years before the U.S. fully entered the conflict.
© Time Inc. For personal non-commercial use only. Photos can be found online at: images.google.com or at www.life.com. (Search using both "Curtiss" and "Buffalo" keywords at both sites.)
Notes: I have attempted to correct any irregularities in the originally posted photos. You may notice the occasional 'Life' logo is shown backwards or upside-down. This is intentional. Many of the originally posted photos were backwards or otherwise mis-oriented. In addition, captions were often inaccurate, so these were corrected where possible—and I've liberally added my own comments. Hope you enjoy!
Bugatti Model 100P Racer
Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan, Italy on 15 September 1881. In 1909, he founded his own automobile company in Molsheim, in the Alsace region. The Alsace region was controlled by the German Empire until 1919, when control returned to France. The Bugatti race cars were incredibly successful in the 1920s and 1930s, collectively wining over 2,000 races. During that time period, Bugatti enjoyed seeing the small machines that bore his name defeat the larger and more powerful machines of his major rivals: the German vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union.
The elegant lines of the Bugatti 100P are well displayed in this image. (Hugh Conway Jr. image)
In 1936, Bugatti began to consider the possibility of building an aircraft around two straight eight-cylinder Bugatti T50B (Type 50B) engines, very similar to the engines that powered the Bugatti Grand Prix race cars. This aircraft would be used to make attempts on several speed records, most importantly, the 3 km world landplane speed record, then held by Howard Hughes in the Hughes H-1 Racer at 352.389 mph (567.115 km/h). Bugatti turned to Louis de Monge, a Belgian engineer, to help design the aircraft, known as the Bugatti Model 100P.
Bugatti 100P general arrangement drawing based off the original drawings by Louis de Monge. Note the arrangement of the power and cooling systems.
Before construction of the Bugatti 100P began, Germany demonstrated what if felt was its aerial superiority by setting a new 3 km world landplane speed record at 379.63 mph (610.95 km/h) in a Messerschmitt Bf 109 (V13) on 11 November 1937. Bugatti disliked Nazi-Germany and was very interested in beating their record. Bugatti and de Monge continued to develop the 100P for an attempt to capture the 3 km record from Germany.
The Bugatti 100P was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built. With the exception of engine exhaust ports, the 25 ft 5 in (7.75 m) fuselage was completely smooth. The aircraft employed wood monocouque “sandwich” construction in which layers of balsa wood were glued and carved to achieve the desired aerodynamic shape. Hardwood rails and supports were set into the balsa wood to take concentrated loads at stress points, like engine mounts and the canopy. The airframe was then covered with tulipwood strips, which were then sanded and filled. Finally, the aircraft was covered with linen and doped. The Bugatti 100P stood 7 ft 4 in (2.23 m) tall and weighed 3,086 lb (1,400 kg).
The 100P had a 27 ft (8.235 m), one-piece wing that was slightly forward-swept. The wing had a single box spar that ran through the fuselage. The wing was constructed in the same fashion as the fuselage and housed the fully retractable and enclosed main gear. The wing featured a multi-purpose, self-adjusting flap system (U.S. patent 2,279,615). Both the upper and lower flap surfaces automatically moved up or down to suit the speed of the aircraft and the power setting (manifold pressure) of the engines. At high manifold pressure and very low airspeed, the flaps set themselves to a takeoff position. At low airspeed and low power, the flaps dropped into landing position, and the landing gear was automatically lowered. In a dive, the flaps pivoted apart to form air brakes.
Image of the nearly complete Bugatti 100P still under construction in Paris. The cooling-air inlet in the butterfly tail can be easily seen.
The Bugatti tail surfaces consisted of two butterfly units and a ventral fin at 120-degree angles (French patent 852,599). They were constructed with the same wood “sandwich” method used on the fuselage and wing. The tip of the ventral fin incorporated a retractable tail skid. For cooling, air was scooped into ducts in the leading edges of the butterfly tail and ventral fin. The air was turned 180 degrees, flowed into a plenum chamber in the aft fuselage, and passed through a two section radiator (one section for each engine) located behind the rear engine. The now-heated air again turned 180 degrees and exited out the fuselage sides into a low pressure area behind the trailing edge of the wings. The high pressure at the intake and low pressure at the outlet created natural air circulation that required no fans or blowers (U.S. patent 2,268,183).
