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Jenny Was 'First Lady' of Maryland Air Guard Fleet

Baltimore -- The Maryland Air National Guard has flown many aircraft over the years, from the P-47 to the B-26 to the T-33 to today's A-10C and C-130J, but it all began in 1921 with a biplane affectionately known as the "Jenny."

The Curtiss JN aircraft series made its debut in 1915. The JN, which was quickly dubbed "Jenny," was a single-engine, two-seat biplane. Its structure was constructed of wood, while the aircraft skin was composed of linen waterproofed and sealed with dope. The JN combined the best features of Curtiss's earlier Model J and Model N aircraft.

The first two versions of the Jenny, the JN-1 and JN-2, were only built in limited numbers, with a combined production run of just 11 aircraft.

Greater numbers of the JN-3 were built, and the aircraft served along the Mexican border during the 1916 campaign to capture Pancho Villa. But the JN-3 performed poorly and was deemed unsuitable for field operations.

The JN-4 version appeared in July 1916 and featured improved performance. The JN-4 went through a number of variants, each of which introduced various modifications and advances. The JN-4D was the most widely produced version, with over 2,700 being built by 1919.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, the Jenny "was the first mass produced plane and was manufactured in larger numbers than any other American plane up to that time." During World War I, Jennies were used to train 95 percent of U.S. military pilots. Following the war, thousands of surplus Jennies were sold to the public and the aircraft gained considerable notoriety in the hands of barnstormers.

The 104th Observation Squadron received its first airplane, the JN-4D variant, in July 1921 but later also flew the JN-4H and JNS models. The H model had provisions for bomb racks and a machine gun for gunnery training, while the JNS, which stood for "JN-Standardized," was not a new production version of the Jenny, but rather an Army effort to upgrade various earlier variants to a level comparable with the H model.

Plans called for the 104th to be a 13-aircraft squadron, but the unit initially had only three Jennies at its facilities at Logan Field in Baltimore. An additional five aircraft were received at the end of its first summer camp in 1922. The final complement varied between 11 and 14 planes at any given time.

Although underpowered and designed as a flight training aircraft, the Jenny was capable of a variety of aerial acrobatics.

In addition to training in artillery spotting and formation flying, the unit participated in air shows and flight demonstrations up and down the East Coast, winning a number of competitions with Army, Navy, Marine and National Guard flying units in the process.

The 104th also used its Jennies to conduct aerial photography of various facilities and municipalities of Maryland. These photos were used to assemble aerial "mosaics" for planning and development within the state and to promote commercial aviation.

While the unit suffered a number of crashes in the Jenny, there were no fatalities.

Although underpowered and obsolescent even by the standards of the day, a unit history written in 1936 nonetheless commented that the 104th "was exceptionally fortunate in its early days to fly with Jennies."

The Maryland National Guard began receiving Dayton Wright TW-3 biplanes in 1925, but continued to fly the Jenny for another year. Following the 1926 summer camp at Langley Field, Va., the unit was ordered to burn its Jennies.