Curtiss Jenny Restoration

Welcome! We hope you enjoy following the restoration process of a 1918 Curtiss JN4D Jenny. Once completed, the aeroplane will be flown and displayed at the Candler Field Museum in Williamson GA (30 miles south of Atlanta). You can contact me below by clicking on "VIEW MY PROFILE"

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Location: Peachtree City, Georgia, United States

Thursday, July 25, 2013

cowl to wing wire #1

Today was wire wrapping day!  Brian and I got a few wires remade and we showed Jack how to do it.  Gotta keep this old technology alive with the new generation.  Jack did a fine job.


One of the new wires we made goes from Station 1 to wing strut #3.  I guess the Curtiss engineers worried about the wing pulling backwards because there are four wires preventing it from doing so.

Hope to have more to post this weekend.  Enjoy


Aileron cables

Looking for something fun to do with the kids, the wife and I decided to take the family the Tellus Science Museum.  They got to do some neat things - dig for dinosaur bones, pan for gems, see rocks and minerals, go to a planetarium - the usual science museum stuff.

We also got to see John Slemp's aviation photo expo. 

The kids thought it was neat seeing a picture of dad in the science museum.  "There is Mr. Aexander,"  our youngest son Brighton remarked. "And Mr. Eberle too".   They spent exactly thirty seconds looking at the picture and ran off towards other more interesting exhibits.  They can see pictures of dad anytime.

Back to work on the Jenny.  The other day, we were joined by sixteen year old Jack Story.  He has an interest in airplanes and one day showed up asking to help.  Remembering my own aviation illness at that age, I handed him a rag and polish.  Within no time, he had the leading edge of the prop nice and shiny.

Hey, we have aileron controls now!  Here is the Curtiss diagram showing the aileron cable circuit.

We got some 5/32 in flexible 7 x 19 cable and started weaving the ends.  Here is the cable through the lower pulley.

The cable goes from the aileron horn through the pulley....

.. between the wings....

...meets a turnbuckle and enters the fuselage....

...goes through another pulley...

...and another pulley before looping around the fan and out the other way.

Now on the top, the cable starts at the aileron horn and goes through a pulley...(the bolt is temporary - don't panic.  we had the cable on / off several times during the process, it was easier to use this longer bolt)

...through a guide....

...and a smaller guide at the side of the center section...

...and to the other side.  Of course, we had to try it out.

Aileron down

Aileron up.

Brian agreed the ailerons worked fine.  You have to rig the ailerons so that when the stick is in the center (neutral) both ailerons hang down one inch.  Yea, it's in the Curtiss assembly manual.  I'm not making this up.

Thinking ahead, I was able to get some 12MM castle nuts online.

We need to drill the bolts yet and then the prop can be secured for flight.

Lastly, Dorian Walker has run the engine on his Jenny. First flight soon.

I'm going to try and post a movie of his engine run.  It is an automotive conversion.  Here goes:

More soon



Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Not much exciting news to report - last night I went to the hangar and continued with the "little stuff".  We rigged the airplane and there were a few wrapped and soldered wires we wanted to remake.  You are only allowed three threads showing on a turnbuckle and a few were too close for my liking.

So, out came the wire wrapping jig.....

 The shackle end was wrapped first, right at the cluster.

 Then the lower end was measured, cut and wrapped. 

We still have a few more wires to remake and the aileron wires need to be woven.  I suspect this weekend will be productive.  I had to work a lot this week and Brian took his kids hangliding in Chattanooga so things should return to normal in a few days.

Several weeks ago, professional aviation photographer John Slemp contacted me about photographing the Jenny for a future symposium of his work.  He took a bunch of pictures and sat down with a microphone to ask me questions.  I'm proud to report that you can see his work at the Tellus Museum in Cartersville, GA just north west of Atlanta.



Here is one of the Jenny photos.  

 There are audio stations where visitors can hear the story behind the pictures.

John Slemp
4778 Darlene Way
Tucker, Ga.  30084
(404) 245-2411 Cell

I hope to see the exhibit myself next week.

I'm also proud to report that Gene Rambo has completed and flown his Pietenpol.  If you remember, Gene came to Atlanta and we used the Jenny louver jig to make his cowling.  Sure looks good!

Lastly, historian Dave Trojan sent me this article.  I hope you enjoy it.

