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The primitive biplane circled the course over Long Island’s Hempstead Plains ten times, covering fifteen miles, and then came down. The pilot was hungry. As Glenn Curtis put it: “I felt hungry and it was time for breakfast. Even an aeroplanist has to eat, and after making ten evolutions of the field I thought it was quite enough, and I reserved my ambitions for another day.” Presumably he ate a good breakfast that morning, July 16, 1909. Because he had just cut short his flight, less than a mile shy of the mark needed to win the Scientific American trophy.
[ad#ad-1]Curtiss was in the air during this fifteen mile flight for about 23 minutes. It was his longest flight to-date, more than twice as far as his previous best flight of six miles. There were no scientific timers on hand when he took off at 7:30 AM, and Curtiss regarded the flight as practice for the international aviation race in France the following month.
After the flight, Curtiss reported that he had been fighting against an eight or ten mile headwind for the greater part of the flight and while his motor was working perfectly, he did not want to push it to its maximum.
Flying 29 miles in 52 minutes
The next day, July 17, Curtiss tried for the Scientific American Cup, which required a flight of 25 kilometers (15.6 miles) over a carefully measured course and witnessed by the Contest Committee of the Aero Club of America, the custodians of the trophy.
By five o’clock in the morning, Curtiss, the Golden Flyer, the spectators, and the committee members had assembled. At 5:15 he took off on a perfunctory short flight of two minutes duration, thus officially securing the minor Cortlandt Field Bishop prize of $250 for a one kilometer flight by an American aviator. A few minutes later he was ready for the day’s main event – the 25k challenge. Notwithstanding the early hour, nearly three thousand spectators were on the field, many members from the Aero Club and the Aeronautic Society having spent the night nearby so as to be on the spot at dawn.
Hardly had the cheers over the short flight died away when Curtiss gave the order to start the engine again, and at precisely 5:23:16 his machine rose as gracefully as a bird for the “long-distance” journey, the Scientific American’s 25 kilometers.
Charles M. Manly of the Contest Committee of the Aero Club of America was the official judge, while Wilbur R. Kimball and Carl Dienstbach observed at the other two flag posts marking the triangular course. Twelve rounds were required by the official measurements, and when Curtiss completed the twelfth lap, thus qualifying for the cup, a mighty cheer went up, to which the aviator responded by waving his hand and smiling as he circled about to continue his journey.
But this day, he must have eaten a good breakfast, because he kept on flying long after qualifying for the cup. He stayed in the air 52 minutes and covered 29 miles, a distance that no American aviator except the Wright Brothers had then achieved.
After the successful aircraft of the Aerial Experiment Association in 1908, Alexander Graham Bell had dissolved the association, and Glenn Curtiss joined with Augustus Herring to form the Herring-Curtiss Company in March 1909. The Aeronautic Society of New York had already placed an order, and the company fulfilled it with the Curtiss No. 1 also known as the Curtiss Gold Bug or Curtiss Golden Flyer. Designed and built by Curtiss, it had a 28.75-foot (8.8-meter) wingspan, was 33.5 feet (10.2 meters) long, weighed 550 pounds (250 kilograms), and used a 25-horsepower (19-kilowatt) inline 4-cylinder Curtiss engine.
Top Speed: 47 m.p.h.
In July 1909, Curtiss himself flew the machine to win the Scientific American trophy again, as described above. As the craft could reach 45 miles per hour, Curtiss planned to enter it in the first international air show to be held at Reims, France in August 1909. With support from the Aeronautic Society, Curtiss entered the competition for its four major prizes, but the Flyer crashed and was irreparably damaged. Curtiss built another plane, the Curtiss Reims Racer in time to compete.
Winning the Cup at Reims
The Reims Racer was a modified Golden Flyer, larger and powered by an engine that had been stripped down and specially lightened for the race. Curtiss achieved great success at Reims, recording a time of 15 minutes 50.4, winning the FF 25,000 prize. Curtiss’s flight, at an average speed of 47.06 mph (75.48 km/h) was also a new airspeed record.
[ad#ad-1]In a masterly flight on August 28, 1909, Curtiss, the only American entrant, captured the chief prize of the world’s first international air race. He went two rounds of the course in his biplane, covering the 12.42 miles in 15 minutes, 50 seconds, beating Louis Bleriot by 5.6 seconds, and so took the International Cup of Aviation, or Gordon Bennett Trophy. The $2,500 cup went to America and Curtiss got $5,000 for himself.
