Though the Commemorative First Flight Gold $10 Coin recognizes the Wright Brothers, another bike mechanic made aviation history.
He quit school after the eighth grade but he taught himself to be an aeronautical engineer.
But, before he took to the skies, he made history on land with his motorcycles.
In 1903, he set a motorcycle land speed record at 64 mph.
In 1907, he set another, although unofficial, world record of 136.36 mph on a V-8 powered motorcycle. This motorcycle record was not broken until 1930.
His true plan for his V-8 engine was to power an airplane.
After working on four different aircraft, in July 1908 he won the Scientific American Trophy for flying 5080 feet in the first pre-announced public flight of a flying machine in America.
He worked hard in early 1909 to build an airplane that would travel 50 mph
Just a month before the international air race in France, he felt he had succeeded.
He packed the parts for the craft and sailed to France.
Interestingly, the plane had never been assembled much less flown.
The French laughed at the upstart American who spent all of his time working on his aircraft.
He went to France with only one goal, to win the Gordon Bennett trophy for the fastest speed.
On the day of the race, August 28, 1909, he and his plane traveled just over 46 mph, not the 50 mph he wanted, but his speed was enough to win the race.
After his race, he commented, “In front of the tribunes I was going steady, but when I got to the back stretch, I experienced a most remarkable atmospheric condition. There was no wind, but the air seemed fairly to boil. My machine pitched, and over the ‘graveyard’, I was almost thrown out of my seat. The machine once or twice seemed literally to drop from under me. Under ordinary conditions, this curious state of the air would have prevented my starting, but after the splendid time I made in my trial, and considering the circumstances, I could not refrain. As a matter of fact my experience confirms my theory that my machine is faster in turbulent air than in a dead calm.”
He came home to a hero’s welcome.
Less than a year later, he made the first long-distance flight between two major US cities. He flew the 152 miles from Albany to New York City.
In addition to these early feats in aircraft, he went on to perform other “firsts.”
He designed and built the first aircraft to take off from water, the first to land and take off from a naval ship and the first to cross the Atlantic.
He was Glenn H. Curtiss, born in Hammondsport, NY in 1878.
Salute to Mr. Curtiss with the Commemorative First Flight $10 coin.