The two Bugatti T50B straight eight-cylinder engines were specially made for the 100P aircraft. The engine crankcases were made of magnesium to reduce weight, and each engine used a lightweight Roots-type supercharger feeding two downdraft carburetors. The T50B had a bore of 3.31 in (84 mm) and a stroke of 4.21 in (107 mm), giving a total displacement of 289 cu in (4.74 L). Twin-overhead camshafts actuated the two intake and two exhaust valves for each cylinder. The standard T50B race car engine produced 480 hp (358 kW) at 5,000 rpm. An output of 450 hp (336 kW) at 4,500 rpm is usually given for the 100P’s engines however, de Monge stated the engines planned for the 100P were to produce 550 hp (410 kW) each. The engines were situated in tandem, behind the pilot. The front engine was canted to the right and drove a drive shaft that passed by the pilot’s right side. The rear engine was canted to the left and drove a drive shaft that passed by the pilot’s left side. The two shafts joined into a common reduction gearbox just beyond the pilot’s feet. The gearbox allowed each engine to drive a metal, two-blade, ground-adjustable Ratier propeller. Together, the two propeller sets made a coaxial contra-rotating unit. From the gearbox, the rear propeller shaft (driven by the front engine) was hollow, and the front shaft (driven by the rear engine) rotated inside it (U.S. patent 2,244,763).
Image of the two T50B engines in the Bugatti 100P while at the Ermeronville estate. Note the radiator at left , how the engines are canted within the fuselage, and how the exhaust ports on the front engine protrude through the fuselage.
Once the new design was finalized in 1938, construction of the 100P was begun at a high quality furniture factory in Paris. While construction proceeded, it was obvious that war would break out soon. France did not have any fighters that could match the performance of their German counterparts. The French Air Ministry felt the 100P could be developed into a light pursuit or reconnaissance fighter and awarded a contract to Bugatti in 1939. This fighter was to be equipped with at least one gun mounted in each wing, an oxygen system, and self-sealing fuel tanks. Most aspects of the fighter are unknown, but it is possible that it was larger than the 100P and incorporated 525 hp (391 kW) T50B engines installed side-by-side in the fuselage driving six-blade coaxial contra-rotating propellers with a 37-mm cannon firing through the propeller hub. Because of France’s surrender, the aircraft never progressed beyond the initial design phase.
The Bugatti 100P, finally in all its glory after being completely restored by the Experimental Aircraft Association. Note the fairing for the rear engine ‘s exhaust ports above the wing. (Hugh Conway Jr. image)
Bugatti’s contract included a bonus of 1 million francs if the 100P racer captured the world speed record which the Germans had raised to 463.919 mph (746.606 km/h) with a Heinkel He 100 (V8) on 30 March 1939 and raised again to 469.221 mph (755.138 km/h) with a Messerschmitt Me 209 (V1) on 26 April 1939. Bugatti and de Monge felt the 100P was capable of around 500 mph (800 km/h). In addition, a smaller version of the racer, known as the 110P, was planned it featured a 5 ft (1.525 m) reduced wingspan of 22 ft (6.7 m). The 110P was to have the same engines as the 100P, but the top speed was estimated at 550 mph (885 km/h). However, other sources indicate these figures were very optimistic, and the expected performance was more around 400 mph (640 km/h) for the 100P and 475 mph (768 km/h) for the 110P.
The 100P was nearly complete when Germany invaded France. As the Germans closed in on Paris in June 1940, the Bugatti 100P and miscellaneous parts, presumably for the 110P, were removed from the furniture factory and loaded on a truck. The 100P was taken out into the country and hidden in a barn on Bugatti’s Ermeronville Castle estate 30 mi (50 km) northeast of Paris.
Bugatti 100P on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The cooling air exit slots on the left side of the aircraft can be seen on the wing trailing edge fillet. Also note the tail skid on the ventral fin.
