Curtiss Model J

The Curtiss Model J was the company’s first successful tractor land plane, and became the basis of the famous Curtiss JN ‘Jenny’, the main American training aircraft of the First World War.

Curtiss’s first two attempts at a tractor land plane, the Model G and the Beachey Tractor, were both rather unsuccessful designs. As a result Curtiss decided to hire a British engineer, B. Douglas Thomas, who had been working for Sopwith. He produced two designs, the similar Model J and Model N, which were later merged to form the very successful Model JN, the famous Curtiss Jenny.

Curtiss Model J no.29 from the front
Curtiss Model J
no.29 from the front

Two examples of the Model J were built. They were two bay biplanes, with the crew of two sitting in tandem. They were originally built with equal span wings with a French Eiffel 36 aerofoil, and ailerons on all four wing panels. These ailerons operated independently, and could only move between the neutral or ‘up’ positions. They were controlled using a shoulder-yoke aileron control. The controls also included a control column for the elevators and a wheel for the rudder. At this point the Wright Brothers and Glen Curtiss were involved in a long running legal battle over the use of any system of altering the shape of the wings to provide aircraft control, and this system was adopted in an attempt to get past the Wright patent. The Model J was powered by a 90hp Curtiss OX engine.

The first Model J made its maiden flight in the spring of 1914, as a landplane. It was then converted into a single float seaplane, with small wingtip floats for stability. In order to compensate for the weight of the floats the upper wingspan was extended, and the lower wing ailerons were removed. The upper and lower wings were of similar chord, and were only very slightly staggered. The leading edge was slightly shorter than the trailing edge, so the wing tip was at a slight angle.

Curtiss Model J no.29 from the left
Curtiss Model J no.29 from the left

Modified Curtiss Model J no.30
Modified Curtiss Model J no.30

Both aircraft were purchased by the US Army, and given serial numbers 29 and 30. The army then ordered a batch of modified Model Js. The second Model J was used as the prototype for this new design, which also included features from the contemporary Model N. The new aircraft were delivered as the Model JN-2, the first of the famous Curtiss Jenny family. There does not appear to have been a Model JN or JN-1, although Model J no.30 is sometimes described in that way.

The Curtiss JN-2 had equal span wings, similar to the original Model J. The JN-3 and later models used the unequal span wings used on the modified Model J.

After the appearance of the Model JN-2 no further Model Js were produced.

Engine: Curtiss OX
Power: 90hp
Crew: 2
Span: 40ft 2in
Length: 24ft 4in
Empty weight: 1,075lb
Gross weight: 1,635lb
Maximum take-off weight:
Max speed: 70mph
Climb Rate: 3,000ft in 10 min
Service ceiling:
Endurance: 4 hours

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 June 2020), Curtiss Model J ,

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