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Tue, May 23, 2023

‘Friends of Jenny’s’ JN-4 Suffers Off-Airport Landing

Pilots Escape Incident Sans Injury, But a Beautiful WWI Warbird is in Rough Shape

A saddening picture of a bright yellow Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” wreck made headlines recently, with commenters bemoaning the loss of such a rare piece of history...except some reports indicated the aircraft was a modern-day recreation.

The plane went down during a ferry flight after taking off from Anton Airport in Hopkins County, Kentucky. The crew were taking it back to Bowling Green after exhibiting at an air show, when it began to lose power right above TPA. The crew managed to set it down easy enough to walk away without serious injury, but the plane sure took some lumps. Its broken, wilted, depressing frame was shown in the long Kentucky grass near the airport, to the consternation of journos and history buffs everywhere. The livery of the JN-4D replica was faithful enough to fool most, with all the right proportions. Its livery was spot-on, with the classic tricolor vertical stabilizer and eye-catching golden yellow of pre-war Naval aircraft. 

It's always sad to lose a beautiful plane, but the alleviating aspect this time around is that, at the very least, it wasn't an irreplaceable piece of history… in a sense. One local paper bemoaned the loss, saying "the plane is one of only six remaining in the world", while another referred to it as a “replica sport plane” designed to merely look like the classic Jenny. It's easy to miss the finer points between industry neophytes and long-time aviation buffs, but in this case the confusion was almost heartening to see. It means that the common folk still care about our shared aviation heritage.

So which was it? Super rare survivor of the Great War, or a modern imitation of a long-gone classic? Perhaps it’s best to describe it as an authentic, but modern, Curtiss JN-4. The aircraft was “restored” by the Friends of Jenny nonprofit, a group of enthusiasts keeping the JN-4’s memory alive through their very faithful replica. A “replica” may not even be adequate enough to describe the group’s spot-on Jenny rendition, given how much work they put in to make it as authentic as possible. The group put more than 10,000 hours into building the aircraft, carefully following the same plans as the originals, using as many original-spec parts and materials as they could, right down to the wood. The fuselage was made of ash, with the wing spars being made up of spruce in order to provide sufficient strength and flexibility. At a glance, it doesn't appear that the build used any major parts from an original Jenny, making the aircraft all the more replaceable - if time consuming. 

While the current condition of the Friends’ Jenny isn’t too good to see, there’s always a chance they can bring it back to life. If nothing else, the extensive experience of building the first unit could prove to be a learning experience for Jenny number 2…but hopefully they can get the 1st one flying once again.

FMI: www.friendsofjenny.org

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