Ettore Bugatti died on 21 August 1947 with the 100P still stashed away in Ermeronville. The aircraft was purchased by M. Serge Pozzoli in 1960 but remained in Ermeronville until 1970 when it was sold to Ray Jones, an expert Bugatti automobile restorer from the United States. Both Pozzoli and Jones offered the 100P to French museums but were turned down. Jones acquired the 100P with the intent to complete the aircraft however, that goal could not be completed due to missing parts. Jones had the two Bugatti T50B engines removed from the airframe before everything was shipped to the United States. Dr. Peter Williamson purchased the airframe and moved it to Vintage Auto Restorations in Ridgefield, Connecticut in February 1971 to begin a lengthy restoration. Les and Don Lefferts worked on the project from 1975 to 1979. Louis de Monge was now living in the United States and assisted with some aspects of the restoration work before he passed away in 1977. In 1979, the unfinished 100P was donated to the Air Force Museum Foundation with the hope of having the restoration completed and the aircraft loaned to a museum for display. However, the aircraft sat until 1996 when it was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and finally underwent a full restoration. The restored, but engineless, Bugatti 100P is currently on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum.
The original engines out of the Model 100P were reportedly not the final version of the engines intended for the actual speed record run. Both engines still exist and are installed in Bugatti automobiles. The front engine is installed in Ray Jones’ 1937 Type 59/50B R Grand Prix racer, and the rear engine is installed in Charles Dean’s 1935 Type 59/50B Grand Prix racer. Since January 2009, Scotty Wilson has led an international team, including Louis de Monge’s grand-nephew, Ladislas de Monge, to build a flying replica of the Bugatti 100P in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Piloted by Wilson, the Bugatti 100P replica flew for the first time on 19 August 2015. Tragically, Scotty Wilson was killed when the replica crashed during a test flight on 6 August 2016.
Bugatti 100P on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Simply one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built.
Curtiss H-1640 Chieftain Aircraft Engine
In April 1926 the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company initiated a design study for a 600 hp (447 kW), air-cooled aircraft engine. The engine was to have minimal frontal area while keeping its length as short as possible. Configurations that were considered but discarded were a 9-cylinder single-row radial, a 14-cylinder two-row radial, a 12-cylinder Vee, and a 16-cylinder X. The selected design was a rather unusual 12-cylinder engine that Curtiss referred to as a “hexagon” configuration. This engine was built as the Curtiss H-1640 Chieftain.
The Curtiss H-1640 Chieftain “hexagon” or “inline-radial” engine. The image on the left was taken in 1927 note “Curtiss Hexagon” is written on the valve covers. In front of each cylinder pair is the housing for the vertical shaft that drove the overhead camshafts. The image on the right was taken in 1932 and shows a more refined engine with “Curtiss Chieftain” written on the valve covers. Note the additional cooling fins surrounding the spark plugs. In both images, the baffle at the rear of each exhaust Vee forced cooling air into the intake Vee.
The Curtiss H-1640 was designed by Arthur Leak and Arthur Nutt. The Chieftain’s “hexagon” design was a combination of a radial and Vee engine. The intent was to combine the strengths of both engine configurations: the light and short features of a conventional radial with the narrow and high rpm (for the time) of a conventional Vee engine.
The Chieftain was arranged as if it were a 12-cylinder Vee engine cut into three sections, each being a four-cylinder Vee. The Vee engine sections were then positioned in a radial form 120 degrees apart (each cylinder bank being 60 degrees apart). The end result was a two-row, twelve-cylinder, inline radial engine. The H-1640 resembled a conventional radial engine except that the second cylinder row was directly behind the first.
An engine installation comparison of the air cooled Chieftain-powered XO-18 Falcon at left and a liquid-cooled D-12-powered Falcon at right. Note that while the Chieftain is a wider engine, it blends well with the fuselage and is shorter and not as tall as the Curtiss D-12.