Superstitions of fledgling flyers in 1918

By Dave Trojan, Aviation Historian

JN-4 Jenny at Payne Field Mississippi with a spare propeller (just in case?), USAF photo from the collection of the author

A knight of the middle ages in shining armor, riding over the brow of a distant hill and the American aviator, dashing into the pale-pink radiance of a morning sunrise were both brothers under their skins. Both braved unto death and both bowed down their heads to the unknown forces that intervened in the affairs of their humanity.

Sky fighters of the Great War had many beliefs. It was estimated that more than three-quarters of them carried some kind of lucky token. Almost every famous pilot had a talisman to help keep trouble away. They wouldn't think of taking off without them in the cockpit. Lucky tokens or rituals were believed to aid the men in battle and to protect them from invisible foes. Ivory elephants and other small trinkets were in great favor.  Prayer books and copies of the bible became popular after reports that these religious works had stopped machinegun bullets. The same virtue, however, was claimed for packs of cards and cigarette cases. More romantic spirits took up something belonging to a wife or sweetheart. A piece of intimate stocking or dress material was carried as a fashionable lucky charm. Actually this custom was much older than WWI, it was a relic of the days of old when knights wore a token of their lady faire.

Pilot and plane at Payne Field, USAF photo from the collection of the author

All WWI pilots were superstitious to some degree, they might have said they were not, but they would not take any chances in their ritual routines. Airmen looked upon certain objects and incidents as good or bad. Men gave it many names; fate, luck, chance, fortune, and providence. Very often the belief in a particular thing was purely a personal matter, peculiar to the individual himself. A pilot who said he had never been frightened in an airplane was lying. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.”


Payne Field Instructor pilots 1918, USAF photo from the collection of the author

When a cadet from a ground school first arrived at a flying field, he was apt to smile tolerantly at the curious notions of the veterans. A month later, his slightly arrogant attitude would be gone. The intervention of luck into the life of the flyers was dramatically demonstrated to them daily. While one student smashed his ship into a tangle of wire and splinters and escaped without a scratch, another sustains what by all the rules ought to be a mild mishap and through some trick of circumstance loses his life. Such incidents made a profound impression on the airmen. One pilot revealed that after completing his pilot training and having been exposed to the bleak realities, he had been transformed into something strange by his experiences.   His mind was undoubtedly improved and he was more certain of himself, but he was also less certain of many other things. 

Aviator at Payne Field 1918, USAF photo from the collection of the author

Cadet pilots were young, inexperienced, and very superstitious. These essentially modern young men acquired some notions almost mediaeval in their mysticism. Aviators at that time scaled the skies nearer to the stars, further than men had ever climbed, but they had not solved the mystery. They tried to solve the mystery by exhibiting beliefs in omens, jinxes and in the virtue of talismans. The variety of them is curious in their scope. Their superstitious beliefs were based on experiences from their lives or tales from older and wiser pilots.  They resorted to little these superstitious tricks for propitiating fate. This peculiar attitude of mind pervaded the flying corps during WWI.  


Payne Field JN-4 prepares for take-off, USAF photo from the collection of the author

Tales were passed down to become folklore and legends and have survived to this day. Most of these stories are from the pilot training fields, but a few are from the front during 1918. In some cases, I was able to trace its source to the training field and even the individual pilot that it originated from. Some of you may have heard versions of them before, but I attempted to locate the original stories from 1918. All these tales made the rounds of the WWI training field hangers. Their piquancy was enhanced because the men who related them with a smile were all slaves to the same weaknesses.

Faithful bit of metal

In spite of the general inclination of aviators to avoid all contact with the touch of death, one aviator carried the identification disc of a French soldier brought back from the battlefield by a friend as a good luck charm. He was certain that this token would neutralize any sinister influences during his flying.  He had some close calls, but never even damaged an airplane. He was convinced that it was because he had never left the ground without the comforting presence of this faithful bit of metal.

Lucky riding whips

There are several reports of pilots who carried horse riding whips in their aircraft as good luck tokens. They had used the riding whips during their time in the cavalry before they joined the Air Service. The airmen wanted to stick with something they were familiar with and knew worked to get them out of trouble.  There is at least one report of a pilot who was killed when he allegedly flew without his lucky riding whip.   

