Saturday, September 17, 2011
An aviation pioneer
Our next stop near Corning, New York was for the purpose of visiting two museums. The first was the Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum. As a member of the flying fraternity for many years, I was well aware that Curtiss was a name that was important to aviation. He likely does not have the name recognition with school children that the Wright Brothers have, but he was a vital part of aviation advancement.
Like the Wright brothers, he got his start in the bicycle business. He designed and sold bicycles from several stores around his home town of Hammondsport, NY and around the region. He was obsessed with speed and competed in numerous races. He then moved on to building and racing motorcycles. In 1907, he traveled to Florida and competed in a speed race with his own design motorcycle. He won the competition with a speed of 136 miles an hour. That speed record stood until 1911, when it was broken by an automobile. It remained the motorcycle speed record until 1930. He was called the Fastest Man on Earth.
Shortly thereafter he became involved with aviation and was to become one of the most important figures in early aviation. He flew the first witnessed flight of a heavy than air plane and received the first pilot license issued in the USA. He won numerous races in the USA and Europe.
He designed and built a number of aircraft that changed the course of aviation, these included the “Jenny” which was vital during WWI and lived long after in civil aviation and the float plane that started Naval Aviation. He is considered to be the father of Naval Aviation. During the years leading up to WWI and during the war he manufactured planes for the war effort and at its peak employed over ten thousand people in numerous plants.
One of his last designs during his retirement years was to build one of the first RV’s for use during his hunting trips. This design was put into general production.
The museum has a restoration department and I was lucky enough to run across a gentleman rebuilding and testing a 1908 engine for a special event tomorrow. We had a very nice chance to swap flying stories and give me some insight into this antique engine.
Anneke also found something of interest in the child play area that reminded her so much of her preschool play areas with all those wooden toys and kitchen. I thought I was not going to get her out of there.
The museum highlights his life, designs, accomplishments, and his fascination with speed. It is a must see for anyone interested in aviation, speed, or history.