Popular history has a way of making icons of some aircraft and almost ignoring others.
In the case of American World War I biplane trainers, the Curtiss JN-4 and JN-6 Jenny series of biplanes are undisputed icons of their era.
But there was another American trainer of 1917-18 that all too often gets lumped in with the Jenny in well-meaning but erroneous photo identification. It is the J-1 Standard biplane.
Its general configuration bears some remarkable similarities to the Jenny, but there are also some salient differences.
The Standard series evolved from the SJ-1 of 1916. Powered by a Hall-Scott A-7 four-cylinder engine with a distinctive and not very aesthetic high vertical radiator, the Standard received some less than favorable reports about the engine’s vibration. Some said the engine caught fire in flight on more than one occasion.
But powered flight was still in its teenage years, and the melding of airframe and engine was bound to have pitfalls.
As Curtiss JN-4 Jenny production ramped up, the Standard’s quirks sidelined it as the Army preferred the more reliable Jenny.
The Standard might have become an unmarked grave in the progress of aviation had it not been for the fortuitous substitution of a Wright Hispano-Suiza 150 horsepower engine with large frontal radiator.
Among those who thought the basic Standard J-1 airframe deserved a second chance with a different powerplant was the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation in Lincoln. After World War I, the company bought the entire J-1 inventory from the Standard Aircraft organization and had it shipped by rail from New Jersey.
The Nebraska Aircraft Corporation made sense of the carloads of parts it received, and set up an orderly assembly line using a large building on the Nebraska state fairgrounds, according to vintage pilot Frank Tallman in his book “Flying the Old Planes.”
Key to the success of the civilianized J-1s from Nebraska was the 150-horsepower engine.
Tallman flew at least two Hisso-powered Standards for movie work. He said they were free of many of the vices that attend other aircraft of that early era. Loops and wingovers were satisfying, but Tallman said the stiff ailerons and large wingspan made slow rolls in the Standard out of the question.
The J-1 still gets mistaken for a Curtiss Jenny on a regular basis, and at first glance, this is understandable. But there are some visual cues that separate the two. So get in tune with your inner airplane geek and take a look at these two biplanes.
The quickest and surest distinction is the configuration of the kingpost structure on the top wing of each biplane.
On the Standard, this bit of aeronautical architecture forms an inverted V-shape where it ties in to the wing above the outermost wing struts.
On the Jenny, the kingpost structure consists of two parallel vertical members connected with a slender horizontal bar.
The rudder of the J-1 Standard is also similar to that of the Curtiss Jenny. But close inspection shows the J-1’s rudder to have a flattened angled bottom surface, where the Jenny rudder sweeps in a curving radius.
The gap between upper and lower wings is larger on the Standard than on the Jenny. And those wings have a gentle sweepback on the Standard; not so on the Jenny.
And take a look at the front landing gear struts — on the Standard, they meet the fuselage near the leading edge of the wing; on the Jenny, the front struts attach to the fuselage ahead of the wing leading edge.
Flipping through the heavy pages of old photo albums from the 1920s, one occasionally encounters yellowing snapshots of ancestors standing by a large biplane.
Is it a Jenny…or a Standard? Check the clues.