Lucky charm sweater

One flier arrived at Call Field Texas with a disreputable s sweater, a souvenir of the grid iron. One breathless, sweltering day he left it in the hangar. Later, he met with an ugly side slip and only saved himself by a superhuman flash of dexterity and nerve. After that, he declined to discard his precious sweater though the perspiration poured down his cheeks in protesting.  It was suggested that a portion of the sweater might have the same effect. The flyer pondered and decided not to try an abrupt change of policy and tempt fate. He unraveled a wisp of wool each day. When it was time for him the ship overseas, he had merely a wristlet of the old jersey left, but it was acting like a charm.

Expensive flying coat

At Call Field Texas, a flying coat formerly owned by an instructor pilot who had a remarkable success in molding skillful airmen sold for a princely sum when it was periodically put up for sale. Every wearer had been fortunate for reasons which no one could explain, yet all understood by intuition.  It was also believed that the protecting properties of the treasured coat would evaporate if it were removed elsewhere. So it remained part of the flying equipment at the field and was sold to the next class of fledging flyers. The bidding was always brisk when the coat was again put up for sale. 

Discarded clothing

The clothes of men who died in training accidents, only too frequently at the flight schools, were never worn again. In one example, a mother who lived in San Francisco had a son who swirled five thousand feet to his death at a Texas field. In her possession were two costly aviator's leather sky coats that she would have liked to see used by one of his many flyer friends. However, without being informed of the feelings of her son’s friends and using her woman's instinct, she did not offer the leather coats to the other fliers. She somehow knew the flyers would never wear them.

Power of the garter

The most widely sought after lucky charm was a girlfriend’s garter.  According to popular legend, mystical powers were attributed to garters removed from the leg of a virgin during the dark of the moon. However, there was a catch, if the girl didn’t remain true, the garter lost its protective powers and the pilot was in danger until he found a more trustworthy female.

Dirty silk scarves

The dashing image of fighter pilots wearing long white silk scarves had nothing to do with fashion. The scarf was the perfect companion to use for wiping grease from his goggles and to keep his neck from chafing against his collar as he constantly turned his head while watching for the enemy. The scarf was also claimed to have other magical properties. Some pilots said certain scarves were bullet proof.  Other pilots, never ever under any circumstances washed their scarves. It was thought that if they did, the scarves would lose their magical protective properties. They also thought they were supposed to look a bit grimy as a badge of honor.

Good goggles

A new solo flyer, Herbert F. Gates wrote in a letter to his uncle about how superstitious the men were about flying while wearing another flyer’s goggles. The new flyer went on to say that he refused to borrow another man’s goggles after he had broken his. Rather than borrow a pair, the flyer walked a number of miles to the nearest town and purchased a temporary pair to use while his were repaired.

Empty bunk and chair

The bunk of a man who had been killed in a training accident remained unoccupied. The fledgling fliers regarded the casualties as a case of bad luck, and as one of them said: "We run a lot of risks, but we do not want to extend our credit account with fate more than is necessary." The sleeping places of the men who made the supreme sacrifice for their country when training were left vacant as a mute testimony to the tragedy. Pilots also avoided sitting on the same places where pilots had sat before they were killed.  

Lucky 13

The clichéd bad luck of the number thirteen might have been thought beneath the attention of the cavalry of the clouds. However, many a pilot declined to take a ship that bore this number or a combination that will yield the fearful figure. They wouldn’t say why exactly, but generally admitted that something emphatic and depressing happened to them once with a thirteen mixed up with it. On the other hand, some of the most brilliant birdmen turned out by the flying schools regarded “Lucky 13" in the light of a guardian angel. One particular pilot made his initial flight on December 13 in a ship serial numbered 4513. His first solo flight was taken January 13th in ship 1363. The number of pilots in his graduating class was 13. He also began secondary training on April 13. Different numbers were important to other pilots. There was one noted pilot who insisted on having the number 7 on all his gear, while another dreaded odd numbers and managed to have even numbers on everything.

Baron Manfred von Richthofen was known to be superstitious and have an aversion about the number 13. This may be due to the fact that he had three crashes on the 13th of various months. He also insisted on taking a tattered pair of old fur gloves with him as a talisman. The same gloves were with him as he gained his first 10 victories.

Left foot forward

One flier, endangered by serious engine trouble, remembered afterwards that he had mounted his training plane that morning on the right side. Thence thereafter with flamboyant elaboration he always went aboard planes on the left side, left foot foremost-in the most awkward way. There are several other accounts of pilots who always thought it was necessary to enter the aircraft from the left side. 

