Aeronautics History Vivian 1920 02 Evolution of the Aeroplane Age of the Giants

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A History of Aeronautics
by E. Charles Vivian


Until the Wright Brothers definitely solved the problem of flight and virtually gave the aeroplane its present place in aeronautics, there were three definite schools of experiment. The first of these was that which sought to imitate nature by means of the ornithopter or flapping-wing machines directly imitative of bird flight; the second school was that which believed in the helicopter or lifting screw; the third and eventually successful school is that which followed up the principle enunciated by Cayley, that of opposing a plane surface to the resistance of the air by supplying suitable motive power to drive it at the requisite angle for support.

Engineering problems generally go to prove that too close an imitation of nature in her forms of recipro-cating motion is not advantageous; it is impossible to copy the minutiae of a bird's wing effectively, and the bird in flight depends on the tiniest details of its feathers just as much as on the general principle on which the whole wing is constructed. Bird flight, however, has attracted many experimenters, including even Lilienthal; among others may be mentioned F. W. Brearey, who invented what he called the 'Pectoral cord,' which stored energy on each upstroke of the artificial wing; E. P. Frost; Major R. Moore, and especially Hureau de Villeneuve, a most enthusiastic student of this form of flight, who began his experiments about 1865, and altogether designed and made nearly 300 artificial birds. one of his later constructions was a machine in bird form with a wing span of about 50 ft.; the motive power for this was supplied by steam from a boiler which, being stationary on the ground, was connected by a length of hose to the machine. De Villeneuve, turning on steam for his first trial, obtained sufficient power to make the wings beat very forcibly; with the inventor on the machine the latter rose several feet into the air, whereupon de Villeneuve grew nervous and turned off the steam supply. The machine fell to the earth, breaking one of its wings, and it does not appear that de Villeneuve troubled to reconstruct it. This experiment remains as the greatest success yet achieved by any machine constructed on the ornithopter principle.

It may be that, as forecasted by the prophet Wells, the flapping-wing machine will yet come to its own and compete with the aeroplane in efficiency. Against this, however, are the practical advantages of the rotary mechanism of the aeroplane propeller as compared with the movement of a bird's wing, which, according to Marey, moves in a figure of eight. The force derived from a propeller is of necessity continual, while it is equally obvious that that derived from a flapping movement is intermittent, and, in the recovery of a wing after completion of one stroke for the next, there is necessarily a certain cessation, if not loss, of power.

The matter of experiment along any lines in connection with aviation is primarily one of hard cash. Throughout the whole history of flight up to the outbreak of the European war development has been handicapped on the score of finance, and, since the arrival of the aeroplane, both ornithopter and helicopter schools have been handicapped by this consideration. Thus serious study of the efficiency of wings in imitation of those of the living bird has not been carried to a point that might win success for this method of propulsion. Even Wilbur Wright studied this subject and propounded certain theories, while a later and possibly more scientific student, F. W. Lanchester, has also contributed empirical conclusions. Another and earlier student was Lawrence Hargrave, who made a wing-propelled model which achieved successful flight, and in 1885 was exhibited before the Royal Society of New South Wales. Hargrave called the principle on which his propeller worked that of a 'Trochoided plane'; it was, in effect, similar to the feathering of an oar.

Hargrave, to diverge for a brief while from the machine to the man, was one who, although he achieved nothing worthy of special remark, contributed a great deal of painstaking work to the science of flight. He made a series of experiments with man-lifting kites in addition to making a study of flapping-wing flight. It cannot be said that he set forth any new principle; his work was mainly imitative, but at the same time by developing ideas originated in great measure by others he helped toward the solution of the problem.

Attempts at flight on the helicopter principle consist in the work of De la Landelle and others already mentioned. The possibility of flight by this method is modified by a very definite disadvantage of which lovers of the helicopter seem to take little account. It is always claimed for a machine of this type that it possesses great advantages both in rising and in landing, since, if it were effective, it would obviously be able to rise from and alight on any ground capable of containing its own bulk; a further advantage claimed is that the helicopter would be able to remain stationary in the air, maintaining itself in any position by the vertical lift of its propeller.

These potential assets do not take into consideration the fact that efficiency is required not only in rising, landing, and remaining stationary in the air, but also in actual flight. It must be evident that if a certain amount of the motive force is used in maintaining the machine off the ground, that amount of force is missing from the total of horizontal driving power. Again, it is often assumed by advocates of this form of flight that the rapidity of climb of the helicopter would be far greater than that of the driven plane; this view overlooks the fact that the maintenance of aerodynamic support would claim the greater part of the engine-power; the rate of ascent would be governed by the amount of power that could be developed surplus to that required for maintenance.

This is best explained by actual figures: assuming that a propeller 15 ft. in diameter is used, almost 50 horse-power would be required to get an upward lift of 1,000 pounds; this amount of horse-power would be continually absorbed in maintaining the machine in the air at any given level; for actual lift from one level to another at a speed of eleven feet per second a further 20 horse-power would be required, which means that 70 horse-power must be constantly provided for; this absorption of power in the mere maintenance of aero-dynamic support is a permanent drawback.

The attraction of the helicopter lies, probably, in the ease with which flight is demonstrated by means of models constructed on this principle, but one truism with regard to the principles of flight is that the problems change remarkably, and often unexpectedly, with the size of the machine constructed for experiment. Berriman, in a brief but very interesting manual entitled Principles of Flight, assumed that 'there is a significant dimension of which the effective area is an expression of the second power, while the weight became an expression of the third power. Then once again we have the two-thirds power law militating against the successful construction of large helicopters, on the ground that the essential weight increases disproportionately fast to the effective area. From a consideration of the structural features of propellers it is evident that this particular relationship does not apply in practice, but it seems reasonable that some such governing factor should exist as an explanation of the apparent failure of all full-sized machines that have been constructed. Among models there is nothing more strikingly successful than the toy helicopter, in which the essential weight is so small compared with the effective area.'

De la Landelle's work, already mentioned, was carried on a few years later by another Frenchman, Castel, who constructed a machine with eight propellers arranged in two fours and driven by a compressed air motor or engine. The model with which Castel experimented had a total weight of only 49 lbs.; it rose in the air and smashed itself by driving against a wall, and the inventor does not seem to have proceeded further. Contemporary with Castel was Professor Forlanini, whose design was for a machine very similar to de la Landelle's, with two superposed screws. This machine ranks as the second on the helicopter principle to achieve flight; it remained in the air for no less than the third of a minute in one of its trials.

Later experimenters in this direction were Kress, a German; Professor Wellner, an Austrian; and W. R. Kimball, an American. Kress, like most Germans, set to the development of an idea which others had originated; he followed de la Landelle and Forlanini by fitting two superposed propellers revolving in opposite directions, and with this machine he achieved good results as regards horse-power to weight; Kimball, it appears, did not get beyond the rubber-driven model stage, and any success he may have achieved was modified by the theory enunciated by Berriman and quoted above.

Comparing these two schools of thought, the helicopter and bird-flight schools, it appears that the latter has the greater chance of eventual success--that is, if either should ever come into competition with the aeroplane as effective means of flight. So far, the aeroplane holds the field, but the whole science of flight is so new and so full of unexpected developments that this is no reason for assuming that other means may not give equal effect, when money and brains are diverted from the driven plane to a closer imitation of natural flight.

Reverting from non-success to success, from consideration of the two methods mentioned above to the direction in which practical flight has been achieved, it is to be noted that between the time of Le Bris, Stringfellow, and their contemporaries, and the nineties of last century, there was much plodding work carried out with little visible result, more especially so far as English students were concerned. Among the incidents of those years is one of the most pathetic tragedies in the whole history of aviation, that of Alphonse Penaud, who, in his thirty years of life, condensed the experience of his predecessors and combined it with his own genius to state in a published patent what the aeroplane of to-day should be. Consider the following abstract of Penaud's design as published in his patent of 1876, and comparison of this with the aeroplane that now exists will show very few divergences except for those forced on the inventor by the fact that the internal combustion engine had not then developed. The double surfaced planes were to be built with wooden ribs and arranged with a slight dihedral angle; there was to be a large aspect ratio and the wings were cambered as in Stringfellow's later models. Provision was made for warping the wings while in flight, and the trailing edges were so designed as to be capable of upward twist while the machine was in the air. The planes were to be placed above the car, and provision was even made for a glass wind-screen to give protection to the pilot during flight. Steering was to be accomplished by means of lateral and vertical planes forming a tail; these controlled by a single lever corresponding to the 'joy stick' of the present day plane.

Penaud conceived this machine as driven by two propellers; alternatively these could be driven by petrol or steam-fed motor, and the centre of gravity of the machine while in flight was in the front fifth of the wings. Penaud estimated from 20 to 30 horse-power sufficient to drive this machine, weighing with pilot and passenger 2,600 lbs., through the air at a speed of 60 miles an hour, with the wings set at an angle of incidence of two degrees. So complete was the design that it even included instruments, consisting of an aneroid, pressure indicator, an anemometer, a compass, and a level. There, with few alterations, is the aeroplane as we know it--and Penaud was twenty-seven when his patent was published.

For three years longer he worked, experimenting with models, contributing essays and other valuable data to French papers on the subject of aeronautics. His gains were ill health, poverty, and neglect, and at the age of thirty a pistol shot put an end to what had promised to be one of the most brilliant careers in all the history of flight.

Two years before the publication of Penaud's patent Thomas Moy experimented at the Crystal Palace with a twin-propelled aeroplane, steam driven, which seems to have failed mainly because the internal combustion engine had not yet come to give sufficient power for weight. Moy anchored his machine to a pole running on a prepared circular track; his engine weighed 80 lbs. and, developing only three horse-power, gave him a speed of 12 miles an hour. He himself estimated that the machine would not rise until he could get a speed of 35 miles an hour, and his estimate was correct. Two six-bladed propellers were placed side by side between the two main planes of the machine, which was supported on a triangular wheeled undercarriage and steered by fairly conventional tail planes. Moy realised that he could not get sufficient power to achieve flight, but he went on experimenting in various directions, and left much data concerning his experiments which has not yet been deemed worthy of publication, but which still contains a mass of information that is of practical utility, embodying as it does a vast amount of painstaking work.

Penaud and Moy were followed by Goupil, a Frenchman, who, in place of attempting to fit a motor to an aeroplane, experimented by making the wind his motor. He anchored his machine to the ground, allowing it two feet of lift, and merely waited for a wind to come along and lift it. The machine was stream lined, and the wings, curving as in the early German patterns of war aeroplanes, gave a total lifting surface of about 290 sq. ft. Anchored to the ground and facing a wind of 19 feet per second, Goupil's machine lifted its own weight and that of two men as well to the limit of its anchorage. Although this took place as late as 1883 the inventor went no further in practical work. He published a book, however, entitled La Locomotion Aerienne, which is still of great importance, more especially on the subject of inherent stability.

In 1884 came the first patents of Horatio Phillips, whose work lay mainly in the direction of investigation into the curvature of plane surfaces, with a view to obtaining the greatest amount of support. Phillips was one of the first to treat the problem of curvature of planes as a matter for scientific experiment, and, great as has been the development of the driven plane in the 36 years that have passed since he began, there is still room for investigation into the subject which he studied so persistently and with such valuable result.

At this point it may be noted that, with the solitary exception of Le Bris, practically every student of flight had so far set about constructing the means of launching humanity into the air without any attempt at ascertaining the nature and peculiarities of the sustaining medium. The attitude of experimenters in general might be compared to that of a man who from boyhood had grown up away from open water, and, at the first sight of an expanse of water, set to work to construct a boat with a vague idea that, since wood would float, only sufficient power was required to make him an efficient navigator. Accident, perhaps, in the shape of lack of means of procuring driving power, drove Le Bris to the form of experiment which he actually carried out; it remained for the later years of the nineteenth century to produce men who were content to ascertain the nature of the support the air would afford before attempting to drive themselves through it.

