HERO OF THE AIR: GLENN CURTISS and the BIRTH of NAVAL AVIATION
As U.S. Naval Aviation celebrates its 100th Anniversary in 2011, this book is a must read. The life of Glenn Curtiss directly influenced the partnership between Curtiss and the Navy Department. Professor Trimble presents the biography of Glenn Curtiss (1878-1930) as a fascinating drama beginning with Curtiss’ interests in bicycle racing during the 1890s, then motorcycle engines and eventually aeronautics. He was a grade school drop-out from Hammondsport, N.Y., who operated more by instinct, trial and error, exhibitions, competitions and publicity than analysis and engineering methodologies (which was more of the Wright brothers’ style). However, the interest and support of Captain Washington I. Chambers in the Navy Department resulted in the authorization and funding for two Curtiss aircraft in May 1911. The highlight event after WWI was the first transatlantic crossing of the Navy-Curtiss (NC) flying boats from Newfoundland to Lisbon, Portugal. As a contemporary of the Wright brothers, the book also clearly expands on the decade-long patent litigation between the Wrights and Curtiss.
Curtiss spent his later years involved in real estate in Florida during the 1920s real estate boom – probably a lesser known aspect of his life. He bought acreage that he named Hialeah and he donated more acreage to the city of Miami for a commercial airfield for Pan Am as well as acreage for the Opa Locka airfield for a Navy base for rigid airships in 1929. It is ironic that Glenn Curtiss, after so much flying, many mishaps and competitive exhibitions in a fledging industry, died of complications from an appendectomy in 1930 at age 52.
This book recounts the beginnings of what was “stunt” flying and develops it through the life of Glenn Curtiss to a business which reflected private-military collaboration and integration of aviation into the U. S. Navy. It is an easy read with excellent photos, technical enough for the professional aviation buff or pilot, yet will keep anyone spellbound in its quick moving style. And for 2011 it’s a most appropriate book to read 100 years after the Navy awarded Curtiss the first contract for Navy aircraft.