The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1979, Volume 25, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

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Glenn Curtiss

Page 26-27.
Glenn Curtiss, San Diego, Aviation Field.

Glenn Hammond Curtiss

Page 28. Glenn Hammond Curtiss came to North Island because of its seclusion and superb weather conditions. During a three year period from 1911 to 1913, he operated the country’s most successful aviation school.

Curtiss Aeroplane Co advertisement.

Page 29. Curtiss Aeroplane Co. advertisement.

Curtiss hangars.

Page 29. Conditions at North Island were not luxurious. The Curtiss hangars consisted of a converted hay barn and a flimsy wood frame structure covered with tar paper.

Polo Grounds on Coronado Island .

Page 30-31. The San Diego Aero Club staged an exhibition meet at the Polo Grounds on Coronado Island on January 26 and 27, 1911. During the meet, Curtiss and his aviators dazzled an audience of 10,000 with a series of heart-stopping aerial stunts.

Harkness Antoinette monoplanes

Page 32-33. The two Harkness Antoinette monoplanes shared North Island in 1911 with the Curtiss machines. On February 7, Harry Harkness made history by flying twenty-one miles to the Mexican border.

army and navy officers that formed the first military aviation school.

Page 33. Glenn Curtiss (center) surrounded by the army and navy officers that formed the first military aviation school in the United States at North Island in 1911. The officers are, left to right: Lieutenant T.G. Ellyson, Navy; First Lieutenant Paul W. Beck, Army, Second Lieutenant G.E.M. Kelly, Army, and Second Lieutenant John C. Walker, Jr., Army. Of these men, Curtiss wrote: “I have never seen any one more eager to fly, and to fly as quickly as possible. . . “


Page 34. Affectionately calling it “Lizzy,” students learned the basics of flying in this tiny four cylinder biplane. Weighing less than 500 pounds, it was deliberately underpowered to prevent accidental flights by over-eager students. Before actually taking to the air, novices gained confidence by “grass cutting” or taxiing with the Lizzy.

Curtiss tractor

Page 34. A Curtiss tractor reposes on the landing field at North Island. Unlike the typical pusher, the propeller was located in the front.

Curtiss pusher biplane.

Page 35. Simple and graceful, the Curtiss pusher biplane proved to be one of the most reliable flying machines during that pioneering era. It had a wing span of approximately twenty-eight feet and a length of twenty-seven feet.

close-up view

Page 36. These close-up views demonstrate the delicate yet beautiful nature of the biplanes that soared over North Island in 1911 and 1912.

close-up view

Page 36. Composed of bamboo, cloth, spruce rods, wire and engine parts, the early flying machines were capable of lofting fearless “birdmen” thousands of feet into the air at terrifying speeds.

Aeronautics ad for Curtiss School of Aviation.

Page 37.
Aeronautics ad for Curtiss School of Aviation.
November, 1911

Curtiss flying boat

Page 38. “Aerial Yachting” with a Curtiss flying boat above San Diego Bay. According to the Curtiss Company, this innovative flying machine would appeal to the motor boat enthusiast as well as the aviator.

Curtiss and his crew prepare a hydroaeroplane for flight

Page 38. Curtiss and his crew prepare a hydroaeroplane for flight. In 1911, the pioneer aviator developed the first successful seaplanes in the United States. Curtiss once remarked that he spent endless hours in the chilly waters of the bay conducting experiments.

Curtiss and pupil Robert St. Henry

Page 39. Attired in waterproof waders and life jackets, Curtiss and pupil Robert St. Henry of San Francisco prepare for a hydroaeroplane lesson.

Airborne over North Island.

Page 40-41.
Airborne over North Island.

Instructor J. W. McClaskey and student.

Page 41. Instructor J. W. McClaskey and student sit at the controls of a training plane. Curtiss developed dual controls to permit teachers and pupil to go aloft together.

women greet flyer.

Page 42-43. The elegantly coiffured women, below, were on hand to greet an appreciative flyer. Curtiss remarked “Once people have really seen an aeroplane fly, they want. . . to come into personal contact with the machine and the man who operates it. “

Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Davis.

Page 43. Several married couples enrolled in the Class of 1912 including the happy tandem of Mr. and Mrs. W.A. Davis.

William Atwater and his wife Lillian

Pages 44-45. William Atwater and his wife Lillian came to North Island in December, 1911 to take up the sport of flying. An exuberant pair, the Atwaters purchased their own hydroaeroplane from Curtiss and went on to demonstrate the joys of aerial yachting in Japan and China. Fearless and enthusiastic, Lillian Atwater surprised fellow students by using her seaplane to catch pelicans and sea gulls.

Lillian Atwater   W. B. Atwater  student pilot.

Page 46-47. Always willing and eager to enjoy the novel sensation of flying, this student was cheered on by fellow classmates and curious onlookers.

Monsieur Callon of Paris

Page 47. “Monsieur Callon of Paris, ” (far left) otherwise known as Lanny Callan , poses in front of the hangars with two fellow students. Realizing the uniqueness of this new sport and profession, students developed a camaraderie that transcended the sexes and nationalities.

John Halleck, Curtiss' chief mechanic, adjusts a mahogany propeller. .

Page 48. John Halleck, Curtiss’ chief mechanic, adjusts a mahogany propeller.

W.A. Davis sits comfortably in this  eight cylinder biplane

Page 48-49. Hands firmly grasping the control wheel, W.A. Davis sits comfortably in this eight cylinder biplane. By pushing the wheel down, the student could descend and conversely, by pulling it back the machine would hopefully rise.

Bird Girl Julia Clark

Page 50. The “Bird Girl” Julia Clark strikes a pose. This comely aviatrix received her pilot’s license at North Island in April 1912, joined the Curtiss Exhibition Company, and one month later died when her machine hit a tree while performing a stunt.

Julia Clark   Bird Girl Julia Clark

Mohan Singh

Page 52-53. Regal, sartorial, and sporting a turban, Mohan Singh, poses above with a training plane.

Mohan Singh

Page 53. The “Flying Hindu, ” after completing the flying course in 1912, purchased a hydroaeroplane and returned to India. His sometimes austere profile (opposite) caused one observer to remark that he “seldom smiled, never ate meat, and never drank anything but water….”


Page 54. A gallery of Curtiss’ civilian students, representing the Class of 1912, happily posed for their portraits. After receiving their pilots’ licenses in May, several of these spirited novices became professional exhibition flyers.

Student.   Student.   Student.

embarrassed midshipman.

Page 56. Occasionally over-zealous students, skimming the water in their seaplanes, overturned. Here, an embarrassed midshipman stands on top of a pontoon awaiting rescue.

Members of the Class of 1912

Page 56-57. Members of the Class of 1912 proudly pose before a training plane. Unlike the previous year, this class was composed of an odd assortment of officers, sportsmen, married couples, women and several foreigners.

Make it work. Make it fly.

Page 58-59. Ours is a history of pioneers. . . of people who seize the moment, and who show us new ways. Yesterday, the skies above us issued the challenge. Today, it is the land. Limited now in availability, it poses a limitless challenge for creative usage. The criteria are the same: get an idea off the ground. Make it work. Make it fly. It is a challenge to an industry that thrives on challenge. It will be met.