Having recently celebrated its 100th birthday, Curtiss JN-4B ‘Jenny’ C-GDCX (c/n 3793) went on display at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton on 15 October. It was recently donated by John ‘Jack’ Johnson, who rebuilt the machine to fly over a 21-year period before it took to the air on 6 July 1998. During the following 11 years Johnson, based in Sturgeon County, Alberta, flew the ‘Jenny’ at airshows and other events in the Edmonton area, and had logged 23.5 hours on the machine before grounding it in October 2009.
Jack’s partner Anne Stewart, who wrote up the story of the Jenny restoration for this magazine (see ‘Jack & Jenny’, Aeroplane October 1998) says, “He isn’t lying anymore” but, talking of the museum, enthuses, “It’s kind of been his second home.”
Built by Curtiss at Buffalo, New York in May 1918, the ‘Jenny’ saw wartime service training pilots at Rich Field in Waco, Texas. During 1919 it was sold in Buenos Aires, and three years later went to a Hungarian pilot who had flown for the Germans during the First World War and was now living in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Following a change to Uruguay’s civil aviation regulations in 1930 the JN-4 was dismantled and went into storage, only emerging in 1970 when it was freighted to Auburn, Washington for a new American owner. During 1977, restoration having proved to be beyond his means, it was sold to Johnson, who had already restored at least a dozen aircraft, including a 1933 Waco UIC which is also now on show at the museum.
Jack’s daughter Trudy Shafer remembers her father bringing the ‘Jenny’ home. “It was a pile of junk. It took forever, taking every piece of wood and sanding it down and making it as original as possible”. Almost every piece of the aircraft needed to be rebuilt. Missing instruments and parts had to be tracked down and acquired, this often done through bartering or trading.
Johnson originally learned to fly at the Edmonton Flying Club in 1954 and worked as a bush pilot during the mid- 1950s. He then lew waterbomber aircraft before beginning a 30-year airline career in 1966. Jack became one of a team of volunteers in the museum’s restoration department during the 1990s, and over the years has been a frequent member of the ‘Tuesday and Thursday lunch crowd’ at the museum hangar.
The ‘Jenny’s’ fuselage is on display in a place of prominence just inside the main door of the museum’s World War Two-era Hangar 14.
The 43ft-span wings will be re-attached once a raised display platform has been built for the historic trainer, a type that was common across northern Alberta in the years following the First World War.