Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" trainer

The Curtiss “Jenny” was the trainer in which ninety percent of American, British, and French pilots learned to fly in World War I. A common saying was, "If you can fly a Jenny, you can fly anything." It was the only American designed or built aircraft to see service in World War I. The one pictured is at Rhinebeck museum in upper New York state. Note the skids near the wing tips and the bracing above the upper wing and between the wings.

By 1914 the leadership in flying was European. Most pilots were European and most aircraft and their engines were designed and manufactured by Europeans. While thousands of Europeans built aircraft and engines, only 169 Americans were building aircraft and engines in 1914. The Europeans were building four different rotary engines plus liquid-cooled engines and dozens of aircraft designs.

The leading American in the air business was Glenn Curtiss. His “headless pusher” was a favorite of stunt fliers world wide. In 1913 he designed what he called the JN-3 and sold a few as trainers. He improved it, calling it the JN-4. Pilots learning to fly it called it the “Jenny.” Over the next few years 6,070 were built and sold world-wide. Some called it the Model T of aircraft. Many were used after World War I for crop dusting, sky writing, barnstorming, and air shows.

Different versions were designed for gunnery training and other uses. Hundreds were sold to the Army and Navy. The other American contribution was the Liberty engine, of which Packard built thousands. Glenn Curtiss, meanwhile, dreamed of a large flying boat to cross the Atlantic. After that he dreamed of and designed other record breaking aircraft.