Each four-cylinder Vee section had the cylinder exhaust ports on the inside of the Vee and the intake ports on the outside. Each inline cylinder pair had its own intake runner and dual-overhead camshafts that were enclosed in a common valve cover. The camshafts were driven via a single vertical shaft from the front of the engine. There were four valves per cylinder.
Cooling air was directed through each four-cylinder section’s exhaust Vee here it met a baffle fitted to the rear of the engine and attached to the cowling. This baffle deflected the air and forced it to flow between the inline cylinders and behind the rear cylinder. The air then flowed into the intake Vee that was blocked off at the front. The air exited the cowling via louvers over the intake Vee.
The Curtiss O-1B Falcon that was redesignated XO-18 while it served as the test-bed for the Chieftain engine. Note the exposed valve covers and the exhaust stacks protruding through the engine cowling.
The pistons were aluminum and operated in steel cylinder barrels that were screwed and shrunk into cast aluminum cylinders with integral cooling fins. From U.S. patent 1,962,246 filed by Leak in 1931, it appears that the Chieftain’s connecting rods consisted of two halves that were bolted together. Each half was made up of one master rod and two articulating rods.
The H-1640 Chieftain had a bore of 5.625 in (143 mm) and a stroke of 5.5 in (140 mm), giving a total displacement of 1,640 cu in (26.9 L). The engine’s maximum diameter was 45.25 in (1.15 m). However, a special cowling was used, cut to allow the valve covers and exhaust stacks to protrude through, reducing the diameter of the cowling to 39 in (0.99 m). The engine was 52.3 in (1.33 m) long and weighed 900 lb (408 kg). The Chieftain had a 5.2 to 1 compression ratio and was rated at 600 hp (447 kW) at 2,200 rpm but developed 615 hp (459 kW). When the engine was pressed to 2,330 rpm, it produced 653 hp (487 kW). It was equipped with a centrifugal-type supercharger that allowed the engine to maintain sea-level power up to 12,000 ft (3,658 m). All Chieftain engines built were direct drive but geared versions had been planned. In addition, some design work on a four-row, 24-cylinder version of 1,200 hp (895 kW) had been done.
Side view of the Thomas-Morse XP-13 Viper with the Curtiss Chieftain engine and revised cowl. Not the louvers for the cooling air to exit the cowling.
Because the engine had an even number of cylinders per each row, a unique firing order was developed that alternated between the front and rear rows. When the engine was viewed from the rear, the cylinders were numbered starting with the cylinder bank at the 9 o’clock position and proceeding clockwise around the engine. The rear cylinder row had odd numbers, and the front cylinder row was even so that the rear cylinder of the cylinder bank at 9 o’clock was number 1 and the front was number 2. The firing order was initially 1, 10, 5, 7, 4, 11, 8, 3, 12, 2, 9, 6 but was later changed to 1, 10, 5, 2, 9, 11, 8, 3, 12, 7, 4, 6 in an effort to smooth out the engine.
The H-1640 Chieftain was first run in 1927 and flown in a modified Curtiss O-1B Falcon, redesignated XO-18, in April 1928. The Chieftain-powered test-bed aircraft was found to out-climb and have a higher ceiling than the standard liquid-cooled Curtiss D-12-powered Falcon. In addition, the top-speed of the two aircraft was the same, which was unheard of for that time period when liquid-cooled aircraft were faster than their air-cooled counterparts. However, the engine suffered cooling issues, and the aircraft was modified back to an O-1B in July 1930.
A comparison of the original cowling on the XP-13 at left and the updated cowling at right. The front of the cowling has been extended and angled out. The block-off plates in between the openings have been angled to funnel air into the enlarged openings.
Thomas-Morse also responded to the Army’s interest in using the Curtiss H-1640. The company’s Viper fighter prototype was built to use the Chieftain engine. This aircraft was tested at Wright Field in June 1929 and given the designation XP-13. Engine overheating was encountered, and a revised cowling was tried in an effort to provide adequate cooling for the H-1640. The new cowling had enlarged openings, and the blocked off sections were angled to force more air into the openings. However, over-heating persisted. The XP-13 was tested until September 1930, when a Pratt & Whitney R-1340C engine was installed and the aircraft redesignated XP-13A. Even though this engine was not as powerful, it was lighter and did not suffer the cooling issues present with the Chieftain. The XP-13A was found to be 15 mph (24 km/h) faster than the Chieftain-powered XP-13. Curtiss had planned to produce the Viper under the designation XP-14, but the H-1640 engine was lacking support so no aircraft were built.
