Thursday, 17 May 2007

Glenn Hammond Curtiss 1878-1930

Glenn Hammond Curtiss was raised by his mother after the father died when he was four, moving to Rochester in 1890. In school there, his interest in mathematics and machinery was apparent and, after graduation, he went to work at Eastman Kodak company as a camera assembler.
His interest in 1906 in motorcycles and racing prompted a switch in careers when he was offered a job at a local cycle shop, and later opened his own store to help finance his racing. His thirst for speed led to experiments in gas engines, and he was soon designing and producing his own brand of one- and two-cylinder motorcycle engines. He tried unsuccessfully to interest the Wright brothers in his engine designs for use in their airplanes, but one design caught the attention of Thomas Scott Baldwin, who ordered a motor to use on his airship, California Arrow.

On January 23, 1907, he set a motorcycle speed record of 136.3mph with a 40hp air-cooled V-8 design that would lead directly to the popular OX aircraft motor of WW1. Later that same year, Alexander Graham Bell purchased a Curtiss motor and was so impressed with it that he invited its designer to join him in his Aerial Experimental Association (AEA), where, with Frank W Baldwin, he designed and built the first airplanes to feature movable wing-tip ailerons. These, however, brought on bitter patent-infringement lawsuits that ran on for years in courts until finally ending with a Wright-Curtiss Co merger in 1929.
Curtiss began flying and became Director of Experiments for AEA in 1908. There he designed aircraft and was successful in building the June Bug, a Curtiss-powered aircraft that won the Scientific American Trophy for a first flight in the USA traveling one kilometer.
1909 was A key year for Curtiss, who, after leaving AEA, built aircraft independently for himself and others, notably the Aeronautical Society of New York. One of these was the Golden Flierin which he won the Gordon Bennett Cup in Reims, France, awarded for the fastest flight speed, which was his then-breathtaking 46.5mph. Following this, Curtiss founded his own company and flight school in Hammondsport, America's first such commercial operations.
In 1909 Curtiss joined with Augustus M Herring to form the Herring-Curtiss Co to manufacture powered vehicles. Despite numerous lawsuits, Curtiss continued to advance the cause and technology of aviation, founding the first public flying school (1910) and later a chain of schools across the US, inventing the aileron (1909), the dual-control trainer (1911), and the hydroaeroplane (1911).
At the 1910 Dominguez Hills Air Meet he picked up $6,500 in prize moneys in the categories of fastest speed, endurance, and quick starting. That year the Navy contracted for several flying boats, as well as for training Navy fliers, and this led to experiments with airplanes in operations with ships at sea, in which Eugene Ely's first flights to and from USS Pennsylvaniawere harbingers of things to come. In 1914 a large, multi-engine flying boat, America, was built for an Atlantic crossing, but this was cancelled by the outbreak of WW1. However, America's war preparation saw the development of his famous JN-4 "Jenny" and OX-5 motor, and his NC-4 flying boat finally made the first transatlantic flight in 1919.
Because of patent lawsuits and legal battles, by 1918 Curtiss, then 40, had retired from active participation in his company to develop real estate in Florida, but remained on the company roster as a design consultant. He died at 52 from complications after an appendicitis operation, but the Curtiss marque continued with a line of historic aircraft until its doors closed shortly after WW2.
Some major awards were: Scientific American Trophy, 1908, 1909, 1910; Gordon Bennett Trophy, 1910; Collier Trophy, 1912; Langley Medal, 1914.