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Curtiss Model D

Curtiss Model D
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 first aircraft in the world to be built in any quantity, 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 USS Birmingham on November 14, 1910, near Hampton Roads, Virginia) and made the first landing aboard a ship (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, 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 had adopted in November 1906, 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 - initially as straight metal tubes resting against the pilot's upper arms; and later achieved with "armrests" in a similar location; 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 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 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 Washington, D.C. 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 3 hours, 15 minutes, including an unscheduled stop in a wheat field in Maryland.[5]


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


 United States

Surviving aircraft

"Headed" Model D at the College Park Air Museum
"Headless" Model D replica at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

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.

Specifications (Model D Type IV)

Data from [citation needed]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 1 pax
  • 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)
  • Gross weight: 1,300 lb (590 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss E-4 4-cylinder water-cooled in-line piston engine, 40 hp (30 kW)
  • Propellers: 2-bladed fixed-pitch pusher propeller


  • Maximum speed: 50 mph (80 km/h, 43 kn)
  • Endurance: 3 hours 30 minutes

See also



  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. Archived from the original on April 24, 2014. 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. ^ "OHC Full Record Display". Ohio History Connection. Retrieved 11 May 2017.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "WWI - Aircraft". Military Aviation Museum. Military Aviation Museum. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  9. ^ "FAA REGISTRY [N44VY]". Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 11 May 2017.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Curtiss Pusher Model D". Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  11. ^ "FAA REGISTRY [N4124A]". Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on 15 August 2017. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  12. ^ "1912 Curtiss Model D Pusher". Owls Head Transportation Museum. Owls Head Transportation Museum. Archived from the original on 24 March 2017. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  13. ^ "FAA REGISTRY [N1GJ]". Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  14. ^ "Curtiss 1910 Pusher". Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum. WAAAM. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  15. ^ "FAA REGISTRY [N8Y]". Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  16. ^ "Curtiss 1912 Headless Pusher Replica". Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum. WAAAM. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  17. ^ "FAA REGISTRY [N5704N]". Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  18. ^ "Curtiss D-III Headless Pusher". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Archived from the original on 21 July 2019. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  19. ^ Cohen, Ben (29 April 2008). "Chuck Doyle's passion in life was aviation". Star Tribune. Star Tribune. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  20. ^ "Airframe Dossier - Curtiss Model D (replica), c/n MR1, c/r N28CD". Aerial Visuals. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  21. ^ "Curtiss 1911 Model D". National Museum of the US Air Force. 7 April 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  22. ^ "1911 Curtiss Model D Reproduction". College Park Aviation Museum. Archived from the original on 19 June 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2017.
  23. ^ "D&SNG Museum in Durango". Official Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train. Durango & Silverton. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  24. ^ Meyer, Jerry; Martin, Jill (29 June 2016). "Landing at the museum". Seward County Independent. Retrieved 26 July 2019.


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Curtiss Model D
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