Of the age in which these men lived and worked, giving their all in many cases to the science they loved, even to life itself, it may be said with truth that 'there were giants on the earth in those days,' as far as aeronautics is in question. It was an age of giants who lived and dared and died, venturing into uncharted space, knowing nothing of its dangers, giving, as a man gives to his mistress, without stint and for the joy of the giving. The science of to-day, compared with the glimmerings that were in that age of the giants, is a fixed and certain thing; the problems of to-day are minor problems, for the great major problem vanished in solution when the Wright Brothers made their first ascent. In that age of the giants was evolved the flying man, the new type in human species which found full expression and came to full development in the days of the war, achieving feats of daring and endurance which leave the commonplace landsman staggered at thought of that of which his fellows prove themselves capable. He is a new type, this flying man, a being of self-forgetfulness; of such was Lilienthal, of such was Pilcher; of such in later days were Farman, Bleriot, Hamel, Rolls, and their fellows; great names that will live for as long as man flies, adventurers equally with those of the spacious days of Elizabeth. To each of these came the call, and he worked and dared and passed, having, perhaps, advanced one little step in the long march that has led toward the perfecting of flight.

It is not yet twenty years since man first flew, but into that twenty years have been compressed a century or so of progress, while, in the two decades that preceded it, was compressed still more. We have only to recall and recount the work of four men: Lilienthal, Langley, Pilcher, and Clement Ader to see the immense stride that was made between the time when Penaud pulled a trigger for the last time and the Wright Brothers first left the earth. Into those two decades was compressed the investigation that meant knowledge of the qualities of the air, together with the development of the one prime mover that rendered flight a possibility--the internal combustion engine. The coming and progress of this latter is a thing apart, to be detailed separately; for the present we are concerned with the evolution of the driven plane, and with it the evolution of that daring being, the flying man. The two are inseparable, for the men gave themselves to their art; the story of Lilienthal's life and death is the story of his work; the story of Pilcher's work is that of his life and death.

Considering the flying man as he appeared in the war period, there entered into his composition a new element--patriotism-- which brought about a modification of the type, or, perhaps, made it appear that certain men belonged to the type who in reality were commonplace mortals, animated, under normal conditions, by normal motives, but driven by the stress of the time to take rank with the last expression of human energy, the flying type. However that may be, what may be termed the mathematising of aeronautics has rendered the type itself evanescent; your pilot of to-day knows his craft, once he is trained, much in the manner that a driver of a motor-lorry knows his vehicle; design has been systematised, capabilities have been tabulated; camber, dihedral angle, aspect ratio, engine power, and plane surface, are business items of drawing office and machine shop; there is room for enterprise, for genius, and for skill; once and again there is room for daring, as in the first Atlantic flight. Yet that again was a thing of mathematical calculation and petrol storage, allied to a certain stark courage which may be found even in landsmen. For the ventures into the unknown, the limit of daring, the work for work's sake, with the almost certainty that the final reward was death, we must look back to the age of the giants, the age when flying was not a business, but romance.


There was never a more enthusiastic and consistent student of the problems of flight than Otto Lilienthal, who was born in 1848 at Anklam, Pomerania, and even from his early school-days dreamed and planned the conquest of the air. His practical experiments began when, at the age of thirteen, he and his brother Gustav made wings consisting of wooden framework covered with linen, which Otto attached to his arms, and then ran downhill flapping them. In consequence of possible derision on the part of other boys, Otto confined these experiments for the most part to moonlit nights, and gained from them some idea of the resistance offered by flat surfaces to the air. It was in 1867 that the two brothers began really practical work, experimenting with wings which, from their design, indicate some knowledge of Besnier and the history of his gliding experiments; these wings the brothers fastened to their backs, moving them with their legs after the fashion of one attempting to swim. Before they had achieved any real success in gliding the Franco-German war came as an interruption; both brothers served in this campaign, resuming their experiments in 1871 at the conclusion of hostilities.

The experiments made by the brothers previous to the war had convinced Otto that previous experimenters in gliding flight had failed through reliance on empirical conclusions or else through incomplete observation on their own part, mostly of bird flight. From 1871 onward Otto Lilenthal (Gustav's interest in the problem was not maintained as was his brother's) made what is probably the most detailed and accurate series of observations that has ever been made with regard to the properties of curved wing surfaces. So far as could be done, Lilienthal tabulated the amount of air resistance offered to a bird's wing, ascertaining that the curve is necessary to flight, as offering far more resistance than a flat surface. Cayley, and others, had already stated this, but to Lilienthal belongs the honour of being first to put the statement to effective proof--he made over 2,000 gliding flights between 1891 and the regrettable end of his experiments; his practical conclusions are still regarded as part of the accepted theory of students of flight. In 1889 he published a work on the subject of gliding flight which stands as data for investigators, and, on the conclusions embodied in this work, he began to build his gliders and practice what he had preached, turning from experiment with models to wings that he could use.

It was in the summer of 1891 that he built his first glider of rods of peeled willow, over which was stretched strong cotton fabric; with this, which had a supporting surface of about 100 square feet, Otto Lilienthal launched himself in the air from a spring board, making glides which, at first of only a few feet, gradually lengthened. As his experience of the supporting qualities of the air progressed he gradually altered his designs until, when Pilcher visited him in the spring of 1895, he experimented with a glider, roughly made of peeled willow rods and cotton fabric, having an area of 150 square feet and weighing half a hundredweight. By this time Lilienthal had moved from his springboard to a conical artificial hill which he had had thrown up on level ground at Grosse Lichterfelde, near Berlin. This hill was made with earth taken from the excavations incurred in constructing a canal, and had a cave inside in which Lilienthal stored his machines. Pilcher, in his paper on 'Gliding,' [*] gives an excellent short summary of Lilienthal's experiments, from which the following extracts are taken:--

[*] Aeronautical Classes, No. 5. Royal Aeronautical Society's publications.

'At first Lilienthal used to experiment by jumping off a springboard with a good run. Then he took to practicing on some hills close to Berlin. In the summer of 1892 he built a flat-roofed hut on the summit of a hill, from the top of which he used to jump, trying, of course, to soar as far as possible before landing.... One of the great dangers with a soaring machine is losing forward speed, inclining the machine too much down in front, and coming down head first. Lilienthal was the first to introduce the system of handling a machine in the air merely by moving his weight about in the machine; he always rested only on his elbows or on his elbows and shoulders....

'In 1892 a canal was being cut, close to where Lilienthal lived, in the suburbs of Berlin, and with the surplus earth Lilienthal had a special hill thrown up to fly from. The country round is as flat as the sea, and there is not a house or tree near it to make the wind unsteady, so this was an ideal practicing ground; for practicing on natural hills is generally rendered very difficult by shifty and gusty winds.... This hill is 50 feet high, and conical. Inside the hill there is a cave for the machines to be kept in.... When Lilienthal made a good flight he used to land 300 feet from the centre of the hill, having come down at an angle of 1 in 6; but his best flights have been at an angle of about 1 in 10.

'If it is calm, one must run a few steps down the hill, holding the machine as far back on oneself as possible, when the air will gradually support one, and one slides off the hill into the air. If there is any wind, one should face it at starting; to try to start with a side wind is most unpleasant. It is possible after a great deal of practice to turn in the air, and fairly quickly. This is accomplished by throwing one's weight to one side, and thus lowering the machine on that side towards which one wants to turn. Birds do the same thing-- crows and gulls show it very clearly. Last year Lilienthal chiefly experimented with double-surfaced machines. These were very much like the old machines with awnings spread above them.

'The object of making these double-surfaced machines was to get more surface without increasing the length and width of the machine. This, of course, it does, but I personally object to any machine in which the wing surface is high above the weight. I consider that it makes the machine very difficult to handle in bad weather, as a puff of wind striking the surface, high above one, has a great tendency to heel the machine over.

'Herr Lilienthal kindly allowed me to sail down his hill in one of these double-surfaced machines last June. With the great facility afforded by his conical hill the machine was handy enough; but I am afraid I should not be able to manage one at all in the squally districts I have had to practice in over here.

'Herr Lilienthal came to grief through deserting his old method of balancing. In order to control his tipping movements more rapidly he attached a line from his horizontal rudder to his head, so that when he moved his head forward it would lift the rudder and tip the machine up in front, and vice versa. He was practicing this on some natural hills outside Berlin, and he apparently got muddled with the two motions, and, in trying to regain speed after he had, through a lull in the wind, come to rest in the air, let the machine get too far down in front, came down head first and was killed.'

Then in another passage Pilcher enunciates what is the true value of such experiments as Lilienthal--and, subsequently, he himself--made: 'The object of experimenting with soaring machines,' he says, 'is to enable one to have practice in starting and alighting and controlling a machine in the air. They cannot possibly float horizontally in the air for any length of time, but to keep going must necessarily lose in elevation. They are excellent schooling machines, and that is all they are meant to be, until power, in the shape of an engine working a screw propeller, or an engine working wings to drive the machine forward, is added; then a person who is used to soaring down a hill with a simple soaring machine will be able to fly with comparative safety. One can best compare them to bicycles having no cranks, but on which one could learn to balance by coming down an incline.'

It was in 1895 that Lilienthal passed from experiment with the monoplane type of glider to the construction of a biplane glider which, according to his own account, gave better results than his previous machines. 'Six or seven metres velocity of wind,' he says, 'sufficed to enable the sailing surface of 18 square metres to carry me almost horizontally against the wind from the top of my hill without any starting jump. If the wind is stronger I allow myself to be simply lifted from the point of the hill and to sail slowly towards the wind. The direction of the flight has, with strong wind, a strong upwards tendency. I often reach positions in the air which are much higher than my starting point. At the climax of such a line of flight I sometimes come to a standstill for some time, so that I am enabled while floating to speak with the gentlemen who wish to photograph me, regarding the best position for the photographing.'

Lilienthal's work did not end with simple gliding, though he did not live to achieve machine-driven flight. Having, as he considered, gained sufficient experience with gliders, he constructed a power-driven machine which weighed altogether about 90 lbs., and this was thoroughly tested. The extremities of its wings were made to flap, and the driving power was obtained from a cylinder of compressed carbonic acid gas, released through a hand-operated valve which, Lilienthal anticipated, would keep the machine in the air for four minutes. There were certain minor accidents to the mechanism, which delayed the trial flights, and on the day that Lilienthal had determined to make his trial he made a long gliding flight with a view to testing a new form of rudder that--as Pilcher relates--was worked by movements of his head. His death came about through the causes that Pilcher states; he fell from a height of 50 feet, breaking his spine, and the next day he died.

It may be said that Lilienthal accomplished as much as any one of the great pioneers of flying. As brilliant in his conceptions as da Vinci had been in his, and as conscientious a worker as Borelli, he laid the foundations on which Pilcher, Chanute, and Professor Montgomery were able to build to such good purpose. His book on bird flight, published in 1889, with the authorship credited both to Otto and his brother Gustav, is regarded as epoch-making; his gliding experiments are no less entitled to this description.

In England Lilienthal's work was carried on by Percy Sinclair Pilcher, who, born in 1866, completed six years' service in the British Navy by the time that he was nineteen, and then went through a course of engineering, subsequently joining Maxim in his experimental work. It was not until 1895 that he began to build the first of the series of gliders with which he earned his plane among the pioneers of flight. Probably the best account of Pilcher's work is that given in the Aeronautical Classics issued by the Royal Aeronautical Society, from which the following account of Pilcher's work is mainly abstracted.[*]

[*] Aeronautical Classes, No. 5. Royal Aeronautical Society publications.

The 'Bat,' as Pilcher named his first glider, was a monoplane which he completed before he paid his visit to Lilienthal in 1895. Concerning this Pilcher stated that he purposely finished his own machine before going to see Lilienthal, so as to get the greatest advantage from any original ideas he might have; he was not able to make any trials with this machine, however, until after witnessing Lilienthal's experiments and making several glides in the biplane glider which Lilienthal constructed.