Another Chieftain was installed in the Navy’s second Curtiss XF8C-1 prototype in 1930. The H-1640-powered aircraft was known as the Curtiss XOC3. It too suffered from engine over-heating. The Chieftain engine remained installed in the XOC3 until the aircraft was removed from the Navy’s inventory in April 1932.
Detail view of the revised cowling on the Chieftain-powered Thomas-Morse XP-13. The image on the left illustrates the angle of the block-off plates. Note the six, instead of eight, exhaust stacks of the upper cylinders. The last two stacks are combined and exit from a single stack aft of the cowling.
In October 1928, the Army ordered three Curtiss P-6 Hawk aircraft to be powered by the H-1640 engine and designated them XP-11. However, shortly after the order was placed, the engine’s cooling trouble became known and the engine’s development ceased. The aircraft were never built with the Chieftain engine.
A total of eight H-1640 engines were made with six going to the Air Corps and two to the Navy. While the Chieftain’s design may have been problematic, the event that directly led to its lack of support and ultimate abandonment was the merger of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company with Wright Aeronautical in July 1929. After the merger, the liquid-cooled engines were provided by Curtiss and the air-cooled engines from Wright. There was no longer a need for the Chieftain, an air-cooled engine of rather dubious design. However, the concept of a hexagonal engine would be revisited with the Wright H-2120, and other hexagonal engines include the SNCM 137, the Junkers Jumo 222, and the Dobrynin series of aircraft engines..
Reportedly, at least one Curtiss H-1640 Chieftain survives and is in storage at the National Air and Space Museum’s Garber Facility in Silver Hill, Maryland.
The second Curtiss XF8C-1 re-engined with the H-1640 Chieftain and redesignated XOC3.
Curtiss Model E flying boat
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Curtiss Model E flying boat, aircraft designed and built by American aeronautics pioneer Glenn Hammond Curtiss and first flown in 1912. Although the French aviation pioneer Henri Farman had flown off the water in 1910, the Curtiss Model E of 1912 was the first truly successful flying boat. (See also history of flight.)
The Model E followed the development of the standard Model D (1911) and the earliest Curtiss experiments in off-the-water flying (1910–12). Like earlier Curtiss machines, it was a braced biplane featuring interplane ailerons designed to avoid the provisions of the Wright brothers’ patent. The pilot was seated in an early version of the “step hull” with standpipes, features designed to assist in breaking the suction of the water during takeoff. Curtiss successfully patented the hull innovations introduced on the Model E. The final version of the aircraft had a maximum speed of some 52 miles (84 km) per hour.
As initially constructed, the Model E featured a canard, or forward elevator, in addition to the standard elevator at the rear. When it was discovered that the canard created control difficulties, the forward surface was removed. Other alterations were featured in later versions of the Model E. A final, amphibious version featured retractable wheels.
Genesis of the Jenny
Ken Cassens pilots the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s Curtiss JN-4H “Jenny” near Rhinebeck, N.Y.
Although generally attributed to aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, the iconic JN-4 owes much to an obscure British designer.
For Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and countless less famous American pilots swept up in the rise of aviation, the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” held a special place in their careers, if not their hearts.
After World War I, a surplus Jenny could be had for about $500, allowing many who dreamed of flying to purchase their own airplane. In an age unfettered by aviation regulations and agencies, they were free to roam America’s skies at will, barnstorming and giving rides to eager bystanders to earn a modest living.
