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Friday, February 6, 2009

Famous "Jenny" Curtiss JN-4 Biplane

During World War I, Curtiss JN-4 airplanes were built and tested in Waukegan. Also known as "Jenny" by Americans for the JN designation in the name, the biplane was probably North America's most famous WW I plane.

The Jenny was built by the Curtiss Aeroplane Company of Hammondsport, New York, later the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. Parts for the Jenny were assembed at a Curtiss plant on Market Street in Waukegan, and some metal parts were made at Fansteel in North Chicago.

The photo above is of a parade on Genessee Street in Waukegan, July 3, 1920, and shows the Curtiss JN-4 coming into camera view at right. The Academy Theater is prominent in the background. During the war, the Jennys were often used in local parades to promote the purchase of Liberty Bonds.

The JN-4 was used to train pilots, but each one needed to be test flown first. Curtiss had its own test pilots, and the Army Signal Corps also had a pilot test the planes before they were accepted by the U.S. Army. The test field was on the north side of Waukegan in today's Lyons Woods Forest Preserve on Sheridan Road.

The runway on the test field was a farm field, rolled by rollers to smooth the ground as much as possible. The planes would fly to other airfields in Wisconsin, Chicago, and Rantoul.

At right is a closer view of the Jenny on parade in Waukegan, 1920.

The twin-seater biplane's maneuver-
ability made it ideal to train pilots. Its top speed was 75 mph, and its service ceiling was 6,500 feet. The JN-4B models were built in Waukegan and powered by an OX-2 piston engine; 76 were sold to the U.S. Army, and 9 to the U.S. Navy.


Joe the Planner said...

Just a note: by the time the JN-4 was being produced, the the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company was headquartered in Buffalo, NY. The company was created on January 13, 1916, a merger of the former Curtiss Aeroplane Company (Hammondsport, NY) and Curtiss Motor Company (Bath, NY).

Incidentally, the vast majority of JN-4s were made in Buffalo, but a few were made elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. I had no idea the Waukegan made a few of 'em. Do you have specific numbers?

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for your note. Did some checking, but could not find statistics on how many Curtiss planes were made in Waukegan.

Diana Dretske said...

More on how many planes were made in Waukegan:

Chicago Daily Tribune article from 10 Sept 1919 stated that Curtiss had leased a 4-story "service plant" in Waukegan to be used for storing and assembling planes. "About forty machines have already arrived from the east, and many more are to come shortly."