The wings of the 'Bat' formed a pronounced dihedral angle; the tips being raised 4 feet above the body. The spars forming the entering edges of the wings crossed each other in the centre and were lashed to opposite sides of the triangle that served as a mast for the stay-wires that guyed the wings. The four ribs of each wing, enclosed in pockets in the fabric, radiated fanwise from the centre, and were each stayed by three steel piano-wires to the top of the triangular mast, and similarly to its base. These ribs were bolted down to the triangle at their roots, and could be easily folded back on to the body when the glider was not in use. A small fixed vertical surface was carried in the rear. The framework and ribs were made entirely of Riga pine; the surface fabric was nainsook. The area of the machine was 150 square feet; its weight 45 lbs.; so that in flight, with Pilcher's weight of 145 lbs. added, it carried one and a half pounds to the square foot.

Pilcher's first glides, which he carried out on a grass hill on the banks of the Clyde near Cardross, gave little result, owing to the exaggerated dihedral angle of the wings, and the absence of a horizontal tail. The 'Bat 'was consequently reconstructed with a horizontal tail plane added to the vertical one, and with the wings lowered so that the tips were only six inches above the level of the body. The machine now gave far better results; on the first glide into a head wind Pilcher rose to a height of twelve feet and remained in the the air for a third of a minute; in the second attempt a rope was used to tow the glider, which rose to twenty feet and did not come to earth again until nearly a minute had passed. With experience Pilcher was able to lengthen his glide and improve his balance, but the dropped wing tips made landing difficult, and there were many breakages.

In consequence of this Pilcher built a second glider which he named the 'Beetle,' because, as he said, it looked like one. In this the square-cut wings formed almost a continuous plane, rigidly fixed to the central body, which consisted of a shaped girder. These wings were built up of five transverse bamboo spars, with two shaped ribs running from fore to aft of each wing, and were stayed overhead to a couple of masts. The tail, consisting of two discs placed crosswise (the horizontal one alone being movable), was carried high up in the rear. With the exception of the wing-spars, the whole framework was built of white pine. The wings in this machine were actually on a higher level than the operator's head; the centre of gravity was, consequently, very low, a fact which, according to Pilcher's own account, made the glider very difficult to handle. Moreover, the weight of the 'Beetle,' 80 lbs., was considerable; the body had been very solidly built to enable it to carry the engine which Pilcher was then contemplating; so that the glider carried some 225 lbs. with its area of 170 square feet--too great a mass for a single man to handle with comfort.

It was in the spring of 1896 that Pilcher built his third glider, the 'Gull,' with 300 square feet of area and a weight of 55 lbs. The size of this machine rendered it unsuitable for experiment in any but very calm weather, and it incurred such damage when experiments were made in a breeze that Pilcher found it necessary to build a fourth, which he named the 'Hawk.' This machine was very soundly built, being constructed of bamboo, with the exception of the two main transverse beams. The wings were attached to two vertical masts, 7 feet high, and 8 feet apart, joined at their summits and their centres by two wooden beams. Each wing had nine bamboo ribs, radiating from its mast, which was situated at a distance of 2 feet 6 inches from the forward edge of the wing. Each rib was rigidly stayed at the top of the mast by three tie-wires, and by a similar number to the bottom of the mast, by which means the curve of each wing was maintained uniformly. The tail was formed of a triangular horizontal surface to which was affixed a triangular vertical surface, and was carried from the body on a high bamboo mast, which was also stayed from the masts by means of steel wires, but only on its upper surface, and it was the snapping of one of these guy wires which caused the collapse of the tail support and brought about the fatal end of Pilcher's experiments. In flight, Pilcher's head, shoulders, and the greater part of his chest projected above the wings. He took up his position by passing his head and shoulders through the top aperture formed between the two wings, and resting his forearms on the longitudinal body members. A very simple form of undercarriage, which took the weight off the glider on the ground, was fitted, consisting of two bamboo rods with wheels suspended on steel springs.

Balance and steering were effected, apart from the high degree of inherent stability afforded by the tail, as in the case of Lilienthal's glider, by altering the position of the body. With this machine Pilcher made some twelve glides at Eynsford in Kent in the summer of 1896, and as he progressed he increased the length of his glides, and also handled the machine more easily, both in the air and in landing. He was occupied with plans for fitting an engine and propeller to the 'Hawk,' but, in these early days of the internal combustion engine, was unable to get one light enough for his purpose. There were rumours of an engine weighing 15 lbs. which gave 1 horse-power, and was reported to be in existence in America, but it could not be traced.

In the spring of 1897 Pilcher took up his gliding experiments again, obtaining what was probably the best of his glides on June 19th, when he alighted after a perfectly balanced glide of over 250 yards in length, having crossed a valley at a considerable height. From his various experiments he concluded that once the machine was launched in the air an engine of, at most, 3 horse-power would suffice for the maintenance of horizontal flight, but he had to allow for the additional weight of the engine and propeller, and taking into account the comparative inefficiency of the propeller, he planned for an engine of 4 horse-power. Engine and propeller together were estimated at under 44 lbs. weight, the engine was to be fitted in front of the operator, and by means of an overhead shaft was to operate the propeller situated in rear of the wings. 1898 went by while this engine was under construction. Then in 1899 Pilcher became interested in Lawrence Hargrave's soaring kites, with which he carried out experiments during the summer of 1899. It is believed that he intended to incorporate a number of these kites in a new machine, a triplane, of which the fragments remaining are hardly sufficient to reconstitute the complete glider. This new machine was never given a trial. For on September 30th, 1899, at Stamford Hall, Market Harborough, Pilcher agreed to give a demonstration of gliding flight, but owing to the unfavourable weather he decided to postpone the trial of the new machine and to experiment with the 'Hawk,' which was intended to rise from a level field, towed by a line passing over a tackle drawn by two horses. At the first trial the machine rose easily, but the tow-line snapped when it was well clear of the ground, and the glider descended, weighed down through being sodden with rain. Pilcher resolved on a second trial, in which the glider again rose easily to about thirty feet, when one of the guy wires of the tail broke, and the tail collapsed; the machine fell to the ground, turning over, and Pilcher was unconscious when he was freed from the wreckage.

Hopes were entertained of his recovery, but he died on Monday, October 2nd, 1899, aged only thirty-four. His work in the cause of flying lasted only four years, but in that time his actual accomplishments were sufficient to place his name beside that of Lilienthal, with whom he ranks as one of the greatest exponents of gliding flight.


While Pilcher was carrying on Lilienthal's work in England, the great German had also a follower in America; one Octave Chanute, who, in one of the statements which he has left on the subject of his experiments acknowledges forty years' interest in the problem of flight, did more to develop the glider in America than--with the possible exception of Montgomery--any other man. Chanute had all the practicality of an American; he began his work, so far as actual gliding was concerned, with a full-sized glider of the Lilienthal type, just before Lilienthal was killed. In a rather rare monograph, entitled Experiments in Flying, Chanute states that he found the Lilienthal glider hazardous and decided to test the value of an idea of his own; in this he followed the same general method, but reversed the principle upon which Lilienthal had depended for maintaining his equilibrium in the air. Lilienthal had shifted the weight of his body, under immovable wings, as fast and as far as the sustaining pressure varied under his surfaces; this shifting was mainly done by moving the feet, as the actions required were small except when alighting. Chanute's idea was to have the operator remain seated in the machine in the air, and to intervene only to steer or to alight; moving mechanism was provided to adjust the wings automatically in order to restore balance when necessary.

Chanute realised that experiments with models were of little use; in order to be fully instructive, these experiments should be made with a full-sized machine which carried its operator, for models seldom fly twice alike in the open air, and no relation can be gained from them of the divergent air currents which they have experienced. Chanute's idea was that any flying machine which might be constructed must be able to operate in a wind; hence the necessity for an operator to report upon what occurred in flight, and to acquire practical experience of the work of the human factor in imitation of bird flight. From this point of view he conducted his own experiments; it must be noted that he was over sixty years of age when he began, and, being no longer sufficiently young and active to perform any but short and insignificant glides, the courage of the man becomes all the more noteworthy; he set to work to evolve the state required by the problem of stability, and without any expectation of advancing to the construction of a flying machine which might be of commercial value. His main idea was the testing of devices to secure equilibrium; for this purpose he employed assistants to carry out the practical work, where he himself was unable to supply the necessary physical energy.

Together with his assistants he found a suitable place for experiments among the sandhills on the shore of Lake Michigan, about thirty miles eastward from Chicago. Here a hill about ninety-five feet high was selected as a point from which Chanute's gliders could set off; in practice, it was found that the best observation was to be obtained from short glides at low speed, and, consequently, a hill which was only sixty-one feet above the shore of the lake was employed for the experimental work done by the party.

In the years 1896 and 1897, with parties of from four to six persons, five full-sized gliders were tried out, and from these two distinct types were evolved: of these one was a machine consisting of five tiers of wings and a steering tail, and the other was of the biplane type; Chanute believed these to be safer than any other machine previously evolved, solving, as he states in his monograph, the problem of inherent equilibrium as fully as this could be done. Unfortunately, very few photographs were taken of the work in the first year, but one view of a multiple wing-glider survives, showing the machine in flight. In 1897 a series of photographs was taken exhibiting the consecutive phases of a single flight; this series of photographs represents the experience gained in a total of about one thousand glides, but the point of view was varied so as to exhibit the consecutive phases of one single flight.

The experience gained is best told in Chanute's own words. 'The first thing,' he says, 'which we discovered practically was that the wind flowing up a hill-side is not a steadily-flowing current like that of a river. It comes as a rolling mass, full of tumultuous whirls and eddies, like those issuing from a chimney; and they strike the apparatus with constantly varying force and direction, sometimes withdrawing support when most needed. It has long been known, through instrumental observations, that the wind is constantly changing in force and direction; but it needed the experience of an operator afloat on a gliding machine to realise that this all proceeded from cyclonic action; so that more was learned in this respect in a week than had previously been acquired by several years of experiments with models. There was a pair of eagles, living in the top of a dead tree about two miles from our tent, that came almost daily to show us how such wind effects are overcome and utilised. The birds swept in circles overhead on pulseless wings, and rose high up in the air. Occasionally there was a side-rocking motion, as of a ship rolling at sea, and then the birds rocked back to an even keel; but although we thought the action was clearly automatic, and were willing to learn, our teachers were too far off to show us just how it was done, and we had to experiment for ourselves.'

Chanute provided his multiple glider with a seat, but, since each glide only occupied between eight and twelve seconds, there was little possibility of the operator seating himself. With the multiple glider a pair of horizontal bars provided rest for the arms, and beyond these was a pair of vertical bars which the operator grasped with his hands; beyond this, the operator was in no way attached to the machine. He took, at the most, four running steps into the wind, which launched him in the air, and thereupon he sailed into the wind on a generally descending course. In the matter of descent Chanute observed the sparrow and decided to imitate it. 'When the latter,' he says, 'approaches the street, he throws his body back, tilts his outspread wings nearly square to the course, and on the cushion of air thus encountered he stops his speed and drops lightly to the ground. So do all birds. We tried it with misgivings, but found it perfectly effective. The soft sand was a great advantage, and even when the experts were racing there was not a single sprained ankle.'

With the multiple winged glider some two to three hundred glides were made without any accident either to the man or to the machine, and the action was found so effective, the principle so sound, that full plans were published for the benefit of any experimenters who might wish to improve on this apparatus. The American Aeronautical Annual for 1897 contains these plans; Chanute confessed that some movement on the part of the operator was still required to control the machine, but it was only a seventh or a sixth part of the movement required for control of the Lilienthal type.

Chanute waxed enthusiastic over the possibilities of gliding, concerning which he remarks that 'There is no more delightful sensation than that of gliding through the air. All the faculties are on the alert, and the motion is astonishingly smooth and elastic. The machine responds instantly to the slightest movement of the operator; the air rushes by one's ears; the trees and bushes flit away underneath, and the landing comes all too quickly. Skating, sliding, and bicycling are not to be compared for a moment to aerial conveyance, in which, perhaps, zest is added by the spice of danger. For it must be distinctly understood that there is constant danger in such preliminary experiments. When this hazard has been eliminated by further evolution, gliding will become a most popular sport.'

