many ways, the Curtiss Jenny could be considered the Model T of the
skies. Roughly a contemporary of Ford's famous auto, the Jenny would
eventually help to establish the practical reality of American
Jenny was the first aircraft purchased in quantity by the American
military, and consequently was the first mass-produced American
aircraft. Used to train over ninety percent of American pilots during
WW I, it played a key role at the beginning of what would become the
most powerful air force on Earth.
Before 1927, the Jenny would also be the first aircraft many American's
would ever see close up, let alone fly in. Post-war surplus Jennies,
bought by enterprising barnstormers, flew across rural America to sell
rides, thrill spectators, and inspire young pilots-to-be. It would have
been rare indeed to find an American pilot that had not flown in the
Jenny. Charles Lindbergh's first aircraft was a Jenny bought in 1923
Jenny began as a combination of two aircraft: the model J, designed by
the British engineer, B. Douglas Thomas, under contract to Glenn
Curtiss; and the model N, which was a similar design under parallel
development. Both were developed as two-seat tractor aircraft, powered
by the new Curtiss OX-5 engine.
With the best features of the J and N models combined, the American
Army began ordering Jennies in December 1914, under the official
designation JN2. The "Jenny" nickname followed, derived from the JN
First used by the Army Signal Corps in 1916 for tactical operations in
Mexico against Pancho Villa, the Jenny design was subsequently upgraded
and given the designation JN3.
British Royal Navy ordered the upgraded Jenny for use as a primary
trainer, and Curtiss opened another factory to meet the demand. Further
design changes resulted in the JN4 and JN4-A models, which were sold to
the U.S. Air Service, the U.S. Navy, the British Royal Flying Corp and
the British Navy.
Design changes continued, resulting in several JN designations: a
Canadian licensed built JN-4 known as the "Canuk", a JN4-B, which had
some success in the civilian market, and one experimental JN4-C. In
1917, one month after America entered WW I, the definitive version of
the Jenny was introduced as the JN4-D.
Wartime demand totally overwhelmed Curtiss' production capacity. Along
with Canadian production, six other American companies were contracted
to share the load: Fowler Airplane Corporation, Liberty Iron Works,
Springfield Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis Aircraft Corporation, U.S.
Aircraft Corporation, and Howell & Lesser.
During the Great War, Jenny's were modified in numerous ways to perform
various roles, some resulting in further designations such as: N-9,
JN4-H, JN4-HT, and JN4-HB. The JN4-H models featured 150 HP Hispano-Suiza
engines replacing the 90 HP OX-5 (a welcome upgrade for the seriously
under-powered Jenny). While designed and used primarily as a trainer,
the Jenny also saw service as a reconnaissance, bomber, ground attack,
seaplane, and fighter aircraft.
Flight instruction in the Jenny was completed in about 50 hours over
the course of six to eight weeks. Training began in the front seat,
with between four to 10 hours of dual seat instruction (with the
instructor sitting in back screaming directions over the roar of the
engine). Soloing moved the student into the back seat - the Jenny was
always soloed from the back. After 24 hours of flying solo, followed by
16 hours cross-country, training was complete.
its intended role as a primary trainer, the JN4-D is said to have
performed well (although it also has been said, " If you can fly the
Jenny, you can fly anything!"). It had a maximum speed of around 75
mph, and cruised about 10 mph less, with a landing speed of about 40
mph. It had relatively sluggish handling characteristics, with a
virtually non-existent rate of climb (a blistering 200 feet per
minute). Stall recovery was tricky and used up a great deal of
altitude, and it's OX-5 engine was often rough-running and unreliable.
Consequently, about 20% of all Jenny's built were destroyed during
More than 6,000 Jenny's were ultimately produced, but at war's end,
military orders were abruptly terminated. However, public demand for
surplus aircraft was high. At thirteen cents on the dollar, Curtiss
bought $20 million worth of Jennies back from the U.S. government,
refurbished, and resold them.
Jennies, along with a host of associated after-market parts and
services, flooded a lucrative civil market. Along with the barnstormers
roaming the countryside, Jennies found their way into several
industries, including transportation, airmail, forest service,
surveying, and many others. American civil aviation boomed.
through the early 1920s, Jennies became extremely popular and widely
available, especially when air services began selling surplus Jennies.
Private owners also sold Jennies amongst themselves, sometimes for as
little as $50. However, around 1925 as improved aircraft designs became
available, the popularity of the Jenny began to decline.
1926, the Air Commerce Act was passed, and the era of the Curtiss Jenny
drew to a close. The Jenny in commercial use simply could not meet
safety requirements. For a time, some continued to fly under
grandfather clauses, but annual inspections eventually grounded the
Country: United States of America
Manufacturer: Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation
First Introduced: 1916
Number Built: 6,813
Engine: Curtiss OX-5, liquid cooled, V-8, 90 hp
Wing Span: 43 ft 7 in [13.28 m]
Length: 27 ft 4 in [8.33 m]
Height: 9 ft 10 in [3 m]
Gross Weight: 1,430 lb [648 kg]
Max Speed: 75 mph [120 km/h]
Ceiling: 6,500 ft [3,350 m]
Endurance: 2.5 hours