• A Curtiss training plane. Courtesy of the Wallach Division Photography Collection via The New York Public Library.

     

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    Curtiss JN - a training plane
    • Date
    • 1860 - 1920
    • Description
    • Photo U.S. Army Air Service.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. The New York Public Library

  • “Tractor moving Amelia Earhart's airplane,” 1935. Courtesy of the California Historical Society via the University of Southern California Libraries.

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    Tractor moving Amelia Earhart's airplane
    • Date
    • 1935-01-23
    • Description
    • Photograph of a tractor moving Amelia Earhart's airplane out of the mud in Oakland, January 23, 1935. The high-wing monoplane can be seen at center and is facing to the foreground. A large tractor can be seen pulling on the plane at right, while seve... more
      Photograph of a tractor moving Amelia Earhart's airplane out of the mud in Oakland, January 23, 1935. The high-wing monoplane can be seen at center and is facing to the foreground. A large tractor can be seen pulling on the plane at right, while several men are pushing on the landing gear of the aircraft at center. The land around the plane is flat.; An accompanying piece of paper reads: "A helping hand for Amelia's plane. News Item. When Amelia Earhart Putnam attempted to take off from the Oakland, California airport shortly after her record breaking solo flight from Honolulu, the heavy plane sank in the rain soaked field. Trucks tried in vain to move it. Finally a tractor hauled it back to the runway where a successful start was made for Los Angeles". less
    • Rights
    • Public Domain. Release under the CC BY Attribution license--http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/--Credit both “University of Southern California. Libraries” and “California Historical Society” as the source. Digitally reproduced by the... more
      Public Domain. Release under the CC BY Attribution license--http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/--Credit both “University of Southern California. Libraries” and “California Historical Society” as the source. Digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library; From the California Historical Society Collection at the University of Southern California. Send requests to address or e-mail given. Phone (213) 740-5900; fax (213) 740-2343. USC Libraries Special Collections. Doheny Memorial Library, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0189. Specol@usc.edu. less
    • Partner
    • University of Southern California Libraries
    • Contributing Institution
    • California Historical Society

After WWI, civil aviation greatly expanded. This was made possible by cheap surplus Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” aircrafts—biplanes produced to train WWI pilots that were subsequently used by civilians post war. They were popularly used by pilots known as “barnstormers” who would wow people with stunts at air shows across the country. Barnstorming pilots also offered joyrides, which introduced riders to flying and brought the experience of aviation to rural areas.

Record-breaking flights, speed races around pylons in stadiums, and long-distance races captured the public imagination. The 1929 Air Shows in Cleveland were attended by half a million people, excited by not just the stunts, but the possibility of seeing a crash. The ten-day spectacle included a grand parade kick-off and a three million dollar aviation exhibit, alongside blimp rides and parachuting demonstrations between races.

Many of those record-breakers in the 1930s were women pilots, now central figures of barnstorming shows and races. The formerly all-male cross-country races opened up to female competitors in 1936. In that first co-ed cross-country race, aviatrixes Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes clocked in with the best times.

The popularity of these races and air shows spurred manufacturers to build even faster planes. There were also developments in navigation, formerly done only with maps and compasses. By the 1930s, pilots were aided by instruments based on gyroscopes or airspeed that calculated altitude, velocity, and heading.

Emergency landings were still a possibility that pilots had to plan for—they couldn't even count on making it to a runway. In some cases, a clearing had to do. When flying solo or just with a co-pilot, they needed to understand how their planes worked in case there weren't mechanics to address problems where they landed.