The last two blogs were based on America’s barnstorming era, the precursor to today’s popular air shows. As mentioned, the first American air show was evidently held in Texas in 1910. That was a year AFTER the first “aerial fair” in Europe which took place in Rheims, France in August, 1909! It was called “Rheims Aviation Week” (at least that’s the translated name…) and word is that more than 1 million people attended including the President of France and Britain’s David Lloyd-George who would be that country’s Prime Minister during the upcoming Great War years.
      Interestingly, although many existing aviation records were broken during the event – 111.8 (!) miles took the distance record – the lone American pilot in attendance was named “Champion Aviator of the World.”  New Yorker Glenn Hammond Curtiss won the title and $10,000 back in the day when the average auto worker made less than $800 a year working six nine-hour shifts each week. He did this by flying 12.5 miles in 15 minutes, 50.6 seconds which was a near-record speed of more than 46 mph.  With this win, he now held the distance/air speed record AND the land speed record of 136 mph  The land record – a record that stood until 1930 – was set on his motorcycle in 1907 at Ormond Beach, Florida where I happen to be sitting and typing this.  [As a side note, it’s just about impossible to go into any sort of public building here without seeing at least one photograph of old motorcycles or cars racing in the early 1900s.  Even the car wash has a great series of pictures in a hallway!]
     At that time, there was a constant flow of aviation “contests” with big prize money and Curtiss was right in the middle of the competition.  Early in 1911, he won $10,000 for the longest American flight – 152 miles from Albany to New York City with just two stops.   In June of that year, one of his employees, Charlie Hamilton, won another $10,000 by flying a 172-mile round trip from New York City to Philadelphia.
     Curtiss got involved in a patent “war” initiated by the Wright brothers when he continued to build and test more advanced airplanes.  Even though the Wright brothers technically won their patent lawsuit covering ailerons and wing warping twice – in 1910 and again in 1914 – Curtiss kept building airplanes using his findings and the aviation concepts that the Wright brothers developed.  A big goal was to build an airplane that could fly across the Atlantic in less than 72 hours with no land stops.  
     World War I brought the end of that type of contest and attention turned to using airplanes in warfare.  Curtiss was again ahead of the curve.  Well before the outbreak of war, he’d developed the first seaplane and built a system that allowed airplanes to take off from a Navy cruiser.  Using his gift for innovation, he also developed the JN-4 biplane trainer – a.k.a. the “Jenny” – for the U.S. Army Air Corps and its counterpart the N-9 seaplane for the Navy.  By 1916, his company employed more than 21,000 people.
     After the war, the company reorganized and Curtiss cashed out his stock to the tune of $32 million.  This seemingly tireless inventor and forward-thinker retired as best he could (he is credited with inventing the first RV trailer), remaining a consultant for his former company.  On July 5, 1929, Wright Aeronautical Corporation merged with the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company.  Curtiss was only able to enjoy what must have been a very gratifying event in his business career for a short time; he died in 1930at the age of 52 from complications of an appendectomy.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

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