First run in 1915, the OX-5 was an early V-8 American liquid-cooled aircraft engine built by Curtiss. It was the first US-designed engine to enter mass production, although it was considered obsolete when it did so in 1917. It found widespread use on a number of aircraft, the most famous being the JN-4 "Jenny". Some 12,600 units were built through early 1919. The wide availability of the engine in the surplus market made it common until the 1930s, although it was considered unreliable for most of its service life. The engine can be found powering many Edwardian automobile racing specials on the historic racing scene.
Like most engines of the era, the OX-5's high-temperature areas were built mostly of cast iron, using individual cylinders bolted to a single aluminum crankcase, wrapped in a cooling jacket made of a nickel-copper alloy. Later versions used a brazed-on steel jacket instead. Cylinder heads were also attached to the crankcase, using X-shaped tie-downs on the top of the head attached to the block via four long bolts. Fuel was carbureted near the rear of the engine, then piped to the cylinders via two T-shaped pipes, the cylinders being arranged so the intake ports of any two in a bank were near each other. The cylinders had one intake and one exhaust valve, each operated by a pushrod from a camshaft running between the banks. This arrangement caused the outer exhaust valves to have a rather long rocker arm. The pushrods were arranged one inside the other, the exhaust valve rod being on the inside and the intake valve rod a tube around it. The aluminum camshaft bearings were a split type bolted together and held in place by lock screws. The pistons were cast aluminum.
The engine was considered unreliable, but unreliable is a relative term: aviation engine technology had not fully matured at the end of WWI. Certainly the JN4 with the OX-5 was underpowered, but the OX-5 proved a much better engine than the Hall Scott A7A that was the achilles heel of the Standard J-1, the substitute primary trainer. In particular the valve gear was fragile, and it had no provisions for lubrication other than grease and oil applied by hand, leading to an overhaul interval as short as fifty hours. Additionally the engine featured a single spark plug in each cylinder, and a single ignition system, in an era when ignition equipment was less reliable.
Built by several contractors in large numbers, the OX-5 suffered from uneven quality control. However, while the overwhelming majority of training accidents in the U.S. were in JN-4s, this was because JN-4s were flown by the vast majority of trainee pilots, and the accident rate in the US for primary training was four times less than the advanced training rate in France (virtually all US airmen getting advanced training in France), approximately 2800 flying hours in the US primarily in OX-5 powered JN-4s per fatality to 761 hours per fatality in France in other types. Very few fatal accidents were caused by engine failure, although the lack of power may have been the cause of the many tailspins that took about forty five percent of training lives. The replacement of the A7A in Standard J-1s was contemplated, but the cost of $2,000 per aircraft compared with the need (by the time the J-1s were grounded in June 1918 JN-4s were in sufficient supply) led to the rejection of this idea.
The OX-5 itself would be replaced by the well-proven Wright Aeronautical-built version of the 150 hp Hispano-Suiza HS-8a V8 engine in the nearly 930 examples of the later production Curtiss JN-4H Jenny biplanes.