Curtiss JN-4 Jenny

Affectionately called “Jenny” by thousands of fledgling World War I combat pilots, the Curtiss JN-4D was the most widely used primary trainer in the United States as America prepared to go to war in the air over Europe. Built between 1915 and 1917 by the Curtiss Aeroplane Company of Hammondsport, New York, it was the trainer for an entire generation of aviators in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. During World War I, over 6,000 Jennys were manufactured, making it the first mass produced airplane in the United States. Because the Jenny had simple controls and was so easy to fly, 95% of all U.S. and Canadian aviators in World War I, and even Charles Lindbergh, learned to fly in a Jenny.

The Jenny began as a combination of two aircraft: the model J, designed by 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 U.S. Army began ordering Jennies in December 1914, under the official designation JN2. The “Jenny” nickname followed, derived from the JN designation prefix. It was ordered by the Army as an observation airplane, but most were used as trainers.

Early Jennies were delivered to the First Aero Squadron in April 1915, and became the first Army airplanes used in combat. They took part in General John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition against outlawed Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa along the Mexican border in March 1916. After the war, Jennys were sold as surplus to early aviators who took the plane on barnstorming tours around the country. While barnstorming, the pilots put on displays of aerial stunts, including wing walking, and offered rides to anyone who could afford the price. With its widespread travels and many pilots and passengers, the Jenny helped to popularize flying.

The Museum’s Jenny was built in 1917. It is powered by the OX-6 engine. The aircraft was sold numerous times in its active life, once to Frank Tallman and Paul Mantz, famous Hollywood film stunt flyers, and was used in the making of the movie, The Spirit of St. Louis with Jimmy Stewart in 1957. It was donated to the Museum by Johan M. Larsen in July 1978, after the Museum’s first Jenny was destroyed in the February 1978 fire. This aircraft is painted in the Air Mail colors because the Jenny was chosen by the Postal Department to fly the very first Air Mail route from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia and New York in 1918.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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