Lee J. Clark of Mansfield On a ride with Windy Smith 1919
Source: Southport Historical Society Newsletter May-June, 1985 by Nelda
Elmira Star Gazette Article by Tom Page, Sept. 15, 1993
Wellsboro Gazette Article , July 25, 1990
Reformatted by Virginia R. WHEELER McElroy, Southport Town Historian
Leon D. "Windy" Smith of Pine City, NY was the first to offer plane rides in Chemung County. He was taught to fly by Glenn H. Curtis and was one of the pioneer air mail pilots. He flew planes for over 46 years and in his later years he operated a small airport, Elmira Air Park, Inc. near his home in Pine City, NY where he gave flying instructions.
Mr. Smith was born in Millerton, Pa, son of Dr. Frank and Mary Ann Miller Smith. He attended schools there and also in Elmira. After two years at the Elmira Free Academy, he transferred to the Cook Academy in Montour Falls. His nick-name of "Windy" was given to him by his father, Dr. Frank Smith, who considered his son to be a great "talker".
"Windy" left Cook Academy and went to Hammondsport where he became acquainted with Glenn H. Curtis, a pioneer aviator. His flying career began on May 1, 1913 upon his graduation from Curtis Aviation School. He served in World War I by instructing pilots at Chanute Field, Chicago, Ill., and Park Field, Tenn. After the war was over, Windy joined the service of air mail pilots. On the morning of December 18, 1918, he left Belmont Park, L.I. in the first flight of what was to become regular daily mail service between New York and Chicago. Smith’s destination was Bellefonte, Pa. Where another plane took the mail to Cleveland. A third plane carried it to Chicago. He left the air mail service in 1919 and established the first private airport in Washington, D.C., now the present site of the National Airport.
During World War II, he once again instructed pilots. Throughout his flying career, he was active in flying in aerial shows and did exhibitions at fairs throughout the whole country. It was in 1955 that Mr. Smith took his first commercial plane ride to attend a reunion of airmail pilots.
Residents remember that after World War II, when interest in flight heightened, that Windy notified his Millerton family that he would fly into the little town if a farmer would let him land on a level field. Interest ran high and this was quickly arranged. School was dismissed for the day and everyone was at the designated field awaiting his arrival. What expectations the school kids had, to see him fly up the valley and make a safe, but noisy landing.
Windy for some years during his long career, operated a air circus and did fairs and exhibitions throughout the country. He performed at the Westfield, Pa. Fair in the early 1920’s doing barrel rolls and upside down flying stunts. A woman by the name of Dorothy Blackman did a wing-walk and then parachuted to earth to the amazement of the crowd below.
Once again fame returned to Windy in 1958 when he was asked to fly in replica of the old Jenny over the Washington – New York route followed by air mail pilots 40 years previously. Upon his take off that day was Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and Edison C. Sessions, Deputy Post Master General, who handed the bags of mail to Windy. Over 500 persons were there when Windy took off on his flight from Washington National Airport. He made it safely to Philadelphia where he learned that the radiator seams of the plane had split. Windy and the 200 pounds of mail continued the trip in a modern two-engine Cessna.
Windy Smith established a small airport located right in Pine City, NY behind the present Pine City Volunteer Fire Department building.
Leon D. "Windy" Smith was a husky fellow with keen eyes, a quick grin, a raspy voice and much courage. He had the wind-burned, crinkled face that showed his more than 45 years of flying. Windy died at the age of 70 on January 26, 1960 in Elmira, NY. He was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery and his tombstone is inscribed "Pioneer Air Mail Pilot- Army Air Force Flight Instructor – World War I – II ".
We are proud to have had Mr. Smith as a resident of our town.
