Following on from my introduction to Mr. Curtiss himself I wanted to feature a modern day operator of Curtiss types to offer a pilots insight into flying and operating these special machines.
I was lucky enough to be able to catch a few words from Kermit Weeks, who operates a number of Curtiss types at his Polk City airfield, previously home to Fantasy of Flight. Kermit is currently operating a scaled down version of the museum and various times during the year while he works on the next big instalment, referred to as “Act III”.
I wanted to get Kermit’s thoughts as he is fortunate enough to have a wide range of Curtiss aircraft through the company’s development.
I started by asking Curtiss about the Pusher. Now as covered in my earlier piece, the Pusher was a very simple aircraft design, sharing many features with the basic Wright Flyer of 1903. Kermit owns two versions of the design, a single seat example and a two seat.
The two seat example, a replica of the 1909 Herring-Curtiss Pusher, arrived at Fantasy of Flight in early 2012, having been built by Dean Wilson and Jim Otey from Idaho. This replica is powered by a Continental O-200 A Engine. This model features two separate control wheels, rather than the “throw-over” controls featured in a number training pushers. This example if known as “headed”, meaning it has the front elevators and framework in place.
Kermit’s single seat Pusher is a 1911 Model D, originally powered by a 4 Cylinder Roberts engine. Unlike the two seat example, this Model D is headless, meaning there is no forward elevator or framework, making for a very exposed flying position.
Kermit says of the design that it is a similar experience to flying Ultralights – “it’s a similar speed realm of about 45 mph”, going on to comment that “they are not comfortable to fly in anything other than smooth air” from his perspective.
Kermit has flown the two seater, largely carrying out hops down the runway, thought as can be seen here, he has been able to carry out some local flights involving some turns, even taking light passengers on occasion.
The single seater has done short hops down the runway no higher than 10 feet. This example features the original control system, which uses the control wheel for rudder and the ailerons are controlled by leaning. Kermit says that his team “are building up an original engine (4-Cylinder Roberts)” for the single seat pusher. This will add to the originality of the machine once complete.
Another early Curtiss in the collection is the Curtiss Robin, I didn’t ask Kermit about this particular example but it is clear from one of his videos that his example has a few power issues, using the 90hp OX-5 used on the iconic Jenny during WW1. Kermit’s example is a great looking example of this Curtiss tourer, finished in a sticking orange and yellow scheme.
An interesting design that is unique to the collection in airworthy condition is the CW19, a 1930s fighter with a number of unique qualities. Kermit comments “I have only flown it a few times as we’re still sorting out the prop pitch setting, definitely a sporty little airplane and I’m looking forward to flying it more!”. As can be seen here, this aeroplane really does look a lot of fun and features a semi retractable undercarriage. (While the flaps are up the wheels remain locked up into the undercarriage legs, reducing drag. Once the flaps are lowered the undercarriage drops, leaving big springs offering a smooth landing.) This example is an ex Bolivian Air Force aircraft. This machine looks like a great classic aircraft and in 1935, represented a big step forward and paved the way for the Hawk 75 that would soon follow. Kermit also has a CW22 in storage, this is the retractable version of the ’19, though as of 2014, there were no plans to get this machine flying.
Another Curtiss, probably the most famous in the collection is the P-40. At the time I spoke to Kermit, his TP-40 had not flown for a number of years, though in the last couple of weeks the aircraft has been test flown again. (Kermit posted a short video which can be seen here.) The aircraft spent four and a half years on the ground after the undercarriage developed problems during a flight and would not fully retract. Kermit was able to get the gear down again and land safely. He elected to ground the aircraft until an emergency gear system had been installed as he already had to belly land a P-40E years earlier due to a similar problem.
This machine is unique as it is a dual control version the classic fighter. Kermit acquired this aircraft in 1985, it is a film star in its own right appearing in “Death Chase” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”. After years of storage restoration began in 1993, with the aircraft returning to the skies again in the early 2000s.
I asked Kermit the aged old question of how the P-40 compares to the other fighters of the period and he offered this, very balanced answer.
“It’s not really fair to compare airplanes unless you do it within the context of the period. Take a Spitfire as an example. Which one? They developed over about a decade and there’s no comparison between the first and last. That said, the P-40 was the best front-line fighter we had at the beginning of WWII so you’d have to compare it to a Hurricane of the same period. Both had great flatter-bottom airfoils, which were the standard of the time but later got replaced by the less forgiving laminar flow airfoils like that on the Mustang. The P-40 is a really nice flying airplane with the early type multi-paned canopies. The only drawback on most P-40’s is the lag in the Curtiss electric prop when doing aerobatics.”
On the Fantasy of Flight website entry for the TP-40, Kermit also comments on flying the P-40 alongside the P-51D some years ago, he commented that both would cruise at altitude with the same power settings and same speeds, though once a run in for a low pass began the Mustang would just run away, a clear example of the progress in aerodynamics during the Second World War.
Clearly Kermit is a fan of the P-40, which undoubtledy is the most famous design from the Curtiss company.
Lastly, I asked Kermit if he had any particular memories or thoughts on Curtiss aircraft in general he commented that “It was an amazing time to get in on the advancement of aviation”. Glenn Curtiss certainly had good timing and some really special aircraft as this series will soon explore.
It has been my pleasure to provide this brief account of Kermit Weeks’ Curtiss collection and I would like to extend a big thank you to Kermit for taking the time to answer my questions and allowing me to use his photographs on this page. Hopefully this has provided and interesting modern day perspective on a modern operator of these unique types.
After covering early Curtiss designs in post number one, post three will take a look at the early Curtiss flying boats and the firm’s entry into the first world war.