Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is probably not where you would expect to find a particularly notable American military aircraft. The base is arguably the most famous – if not infamous for some – to house the US military correctional complex, but it is really only a small facet of this army installation, which actually dates back to 1827. In fact, the prison, which only consists of the United States Disciplinary Barracks – the only maximum security prison in the Department of Defense – actually dates back only to 1874.
The base, which is the oldest active US Army post west of Washington, DC, is located where explorers Lewis and Clark crossed the Missouri River in 1804 and later Stephen Harriman Long in 1819. While Fort Leavenworth is also home to the Sherman Army The airfield is actually in the complex’s Military Museum, where one can find a truly unique piece of military aviation history.
Today Fort Leavenworth may be as central as it gets in the country, but it was once on the borderline and home to the impressive Frontier Army Museum. It is here, in the museum’s collection which chronicles the history of the military’s role in the western expansion of the United States, that one can find one of the first Curtiss Model J biplanes, an airplane which earned the nickname “Jenny”.
While the Wright Military Flyer of 1909 was actually the world’s first military aircraft, it was the Curtiss Model J that was the first aircraft to be used on a US military excursion when flown by the US Army Signal Corps for tactical operations in Mexico against Pancho Villa. . The JN-2s used by the First Aero Squadron in operations in Mexico were not quite successful; many were plagued by mechanical issues and poor performance, but the modified JN-3 proved to be much more efficient even though it had a lower cap.
It became the first mass-produced American aircraft, and the two-seater was widely used for the training of American and Canadian pilots during World War I.
The JN-4D was the first aircraft used by the United States Marine Corps (USMC). During the occupation of Haiti by the United States, it was used in the first “dive bombing” attack, when in the summer of 1919 Lt. Lawson HM Sanderson of 4th Squadron with his fellow pilots developed a more precise method of throwing bombs against the enemy “Cacos. “This involved abandoning the heretofore standard procedure of allowing the observer to drop the bomb from a horizontal flight to a flight where the aircraft entered a steep 45-degree dive, which pointed nose aircraft towards the target. During the first dive bombardment, Sanderson successfully dropped his bomb from the pilot’s position at an altitude of only 250 feet. This provided more precision and other members of the squadron adopted this tactic.
The Jenny was notable for other important “firsts”, including becoming the first to fly with US Air Mail and the first to be used in “plane-to-plane” and “ground-to-plane” communication tests. After the end of World War I, military planes were sold as surplus and the Jenny was popular among the “barnstorming” exploits of the 1920s era.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is the author of several books on military hairstyle including A gallery of military hairstyles, which is available on Amazon.com.