Later experiments proved that the biplane type of glider gave better results than the rather cumbrous model consisting of five tiers of planes. Longer and more numerous glides, to the number of seven to eight hundred, were obtained, the rate of descent being about one in six. The longest distance traversed was about 120 yards, but Chanute had dreams of starting from a hill about 200 feet high, which would have given him gliding flights of 1,200 feet. He remarked that 'In consequence of the speed gained by running, the initial stage of the flight is nearly horizontal, and it is thrilling to see the operator pass from thirty to forty feet overhead, steering his machine, undulating his course, and struggling with the wind-gusts which whistle through the guy wires. The automatic mechanism restores the angle of advance when compromised by variations of the breeze; but when these come from one side and tilt the apparatus, the weight has to be shifted to right the machine... these gusts sometimes raise the machine from ten to twenty feet vertically, and sometimes they strike the apparatus from above, causing it to descend suddenly. When sailing near the ground, these vicissitudes can be counteracted by movements of the body from three to four inches; but this has to be done instantly, for neither wings nor gravity will wait on meditation. At a height of three hundred or four hundred feet the regulating mechanism would probably take care of these wind-gusts, as it does, in fact, for their minor variations. The speed of the machine is generally about seventeen miles an hour over the ground, and from twenty-two to thirty miles an hour relative to the air. Constant effort was directed to keep down the velocity, which was at times fifty-two miles an hour. This is the purpose of the starting and gliding against the wind, which thus furnishes an initial velocity without there being undue speed at the landing. The highest wind we dared to experiment in blew at thirty-one miles an hour; when the wind was stronger, we waited and watched the birds.'

Chanute details an amusing little incident which occurred in the course of experiment with the biplane glider. He says that 'We had taken one of the machines to the top of the hill, and loaded its lower wings with sand to hold it while we e went to lunch. A gull came strolling inland, and flapped full-winged to inspect. He swept several circles above the machine, stretched his neck, gave a squawk and went off. Presently he returned with eleven other gulls, and they seemed to hold a conclave about one hundred feet above the big new white bird which they had discovered on the sand. They circled round after round, and once in a while there was a series of loud peeps, like those of a rusty gate, as if in conference, with sudden flutterings, as if a terrifying suggestion had been made. The bolder birds occasionally swooped downwards to inspect the monster more closely; they twisted their heads around to bring first one eye and then the other to bear, and then they rose again. After some seven or eight minutes of this performance, they evidently concluded either that the stranger was too formidable to tackle, if alive, or that he was not good to eat, if dead, and they flew off to resume fishing, for the weak point about a bird is his stomach.'

The gliders were found so stable, more especially the biplane form, that in the end Chanute permitted amateurs to make trials under guidance, and throughout the whole series of experiments not a single accident occurred. Chanute came to the conclusion that any young, quick, and handy man could master a gliding machine almost as soon as he could get the hang of a bicycle, although the penalty for any mistake would be much more severe.

At the conclusion of his experiments he decided that neither the multiple plane nor the biplane type of glider was sufficiently perfected for the application of motive power. In spite of the amount of automatic stability that he had obtained he considered that there was yet more to be done, and he therefore advised that every possible method of securing stability and safety should be tested, first with models, and then with full-sized machines; designers, he said, should make a point of practice in order to make sure of the action, to proportion and adjust the parts of their machine, and to eliminate hidden defects. Experimental flight, he suggested, should be tried over water, in order to break any accidental fall; when a series of experiments had proved the stability of a glider, it would then be time to apply motive power. He admitted that such a process would be both costly and slow, but, he said, that 'it greatly diminished the chance of those accidents which bring a whole line of investigation into contempt.' He saw the flying machine as what it has, in fact, been; a child of evolution, carried on step by step by one investigator after another, through the stages of doubt and perplexity which lie behind the realm of possibility, beyond which is the present day stage of actual performance and promise of ultimate success and triumph over the earlier, more cumbrous, and slower forms of the transport that we know.

Chanute's monograph, from which the foregoing notes have been comprised, was written soon after the conclusion of his series of experiments. He does not appear to have gone in for further practical work, but to have studied the subject from a theoretical view-point and with great attention to the work done by others. In a paper contributed in 1900 to the American Independent, he remarks that 'Flying machines promise better results as to speed, but yet will be of limited commercial application. They may carry mails and reach other inaccessible places, but they cannot compete with railroads as carriers of passengers or freight. They will not fill the heavens with commerce, abolish custom houses, or revolutionise the world, for they will be expensive for the loads which they can carry, and subject to too many weather contingencies. Success is, however, probable. Each experimenter has added something to previous knowledge which his successors can avail of. It now seems likely that two forms of flying machines, a sporting type and an exploration type, will be gradually evolved within one or two generations, but the evolution will be costly and slow, and must be carried on by well-equipped and thoroughly informed scientific men; for the casual inventor, who relies upon one or two happy inspirations, will have no chance of success whatever.'

Follows Professor John J. Montgomery, who, in the true American spirit, describes his own experiments so well that nobody can possibly do it better. His account of his work was given first of all in the American Journal, Aeronautics, in January, 1909, and thence transcribed in the English paper of the same name in May, 1910, and that account is here copied word for word. It may, however, be noted first that as far back as 1860, when Montgomery was only a boy, he was attracted to the study of aeronautical problems, and in 1883 he built his first machine, which was of the flapping-wing ornithopter type, and which showed its designer, with only one experiment, that he must design some other form of machine if he wished to attain to a successful flight. Chanute details how, in 1884 and 1885 Montgomery built three gliders, demonstrating the value of curved surfaces. With the first of these gliders Montgomery copied the wing of a seagull; with the second he proved that a flat surface was virtually useless, and with the third he pivoted his wings as in the Antoinette type of power-propelled aeroplane, proving to his own satisfaction that success lay in this direction. His own account of the gliding flights carried out under his direction is here set forth, being the best description of his work that can be obtained:--

'When I commenced practical demonstration in my work with aeroplanes I had before me three points; first, equilibrium; second, complete control; and third, long continued or soaring flight. In starting I constructed and tested three sets of models, each in advance of the other in regard to the continuance of their soaring powers, but all equally perfect as to equilibrium and control. These models were tested by dropping them from a cable stretched between two mountain tops, with various loads, adjustments and positions. And it made no difference whether the models were dropped upside down or any other conceivable position, they always found their equilibrium immediately and glided safely to earth.

'Then I constructed a large machine patterned after the first model, and with the assistance of three cowboy friends personally made a number of flights in the steep mountains near San Juan (a hundred miles distant). In making these flights I simply took the aeroplane and made a running jump. These tests were discontinued after I put my foot into a squirrel hole in landing and hurt my leg.

'The following year I commenced the work on a larger scale, by engaging aeronauts to ride my aeroplane dropped from balloons. During this work I used five hot-air balloons and one gas balloon, five or six aeroplanes, three riders--Maloney, Wilkie, and Defolco--and had sixteen applicants on my list, and had a training station to prepare any when I needed them.

'Exhibitions were given in Santa Cruz, San Jose, Santa Clara, Oaklands, and Sacramento. The flights that were made, instead of being haphazard affairs, were in the order of safety and development. In the first flight of an aeronaut the aeroplane was so arranged that the rider had little liberty of action, consequently he could make only a limited flight. In some of the first flights, the aeroplane did little more than settle in the air. But as the rider gained experience in each successive flight I changed the adjustments, giving him more liberty of action, so he could obtain longer flights and more varied movements in the flights. But in none of the flights did I have the adjustments so that the riders had full liberty, as I did not consider that they had the requisite knowledge and experience necessary for their safety; and hence, none of my aeroplanes were launched so arranged that the rider could make adjustments necessary for a full flight.

'This line of action caused a good deal of trouble with aeronauts or riders, who had unbounded confidence and wanted to make long flights after the first few trials; but I found it necessary, as they seemed slow in comprehending the important elements and were willing to take risks. To give them the full knowledge in these matters I was formulating plans for a large starting station on the Mount Hamilton Range from which I could launch an aeroplane capable of carrying two, one of my aeronauts and myself, so I could teach him by demonstration. But the disasters consequent on the great earthquake completely stopped all my work on these lines. The flights that were given were only the first of the series with aeroplanes patterned after the first model. There were no aeroplanes constructed according to the two other models, as I had not given the full demonstration of the workings of the first, though some remarkable and startling work was done. On one occasion Maloney, in trying to make a very short turn in rapid flight, pressed very hard on the stirrup which gives a screw-shape to the wings, and made a side somersault. The course of the machine was very much like one turn of a corkscrew. After this movement the machine continued on its regular course. And afterwards Wilkie, not to be outdone by Maloney, told his friends he would do the same, and in a subsequent flight made two side somersaults, one in one direction and the other in an opposite, then made a deep dive and a long glide, and, when about three hundred feet in the air, brought the aeroplane to a sudden stop and settled to the earth. After these antics, I decreased the extent of the possible change in the form of wing-surface, so as to allow only straight sailing or only long curves in turning.

'During my work I had a few carping critics that I silenced by this standing offer: If they would deposit a thousand dollars I would cover it on this proposition. I would fasten a 150 pound sack of sand in the rider's seat, make the necessary adjustments, and send up an aeroplane upside down with a balloon, the aeroplane to be liberated by a time fuse. If the aeroplane did not immediately right itself, make a flight, and come safely to the ground, the money was theirs.

'Now a word in regard to the fatal accident. The circumstances are these: The ascension was given to entertain a military company in which were many of Maloney's friends, and he had told them he would give the most sensational flight they ever heard of. As the balloon was rising with the aeroplane, a guy rope dropping switched around the right wing and broke the tower that braced the two rear wings and which also gave control over the tail. We shouted Maloney that the machine was broken, but he probably did not hear us, as he was at the same time saying, "Hurrah for Montgomery's airship," and as the break was behind him, he may not have detected it. Now did he know of the breakage or not, and if he knew of it did he take a risk so as not to disappoint his friends? At all events, when the machine started on its flight the rear wings commenced to flap (thus indicating they were loose), the machine turned on its back, and settled a little faster than a parachute. When we reached Maloney he was unconscious and lived only thirty minutes. The only mark of any kind on him was a scratch from a wire on the side of his neck. The six attending physicians were puzzled at the cause of his death. This is remarkable for a vertical descent of over 2,000 feet.'

The flights were brought to an end by the San Francisco earthquake in April, 1906, which, Montgomery states, 'Wrought such a disaster that I had to turn my attention to other subjects and let the aeroplane rest for a time.' Montgomery resumed experiments in 1911 in California, and in October of that year an accident brought his work to an end. The report in the American Aeronautics says that 'a little whirlwind caught the machine and dashed it head on to the ground; Professor Montgomery landed on his head and right hip. He did not believe himself seriously hurt, and talked with his year-old bride in the tent. He complained of pains in his back, and continued to grow worse until he died.'


The early history of flying, like that of most sciences, is replete with tragedies; in addition to these it contains one mystery concerning Clement Ader, who was well known among European pioneers in the development of the telephone, and first turned his attention to the problems of mechanical flight in 1872. At the outset he favoured the ornithopter principle, constructing a machine in the form of a bird with a wing-spread of twenty-six feet; this, according to Ader's conception, was to fly through the efforts of the operator. The result of such an attempt was past question and naturally the machine never left the ground.

A pause of nineteen years ensued, and then in 1886 Ader turned his mind to the development of the aeroplane, constructing a machine of bat-like form with a wingspread of about forty-six feet, a weight of eleven hundred pounds, and a steam-power plant of between twenty and thirty horse-power driving a four-bladed tractor screw. On October 9th, 1890, the first trials of this machine were made, and it was alleged to have flown a distance of one hundred and sixty-four feet. Whatever truth there may be in the allegation, the machine was wrecked through deficient equilibrium at the end of the trial. Ader repeated the construction, and on October 14th, 1897, tried out his third machine at the military establishment at Satory in the presence of the French military authorities, on a circular track specially prepared for the experiment. Ader and his friends alleged that a flight of nearly a thousand feet was made; again the machine was wrecked at the end of the trial, and there Ader's practical work may be said to have ended, since no more funds were forthcoming for the subsidy of experiments.

