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The Navy’s First Aircraft Walkaround — Curtiss A-1 “Triad”

10 June 2011

The Navy’s First Aircraft Walkaround — Curtiss A-1 “Triad”

This year, 2011, is the US Navy Aviation Centennial and the Curtiss A-1 “Triad” was the first aircraft purchased by the US Navy. Glenn Curtiss was an inventive and forward thinking man. While the Wright Brothers had essentially stopped advancing aeronautically by 1911, Glenn Curtiss’s designs continued to be trailblazers. The A-1 was not simply the Navy’s first airplane or even its first floatplane — it was amphibious with retractable landing gear. So novel was the concept of a machine operating from land, water and air the A-1 earned the nickname “Triad” very quickly.

The Curtiss A-1 “Triad” suspended in the main lobby of the National Naval Aviation Museum — photo by Joe May

Aft view showing the Triad’s engine, pusher propeller and almost unique as well as non-Wright ailerons — photo by Joe May

The Triad’s hull, side-by-side crew positions, fuel tank and forward portion of the engine — photo by Joe May

A careful look at the Triad shows the influence of the Wright Brothers Flyer design with its upper and lower wing, the forward placement of the elevator/horizontal stabilizer and side-by-side seating atop the lower wing. Curtiss’s design influence can be seen in the use of ailerons instead of wing warping as well as a much better engine. Curtiss manufactured high power-to-weight engines from before the time of sustained powered flight. The Wrights had a revolutionary sounding aluminum block engine but its power-weight ratio was much lower than Curtiss’s. Interestingly, the Triad’s ailerons were manipulated by a shoulder harness on the pilot. Modern hydrodynamic design of the hull would come with later aircraft types, with the Triad it was literally a flying boat since the fuselage was essentially a flat bottomed hull.

This aircraft is on exhibit at the National Naval Aviation Museum, suspended and rotating in the main entry lobby. This is quite fitting, seeing the Triad when first entering the museum as the Curtiss A-1 was the beginning of the  proud tradition of U.S. Naval Aviation.

Several posts have been published of the aircraft in the National Naval Aviation Museum and seeing them is as easy as pacing the museum’s name in the search window and selecting ENTER.

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