Curtiss Pusher Marks 100 Years Of Naval Aviation

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The Navy will mark 100 years of naval aviation with an air of authenticity next week thanks to a former naval aviator's handiwork. Bob Coolbaugh, who is now an airline pilot, spent two and a half years building a replica of the Ely-Curtiss Pusher that Eugene Ely took off from a ship on Nov. 14, 1910. Coolbaugh first flew the replica aircraft in early October and took turns with friend Andrew King flying it 150 miles over two days from his home in New Market, Va., to Norfolk, where the celebrations will be held. The delicate-looking aircraft had to climb to 4,800 feet to clear the Blue Ridge Mountains but Coolbaugh said the flight went well. "Aside from the fact that I was freezing to death, it was wonderful," he told the Virginian-Pilot.

Coolbaugh used photos and drawings to re-create the aircraft and, where possible, used materials identical to those used by Curtiss. For instance, the bamboo structure came from the same importer that Curtiss used. However, there were some safety compromises. A relatively modern engine powers the aircraft and it has Dacron covering rather than linen. Coolbaugh also added brakes and a radio. The handling is all authentic, however. "It's squirrely," he said. "You never let go. You never stop fighting it. I should have done this about 20 years ago when I was young and strong."