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Happy 100th birthday to Jenny (JN4)

jenny aircraft pilot training

Adapted from an article for History on a Shirt by Ewan Tallentire

When you think of the great WWI aircraft, the first thing that comes to mind is the fighters. Germany had the Fokkers, the Red Baron's Dr.I and the powerful D.VII. Britain had the Sopwith Camel even before an imaginative beagle climbed into the "cockpit." The French had the sports car of them all, the Spad XIII. The Americans' most well-known aircraft of WWI was not a fighter; we fought the air war flying British Camels and S.E. 5a's, along with French Nieuports and Spads. America's great WWI aircraft served on the home front; it was the Curtiss JN4, better known as just the Jenny.

Airplanes in Barton Hall, Cornell UniversityWhen America officially entered the war in 1917 the Jenny was in great demand for the war effort, to train all of the pilots that would be needed in France. Flight schools opened up across the country to train pilots; Cornell University went a step further by converting its armory (see picture) into a production line to build Jennys to train pilots going through ground school, such as Douglas Campbell whom Eddie Rickenbacker shared his first victory with.

The venerable JN4 Jenny wasn't a maneuverable exciting fighter like the Dr.I, Camel, or Spad. Compared to them, she was an ungainly, slow and stable aircraft - just the thing to train new pilots how to fly.

Unlike those fast, maneuverable fighters that came and went with the seasons of the war, the Jenny soldiered on after the war. When the pilots who had trained in Jennys came back from war, the surplus Jennys were waiting for them. The same pilots who fought thrilling dogfights in the air over France now put on shows over small towns all around America, recreating those daring maneuvers in the reliable Jenny.

Unlike those exciting fighters, you can still find Jennys in museums. I have done a design of a JN4 Jenny for the Glenn H Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York (not far from Cornell University where Jennys were built during WWI), and a Jenny way across the country at the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon. The Jenny might not have as exciting a battle history as the Spad XIIIs flown by American pilots of the 94th Aero Squadron, but most of those pilots first learned to fly in the Jenny.

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