There is the bald narrative, but it is worthy of some amplification. If Ader actually did what he claimed, then the position which the Wright Brothers hold as first to navigate the air in a power-driven plane is nullified. Although at this time of writing it is not a quarter of a century since Ader's experiment in the presence of witnesses competent to judge on his accomplishment, there is no proof either way, and whether he was or was not the first man to fly remains a mystery in the story of the conquest of the air.

The full story of Ader's work reveals a persistence and determination to solve the problem that faced him which was equal to that of Lilienthal. He began by penetrating into the interior of Algeria after having disguised himself as an Arab, and there he spent some months in studying flight as practiced by the vultures of the district. Returning to France in 1886 he began to construct the 'Eole,' modelling it, not on the vulture, but in the shape of a bat. Like the Lilienthal and Pilcher gliders this machine was fitted with wings which could be folded; the first flight made, as already noted, on October 9th, 1890, took place in the grounds of the chateau d'Amainvilliers, near Bretz; two fellow-enthusiasts named Espinosa and Vallier stated that a flight was actually made; no statement in the history of aeronautics has been subject of so much question, and the claim remains unproved.

It was in September of 1891 that Ader, by permission of the Minister of War, moved the 'Eole' to the military establishment at Satory for the purpose of further trial. By this time, whether he had flown or not, his nineteen years of work in connection with the problems attendant on mechanical flight had attracted so much attention that henceforth his work was subject to the approval of the military authorities, for already it was recognised that an efficient flying machine would confer an inestimable advantage on the power that possessed it in the event of war. At Satory the 'Eole' was alleged to have made a flight of 109 yards, or, according to another account, 164 feet, as stated above, in the trial in which the machine wrecked itself through colliding with some carts which had been placed near the track--the root cause of this accident, however, was given as deficient equilibrium.

Whatever the sceptics may say, there is reason for belief in the accomplishment of actual flight by Ader with his first machine in the fact that, after the inevitable official delay of some months, the French War Ministry granted funds for further experiment. Ader named his second machine, which he began to build in May, 1892, the 'Avion,' and--an honour which he well deserve--that name remains in French aeronautics as descriptive of the power-driven aeroplane up to this day.

This second machine, however, was not a success, and it was not until 1897 that the second 'Avion,' which was the third power-driven aeroplane of Ader's construction, was ready for trial. This was fitted with two steam motors of twenty horse-power each, driving two four-bladed propellers; the wings warped automatically: that is to say, if it were necessary to raise the trailing edge of one wing on the turn, the trailing edge of the opposite wing was also lowered by the same movement; an under-carriage was also fitted, the machine running on three small wheels, and levers controlled by the feet of the aviator actuated the movement of the tail planes.

On October the 12th, 1897, the first trials of this 'Avion' were made in the presence of General Mensier, who admitted that the machine made several hops above the ground, but did not consider the performance as one of actual flight. The result was so encouraging, in spite of the partial failure, that, two days later, General Mensier, accompanied by General Grillon, a certain Lieutenant Binet, and two civilians named respectively Sarrau and Leaute, attended for the purpose of giving the machine an official trial, over which the great controversy regarding Ader's success or otherwise may be said to have arisen.

We will take first Ader's own statement as set out in a very competent account of his work published in Paris in 1910. Here are Ader's own words: 'After some turns of the propellers, and after travelling a few metres, we started off at a lively pace; the pressure-gauge registered about seven atmospheres; almost immediately the vibrations of the rear wheel ceased; a little later we only experienced those of the front wheels at intervals. 'Unhappily, the wind became suddenly strong, and we had some difficulty in keeping the "Avion" on the white line. We increased the pressure to between eight and nine atmospheres, and immediately the speed increased considerably, and the vibrations of the wheels were no longer sensible; we were at that moment at the point marked G in the sketch; the "Avion" then found itself freely supported by its wings; under the impulse of the wind it continually tended to go outside the (prepared) area to the right, in spite of the action of the rudder. On reaching the point V it found itself in a very critical position; the wind blew strongly and across the direction of the white line which it ought to follow; the machine then, although still going forward, drifted quickly out of the area; we immediately put over the rudder to the left as far as it would go; at the same time increasing the pressure still more, in order to try to regain the course. The "Avion" obeyed, recovered a little, and remained for some seconds headed towards its intended course, but it could not struggle against the wind; instead of going back, on the contrary it drifted farther and farther away. And ill-luck had it that the drift took the direction towards part of the School of Musketry, which was guarded by posts and barriers. Frightened at the prospect of breaking ourselves against these obstacles, surprised at seeing the earth getting farther away from under the "Avion," and very much impressed by seeing it rushing sideways at a sickening speed, instinctively we stopped everything. What passed through our thoughts at this moment which threatened a tragic turn would be difficult to set down. All at once came a great shock, splintering, a heavy concussion: we had landed.'

Thus speaks the inventor; the cold official mind gives out a different account, crediting the 'Avion' with merely a few hops, and to-day, among those who consider the problem at all, there is a little group which persists in asserting that to Ader belongs the credit of the first power-driven flight, while a larger group is equally persistent in stating that, save for a few ineffectual hops, all three wheels of the machine never left the ground. It is past question that the 'Avion' was capable of power-driven flight; whether it achieved it or no remains an unsettled problem.

Ader's work is negative proof of the value of such experiments as Lilienthal, Pilcher, Chanute, and Montgomery conducted; these four set to work to master the eccentricities of the air before attempting to use it as a supporting medium for continuous flight under power; Ader attacked the problem from the other end; like many other experimenters he regarded the air as a stable fluid capable of giving such support to his machine as still water might give to a fish, and he reckoned that he had only to produce the machine in order to achieve flight. The wrecked 'Avion' and the refusal of the French War Ministry to grant any more funds for further experiment are sufficient evidence of the need for working along the lines taken by the pioneers of gliding rather than on those which Ader himself adopted.

Let it not be thought that in this comment there is any desire to derogate from the position which Ader should occupy in any study of the pioneers of aeronautical enterprise. If he failed, he failed magnificently, and if he succeeded, then the student of aeronautics does him an injustice and confers on the Brothers Wright an honour which, in spite of the value of their work, they do not deserve. There was one earlier than Ader, Alphonse Penaud, who, in the face of a lesser disappointment than that which Ader must have felt in gazing on the wreckage of his machine, committed suicide; Ader himself, rendered unable to do more, remained content with his achievement, and with the knowledge that he had played a good part in the long search which must eventually end in triumph. Whatever the world might say, he himself was certain that he had achieved flight. This, for him, was perforce enough.

Before turning to consideration of the work accomplished by the Brothers Wright, and their proved conquest of the air, it is necessary first to sketch as briefly as may be the experimental work of Sir (then Mr) Hiram Maxim, who, in his book, Artificial and Natural Flight, has given a fairly complete account of his various experiments. He began by experimenting with models, with screw-propelled planes so attached to a horizontal movable arm that when the screw was set in motion the plane described a circle round a central point, and, eventually, he built a giant aeroplane having a total supporting area of 1,500 square feet, and a wing-span of fifty feet. It has been thought advisable to give a fairly full description of the power plant used to the propulsion of this machine in the section devoted to engine development. The aeroplane, as Maxim describes it, had five long and narrow planes projecting from each side, and a main or central plane of pterygoid aspect. A fore and aft rudder was provided, and had all the auxiliary planes been put in position for experimental work a total lifting surface of 6,000 square feet could have been obtained. Maxim, however, did not use more than 4,000 square feet of lifting surface even in his later experiments; with this he judged the machine capable of lifting slightly under 8,000 lbs. weight, made up of 600 lbs. water in the boiler and tank, a crew of three men, a supply of naphtha fuel, and the weight of the machine itself.

Maxim's intention was, before attempting free flight, to get as much data as possible regarding the conditions under which flight must be obtained, by what is known in these days as 'taxi-ing'--that is, running the propellers at sufficient speed to drive the machine along the ground without actually mounting into the air. He knew that he had an immense lifting surface and a tremendous amount of power in his engine even when the total weight of the experimental plant was taken into consideration, and thus he set about to devise some means of keeping the machine on the nine foot gauge rail track which had been constructed for the trials. At the outset he had a set of very heavy cast-iron wheels made on which to mount the machine, the total weight of wheels, axles, and connections being about one and a half tons. These were so constructed that the light flanged wheels which supported the machine on the steel rails could be lifted six inches above the track, still leaving the heavy wheels on the rails for guidance of the machine. 'This arrangement,' Maxim states, 'was tried on several occasions, the machine being run fast enough to lift the forward end off the track. However, I found considerable difficulty in starting and stopping quickly on account of the great weight, and the amount of energy necessary to set such heavy wheels spinning at a high velocity. The last experiment with these wheels was made when a head wind was blowing at the rate of about ten miles an hour. It was rather unsteady, and when the machine was running at its greatest velocity, a sudden gust lifted not only the front end, but also the heavy front wheels completely off the track, and the machine falling on soft ground was soon blown over by the wind.'

Consequently, a safety track was provided, consisting of squared pine logs, three inches by nine inches, placed about two feet above the steel way and having a thirty-foot gauge. Four extra wheels were fitted to the machine on outriggers and so adjusted that, if the machine should lift one inch clear of the steel rails, the wheels at the ends of the outriggers would engage the under side of the pine trackway.

The first fully loaded run was made in a dead calm with 150 lbs. steam pressure to the square inch, and there was no sign of the wheels leaving the steel track. On a second run, with 230 lbs. steam pressure the machine seemed to alternate between adherence to the lower and upper tracks, as many as three of the outrigger wheels engaging at the same time, and the weight on the steel rails being reduced practically to nothing. In preparation for a third run, in which it was intended to use full power, a dynamometer was attached to the machine and the engines were started at 200 lbs. pressure, which was gradually increased to 310 lbs per square inch. The incline of the track, added to the reading of the dynamometer, showed a total screw thrust of 2,164 lbs. After the dynamometer test had been completed, and everything had been made ready for trial in motion, careful observers were stationed on each side of the track, and the order was given to release the machine. What follows is best told in Maxim's own words:--

'The enormous screw-thrust started the engine so quickly that it nearly threw the engineers off their feet, and the machine bounded over the track at a great rate. Upon noticing a slight diminution in the steam pressure, I turned on more gas, when almost instantly the steam commenced to blow a steady blast from the small safety valve, showing that the pressure was at least 320 lbs. in the pipes supplying the engines with steam. Before starting on this run, the wheels that were to engage the upper track were painted, and it was the duty of one of my assistants to observe these wheels during the run, while another assistant watched the pressure gauges and dynagraphs. The first part of the track was up a slight incline, but the machine was lifted clear of the lower rails and all of the top wheels were fully engaged on the upper track when about 600 feet had been covered. The speed rapidly increased, and when 900 feet had been covered, one of the rear axle trees, which were of two-inch steel tubing, doubled up and set the rear end of the machine completely free. The pencils ran completely across the cylinders of the dynagraphs and caught on the underneath end. The rear end of the machine being set free, raised considerably above the track and swayed. At about 1,000 feet, the left forward wheel also got clear of the upper track, and shortly afterwards the right forward wheel tore up about 100 feet of the upper track. Steam was at once shut off and the machine sank directly to the earth, embedding the wheels in the soft turf without leaving any other marks, showing most conclusively that the machine was completely suspended in the air before it settled to the earth. In this accident, one of the pine timbers forming the upper track went completely through the lower framework of the machine and broke a number of the tubes, but no damage was done to the machinery except a slight injury to one of the screws.'

It is a pity that the multifarious directions in which Maxim turned his energies did not include further development of the aeroplane, for it seems fairly certain that he was as near solution of the problem as Ader himself, and, but for the holding-down outer track, which was really the cause of his accident, his machine would certainly have achieved free flight, though whether it would have risen, flown and alighted, without accident, is matter for conjecture.