Most people associate the Jenny with aviation pioneer Glenn H. Curtiss, but the biplane owes much of its pedigree to British designer Benjamin Douglas Thomas. The two seemed an odd couple. Curtiss had a mercurial temper at times, but was taciturn at others. A compulsive tinkerer, he would scrawl drawings of his ideas on the walls of his shop in Hammondsport, N.Y. His record of achievement was as extensive as the ongoing litigation he faced from the Wright brothers due to alleged patent infringement. Thomas, shy and self-effacing, was a trained engineer who had previously worked for both Avro and Sopwith before Curtiss lured him to the United States in 1914.
The Jenny sprang from an American desire to catch up to the aviation boom that had occurred in Europe prior to WWI. Curtiss sought to create an economical airplane that would be competitive on the world market. In 1913 he developed his first tractor biplane, the Model G. It featured a side-by-side cockpit in a fully enclosed fuselage, ailerons between the wings hinged to the interplane struts and an empennage more characteristic of European aircraft manufacturers, most notably Sopwith.
U.S. Army Signal Corps Brig. Gen. James Allen had corresponded with Curtiss in November 1912, indicating the need for a tractor biplane that met Army specifications. Curtiss told Allen that he was working on such a plane, and finally shipped the G to San Diego, where it was tested and accepted by the Army in June 1913. With an 80-hp engine, it could fly at an average speed of 55 mph and climb to 2,280 feet in 10 minutes. The G was also relatively easy to disassemble and ship, but it was only nominally successful.
The Model H followed and included some important differences—among them Farman- or Sopwith-type ailerons inset in the upper wing’s trailing edge and outboard-angled struts. Its O-type engine delivered 80-90 hp. Accepted by the Signal Corps in December 1913, the sole Model H (not to be confused with Curtiss’ line of Model H flying boats) was termed “clumsy but reliable.”
Ultimately, the G and the H were marginal performers, and both Curtiss and the Army knew it. This was likely the impetus behind Curtiss’ 1913 trip abroad to tour British and European aircraft factories. He wanted to see how they built airplanes and to lay the groundwork for foreign military contracts.
While Curtiss visited the Sopwith Aviation Company at Kingston-on-Thames, a man who was too shy to even introduce himself tagged along. Later, on a rainy London evening, both men fortuitously ducked into a newsstand on the Strand. Thomas noticed Curtiss reading a paper, and he chanced a conversation with the American aviator. He learned that Curtiss was on his way to Russia with hopes of opening a plant there. Curtiss had to make a stop in Paris before continuing to Russia, and he asked Thomas to accompany him on his dime. The Sopwith engineer readily agreed.
As they crossed the Channel, the two men discussed ideas for a new tractor biplane that Curtiss would designate the Model J. In Paris, Curtiss suggested that Thomas resign from Sopwith and work for him on the design. Thomas agreed, and soon set up a tent in his parents’ backyard where he worked feverishly to lay out the J’s design. He drew up plans, made stress and materials calculations and set specifications, pedaling his bike 20 miles roundtrip every time he had blueprints to send off to Hammondsport.
Curtiss’ influence was evident on the Model N, which featured interplane ailerons that he had originally developed to circumvent Wright brothers patents. (Glenn H. Curtiss Museum)
On the other side of the Pond, the blueprints were quickly turned into finished airplane components. Finally, in April 1914, Thomas received a short but sweet cable from Curtiss that simply said, “Come on over.” By early May, Thomas was in New York, never to return to England. Curtiss was pleased to have a British designer on his team in Hammondsport. Thomas could not only help him develop competitive tractor biplanes, but also aid in securing British contracts—it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a man who had worked for both Avro and Sopwith on the payroll.
That same year, Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois took command of the Signal Corps’ 1st Aero Squadron. He standardized aircraft specifications, maintenance and supply. Foulois and the aviators at the Signal Corps Aviation School developed very specific guidelines for a standard squadron airplane: “a two-seat tractor biplane with a dual control system, a minimum speed of 40 mph, and a flying duration of four hours at top speed. The design had to be streamlined and include frictionless controls, a positive driven fuel pump, and a tachometer…the engine had to be easily replaced. Finally, four mechanics had to be able to assemble an airplane in two hours and disassemble and pack it away in one-and-a-half hours.”