The Curtiss "Jenny" America's most famous World War I airplane, was developed by combining the best features of the Curtiss "J" and "N" models. The model J made in 1914 flew reconnaissance against Pancho Villa's Mexican revolutionaries. A 1915 version, the JN-3, was used in 1916 during Pershing's Punitive Expedition into Mexico. Its poor performance, however, made it unsuited for field operations. The JN-3 was modified in 1916 to improve its performance and redesignated the JN-4, affectionately nicknamed the "Jenny." The twin seat arrangement was ideal for training purposes, so it was generally used for primary flight training; some were equipped with machine guns and bomb racks for advanced training. With America's entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, the Signal Corps began ordering large quantities of JN-4s, and by the time production was terminated after the Armistice, more than 6,000 had been delivered, the majority of them JN-4D. After World War I, hundreds were sold on the civilian market. The airplane soon became the mainstay of the "Barnstormer" of the 1920s. Availability, low cost, and forgiving handling characteristics made it very popular. Appearance throughout the country awakened people to aviation; became part of American folklore in early 20s. On the other hand, large number and low cost of surplus Jennies effectively killed the market for new aircraft until mid-20s. New models did not gain a foothold until supply of surplus aircraft exhausted. Jennies were still being flown in the 1930s.
Out-of-work aviators flying out-of-work airplanes after the Great War. An American phenomenon, these barnstormers as they called themselves, wandered from East to West, performing in pastures, big city air shows, in Hollywood dramas. Offering $1 rides in their Curtiss Jennys, they often teamed up to perform spectacular stunts, now legendary. Walking on wings, changing planes, acrobatic stunts in full flight. Our Jenny is a true 30" wingspan miniature of the large ones, down to its fabric stretched wings and tail section.
This stamp was issued December 16, 1918 and is part of the first Airmail
stamp series. As you can see there is no text on the stamp saying "Air
Nevertheless, the purpose of the stamp is clear from the design itself which incorporates an engraving of the Curtis Jenny Biplane. In fact in chronological order, the first "Air Mail" stamp was issued on May 15, 1918. Color and denomination differ for the above, but the design is the same.
Hi--I was with Windy Smith when he took his last breath in the ER @
AOMH in 1960 Congestive heart failure ---bad heart for awhile prior.
Joan (Joan is a retired nurse who worked in Elmira's Arnot Ogden Hospital)
With regard to the history of the Curtiss "aeroplanes" in the article on Windy Smith, I think that there is a fairly serious historical error.
You have to understand that this is from memory, but there is a lot of info available to back it up.
I believe that a Bitish purchasing commission came a calling on Glenn Curtiss (probably at Hammondsport,) and they asked him to produce a trainer to their specifications based on his JN-3, including a different control system that was used in Europe. This resulted in the JN-4 that was known as the Canuck.
Curtiss already had a flying training business in Toronto where training was carried out on one of the Toronto islands with Curtiss flying boats.
Hundreds of Canucks were built, and lots of Canucks were incorrectly identified as Jennies in postwar US picutres. Although there were other differences, the giveaway was the shape of the rudder.
A factory was built near Toronto but many Canucks were built at Buffalo. Training fields were located at Long Branch just outside Toronto, Beamsville and Camp Borden in Ontario, and probably other places as well. In winter the training operation was moved to Corpus Christi in Texas, moving the "aeroplanes" personnel and everything else there by train.
There is a Canuck in the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa that is unique in that it is completely covered on the left side, and completely uncovered on the right side to show the structure and hidden workings. Apart from this, the museum is well worth the trip for anyone interested in things aeronautical.
Glenn Curtiss was no stranger to Canada being a part of the (Aeronautical experiment association?) led by A.G. Bell of telephone fame from his home at Baddeck in Nova Scotia. This was the site of the first flight in the British Empire with the Silver Dart, a replica of which is also in the National Museum.
This group was also involved in the flight of the June Bug, somewhere in the States, I don't remember where.
Curtiss was recruited for his experience in light powerful motorcycle engines, but obviously he benefitted from the experience.
Other experiments were conducted in kites and hydrofoil boats, and probably others.
I don't know if Hammondsport is located in your Southern Tier counties represented in your museum, but if it is, your boy Glenn deserves more credit than you are giving him.
Please don't take this tirade (probably more than you ever wanted to know) as critical of your efforts, but rather as only wanting to give credit where credit is due, in what would later become a mutual goal to defeat the German was machine.
Canada became a pre-eminant training ground for pilots in that conflict just as it was to become during WW 2. But in that conflict, Curtiss aircraft had a leading role in training pilots.