The difference between experiments with models and with full-sized machines is emphasised by Maxim's statement to the effect that with a small apparatus for ascertaining the power required for artificial flight, an angle of incidence of one in fourteen was most advantageous, while with a large machine he found it best to increase his angle to one in eight in order to get the maximum lifting effect on a short run at a moderate speed. He computed the total lifting effect in the experiments which led to the accident as not less than 10,000 lbs., in which is proof that only his rail system prevented free flight.


Langley was an old man when he began the study of aeronautics, or, as he himself might have expressed it, the study of aerodromics, since he persisted in calling the series of machines he built 'Aerodromes,' a word now used only to denote areas devoted to use as landing spaces for flying machines; the Wright Brothers, on the other hand, had the great gift of youth to aid them in their work. Even so it was a great race between Langley, aided by Charles Manly, and Wilbur and Orville Wright, and only the persistent ill-luck which dogged Langley from the start to the finish of his experiments gave victory to his rivals. It has been proved conclusively in these later years of accomplished flight that the machine which Langley launched on the Potomac River in October of 1903 was fully capable of sustained flight, and only the accidents incurred in launching prevented its pilot from being the first man to navigate the air successfully in a power-driven machine.

The best account of Langley's work is that diffused throughout a weighty tome issued by the Smithsonian Institution, entitled the Langley Memoir on Mechanical Flight, of which about one-third was written by Langley himself, the remainder being compiled by Charles M. Manly, the engineer responsible for the construction of the first radial aero-engine, and chief assistant to Langley in his experiments. To give a twentieth of the contents of this volume in the present short account of the development of mechanical flight would far exceed the amount of space that can be devoted even to so eminent a man in aeronautics as S. P. Langley, who, apart from his achievement in the construction of a power-driven aeroplane really capable of flight, was a scientist of no mean order, and who brought to the study of aeronautics the skill of the trained investigator allied to the inventive resource of the genius.

That genius exemplified the antique saw regarding the infinite capacity for taking pains, for the Langley Memoir shows that as early as 1891 Langley had completed a set of experiments, lasting through years, which proved it possible to construct machines giving such a velocity to inclined surfaces that bodies indefinitely heavier than air could be sustained upon it and propelled through it at high speed. For full account (very full) of these experiments, and of a later series leading up to the construction of a series of 'model aerodromes' capable of flight under power, it is necessary to turn to the bulky memoir of Smithsonian origin.

The account of these experiments as given by Langley himself reveals the humility of the true investigator. Concerning them, Langley remarks that, 'Everything here has been done with a view to putting a trial aerodrome successfully in flight within a few years, and thus giving an early demonstration of the only kind which is conclusive in the eyes of the scientific man, as well as of the general public--a demonstration that mechanical flight is possible--by actually flying. All that has been done has been with an eye principally to this immediate result, and all the experiments given in this book are to be considered only as approximations to exact truth. All were made with a view, not to some remote future, but to an arrival within the compass of a few years at some result in actual flight that could not be gainsaid or mistaken.'

With a series of over thirty rubber-driven models Langley demonstrated the practicability of opposing curved surfaces to the resistance of the air in such a way as to achieve flight, in the early nineties of last century; he then set about finding the motive power which should permit of the construction of larger machines, up to man-carrying size. The internal combustion engine was then an unknown quantity, and he had to turn to steam, finally, as the propulsive energy for his power plant. The chief problem which faced him was that of the relative weight and power of his engine; he harked back to the Stringfellow engine of 1868, which in 1889 came into the possession of the Smithsonian Institution as a historical curiosity. Rightly or wrongly Langley concluded on examination that this engine never had developed and never could develop more than a tenth of the power attributed to it; consequently he abandoned the idea of copying the Stringfellow design and set about making his own engine.

How he overcame the various difficulties that faced him and constructed a steam-engine capable of the task allotted to it forms a story in itself, too long for recital here. His first power-driven aerodrome of model size was begun in November of 1891, the scale of construction being decided with the idea that it should be large enough to carry an automatic steering apparatus which would render the machine capable of maintaining a long and steady flight. The actual weight of the first model far exceeded the theoretical estimate, and Langley found that a constant increase of weight under the exigencies of construction was a feature which could never be altogether eliminated. The machine was made principally of steel, the sustaining surfaces being composed of silk stretched from a steel tube with wooden attachments. The first engines were the oscillating type, but were found deficient in power. This led to the construction of single-acting inverted oscillating engines with high and low pressure cylinders, and with admission and exhaust ports to avoid the complication and weight of eccentric and valves. Boiler and furnace had to be specially designed; an analysis of sustaining surfaces and the settlement of equilibrium while in flight had to be overcome, and then it was possible to set about the construction of the series of model aerodromes and make test of their 'lift.'

By the time Langley had advanced sufficiently far to consider it possible to conduct experiments in the open air, even with these models, he had got to his fifth aerodrome, and to the year 1894. Certain tests resulted in failure, which in turn resulted in further modifications of design, mainly of the engines. By February of 1895 Langley reported that under favourable conditions a lift of nearly sixty per cent of the flying weight was secured, but although this was much more than was required for flight, it was decided to postpone trials until two machines were ready for the test. May, 1896, came before actual trials were made, when one machine proved successful and another, a later design, failed. The difficulty with these models was that of securing a correct angle for launching; Langley records how, on launching one machine, it rose so rapidly that it attained an angle of sixty degrees and then did a tail slide into the water with its engines working at full speed, after advancing nearly forty feet and remaining in the air for about three seconds. Here, Langley found that he had to obtain greater rigidity in his wings, owing to the distortion of the form of wing under pressure, and how he overcame this difficulty constitutes yet another story too long for the telling here.

Field trials were first attempted in 1893, and Langley blamed his launching apparatus for their total failure. There was a brief, but at the same time practical, success in model flight in 1894, extending to between six and seven seconds, but this only proved the need for strengthening of the wing. In 1895 there was practically no advance toward the solution of the problem, but the flights of May 6th and November 28th, 1896, were notably successful. A diagram given in Langley's memoir shows the track covered by the aerodrome on these two flights; in the first of them the machine made three complete circles, covering a distance of 3,200 feet; in the second, that of November 28th, the distance covered was 4,200 feet, or about three-quarters of a mile, at a speed of about thirty miles an hour.

These achievements meant a good deal; they proved mechanically propelled flight possible. The difference between them and such experiments as were conducted by Clement Ader, Maxim, and others, lay principally in the fact that these latter either did or did not succeed in rising into the air once, and then, either willingly or by compulsion, gave up the quest, while Langley repeated his experiments and thus attained to actual proof of the possibilities of flight. Like these others, however, he decided in 1896 that he would not undertake the construction of a large man-carrying machine. In addition to a multitude of actual duties, which left him practically no time available for original research, he had as an adverse factor fully ten years of disheartening difficulties in connection with his model machines. It was President McKinley who, by requesting Langley to undertake the construction and test of a machine which might finally lead to the development of a flying machine capable of being used in warfare, egged him on to his final experiment. Langley's acceptance of the offer to construct such a machine is contained in a letter addressed from the Smithsonian Institution on December 12th, 1898, to the Board of Ordnance and Fortification of the United States War Department; this letter is of such interest as to render it worthy of reproduction:--

'Gentlemen,--In response to your invitation I repeat what I had the honour to say to the Board--that I am willing, with the consent of the Regents of this Institution, to undertake for the Government the further investigation of the subject of the construction of a flying machine on a scale capable of carrying a man, the investigation to include the construction, development and test of such a machine under conditions left as far as practicable in my discretion, it being understood that my services are given to the Government in such time as may not be occupied by the business of the Institution, and without charge.

'I have reason to believe that the cost of the construction will come within the sum of $50,000.00, and that not more than one-half of that will be called for in the coming year.

'I entirely agree with what I understand to be the wish of the Board that privacy be observed with regard to the work, and only when it reaches a successful completion shall I wish to make public the fact of its success.

'I attach to this a memorandum of my understanding of some points of detail in order to be sure that it is also the understanding of the Board, and I am, gentlemen, with much respect, your obedient servant, S. P. Langley.'

One of the chief problems in connection with the construction of a full-sized apparatus was that of the construction of an engine, for it was realised from the first that a steam power plant for a full-sized machine could only be constructed in such a way as to make it a constant menace to the machine which it was to propel. By this time (1898) the internal combustion engine had so far advanced as to convince Langley that it formed the best power plant available. A contract was made for the delivery of a twelve horse-power engine to weigh not more than a hundred pounds, but this contract was never completed, and it fell to Charles M. Manly to design the five-cylinder radial engine, of which a brief account is included in the section of this work devoted to aero engines, as the power plant for the Langley machine.

The history of the years 1899 to 1903 in the Langley series of experiments contains a multitude of detail far beyond the scope of this present study, and of interest mainly to the designer. There were frames, engines, and propellers, to be considered, worked out, and constructed. We are concerned here mainly with the completed machine and its trials. Of these latter it must be remarked that the only two actual field trials which took place resulted in accidents due to the failure of the launching apparatus, and not due to any inherent defect in the machine. It was intended that these two trials should be the first of a series, but the unfortunate accidents, and the fact that no further funds were forthcoming for continuance of experiments, prevented Langley's success, which, had he been free to go through as he intended with his work, would have been certain.

The best brief description of the Langley aerodrome in its final form, and of the two attempted trials, is contained in the official report of Major M. M. Macomb of the United States Artillery Corps, which report is here given in full:--


Experiments with working models which were concluded August 8 last having proved the principles and calculations on which the design of the Langley aerodrome was based to be correct, the next step was to apply these principles to the construction of a machine of sufficient size and power to permit the carrying of a man, who could control the motive power and guide its flight, thus pointing the way to attaining the final goal of producing a machine capable of such extensive and precise aerial flight, under normal atmospheric conditions, as to prove of military or commercial utility.

Mr C. M. Manly, working under Professor Langley, had, by the summer of 1903, succeeded in completing an engine-driven machine which under favourable atmospheric conditions was expected to carry a man for any time up to half an hour, and to be capable of having its flight directed and controlled by him.

The supporting surface of the wings was ample, and experiment showed the engine capable of supplying more than the necessary motive power.

Owing to the necessity of lightness, the weight of the various elements had to be kept at a minimum, and the factor of safety in construction was therefore exceedingly small, so that the machine as a whole was delicate and frail and incapable of sustaining any unusual strain. This defect was to be corrected in later models by utilising data gathered in future experiments under varied conditions.

One of the most remarkable results attained was the production of a gasoline engine furnishing over fifty continuous horse-power for a weight of 120 lbs.

The aerodrome, as completed and prepared for test, is briefly described by Professor Langley as 'built of steel, weighing complete about 730 lbs., supported by 1,040 feet of sustaining surface, having two propellers driven by a gas engine developing continuously over fifty brake horse-power.'

The appearance of the machine prepared for flight was exceedingly light and graceful, giving an impression to all observers of being capable of successful flight.

On October 7 last everything was in readiness, and I witnessed the attempted trial on that day at Widewater, Va. On the Potomac. The engine worked well and the machine was launched at about 12.15 p.m. The trial was unsuccessful because the front guy-post caught in its support on the launching car and was not released in time to give free flight, as was intended, but, on the contrary, caused the front of the machine to be dragged downward, bending the guy-post and making the machine plunge into the water about fifty yards in front of the house-boat. The machine was subsequently recovered and brought back to the house-boat. The engine was uninjured and the frame only slightly damaged, but the four wings and rudder were practically destroyed by the first plunge and subsequent towing back to the house-boat.

This accident necessitated the removal of the house-boat to Washington for the more convenient repair of damages.

On December 8 last, between 4 and 5 p.m., another attempt at a trial was made, this time at the junction of the Anacostia with the Potomac, just below Washington Barracks.