Tractor biplanes were on the rise in Europe because of repeated fatal training accidents with pushers in which the pilot was sandwiched between the engine and the ground in a crash. By February 1914, the Army had officially condemned pusher-type aircraft. Two months later, the Curtiss J was ready for testing. With war clouds looming, the timing could not have been better—war meant military contracts.
A visual overview of the Curtiss J reveals the influence of Thomas’ hand, including tandem seating and ailerons attached to the top wing trailing edge. The landing skid, designed to prevent nose-overs, is found on Avro and Sopwith aircraft. Soon after Thomas arrived at Hammondsport, he worked with Curtiss to develop the Model N. As on the J, its interplane and cabane struts were raked slightly forward—a common feature of Sopwith aircraft—though Curtiss evidently insisted that is also include his outmoded interplane ailerons.
Thomas claimed the N was a reworked iteration of the J, with the same fuselage. Only one was delivered to the Signal Corps in December 1914 out of an order of eight, and it too performed marginally. It had a 100-hp OXX engine, with the wings set at 0 degrees incidence to attain the required speed. In one of the more important design modifications, two of the vertical struts that formed the box girder fuselage were extended to become the cabane struts that secured the upper wing to the fuselage.
The JN series (1-4) was a hybridization of the J and the N, combining the best aspects of each and eventually earning the airplane its iconic Jenny nickname. Apparently this marriage of the two models soured Thomas’ working relationship with Curtiss, finally compelling him to resign. He evidently felt that Curtiss was taking too much credit for the JN, which Thomas considered largely his design. Curtiss’ method of communicating ideas by scrawling drawings on the walls was also too much for him, and the American’s temper didn’t help matters.
By this time, however, Curtiss’ gamble had already paid off. Officials from foreign governments descended on Hammondsport seeking military contracts, and the town was transformed almost overnight into a paramilitary community, with augmented security around the Curtiss factory. The response from Britain was so great that Curtiss opened a second factory in Buffalo, N.Y., to handle the demand. The Wall Street Journal reported that in the fiscal year ending October 31, 1915, the Curtiss Aeroplane Company produced more than $6 million in aircraft and engines, mainly for Britain. In December of the same year, Curtiss landed a $15 million contract from the British government.
Only a handful of JN-1s were built, and Curtiss moved swiftly to the JN-2, which featured two wings of equal span and the old shoulder-yoke method of aileron control (for both wings) found on his early pushers. The JN-2 was somewhat unstable due to an inadequate power-to-weight ratio and an overly sensitive rudder. That problem was remedied in the JN-3, whose shorter-span bottom wing and ailerons on the upper wing only were most likely inspired by the French. The yoke was replaced with a wheel, and the rudder was actuated by a foot-operated bar.
A JN-3 readies for takeoff near Casas Grandes, Mexico, during the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa. (Glenn H. Curtiss Museum)
Eight JN-3s equipped the 1st Aero Squadron when Captain Foulois led it into Mexico in March 1916 as part of Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition against Pancho Villa. In contrast to the agile fighters then in combat over Europe, the JN-3’s role was primarily observation and communication. However, the squadron did conduct some experiments in bombardment and the use of machine guns. The JN-3s were still underpowered and unable to climb over Mexico’s Sierra Madres. Due to various mishaps and frustrations over aircraft, logistics and other problems, Foulois left the 1st Aero in September 1916.
By December, Curtiss had introduced the JN-4 and a Canadian-built version known as the “Canuck” to fill orders from the U.S. Army and the Royal Flying Corps in Canada, respectively. The Canuck differed from the American version in that it had four ailerons, differently shaped wings and empennage, and was also lighter. With its dual cockpits and controls and 90-hp Curtiss OX-5 V8 engine, the JN-4 was ideally suited for pilot training.
Introduced in June 1917, the JN-4D incorporated some important improvements. The control wheel was eliminated in favor of the now-standard control stick it had ailerons on the upper wing only, giving it a more docile roll rate and curved cutouts on the inner trailing edges of all four wing panels provided easier cockpit entry and egress as well as improved visibility. For these reasons, the JN-4D was the most widely accepted of the early variants. The U.S. finally had a trainer good enough to be mass-produced, and with the war now on and demand exceeding supply, production shifted into high gear. The need for a reliable biplane trainer was so great that the U.S. Army Air Service leveraged Curtiss to license JN-4D production to six other American companies.
