The birdlike design of the 1917 Curtiss Goupil Duck was based on a monoplane glider by French engineer Alexandre Goupil in 1883

A blackl and white photo of a 1917 Curtiss-Goupil Duck, which was quite birdlike in design.

The 1917 Curtiss Goupil Duck became a patent battleground between aerospace founder Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers. World War I settled the matter. (Photo from the Paul S. Maynard archive)


My dad, Paul Smith Maynard, worked for nearly four decades in aviation as an engineer. His specialty was metals, or metallurgy. Among his tasks was to determine at what point a metal part would fail. He experimented with new, lightweight metals and honeycombed metals that were lighter but strong. He evolved into rocketry, so I consider my dad a rocket scientist, though he would decline that attribute.

Dad began his career in about 1943 after graduating from West Virginia University. He started with Curtiss-Wright Corp., an early pioneer in making flying machines. It was founded by Glenn Curtiss, the father of naval aviation, and the Wright brothers, renowned for history’s first flight. Dad worked at the plant in Columbus, Ohio, where I was born in 1954.

Post-World War II, Curtiss-Wright shut down its Aeroplane Division in 1948 and sold the assets to North American Aviation. Dad was among the assets moved to NAA, which was a leader in aerospace contracts. It eventually would merge again and become Rockwell International, also in Columbus.

Occasionally, dad would bring home glossy PR photos of airplanes and prototype or maybe a chunk of some special metal. Lately, I’ve been going through his boxes of work paperwork and found a trove of early warplanes and other prototypes from Curtiss-Wright to Rockwell.

Among the pictures was this black-and-white image of a 1917 Curtiss Goupil Duck on floats. It emerged during a pissing match between Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Bros. The Wrights felt that certain elements of wing design fell under their patent of 1906, based on “wing warping.”

The Patent Battle

With their patent, the Wrights hoped to gain a monopoly on manned flight. The patent would require anyone building aircraft to pay a royalty to them. It is a fascinating story, well told by Airways magazine.

In 1908, Glenn Curtiss sought to circumvent the Wright’s patent by using ailerons, rather than wing warping. Ailerons use moveable flaps in the wings, which are considered more efficient and simpler for lateral control.
Among my dad’s photos was this 1917 Curtiss Goupil Duck, which used a design by French engineer Alexandre Doupil’s birdlike monoplane glider from 1883.

The plane was never developed. At the start of World War I, the U.S. government persuaded Wright to release the patent for combat aircraft to be developed.

Read more