On this occasion General Randolph and myself represented the Board of Ordnance and Fortification. The launching car was released at 4.45 p.m. being pointed up the Anacostia towards the Navy Yard. My position was on the tug Bartholdi, about 150 feet from and at right angles to the direction of proposed flight. The car was set in motion and the propellers revolved rapidly, the engine working perfectly, but there was something wrong with the launching. The rear guy-post seemed to drag, bringing the rudder down on the launching ways, and a crashing, rending sound, followed by the collapse of the rear wings, showed that the machine had been wrecked in the launching, just how, it was impossible for me to see. The fact remains that the rear wings and rudder were wrecked before the machine was free of the ways. Their collapse deprived the machine of its support in the rear, and it consequently reared up in front under the action of the motor, assumed a vertical position, and then toppled over to the rear, falling into the water a few feet in front of the boat.

Mr Manly was pulled out of the wreck uninjured and the wrecked machine--was subsequently placed upon the house-boat, and the whole brought back to Washington.

From what has been said it will be seen that these unfortunate accidents have prevented any test of the apparatus in free flight, and the claim that an engine-driven, man-carrying aerodrome has been constructed lacks the proof which actual flight alone can give.

Having reached the present stage of advancement in its development, it would seem highly desirable, before laying down the investigation, to obtain conclusive proof of the possibility of free flight, not only because there are excellent reasons to hope for success, but because it marks the end of a definite step toward the attainment of the final goal.

Just what further procedure is necessary to secure successful flight with the large aerodrome has not yet been decided upon. Professor Langley is understood to have this subject under advisement, and will doubtless inform the Board of his final conclusions as soon as practicable.

In the meantime, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, it should be stated that even after a successful test of the present great aerodrome, designed to carry a man, we are still far from the ultimate goal, and it would seem as if years of constant work and study by experts, together with the expenditure of thousands of dollars, would still be necessary before we can hope to produce an apparatus of practical utility on these lines.--Washington, January 6, 1904.

A subsequent report of the Board of ordnance and Fortification to the Secretary of War embodied the principal points in Major Macomb's report, but as early as March 3rd, 1904, the Board came to a similar conclusion to that of the French Ministry of War in respect of Clement Ader's work, stating that it was not 'prepared to make an additional allotment at this time for continuing the work.' This decision was in no small measure due to hostile newspaper criticisms. Langley, in a letter to the press explaining his attitude, stated that he did not wish to make public the results of his work till these were certain, in consequence of which he refused admittance to newspaper representatives, and this attitude produced a hostility which had effect on the United States Congress. An offer was made to commercialise the invention, but Langley steadfastly refused it. Concerning this, Manly remarks that Langley had 'given his time and his best labours to the world without hope of remuneration, and he could not bring himself, at his stage of life, to consent to capitalise his scientific work.'

The final trial of the Langley aerodrome was made on December 8th, 1903; nine days later, on December 17th, the Wright Brothers made their first flight in a power-propelled machine, and the conquest of the air was thus achieved. But for the two accidents that spoilt his trials, the honour which fell to the Wright Brothers would, beyond doubt, have been secured by Samuel Pierpoint Langley.


Such information as is given here concerning the Wright Brothers is derived from the two best sources available, namely, the writings of Wilbur Wright himself, and a lecture given by Dr Griffith Brewer to members of the Royal Aeronautical Society. There is no doubt that so far as actual work in connection with aviation accomplished by the two brothers is concerned, Wilbur Wright's own statements are the clearest and best available. Apparently Wilbur was, from the beginning, the historian of the pair, though he himself would have been the last to attempt to detract in any way from the fame that his brother's work also deserves. Throughout all their experiments the two were inseparable, and their work is one indivisible whole; in fact, in every department of that work, it is impossible to say where Orville leaves off and where Wilbur begins.

It is a great story, this of the Wright Brothers, and one worth all the detail that can be spared it. It begins on the 16th April, 1867, when Wilbur Wright was born within eight miles of Newcastle, Indiana. Before Orville's birth on the 19th August, 1871, the Wright family had moved to Dayton, Ohio, and settled on what is known as the 'West Side' of the town. Here the brothers grew up, and, when Orville was still a boy in his teens, he started a printing business, which, as Griffith Brewer remarks, was only limited by the smallness of his machine and small quantity of type at his disposal. This machine was in such a state that pieces of string and wood were incorporated in it by way of repair, but on it Orville managed to print a boys' paper which gained considerable popularity in Dayton 'West Side.' Later, at the age of seventeen, he obtained a more efficient outfit, with which he launched a weekly newspaper, four pages in size, entitled The West Side News. After three months' running the paper was increased in size and Wilbur came into the enterprise as editor, Orville remaining publisher. In 1894 the two brothers began the publication of a weekly magazine, Snap-Shots, to which Wilbur contributed a series of articles on local affairs that gave evidence of the incisive and often sarcastic manner in which he was able to express himself throughout his life. Dr Griffith Brewer describes him as a fearless critic, who wrote on matters of local interest in a kindly but vigorous manner, which did much to maintain the healthy public municipal life of Dayton.

Editorial and publishing enterprise was succeeded by the formation, just across the road from the printing works, of the Wright Cycle Company, where the two brothers launched out as cycle manufacturers with the 'Van Cleve' bicycle, a machine of great local repute for excellence of construction, and one which won for itself a reputation that lasted long after it had ceased to be manufactured. The name of the machine was that of an ancestor of the brothers, Catherine Van Cleve, who was one of the first settlers at Dayton, landing there from the River Miami on April 1st, 1796, when the country was virgin forest.

It was not until 1896 that the mechanical genius which characterised the two brothers was turned to the consideration of aeronautics. In that year they took up the problem thoroughly, studying all the aeronautical information then in print. Lilienthal's writings formed one basis for their studies, and the work of Langley assisted in establishing in them a confidence in the possibility of a solution to the problems of mechanical flight. In 1909, at the banquet given by the Royal Aero Club to the Wright Brothers on their return to America, after the series of demonstration flights carried out by Wilbur Wright on the Continent, Wilbur paid tribute to the great pioneer work of Stringfellow, whose studies and achievements influenced his own and Orville's early work. He pointed out how Stringfellow devised an aeroplane having two propellers and vertical and horizontal steering, and gave due place to this early pioneer of mechanical flight.

Neither of the brothers was content with mere study of the work of others. They collected all the theory available in the books published up to that time, and then built man-carrying gliders with which to test the data of Lilienthal and such other authorities as they had consulted. For two years they conducted outdoor experiments in order to test the truth or otherwise of what were enunciated as the principles of flight; after this they turned to laboratory experiments, constructing a wind tunnel in which they made thousands of tests with models of various forms of curved planes. From their experiments they tabulated thousands of readings, which Griffith Brewer remarks as giving results equally efficient with those of the elaborate tables prepared by learned institutions.

Wilbur Wright has set down the beginnings of the practical experiments made by the two brothers very clearly. 'The difficulties,' he says, 'which obstruct the pathway to success in flying machine construction are of three general classes: (1) Those which relate to the construction of the sustaining wings; (2) those which relate to the generation and application of the power required to drive the machine through the air; (3) those relating to the balancing and steering of the machine after it is actually in flight. Of these difficulties two are already to a certain extent solved. Men already know how to construct wings, or aeroplanes, which, when driven through the air at sufficient speed, will not only sustain the weight of the wings themselves, but also that of the engine and the engineer as well. Men also know how to build engines and' screws of sufficient lightness and power to drive these planes at sustaining speed. Inability to balance and steer still confronts students of the flying problem, although nearly ten years have passed (since Lilienthal's success). When this one feature has been worked out, the age of flying machines will have arrived, for all other difficulties are of minor importance.

'The person who merely watches the flight of a bird gathers the impression that the bird has nothing to think of but the flapping of its wings. As a matter of fact, this is a very small part of its mental labour. Even to mention all the things the bird must constantly keep in mind in order to fly securely through the air would take a considerable time. If I take a piece of paper and, after placing it parallel with the ground, quickly let it fall, it will not settle steadily down as a staid, sensible piece of paper ought to do, but it insists on contravening every recognised rule of decorum, turning over and darting hither and thither in the most erratic manner, much after the style of an untrained horse. Yet this is the style of steed that men must learn to manage before flying can become an everyday sport. The bird has learned this art of equilibrium, and learned it so thoroughly that its skill is not apparent to our sight. We only learn to appreciate it when we can imitate it.

'Now, there are only two ways of learning to ride a fractious horse: one is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast awhile, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks. The latter system is the safer, but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds, but if you really wish to learn you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial. The balancing of a gliding or flying machine is very simple in theory. It merely consists in causing the centre of pressure to coincide with the centre of gravity.'

These comments are taken from a lecture delivered by Wilbur Wright before the Western Society of Engineers in September of 1901, under the presidency of Octave Chanute. In that lecture Wilbur detailed the way in which he and his brother came to interest themselves in aeronautical problems and constructed their first glider. He speaks of his own notice of the death of Lilienthal in 1896, and of the way in which this fatality roused him to an active interest in aeronautical problems, which was stimulated by reading Professor Marey's Animal Mechanism, not for the first time. 'From this I was led to read more modern works, and as my brother soon became equally interested with myself, we soon passed from the reading to the thinking, and finally to the working stage. It seemed to us that the main reason why the problem had remained so long unsolved was that no one had been able to obtain any adequate practice. We figured that Lilienthal in five years of time had spent only about five hours in actual gliding through the air. The wonder was not that he had done so little, but that he had accomplished so much. It would not be considered at all safe for a bicycle rider to attempt to ride through a crowded city street after only five hours' practice, spread out in bits of ten seconds each over a period of five years; yet Lilienthal with this brief practice was remarkably successful in meeting the fluctuations and eddies of wind-gusts. We thought that if some method could be found by which it would be possible to practice by the hour instead of by the second there would be hope of advancing the solution of a very difficult problem. It seemed feasible to do this by building a machine which would be sustained at a speed of eighteen miles per hour, and then finding a locality where winds of this velocity were common. With these conditions a rope attached to the machine to keep it from floating backward would answer very nearly the same purpose as a propeller driven by a motor, and it would be possible to practice by the hour, and without any serious danger, as it would not be necessary to rise far from the ground, and the machine would not have any forward motion at all. We found, according to the accepted tables of air pressure on curved surfaces, that a machine spreading 200 square feet of wing surface would be sufficient for our purpose, and that places would easily be found along the Atlantic coast where winds of sixteen to twenty-five miles were not at all uncommon. When the winds were low it was our plan to glide from the tops of sandhills, and when they were sufficiently strong to use a rope for our motor and fly over one spot. Our next work was to draw up the plans for a suitable machine. After much study we finally concluded that tails were a source of trouble rather than of assistance, and therefore we decided to dispense with them altogether. It seemed reasonable that if the body of the operator could be placed in a horizontal position instead of the upright, as in the machines of Lilienthal, Pilcher, and Chanute, the wind resistance could be very materially reduced, since only one square foot instead of five would be exposed. As a full half horse-power would be saved by this change, we arranged to try at least the horizontal position. Then the method of control used by Lilienthal, which consisted in shifting the body, did not seem quite as quick or effective as the case required; so, after long study, we contrived a system consisting of two large surfaces on the Chanute double-deck plan, and a smaller surface placed a short distance in front of the main surfaces in such a position that the action of the wind upon it would counterbalance the effect of the travel of the centre of pressure on the main surfaces. Thus changes in the direction and velocity of the wind would have little disturbing effect, and the operator would be required to attend only to the steering of the machine, which was to be effected by curving the forward surface up or down. The lateral equilibrium and the steering to right or left was to be attained by a peculiar torsion of the main surfaces which was equivalent to presenting one end of the wings at a greater angle than the other. In the main frame a few changes were also made in the details of construction and trussing employed by Mr Chanute. The most important of these were: (1) The moving of the forward main crosspiece of the frame to the extreme front edge; (2) the encasing in the cloth of all crosspieces and ribs of the surfaces; (3) a rearrangement of the wires used in trussing the two surfaces together, which rendered it possible to tighten all the wires by simply shortening two of them.'

