The great inventor Alexander Graham Bell, by then extremely wealthy, established the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) in October 1907 to bring bright young engineers together in a creative environment. The AEA, composed of Bell as mentor, Douglas McCurdy, Frederick Baldwin, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, and Glenn Curtiss, went on to build aircraft as a team and test and perfect each other’s theories and methods for improving flight performance. Escaping the harsh winters of Nova Scotia, where Dr. Bell had his home and laboratories, the team moved south to Hammondsport, N.Y.
Each member led the design team for a specific plane. Bell designed the first AEA craft–a 42-foot (13-meter) tetrahedral kite named Cygnet. Selfridge led the second aircraft design team and Baldwin the third. Both were biplanes powered with Curtiss 40-horsepower (30-kilowatt) V-8 engines.
The first biplane was named the Red Wing because of the red silk covering its wings. With runners for use on frozen Lake Keuka, powered by Curtiss’s V-8 air cooled engine, and covered with red silk, Red Wing, piloted by Casey Baldwin, took flight on March 12, 1908.
[ad#ad-1]It achieved the distinction of the first American public flight. Baldwin flew 318 feet and slightly damaged the craft on landing. Repairs took a couple of days. After flying 120 feet, Baldwin crashed in unfavorable winds, destroying Red Wing
The second was called White Wing because of its white muslin covering. Curtiss made his first airplane flight in the White Wing on May 21, 1908. The White Wing employed ailerons for lateral control, a system that was superior to the wing warping used by the Wright Brothers, and was the first plane with wheeled landing gear in America.
The June Bug is famous for winning the first aeronautical prize ever awarded in the United States. A solid silver sculpted trophy, and $25,000 in cash, would be awarded to whoever made the first public flight with a wheeled take-off and covering at least 1 kilometer (3,280 ft).
Curtiss led the design and build team for the fourth AEA aircraft. He selected a biplane and used the same 40-horsepower (30-kilowatt) engine as the earlier biplanes. The yellow-winged craft was called the June Bug. Curtiss made three successful flights in the June Bug on June 21, and within a week he was breaking his own records with flights of over 1000 yards. The A.E.A., satisfied that they could capture the Scientific American Trophy, cabled the Aero Club that they would make a run for it on July 4.
On July 4, 1908, in Hammondsport, New York, Curtiss took off but failed on his first try. But just minutes later, after making some adjustments, he took off again. The June Bug flew for two kilometers (1.25 miles)–twice the required distance. The result: Curtiss won the first U.S. aviation cash prize and the large Scientific American trophy to keep for a year. The flight was photographed, and Curtiss and the AEA received valuable national and world publicity.
Read further about Glenn Curtiss and his next aircraft: the Golden Flier and the Reims Racer.