The French were downcast that the chief trophy had escaped them, but they lay it all to bad luck: Bleriot’s accident, when he ran into a fence two days earlier, put his fast monoplane out of trim. He was unable to get his craft into its best condition for the two-lap event. When he did get it tuned up properly he made a trial lap in 7 minutes, 47.8 seconds, as against Curtiss’s best lap in 7 minutes 53.2 seconds. (Accounts of the Reims race can be confusing. While the International Cup required two laps, the pilots also could make officially-timed test or trial laps, to prove the speed of their airplanes. So, the single “trial” runs were official records, but, for the Cup, the pilot had to declare his intention to fly two laps.)
Curtiss Weather in the Morning
Weather conditions were ideal for the international air race, with a light haze over the plain, but the flags hung limp and not a breath of air was stirring, which was seen to be in Curtiss’ favor. Curtiss had said that he intended to fly his two laps at the first favorable opportunity. “The mariner who fails to sail in good weather is never forgiven,” he remarked.
By ten o’clock, there was great activity in the sheds of Bleriot, Latham, Lefebvre, Cockburn, and the other contestants. The officials informed everyone that flights for the International Cup could be made at any time between 10 AM and 5:30PM. They could make trial spins, but if they crossed the start line, it would be considered an official run.
Curtiss Makes a Trial Run
Curtiss had lightened the weight of his machine for the day’s run by substituting a small gasoline tank for the heavier one he had carried earlier in the week. He decided to make a trial run at 10:11AM. Surrounded by a group of enthusiastic Americans, including Cortlandt F. Bishop, President of the American Aero Club; Commander F. J. Chapin, the American naval attache at Paris; and T. Bentley Mott, the Military Attache, he had the machine run out onto the field.
He made no preparations for his flight other than to change his coat for a leather jacket. With no trace of excitement, he climbed into the seat and the order to start the propellers. Running along the ground a short distance for a flying start, he lifted the machine lightly and circled between the timekeepers and the tribune. Then mounting gradually until he had reached a height of forty-five feet, Curtiss crossed the line at a terrific pace.
The Curtiss airplane, the Rheims Racer, was small, compact and had trim lines; it even looked more like a race than the others. As the craft sped away straight as an arrow many exclamations of admiration were heard.
Clipping the corners closely, Curtiss continued at a uniform height until he had passed the last pylon. He then descended sharply, to get the benefit of gravity, and crossed the finish line less than a dozen feet above the ground.
A few seconds afterwards the white ball was hoisted, indicating that a record had been broken, whereupon the Americans cheered wildly. The time was 7:55.2 (7 minutes, 55.2 seconds), taking the honors from Bleriot who had made a lap in 8:04.4. The aeroplane was towed back behind the line and Curtiss was showered with congratulations.
Curtiss Starts for the International Cup
After such a good run, Curtiss announced that the he would start immediately for the International. He refilled his gas tank and got away in fine style. He rose to a greater height than on his trial to avoid turbulent air currents near the ground. His flight was masterly. The machine lifted before every turn and swept around on the down grade.
Curtiss’ first round was 7:57.4 (2.1 seconds slower than his trial) but on the second round he let out his motor to its full speed and came home like a streak. Again, he shot down from a height of 100 feet, at which altitude he rounded the last pylon, to the finish line. He crossed in impressive style, and his time for this round was 7:53.2. This broke his own world’s record made half an hour previously. His total for the twenty kilometers, 12.42 miles, was 15:50.6.
As the day wore on Bleriot, the pre-race favorite, completed two trial runs, neither of which bested Curtiss. Lefebvre made an effort at the Cup; his two runs took over 20 minutes, over four minutes off Curtiss’ pace. 5 o’clock came and went, and many in the crowd thought that Bleriot and Latham were out of time, but a few minutes later, Bleriot and Latham crossed the start line in quick succession. Bleriot went by the tribunes at a terrific pace, and for a moment the Americans feared that Curtiss had been beaten. He finished the first round in almost the identical time of Curtiss’ fastest lap, covering the ten kilometers in 7 minutes, 53.6 seconds, but his speed seemed appreciably to decrease the last round, and before he reached the final turn the stop watches showed he had lost.
The French were greatly disappointed. The judges ran up the American flag and the band played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Among the rejoicing American spectators were Ambassador Henry White, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Miss Ethel Roosevelt, and young boys Quentin and Archie.
Glenn Curtiss was the man of the hour. He returned to America a great hero; his company, Curtiss Airplanes flourished and in a few years became the largest airplane maker in the world.
Specifications from â€œMonoplanes and Biplanes,â€