Curtiss Model D

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Curtiss Model D
Curtiss D.JPG
A "headed" Curtiss Model D (Curtiss photo 1916) pusher
later "headless" models incorporated elevators around the rudder in the tail (like most aircraft since).
Manufacturer Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company
Introduction 1911
Status historic
Primary user Exhibition pilots, aeronautical experimenters
United States Navy
Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps

The 1911 Curtiss Model D (or frequently, "Curtiss Pusher") was an early United States pusher aircraft with the engine and propeller behind the pilot's seat. It was among the very first aircraft in the world to be built in any quantity — all of which were produced by Curtis during an era of trial-and-error development and equally important parallel technical development in internal combustion engine technologies.

It was also the aircraft type which made the first takeoff from the deck of a ship (flown by Eugene B. Ely off the deck of the USS Birmingham on November 14, 1910, near Hampton Roads, Virginia) and made the first landing aboard a ship (the USS Pennsylvania) on January 18, 1911, near San Francisco, California.

It was originally fitted with a foreplane for pitch control, but this was dispensed with when it was accidentally discovered to be unnecessary. The new version without the foreplane was known as the Headless Pusher.[1] Like all Curtiss designs, the aircraft used ailerons instead, which first existed on a Curtiss-designed airframe as quadruple "wing-tip" ailerons on the 1908 June Bug to control rolling in flight, thus avoiding use of the Wright brothers' patented wing warping technology.


Glenn Curtiss at the controls of the Curtiss Reims Racer, which used the "shoulder cradle" apparatus shown (as his later Model D did) to operate the ailerons' control cables

The Model D was a biplane fitted with a wheeled tricycle undercarriage. The construction was primarily of spruce, with ash used in parts of the engine bearers and undercarriage beams, with doped linen stretched over it. The outrigger beams were made of bamboo.[2] Prevented by patents from using the Wright Brothers' wing warping technique to provide lateral control, and with neither the Wrights nor himself likely to have known about its prior patenting in 1868 England, Curtiss did not use the June Bug's "wing-tip" aileron configuration, but instead used between-the-wing-panels "inter-plane" ailerons, instead, as directly derived from his earlier Curtiss No. 1 and Curtiss No. 2 pushers. In the end, this proved to be a superior solution. Both the interplane and trailing-edge ailerons on these early aircraft did not use a hand or foot-operated mechanism to operate them, but very much like the earlier Santos-Dumont 14-bis, required the pilot to "lean-into" the turn to operate the ailerons — on the Curtiss pushers, a transverse-rocking, metal framework "shoulder cradle", hinged longitudinally on either side of the pilot's seat, achieved the connection between the pilot and aileron control cabling.[3] Almost all Model Ds were constructed with a pusher configuration, with the propeller behind the pilot. Because of this configuration, they were often referred to as the "Curtiss Pusher". Early examples were built in a canard configuration, with elevators mounted on struts at the front of the aircraft in addition to a horizontal stabilizer at the rear. Later, the elevators were incorporated into the tail unit, and the canard surface arrangement dispensed with, resulting in what became called the Curtiss "Headless" Pushers.

In addition to amateur aviators, a Model D was purchased in April 1911 by the Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a trainer (S.C. No. 2), and by the Navy as an airborne observation platform. A number of them were exported to foreign militaries, as well, including the Russian Navy. On November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely took off from the USS Birmingham in a Model D. This was the first time an aircraft had taken off from a ship.[4] On January 18, 1911, Ely landed a Model D aboard the USS Pennsylvania. This was the first aircraft to land on a ship.

Upon his election in November 1915, Congressman Orrin Dubbs Bleakley became the first government official to fly from his home state to DC. The trip was made in a 75 hp (56 kW) Curtiss biplane from Philadelphia, piloted by Sergeant William C. Ocker, on leave from the United States Aviation Corps at the time. The trip took 3¼ hours, including an unscheduled stop in a wheat field in Maryland.[5]


Model D-4
with one 40 hp (30 kW) Curtis four-cylinder inline engine[4]
Model D-8
Signal Corps Number 2, one 40 hp (30 kW) Curtis Vee engine, top speed of 60 mph (97 km/h) at sea level[4]
Model D-8-75
with one 75 hp (56 kW) Curtis eight-cylinder Vee engine[4]
Burgess Model D
single prototype built under licence by Burgess Company of Marblehead, Massachusetts [6]

Existing aircraft and reproductions[edit]

A number of Curtiss Pusher original and reproduction aircraft exist, and reproductions of the design date as far back to the era when the original aircraft was in production, mostly built by private parties.

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome has had a flyable reproduction Model D Pusher in their collection since 1976, which has been powered with a Hall-Scott V8 engine earlier in its weekend air show appearances, and more recently has been powered with a restored Curtiss OX-5 V8 engine.[7]

The College Park Aviation Museum built a replica of the Curtiss Model D once flown in 1911 at College Park Airport in Maryland.

A Model D with an O-300 (145 hp) Cont. engine is at the Owls Head Maine Transportation Museum also.

A Model D replica is exhibited at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.[8]

Both 1910 and 1912 Curtiss Headless Pusher replicas are part of the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum.

A flying reproduction of the Ely-Curtiss Model D Headed Pusher is at the Military Aviation Museum in Pungo, VA.

A replica is on display at the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, Durango, Colorado.


 United States

Specifications (Model D Type IV)[edit]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Capacity: one passenger
  • Length: 29 ft 3 in (8.92 m)
  • Wingspan: 38 ft 3 in (11.66 m)
  • Height: 7 ft 10 in (2.39 m)
  • Empty weight: 700 lb (318 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 1,300 lb (590 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss E-4, 40 hp (30 kW)


See also[edit]

Related development
Related lists



  1. ^ Casey 1981, pp. 73–95.
  2. ^ Jarrett 2002, p. 154.
  3. ^ "Cole Palen's Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome - Collections - Pioneer Aircraft - Curtiss Model D". Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum. Retrieved January 28, 2016. The Aerodrome's Curtiss Pusher was built in 1976 and is powered by an original 1911, 80 HP Hall-Scott engine (since replaced with a restored Curtiss OX-5 engine) obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. It utilizes the original Curtiss control system. The shoulder yoke controls the ailerons as the pilot leans from side to side. 
  4. ^ a b c d Eden, Paul and Soph Moeng, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-7607-3432-1.
  5. ^ "The Changing Scene, Vol. I, VCHS". Venango County Historical Society, Venango County, Franklin Pennsylvania, 2000, pp. 127–128.
  6. ^ Taylor 1989, p. 216.
  7. ^ "Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome - Pioneer Aircraft - Curtiss Pusher Model D". Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Retrieved April 24, 2014. 
  8. ^ Cohen, Ben. "Chuck Doyle's passion in life was aviation." Star Tribune, April 30, 2008 . Retrieved: August 4, 2013.


External links[edit]