Inventor who Advanced Military and Civilian use of Aircraft
Glenn Curtiss is credited as being the “Father of Naval Aviation.” A contemporary of the Wright brothers, Curtiss made significant advances in aircraft design. These advances shortened the time for public acceptance and use of powered aircraft; and consequently, created the aircraft industry. Included in his advances were the invention of aileron control surfaces (still used world-wide) for aircraft roll control, development of the first successful seaplane, and the World War I Jenny training plane.
Glenn Hammond Curtiss was born in 1887 in Hammondsport, N.Y. After grade school, he worked briefly in Rochester, NY, for Kodak and then a telegraph company. He returned to Hammondsport where his interest in speed and mechanics prompted him to open a bicycle shop.
His endeavors led him to developing motorcycle engines. In 1904, one of his engines was used to power the first successful American dirigible, Thomas Baldwin’s “California Arrow.” He also became a famous motorcycle racer. In 1907 he set a speed record racing to 137 miles per hour on a V-8 engine that he built. That same year, Curtiss joined the Aerial Experiment Association founded by Alexander Graham Bell to build flying machines. Using his experience with initial aircraft --- he piloted the “White Wing,” incorporating horizontal rudders on the wing tips, covering 1,017 feet.
Curtiss built his famous “June Bug” and on July 4, 1908 he piloted it for a flight of 5,090 feet, winning the first leg of the Scientific American trophy. He went on the win the second and third legs, first in 1909 with a 24.7-mile flight in his “Golden Flyer.” Then he flew his “Hudson Flyer” for the first ever flight from Albany, NY to New York City. He won $10,000 for that flight and permanent possession of the trophy.
He formed the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in 1910 to meet demand for airplanes. In early 1911, he flew the first seaplane from the water in the United States. This plane used a pontoon design developed by Curtiss to allow take-off and landing on water. In July of the same year he sold the U.S. Navy their first aircraft, the A-1 Triad. Curtiss also trained the Navy’s first pilots.
His company produced 10,000 aircraft during WWI at a rate of more than 100 in a single week. The impact of Glenn Curtiss on the acceptance and use of aircraft was international, particularly evidenced by the purchase and use of the A-1 Triad to so many countries.
The use of moveable wing surfaces invented and patented by Glenn Curtiss for roll control is used in almost all modern aircraft world-wide. His development of light weight reliable engines (initially for motorcycles) enabled rapid advancement of aircraft performance and was a major contribution to the field. Additionally, his development of sea planes propelled the use of naval seaplanes.