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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, "the 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 during an era of trial and error development and equally important parallel technical development in internal combustion engine technologies.

It was also the type of aircraft to make the first take-off from the deck of a ship, the USS Birmingham, and the first landing, on the USS Pennsylvania several days apart.

Originally it was fitted with a foreplane for pitch control, however 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 utilized ailerons to control rolling in flight instead of the Wright brothers' patented wing warping technology, derived from the 1908 June Bug.


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, Curtiss used ailerons instead. In the end, this proved to be a superior solution. 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 a "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.[3] On January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely landed a Model D aboard the USS Pennsylvania. This was the first aircraft to land on a ship.

Upon his election to Congress in November 1915, 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.[4]


Model D-4
with one 40 hp (30 kW) Curtis four-cylinder inline engine[3]
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[3]
Model D-8-75
with one 75 hp (56 kW) Curtis eight-cylinder Vee engine[3]
Burgess Model D
single prototype built under licence by Burgess Company of Marblehead, Massachusetts [5]

Existing aircraft and reproductions

"Headed" Model D at 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.

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

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

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

A Model D replica is exhibited at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.[6]

1910 & 1912 headless Curtiss Pusher (Replicas) are at the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum located at Hood River Oregon

A replica based on the Curtiss Pusher, considered the oldest aircraft made in Connecticut, on display at The New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Connecticut.[7]


United States

Specifications (Model D Type IV)

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Capacity: 1 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)


  • Maximum speed: 50 mph (43 kn, 80 km/h)
  • Endurance: 2.5 hours

See also



  1. Casey 1981, pp. 73–95.
  2. Jarrett 2002, p. 154.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Eden, Paul and Soph Moeng, eds. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-7607-3432-1.
  4. "The Changing Scene, Vol. I, VCHS". Venango County Historical Society, Venango County, Franklin Pennsylvania, 2000, pp. 127–128.
  5. Taylor 1989, p. 216.
  6. Cohen, Ben. "Chuck Doyle's passion in life was aviation." Star Tribune, April 30, 2008 . Retrieved: August 4, 2013.
  7. ""Curtiss Model D." New England Air Museum. Retrieved: August 4, 2013.


External links

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