The AEA disbanded in 1909,
and Curtiss formed the Herring-Curtiss Company with Augustus Herring. Its
first customer was the Aeronautic Society of New York. Curtiss delivered
his first plane to them, the Curtiss No. 1, built to their specifications,
on May 29, 1909. When the Herring partnership split up, Curtiss founded
the Curtiss Exhibition Company, the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in December
1911 in Hammondsport, New York, and the Curtiss Motor Company.
The Curtiss 1911 Model D was the second military airplane purchased by the
U.S. Army Signal Corps. It was known as Signal Corps Airplane No. 2
In 1910, Curtiss set up
shop in San Diego and taught the first naval aviators to fly. That year,
he introduced the Model D biplane, which had ailerons mounted between the
wings. Curtiss, in cooperation with the Navy, developed a system for
takeoff and landing aboard a naval vessel, essentially the first aircraft
carrier. On November 14, 1910, a Model D Curtiss plane, piloted by Eugene
Ely, made the first takeoff from a ship—the USS Birmingham. On
January 18, 1911, Ely landed on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania. A
month later Curtiss himself took off from water and landed near the
Pennsylvania flying a tractor seaplane.
Curtiss also worked on
developing the seaplane, basically a land plane with floats instead of
wheeled landing gear. His first seaplane, based on the Model D was
manoeuvrable, light, and relatively fast, and was the most widely built
type of plane in the United States before World War I.
In February 1911, Curtiss
introduced the Triad seaplane, which had both wheels and floats. It was
the world's first successful amphibian and became the prototype of later,
larger craft. The Triad A-1 first flew on July 1, 1911, and became the
first Navy airplane. In November 1912, it performed the first successful
catapult launch of a seaplane from an anchored barge. The Triad was sold
to the British, Russian, German and Japanese navies in 1912, and Japanese
naval aviation was founded with the purchase of three Curtiss Triads. In
1912, Curtiss won the Robert Collier Trophy for his development of the
On March 31, 1911, the
U.S. government appropriated its first funds for aircraft and purchased
three planes from Curtiss and two from the Wright brothers. In the next
three years, the Navy bought 13 more Curtiss planes that could be used on
floats. A Curtiss seaplane climbed to 6,200 feet (1,890 meters) on June
13, 1913, setting an American seaplane altitude record.
In the meantime, Curtiss
had begun working on the flying boat—an aircraft with a large central hull
that rested in the water. He realized that water produced a lot of drag on
a hull. After trying several designs, his engineers discovered the stepped
hydrofoil hull. The hull would produce lift as it moved through the water.
When it raised itself enough to expose the step, drag abruptly decreased,
and the hull quickly rose more to glide on a small area of the step. The
pilot could easily sense these actions. The quick rise and increase in
speed told him that his craft was ready for takeoff.
In January 1912, Curtiss
debuted his first successful flying boat, The Flying Fish, which
incorporated the stepped hull. The Curtiss F two-seat biplane flying boat
became the Army's first flying boat and was also used by the Navy. During
World War I, it was the primary training flying boat. During the war,
Curtiss received so many orders for flying boats that he hired Boeing and
Loughead (later renamed "Lockheed") to build them to his specifications.
In 1914, Curtiss built the
America, the first two-engine flying boat. To commemorate 100 years
of peace between the United States and England (following the War of
1812), the America was to fly the Atlantic with a crew of two—an
American and an Englishman. Navy destroyers were to be stationed every 100
miles (161 kilometres) along the route for safety. But World War I began
and the flight was cancelled. Britain bought the airplane and 20 similar
models that were either modified or manufactured in England, marking the
beginning of England's flying-boat industry. The aircraft were used
extensively for antisubmarine patrol.
During World War I,
Curtiss produced thousands of Curtiss OX-5 engines—a water-cooled V-8 with
90 horsepower (67 kilowatts). The company produced 10,000 aircraft during
World War I, more than 100 in a single week. Its most famous product,
however, was the JN series of military training aircraft, known as "Jennys."
These planes were the most widely mass-produced U.S. aircraft in the first
15 years of aviation history. Large numbers of the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny were
manufactured between 1916 and 1927 and used by Canada, Great Britain, and
the United States. It continued as a barnstorming airplane well into the
The N-9 was the seaplane
version. It had a heavier engine than the Jenny to compensate for the
extra weight of the floats and an upper wing that was some 10 feet (3
meters) longer than the lower one. Developed in late 1916, it served in
U.S. Army and Navy flying schools until 1927.
As business expanded, the
Hammondsport factory became unable to fill all the orders. Curtiss
extended its operation to Buffalo, where it rented the site of the company
that had supplied Curtiss with his first bicycle engine years before.
Curtiss also opened a new plant in Toronto. The quarters in Buffalo
quickly became inadequate, and a new 120,000-square-foot
(1,115-square-meter) building was constructed that became the company
headquarters. Soon after, a new plant that sprawled over 72 more acres was
In 1916, the Curtiss
Aeroplane & Motor Company, Ltd. went public with Curtiss as president. By
that time Curtiss had become the world's largest aviation company,
employing as many as 18,000 at Buffalo and 3,000 at Hammondsport.
In 1917, Curtiss began
collaborating with the Navy to build a flying boat that could cross the
Atlantic and join naval war operations quickly. The team came up with a
wide-span biplane that could accommodate a crew of five. It was designated
the N-C (for Navy-Curtiss), and the Navy ordered four. Although the war
ended before all the craft were built, the Navy decided to proceed with
the project. In May 1919, a four-plane fleet attempted the first
transatlantic flight. Only one, the NC-4, successfully flew, by stages,
from Rockaway, New York, to Lisbon, Portugal. This was the first
successful airplane crossing of the Atlantic.
After the war, Curtiss,
fell on hard times. In August 1920, the company was forced into
receivership. Clement Keys, a Canadian financier, obtained funds to manage
the company's debt and led it again to sound financial status. The Buffalo
facility became the major facility, and the company remained the largest
U.S. aircraft company through the 1920s. Its racing planes, including the
CR-1 and CR-3, won several competitions. The CR-3 won the 1923 Schneider
Cup race, the first time it was won by a U.S. plane. The Americans again
won in 1925 with a Curtiss R3C-2, piloted by Jimmy Doolittle, an Army
pilot who would become famous during World War II. Curtiss planes also
competed in the Pulitzer Trophy and Gordon Bennett Cup races. The P-1,
first in a long line of Hawk pursuit planes for the Army, was ordered in
September 1925, and the company built a line a observation airplanes as
The company also continued
building aero engines. Its most significant was the D-12. It was equipped
with a propeller that could rotate at a higher speed than conventional
propellers and which allowed the engine to use its full power. The D-12
powered the Curtiss planes that won the first four places in the 1921
Pulitzer competition and the Schneider Cup races in 1923. The D-12 would
prove to be the model for in-line engines worldwide from that time.
In 1929, shortly before
Curtiss died, the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company, Ltd., merged with the
Wright Aeronautical Corporation to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.