Badges of art

The practice of painting personal designs on the fuselages of a plane was another form of superstition. Much humor, originality, and artistic talent were displayed in these unofficial badges. Admittedly many of them were only expressions of the desire to be individual, to have something that distinguished one machine from another, but most airmen frankly admitted that they also regarded such badges as lucky and they thought they brought them good fortune. One pilot wrote his girlfriends initials on the sides of the seats on all the airplanes he flew in to bring him luck.


Lt. Field E. Kindley of the 148th Aero Squadron with mascot “Fokker” in cockpit of a Sopwith biplane, USAF photo from author’s collection

Squadron Mascots
Another survival superstition from olden times which flourished among the airmen was the mascot. This superstition has been associated with armed forces for centuries. The Roman legions carried live snakes upon poles, and at a later period warriors' helmets and shields were decorated with animals or mystic symbols.  The squadron mascot was part of the culture of military aviation. Dogs were the most popular, but other animals like rabbits, foxes, lion cubs, and birds were also used. Their assignment was to protect the flyers by acting as their good luck charm and so much more.  The highest calling for any animal was for it to provide anchorage and embrace for those in peril in the air. Many pilot photos show them relaxed, confident, and positive with a four-legged friend by their sides. The squadron mascot provided a momentary release from the stress and responsibilities of flying. Mascots also provided solace and were nonjudgmental listeners to help alleviate the pilot’s fear and loneliness. Dogs were the most well-liked mascots because they offered love and affection for the flyers and they were always happy to see them after a flight.

Lafayette Escadrille member Edwin Parsons expressed the thoughts of many aviators when he wrote, “To all those dumb friends of ours, I, for one, am deeply grateful. They deserved a citation every bit as much as we humans, for they were our constant companions and comforts in all the black hours and endured every hardship with us cheerfully and uncomplainingly. Knowing that we loved and appreciated them, may their souls rest peacefully in animal heaven.”
Don’t cross my path

Many pilots did not like any animals to cross in front of their planes. They would go out of their way to taxi round and take off in a different direction, even against a cross wind, a risky maneuver at any time. Some pilots regarded it as a bad omen for any animal, especially cats to cross their path before flying. Cats were frequent visitors to the airfield hangars, but pilots were really afraid of black cats. One black cat at an aerodrome became the subject of attempted assassination by superstitious aviators.  Dogs as mascots were not popular on every aerodrome. It was not that fliers disliked them; it was simply that most dogs had no respect for whirling propellers. 

In a documented case, a student at a local women’s college invited her fellow girlfriends to an afternoon social at her home in Montpelier MS. While enjoying the afternoon social, a squadron of planes from Payne Field overflew, spotted the girls, circled around and landed in her father’s field. The pilots spent the afternoon with the “W” girls. As the sun began to set, the girls escorted the pilots back to their planes for the return flight to Payne Field. Unfortunately, tragedy struck upon takeoff. It seems the father’s bull dog ran out into the field during takeoff and was decapitated by a propeller blade. This event brought bad luck to both the pilots and the girls, because the pilots never returned.  

In another well documented case, "Crash," the dog mascot of No. 45 Squadron, RAF, had the distinction of being the first dog in history to wreck an airplane in wartime. Early in 1918, he dragged a large bone onto the runway of the squadron's aerodrome near Istranto (Italy) just as Capt. Norman MacMillan was taking off in a Sopwith Camel. The propeller hit the bone and shattered, causing the plane to wreck.

Stuffing magic

A pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille placed his fate in the care of a stuffed black cat. The creature was tied to one of the struts of his airplane whenever the pilot went on patrol.  One day the cat stopped or deflected a bullet that otherwise might have struck its owner. The slipstream rapidly depleted the mascot’s stuffing, rendering it limp and torn upon landing. With some quick needlework and replacement stuffing the pilot had his mascot operational again.

Luck of the draw

Every squadron had a charmed airplane that was considered lucky to fly. The odds were padded for any pilot fortunate enough to fly it. On the other hand, they also had a bad luck plane that was temperamental and thought to be jinxed. Pilots considered it as the luck of the draw for which plane they were assigned.

