A brief history of Curtiss Test Pilot Roland Rohlfs

By Willie Bodenstein


Born 10 February 1892 in Buffalo, N.Y. Roland Rohlfs, a Curtiss test pilot, was the first person to reach 35,000 feet in an open cockpit aircraft when he flew a Curtiss 18 T triplane over Curtiss Field, Long Island. Oxygen was provided in a bottle connected to a tube that Rohls sucked on at altitude.

Rohlfs began his aviation career as a mechanic with the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in 1914, first at Hammondsport and then Buffalo. Later he became test pilot for Curtiss after learning to fly at their Newport News school with Victor Carlstrom as his instructor.

While employed at Curtiss he broke the flight airspeed record while flying a Curtiss Wasp, his speed was clocked at 163.1 mph (262.4 km/h). In 1919 he broke another world record when he flew to an altitude of 34,610 feet in a Curtiss L-3 triplane (at - 47 degrees Fahrenheit).

After World War I, he flew for various companies using airplanes and autogiros for advertising purposes. From 1938 to 1953, he held various posts with the Civil Aeronautics Administration, such as Chief of Technical Section, Air Safety Board, Civilian Pilot Training, War Training Service and other duties.

Rohlfs passed away in 1994.

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