Birth and Early History of the Curtiss-Wright Junior Light Airplane 1930

This is transcribed from a signed mimeographed report dated July 20, 1967 where the Curtiss Wright Junior designer,  Karl H. White gives the early history of the airplane.


I have been receiving letters from numerous individuals thruout the county, malady asking about the now antique pusher light airplane  Curtiss-Wright “Junior” built in 1930 – 1932 – who designed it, or how did it “come about,  and what is its early history.  Following is an attempt to answer these questions.


As a result of the financial crash in 1929, there was a general merging of aircraft companies.  At this time I was Chief Engineer of the Moth Airplane Company, Lowell, Mass.  This company and three others, i.e., Travel Air Company of Wichita, Kansas; Keystone Airplane, Bristol, Pa; and Robertson Aircraft, Ferguson, Mo., merged into a commercial airplane unit of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation under one roof at the Robertson plant in St. Louis (Ferguson, Mo.).  About 50 employees out of 4,000 survived this operation (one of many in the United States).

Mr. Walter Beech became President of this Curtiss-Wright plant, and he assigned me the task of designing a “two place light airplane that would have enough gas to get off a field and fly the girl friend around a little and sell for under $1500.00”.  Although I had never soared nor glided in an aircraft, I had often dreamed about developing a glider-type  airplane with a small motor to push it around.  This was my chance.

With an “engineering force” of five young men I set to work on October 5, 1930, and 65 days later the first experimental “Junior” known at that time as the “Skeeter” (named by Walter Beech) took to the air at Lambert-St. Louis flying field.  There was much ado and experimenting around the clock with this unusual type of “power glider”.  Finally it was decided that the “skeeter” as it stood was not entirely satisfactory for production.  The lateral control was poor and there was “rubber in the control system”.  I knew what the trouble was with the lateral control.  To save production costs we had tried the piano-type hinge on the ailerons.  Friese type hinges would correct the lateral control.  As I was not a flier, I was at a loss to understand what “rubber in the control system” meant.  It was explained to me that it was a question of rigidity.  I knew I could correct this with small additional weight by improving bracing.  We were fighting weight by ounces — not pounds.  Horsepower was extremely limited and light aircraft engines simply were not to be had.  Later I learned to fly in this first experimental “Skeeter” and having nothing for comparison, I thought this “power-glider” was extremely safe in all respects, and I never did discover the rubber nor poor lateral control until later on when I flew production Juniors.  Then I found the difference.

Without further loss of time, I was asked if these faults could be corrected in the next airplane and if so, how much would the entire project cost — engineering, material and manufacture.  I stated Friese type ailerons and improve wing-bracing would correct the difficulties, and with other desired improvements the entire program would cost under $10,000.  This was granted and the second Junior was built and accepted with great enthusiasm by the company pilots and others.  Jimmy Doolittle and Casey Jones got a kick out of flying this airplane.

This production manufacture of 10 airplanes was ordered.  This was followed by an order of 40 more and then for an additional 100 airplanes.  The first production Junior was licensed by the Government in February 1931.  The actual cost per Junior, including overhead, on the order of 100 airplanes was $1323.47 of which $487.41 was for engine and propeller.  The retail price was set at $1490.  ( I have a record of the detail breakdown of this cost by the Curtiss-Wright Accounting Department).

One hundred and twenty-four (124) Juniors were licensed during the months of March, April, May and the first two weeks of June 1931.  The total number of all other light planes licensed in this country was 81, and the total number of all other planes licensed was 241.  Juniors continued to be manufactured and sold at a production rate which peaked at three Juniors a day  and for the first time in American history Curtiss-Wright successfully inaugurated a piece rate system in the manufacture of a commercial airplane.

Because of the “Great Depression” and the uncertainties of the future, I left Curtiss-Wright Corporation in May 1932 to accept a Civil Service position with the Navy Department at the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia.  I do not know how many Juniors were finally built, but I am told it was over 1000. (See note below)   At this writing a member of the Antique Airplane Association advises me that there are only about 10 Juniors flying, but that there are  many basket cases awaiting a loving hand to put them back to life.

The document is signed by Karl H. White.

EDITORS NOTE: The number 1000 in the text is circled and a hand written notation added which says “Not so. About 250 – 270.”  The initials “KW 1968” were also added.