Smoke signals

The behavior of cigarette smoke was an accepted omen in several squadron messes. If the smoke went straight up, everything would be favorable in the next flight; if it wavered, there was some doubt; if it drifted downward, it was a bad sign.
One pilot had superstitious feelings about matches and he would leap out of his chair and across a room to blow out a match if someone was trying to light a third cigarette on it. Three on a match was long regarded as bad luck because it was believed that one of the three smokers would be killed. It may be attributable to the fact that keeping a match lit that long in the trenches gave snipers a fairly easy shot. What became habit on the front could stay with someone for a long, long time.

Not to be spoken

A pilot was heard to say that he would never stay in a burning plane. Shortly thereafter, his flying machine burst into flames. With a parting salute, he climbed out of the cockpit and jumped to his death. It was believed that it was his fate because he had spoken of it earlier.

Object of his fears

Occasionally a flier would be seized with a fear for a particular obstacle and perform phenomenal feats of aviation to avoid them. In one case, a flier collided with a telephone pole nearing the end of his training adventures. After that, he would avoid flying fields of the most inviting spaciousness if they were fringed with this special peril. He would rather risk his neck in a nose dive into a much smaller space, where an error in inches meant death, rather than fly near the object of his fears.

No photos please

One superstition may have been the most popular and strongest of them all. The notion that predicted doom for a pilot who allowed his photograph to be taken in front of his plane before takeoff.  However, they would allow photographs after they had returned to record the flight. It seems that this superstition had considerable weight because it happened to Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the deadliest ace that air warfare had ever known. He was reported to have laughed at this superstition. On 21st April 1918, he stopped to play with a puppy at the door of a hangar, which housed his bright red Fokker Tri-plane, he also smiled into the lens of a camera held by a visitor and had his picture taken. The day before, he had shot down his 80th aircraft. However, this day was his last; he was shot down and killed. His luck had run out.  

Boasting tempted fate

Boasting was not only looked down upon by aviators as bad form, but it was also considered to be tempting fate, and calculated to call down retribution on the heads of even the innocent listeners. If a youngster displayed a disposition to boast about his own flying, a voice, often a chorus, warned: "The flag's out, old man, the flag's out," The words derive a meaning from the custom of hoisting a flag of strident colors to call back the cadets from their practice flying in the air.

One last ride

Pilots considered it unlucky to take a pleasure flight after they had been posted to other duties. During 1918, especially after the Armistice, so many men who went up for "one last ride" were killed, that a strong prejudice against such flights became established and persisted among the fliers. Even the phrase "one last ride" was looked upon as unlucky.

Widespread though these superstitions were, it would be a mistake to assume that all airmen believed in charms or omens. Indeed, there are many pilots who hold that he lives longest who leaves nothing to chance. But they would not laugh at the beliefs of their mates. Some of them are also like the pilot who, when asked if he carried anything for luck, replied, "No; I can't bring myself to do it. I'm just superstitious of superstition."

As James Russell Lowell said “Fate loves the fearless.”  
Au Revoir
Dave Trojan


The moon seen over the right shoulder brings good luck and the moon seen over the left shoulder, bad luck and if you see the moon square in the face you’ll have a fall. These were popular superstitions during the Great War. Original drawing by Reserve Military Aviator Dick Calkins from Payne Field Zooms newspaper, 27 Nov 1918.

More soon


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Rigging and aileron cables

The last few hangar visits have been spent rigging - dropping string lines (below), checking that the center section is square.

We also checked the dihedral at 1 degree and the angle if incidence at 0 degrees.

We have many more turnbuckles to adjust yet, but the initial rigging has been completed.  We also began making the aileron control cables.

Here is the routing of the top aileron cable.

And the bottom one.

You will see the entire circuit soon. We have three more ends to make.

John Gaertner has been doing great things in his shop with old magnetos.  So, I sent him mine for overhaul. Unfortunately the shipping company trashed the box and damaged the magneto.

All of this can be fixed, but not until the shipping company comes back to verify the damage and validates the claim.  Thankfully, Kevin Connor sent John a few parts to expedite the repair process.

What can you do.....?

Hey, there is a new Triplane in town! 

 Chris Hill (R) just purchased a Lycoming powered Fokker Dr1. You will see it at Peach State Aerodrome in the near future.

It seems Dorian Walker is also rigging his Jenny. They are getting close to a maiden voyage.

More soon.  Enjoy