AerodromeRC Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”

I patterned this model of the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” after the early US Airmail Jenny shown in the foreground of this site’s header image. The first official airmail service was flown by US Army Signal Corps pilots and  aircraft, essentially under contract to the Postal Service. The inaugural fleet consisted of 6 new Curtiss JN-4s upgraded from the standard 90 HP Curtiss OX-5  to much stronger 150 HP Hispano-Suiza engines.

Serial Number 38274 was flown by Lt. James Edgerton on the second official US Airmail flight. The first official airmail flight departed Washington D.C. bound for Philadelphia and New York city on  May 15, 1918, after a gala ceremony full of press and prominent dignitaries including President Woodrow Wilson. Unfortunately the inexperienced pilot followed the railroad tracks South rather than North as he should have, got lost, ran out of gas, and broke the prop landing in a farm field. That mail didn’t get through until the next day. Lt. Edgerton in #38274 left New York city at about the same time, on the reciprocal route. He arrived successfully and more or less on time in D.C. later that day, but of course to much less fanfare.

I built the model from an  AerodromeRC short kit (edit: sadly, they have closed since this was written). The kit comes with laser cut parts in balsa and ply, plans, and an instruction booklet. The builder is expected to supply strip wood (much of which I found could be salvaged from the scrap around the laser cut parts), wire for the landing gear, covering material, and the running and radio gear. I found this to be a very well executed design – the plans were excellent, the instruction book useful, and the quality of the wood and the laser cutting was first rate.

For power I chose an Emax CF2822 brushless outrunner, coupled with a 20 amp ESC and a 1000mAh 3S Lipo battery and spinning a GWS 8×4 prop. Servos are Emax ES08A for the rudder and elevator, and two iFlight iS300 servos for aileron control (one each aileron, in the upper wing only). These components were all sourced from one of my favorite online vendors, HeadsUpRC. Radio control is via a Spektrum AR6115E six channel receiver and my Spektrum DX6i transmitter.

There are a number of options for covering a model like this, but in this case I chose to go old school and use tissue. I already had a supply of and experience with the house brand tissue offered by EasyBuilt Models. This is an easy to work with and low-cost colored tissue most often used on small free flight models, but also works fine on smaller and relatively slow RC models. I like the resulting flat finish, and the yellow color looks right to me. The main drawback is that it is not very puncture resistant, but so far it has held up quite well. Application is easy, just brush on some white glue diluted 50% with water to adhere it to the structure, shrink with a fine mist of water, and seal the final result with Krylon Satin Clear or similar. No smelly dope is needed anymore, though it could also be done that way if you really like it!

The forward fuselage is made of sheet balsa. Here I didn’t want to see the balsa grain showing through the thin tissue, so instead I used sticky back printer paper printed to match the covering or the dark green of the upper area and the engine cowling. I also did the tail stripe, roundels on the wings, and the serial number this way as well.

Hand launching the Jenny

This is a sweet flying RC model. It is easy to hand launch, as I normally do, or take-off from a ground roll. With the fixed tail skid taxiing on pavement is tricky, but there is plenty of rudder to keep it tracking straight during the take-off roll. As is common for planes of this size, landing in grass often results in a nose over, but the speeds are low and mine has not suffered any damage from these.

In the air this Jenny is honest and a lot of fun. It looks fantastic doing low and slow flybys. It approaches, but at this size maybe can’t quite capture, the stately, slow elegance of the full size Jenny in flight. But with the power of a modern brushless motor it is capable of far more speed and spirited aerobatics than those pilot of yore could ever imagine. Like the full-size version this is very much a “rudder” plane. It has a lot of adverse yaw, so even with some differential aileron programmed into the transmitter it really likes both aileron and rudder input to initiate a smooth turn. To me this is just part of the fascination of scale RC airplanes, reproducing the characteristics of the full size subject in model form.

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