The USAS desired a trainer to bridge the gap between the JN-4D and pursuit/fighter aircraft, which was the genesis of the JN-4H. It featured a 150-hp Hispano-Suiza engine (built in the U.S. under license by Wright Aeronautical), a more robust airframe, an enlarged nose radiator, ailerons on both wings and an upper-wing fuel tank that increased fuel capacity from 21 to 31 gallons. The JN-4H’s top speed was about 80 mph, with a 175-mile range and ceiling around 11,000 feet.
After the war, the U.S. suddenly had hundreds of surplus Jennies it didn’t need. Often employed as mailplanes in the early days of U.S. airmail service beginning in 1918, the Jenny carried slightly less than 300 pounds of mail in a redesigned front seat compartment (see “The Suicide Club,” May 2017).
The JN-4H mounted a 150-hp Hispano-Suiza engine that improved performance. (Glenn H. Curtiss Museum)
Although Charles Lindbergh bought and soloed in a JN-4D in 1923, he trained in the JN-4H when he joined the USAS in 1924. Lindbergh had this to say about it: “…[I]t is doubtful whether a better training ship will ever be built….Jennies were underpowered…somewhat tricky…splintered badly when they crashed…but when a cadet learned to fly one…he was just about capable of flying anything on wings with a reasonable degree of safety.”
The period from 1920 to 1926 was known as the “Jenny Era,” when countless military pilots and others who first learned to fly in a Jenny purchased converted Army-surplus JN-4s and embarked on careers as barnstormers. The Jenny, along with the Standard J-1, was a reasonable stunt plane, and provided a great platform for wing-walking due to its slow speed and numerous struts and wires to hang on to. Many people nationwide got their first taste of flying in a Jenny, thus familiarizing them with aviation and promoting it as a viable form of transportation. The Jenny’s slow, easy motion made it the perfect airplane to ease an apprehensive public into the air.
The end of the Jenny Era came in 1927, when new regulations for airworthiness, maintenance and pilot licensing requirements were implemented—regulations that the Jenny could not meet. By 1930 it was illegal to fly a Jenny in most of the U.S. The vintage airplane movement of the 1950s revived interest in the type, and today Jennies operate under experimental aircraft license status.
Glenn Curtiss’ calculated gamble to co-opt a gifted British designer to help him launch his tractor biplanes into the global market had paid off. The JN-4 was one of the most successful aircraft of its day, and launched the careers of many aviation luminaries. Subject to Curtiss’ constant tinkering, the JN-4 series spawned variants from A to S. It formed the cornerstone of the U.S. military aviation training program, as well as various flight training schools abroad. After the war, it spurred the first U.S. airmail service and ushered in the barnstorming age. The bitter dividend created by its genesis was the dissolution of the partnership that had made the Jenny possible.
Mark C. Wilkins is a historian, writer and museum professional who is currently working on three books about World War I. Recommended reading: Curtiss: The Hammondsport Era, 1907-1915, by Louis S. Casey Jenny Was No Lady: The Story of the JN-4D, by Jack R. Lincke and Curtiss Aircraft, 1907-1947, by Peter Bowers.
Genesis of the Jenny appeared in the July 2017 issue of Aviation History Magazine. Subscribe today!
Before cars and superbikes held the land speed record, trains were the fastest modes of transportation. In 1907 that all changed, the Curtiss V8 together with the fastest man on Earth claimed the land speed record.
The record was set on January 24 at Daytona Beach, Florida. The Curtiss V8 reached a top speed of 136,3 mph. The Curtiss V8 was faster than anything the world had ever seen back then and received a lot of praise. The record was never accepted officially because of a technicality but it was widely acknowledged in the automotive industry as being legitimate.
The Blitzen Benz took over the record in 1911 but it wasn't until 1930 that a motorcycle was able to beat the record set by the Curtiss V8.