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Curtiss JN-3

The JN-2 had been deemed, by a military review board, to be less than adequate for general use as a trainer. Based upon those conclusions Curtiss initiated an agenda to improve the fundamental design of JN-2. The initial consideration was to increase the span and dihedral of both wings and, similar to that of the JN-1 "AS-30", eliminate the ailerons on the lower wing. The elimination of the ailerons on the lower wing created the need for larger ailerons on the top wing increasing the span and resulted in unequal span wings. The area of the tail-plane was increased to enhance stability. The Curtiss flight control system was at best a difficult system to master, and as a consequence, the handling characteristics of the aircraft suffered. To improve this Curtiss modified his system to one similar to that of the European Deperdussin control system. On this system the wheel operated the ailerons, replacing the shoulder yoke system, and a foot bar operated the rudder. The elevators were operated in the same method as in previous designs with the control column. Curtiss also used the landing gear configuration designed and patented by Grover Loening on these planes.

The surviving JN-2’s, AS-41 through AS-45 and AS-48, were all retrofitted with these new Curtiss designs. After the modifications were complete these aircraft were all re-designated JN-3. The Army also purchased two new JN-3’s, AS-52 and AS-53.

It has been indicated by some sources that the OX-2, 90 hp V-8 may have been replaced with the OXX, 100 hp V-8 engine to increase performance. This may have been true of the retrofits but the JN-3 types purchased by Great Britain were all powered by the OX-2, 90 hp V-8.

As had been already suggested, the improved design of the JN-3 had captured the interest of British authorities that were then seeking primary trainers for the Royal Naval Air Service. The JN-3, had a total production run of less than 100 examples, of which the vast majority was purchased by Great Britain. Both the RNAS and the RFC employed the JN-3 design as a trainer.


AS-42 modified JN-3

On March 9, 1916 General Francisco "Pancho" Villa, of the Mexican Revolutionary Army, with a force of 400 men conducted a pre-dawn raid on Columbus, New Mexico and the army garrison at Camp Furlong posted just outside the town. By dawn, casualties included 17 American civilians and approximately 100 Mexican revolutionaries. American reaction to this raid resulted in what is know as the "Mexican Punitive Expedition". The United States Army, under command of General John "Black Jack" Purshing, was sent into Mexico to neutralize any threat to American citizens and capture Pancho Villa.

To aid in the search of the Mexican raiders the Army Signal Corps was ordered to supply aircraft for reconnaissance and observation. On March 12, 1916, the 1st Aero Squadron receiving orders to join the Punitive Expedition in Mexico. The squadron proceeded to Columbus, New Mexico and started assembling the aircraft shipped in from Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. The shipment consisted of a total of eight JN-3’s, ten trucks and one automobile. Squadron personnel numbered 11 Officers 84 enlisted men and one civilian mechanic. The squadron had only half of motor transportation they needed for the men and equipment and was forced leaving half of the enlisted strength at Columbus until transportation became available.

Most of the Army Signal Corps examples of the Curtiss JN-3 were assigned to the 1st Aero Squadron under the command of Capt. B.D Foulios.

On March 19, orders were received from the Division Commander at Neuva Casas Grandes, Mexico, the squadron was to report for immediate service. All eight aircraft left the ground at 5:10 P.M. Airplane No. 48 was forced to turn back after developing engine problems. Darkness soon overtook the rest of the squadron and they became seperated, four landed at Ascention together but the other three landed at different points. One at Ojo Caliente, the second at Janos but the third, No. 41 up on landing near Pearson was damaged beyond repair. Three days after No. 41 cracked up on landing a detachment was sent to Pearson to salvage what they could from the aircraft and destroy what was left.


JN-3, AS-43 in Chihuahua City, Mexico

On March 20, with Capt. Dodd as pilot and Capt. Foulois observing, No. 44 proceeded South but had only covered about 25 miles when they discovered that the JN-2 wasn't capable of climbing over the foot hills of the Sierra Madre. Vertical air currents were constant and the aircraft didn't have enough power to overcome them. On the same date, Lt. T.S. Bowen upon attempting to land was caught up in a whirlwind and crashed, No. 48 was completely destroyed. Lt. Bowen only received minor injuries.

On April 6th No. 44 carrying mail was severally damaged while attempting to land at San Geronimo. The plane was salvaged for parts and then destroyed.

On a reconnaissance flight South of Satevo in search of American troops No. 52 because of engine failure was forced to land in rough terrain damaging the aircraft. With the plane being down in hostile territory an nearly 100 miles from the nearest base Lieut. Rader abandoned the aircraft and returned to American lines on foot.

On April 15, aircraft No. 42 became unservicable and was dismantled for parts, the lower wing was used to replace the one damaged on No. 45. What couldn't be used of No. 42 was destroyed.

Aircraft No. 43, which had seen several notable flights, on April 19 while on a reconnaissance mission over the hills West of Chihuahua developed engine problems and was forced to crash land destroying the aircraft. With no hope of salvaging No. 43 it was burnt on the spot.

With just two aircraft left, No. 45 and No. 53, to the squadron, and those were now considered to in unservicable condition, the 1st Areo then received orders on April 20, to return to Columbus, N. M. to secure new aircraft. An interesting note that in the first month of operations between March 19 to April 20, five of the eight JN-3 aircraft were wrecked and one abandoned due to damage too distant from any base to make repairs. The remaining aircraft were later flown back to Columbus where they were condemmed, dismantled and destroyed.

The pursuit was an exercise in futility, as the squadron’s underpowered Curtiss JN-3 Jennies deteriorated during the mission, doing little except underline the sad state of American military aviation. The Curtiss JN-3 was an adequate trainer but had insufficient power to climb over the mountains and insufficient strength to withstand unpredictable winds and storms. Further hampered, the aircraft had virtually no instruments, was unarmed and could carry a payload of only 265 pounds.

The role of the 1st Aero Squadron was severely limited due to inadequate training and maintenance. The pilots were no better prepared than the aircraft, evidenced by the high incident and accident rate. Maintenance was another issue, the construction of the aircraft with their wooden frames and especially the propellers along with the canvas was subject to the harsh elements of the desert. With these elements to contend with the aircraft became unserviceable in an extremely short period of time. The time in Mexico was a valuable learning experience to the Air Service changing the requirements for conducting an extended air campaign. Steps were taken to correct these hard learned lessons and after that point any air campaign launched by the United States was a force that could not be reckoned with.