When researching “She Flew Bombers” I wanted to see a Curtiss Jenny World War ONE biplane and feel the fabric and wood flying machine. This was one of the first planes a Woman Airforce Service Pilot learned how to fly as a young girl.
I asked at every airshow and plane event and no one knew where one could be viewed.
Finally, a pilot at the Santa Rosa Airshow told me, “I think there’s a Curtiss Jenny at the Shelleville Airport in Sonoma. At home, I googled Shelleville Airport and it didn’t exist. Further investigation later proved that it was renamed, The Sonoma Valley Airport.
I drove there and went to a hangar titled, “Vintage Aircraft Co.” and asked if they had a Curtiss Jenny. They said, “No, but Frank in a hangar nearby does.”
Frank was not around and I asked for his phone number. The aircraft co. wouldn’t give me his number, but took mine. I felt quite defeated and went home.
The next month, I got a phone call early in the morning.
“Frank Schelling here. I heard you wanted a ride in a Curtiss Jenny and you were writing a book.”
I said, “Yes, that would be wonderful.” (I never anticipated being invited for a ride!)
Frank said, “I’m going up very soon if you want to go.”
I said, “I live in Healdsburg and it takes me an hour to get there, how about next weekend?’
Frank said, “How about next year? I only go up once a year.”
I said, “I’ll be there!”
I quickly got dressed, threw my camera in my truck and broke the speed limit! I was quivering the entire way wondering what it would be like flying in an open cockpit biplane!
The Curtiss Jenny is a very long winged plane (44 feet) and I got there just when two men were pulling it slowly by the handholds out of the hangar toward the runway.
There were several guys there and they all treated me like a celebrity.(I wasn’t even a real author yet!)
Frank handed me a leather helmet, just getting into the biplane was an adventure. I had to be helped on a wooden box to get into the back cockpit. (read about the “Jenny dance” on page one of She Flew Bombers). The propeller was hand propped and away we went.
This World War One biplane was totally pristine, because Frank polished, painted, and maintained it constantly.
Frank was not going to be the pilot apparently he did not have enough ratings to take people up. Robin Reid was the pilot and he flew a commercial 747 everyday!
The sound of the 1918 Jenny made a clickety-clack very loud noise! I wrote later in my book how it sounded like three old tractors!
It was a very dreamy ride and I loved the wind in my face flying in the open cockpit above the patchwork squares of Sonoma Valley. Upon landing a “tail dragger” stops it in dirt and there are no brakes.
I found out later that I was a very lucky gal. There are only ten Curtiss Jenny’s presently airborne. Frank only went up once a year and for a little while because of the fuel shortage.
This was my first hands-on adventure and I will never forget it. I have been in many types of airplanes since, but the Jenny is my favorite.
The Curtiss Jenny I flew in is on the cover of my book, She Flew Bombers.