The brothers intended originally to get 200 square feet of supporting surface for their glider, but the impossibility of obtaining suitable material compelled them to reduce the area to 165 square feet, which, by the Lilienthal tables, admitted of support in a wind of about twenty-one miles an hour at an angle of three degrees. With this glider they went in the summer of I 1900 to the little settlement of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, situated on the strip of land dividing Albemarle Sound from the Atlantic. Here they reckoned on obtaining steady wind, and here, on the day that they completed the machine, they took it out for trial as a kite with the wind blowing at between twenty-five and thirty miles an hour. They found that in order to support a man on it the glider required an angle nearer twenty degrees than three, and even with the wind at thirty miles an hour they could not get down to the planned angle of three degrees. 'Later, when the wind was too light to support the machine with a man on it, they tested it as a kite, working the rudders by cords. Although they obtained satisfactory results in this way they realised fully that actual gliding experience was necessary before the tests could be considered practical.

A series of actual measurements of lift and drift of the machine gave astonishing results. 'It appeared that the total horizontal pull of the machine, while sustaining a weight of 52 lbs., was only 8.5 lbs., which was less than had been previously estimated for head resistance of the framing alone. Making allowance for the weight carried, it appeared that the head resistance of the framing was but little more than fifty per cent of the amount which Mr Chanute had estimated as the head resistance of the framing of his machine. On the other hand, it appeared sadly deficient in lifting power as compared with the calculated lift of curved surfaces of its size... we decided to arrange our machine for the following year so that the depth of curvature of its surfaces could be varied at will, and its covering air-proofed.'

After these experiments the brothers decided to turn to practical gliding, for which they moved four miles to the south, to the Kill Devil sandhills, the principal of which is slightly over a hundred feet in height, with an inclination of nearly ten degrees on its main north-western slope. On the day after their arrival they made about a dozen glides, in which, although the landings were made at a speed of more than twenty miles an hour, no injury was sustained either by the machine or by the operator.

'The slope of the hill was 9.5 degrees, or a drop of one foot in six. We found that after attaining a speed of about twenty-five to thirty miles with reference to the wind, or ten to fifteen miles over the ground, the machine not only glided parallel to the slope of the hill, but greatly increased its speed, thus indicating its ability to glide on a somewhat less angle than 9.5 degrees, when we should feel it safe to rise higher from the surface. The control of the machine proved even better than we had dared to expect, responding quickly to the slightest motion of the rudder. With these glides our experiments for the year 1900 closed. Although the hours and hours of practice we had hoped to obtain finally dwindled down to about two minutes, we were very much pleased with the general results of the trip, for, setting out as we did with almost revolutionary theories on many points and an entirely untried form of machine, we considered it quite a point to be able to return without having our pet theories completely knocked on the head by the hard logic of experience, and our own brains dashed out in the bargain. Everything seemed to us to confirm the correctness of our original opinions: (1) That practice is the key to the secret of flying; (2) that it is practicable to assume the horizontal position; (3) that a smaller surface set at a negative angle in front of the main bearing surfaces, or wings, will largely counteract the effect of the fore and aft travel of the centre of pressure; (4) that steering up and down can be attained with a rudder without moving the position of the operator's body; (5) that twisting the wings so as to present their ends to the wind at different angles is a more prompt and efficient way of maintaining lateral equilibrium than shifting the body of the operator.'

For the gliding experiments of 1901 it was decided to retain the form of the 1900 glider, but to increase the area to 308 square feet, which, the brothers calculated, would support itself and its operator in a wind of seventeen miles an hour with an angle of incidence of three degrees. Camp was formed at Kitty Hawk in the middle of July, and on July 27th the machine was completed and tried for the first time in a wind of about fourteen miles an hour. The first attempt resulted in landing after a glide of only a few yards, indicating that the centre of gravity was too far in front of the centre of pressure. By shifting his position farther and farther back the operator finally achieved an undulating flight of a little over 300 feet, but to obtain this success he had to use full power of the rudder to prevent both stalling and nose-diving. With the 1900 machine one-fourth of the rudder action had been necessary for far better control.

Practically all glides gave the same result, and in one the machine rose higher and higher until it lost all headway. 'This was the position from which Lilienthal had always found difficulty in extricating himself, as his machine then, in spite of his greatest exertions, manifested a tendency to dive downward almost vertically and strike the ground head on with frightful velocity. In this case a warning cry from the ground caused the operator to turn the rudder to its full extent and also to move his body slightly forward. The machine then settled slowly to the ground, maintaining its horizontal position almost perfectly, and landed without any injury at all. This was very encouraging, as it showed that one of the very greatest dangers in machines with horizontal tails had been overcome by the use of the front rudder. Several glides later the same experience was repeated with the same result. In the latter case the machine had even commenced to move backward, but was nevertheless brought safely to the ground in a horizontal position. On the whole this day's experiments were encouraging, for while the action of the rudder did not seem at all like that of our 1900 machine, yet we had escaped without difficulty from positions which had proved very dangerous to preceding experimenters, and after less than one minute's actual practice had made a glide of more than 300 feet, at an angle of descent of ten degrees, and with a machine nearly twice as large as had previously been considered safe. The trouble with its control, which has been mentioned, we believed could be corrected when we should have located its cause.'

It was finally ascertained that the defect could be remedied by trussing down the ribs of the whole machine so as to reduce the depth of curvature. When this had been done gliding was resumed, and after a few trials glides of 366 and 389 feet were made with prompt response on the part of the machine, even to small movements of the rudder. The rest of the story of the gliding experiments of 1901 cannot be better told than in Wilbur Wright's own words, as uttered by him in the lecture from which the foregoing excerpts have been made.

'The machine, with its new curvature, never failed to respond promptly to even small movements of the rudder. The operator could cause it to almost skim the ground, following the undulations of its surface, or he could cause it to sail out almost on a level with the starting point, and, passing high above the foot of the hill, gradually settle down to the ground. The wind on this day was blowing eleven to fourteen miles per hour. The next day, the conditions being favourable, the machine was again taken out for trial. This time the velocity of the wind was eighteen to twenty-two miles per hour. At first we felt some doubt as to the safety of attempting free flight in so strong a wind, with a machine of over 300 square feet and a practice of less than five minutes spent in actual flight. But after several preliminary experiments we decided to try a glide. The control of the machine seemed so good that we then felt no apprehension in sailing boldly forth. And thereafter we made glide after glide, sometimes following the ground closely and sometimes sailing high in the air. Mr Chanute had his camera with him and took pictures of some of these glides, several of which are among those shown.

'We made glides on subsequent days, whenever the conditions were favourable. The highest wind thus experimented in was a little over twelve metres per second--nearly twenty-seven miles per hour.

It had been our intention when building the machine to do the larger part of the experimenting in the following manner:--When the wind blew seventeen miles an hour, or more, we would attach a rope to the machine and let it rise as a kite with the operator upon it. When it should reach a proper height the operator would cast off the rope and glide down to the ground just as from the top of a hill. In this way we would be saved the trouble of carrying the machine uphill after each glide, and could make at least ten glides in the time required for one in the other way. But when we came to try it, we found that a wind of seventeen miles, as measured by Richards' anemometer, instead of sustaining the machine with its operator, a total weight of 240 lbs., at an angle of incidence of three degrees, in reality would not sustain the machine alone--100 lbs.--at this angle. Its lifting capacity seemed scarcely one third of the calculated amount. In order to make sure that this was not due to the porosity of the cloth, we constructed two small experimental surfaces of equal size, one of which was air-proofed and the other left in its natural state; but we could detect no difference in their lifting powers. For a time we were led to suspect that the lift of curved surfaces very little exceeded that of planes of the same size, but further investigation and experiment led to the opinion that (1) the anemometer used by us over-recorded the true velocity of the wind by nearly 15 per cent; (2) that the well-known Smeaton co-efficient of .005 V squared for the wind pressure at 90 degrees is probably too great by at least 20 per cent; (3) that Lilienthal's estimate that the pressure on a curved surface having an angle of incidence of 3 degrees equals .545 of the pressure at go degrees is too large, being nearly 50 per cent greater than very recent experiments of our own with a pressure testing-machine indicate; (4) that the superposition of the surfaces somewhat reduced the lift per square foot, as compared with a single surface of equal area.

'In gliding experiments, however, the amount of lift is of less relative importance than the ratio of lift to drift, as this alone decides the angle of gliding descent. In a plane the pressure is always perpendicular to the surface, and the ratio of lift to drift is therefore the same as that of the cosine to the sine of the angle of incidence. But in curved surfaces a very remarkable situation is found. The pressure, instead of being uniformly normal to the chord of the arc, is usually inclined considerably in front of the perpendicular. The result is that the lift is greater and the drift less than if the pressure were normal. Lilienthal was the first to discover this exceedingly important fact, which is fully set forth in his book, Bird Flight the Basis of the Flying Art, but owing to some errors in the methods he used in making measurements, question was raised by other investigators not only as to the accuracy of his figures, but even as to the existence of any tangential force at all. Our experiments confirm the existence of this force, though our measurements differ considerably from those of Lilienthal. While at Kitty Hawk we spent much time in measuring the horizontal pressure on our unloaded machine at various angles of incidence. We found that at 13 degrees the horizontal pressure was about 23 lbs. This included not only the drift proper, or horizontal component of the pressure on the side of the surface, but also the head resistance of the framing as well. The weight of the machine at the time of this test was about 108 lbs. Now, if the pressure had been normal to the chord of the surface, the drift proper would have been to the lift (108 lbs.) as the sine of 13 degrees is to the cosine of 13 degrees, or .22 X 108/.97 = 24+ lbs.; but this slightly exceeds the total pull of 23 pounds on our scales. Therefore it is evident that the average pressure on the surface, instead of being normal to the chord, was so far inclined toward the front that all the head resistance of framing and wires used in the construction was more than overcome. In a wind of fourteen miles per hour resistance is by no means a negligible factor, so that tangential is evidently a force of considerable value. In a higher wind, which sustained the machine at an angle of 10 degrees the pull on the scales was 18 lbs. With the pressure normal to the chord the drift proper would have been 17 X 98/.98. The travel of the centre of pressure made it necessary to put sand on the front rudder to bring the centres of gravity and pressure into coincidence, consequently the weight of the machine varied from 98 lbs. to 108 lbs. in the different tests)= 17 lbs., so that, although the higher wind velocity must have caused an increase in the head resistance, the tangential force still came within 1 lb. of overcoming it. After our return from Kitty Hawk we began a series of experiments to accurately determine the amount and direction of the pressure produced on curved surfaces when acted upon by winds at the various angles from zero to 90 degrees. These experiments are not yet concluded, but in general they support Lilienthal in the claim that the curves give pressures more favourable in amount and direction than planes; but we find marked differences in the exact values, especially at angles below 10 degrees. We were unable to obtain direct measurements of the horizontal pressures of the machine with the operator on board, but by comparing the distance travelled with the vertical fall, it was easily calculated that at a speed of 24 miles per hour the total horizontal resistances of our machine, when bearing the operator, amounted to 40 lbs., which is equivalent to about 2 1/3 horse-power. It must not be supposed, however, that a motor developing this power would be sufficient to drive a man-bearing machine. The extra weight of the motor would require either a larger machine, higher speed, or a greater angle of incidence in order to support it, and therefore more power. It is probable, however, that an engine of 6 horse-power, weighing 100 lbs. would answer the purpose. Such an engine is entirely practicable. Indeed, working motors of one-half this weight per horse-power (9 lbs. per horse-power) have been constructed by several different builders. Increasing the speed of our machine from 24 to 33 miles per hour reduced the total horizontal pressure from 40 to about 35 lbs. This was quite an advantage in gliding, as it made it possible to sail about 15 per cent farther with a given drop. However, it would be of little or no advantage in reducing the size of the motor in a power-driven machine, because the lessened thrust would be counterbalanced by the increased speed per minute. Some years ago Professor Langley called attention to the great economy of thrust which might be obtained by using very high speeds, and from this many were led to suppose that high speed was essential to success in a motor-driven machine. But the economy to which Professor Langley called attention was in foot pounds per mile of travel, not in foot pounds per minute. It is the foot pounds per minute that fixes the size of the motor. The probability is that the first flying machines will have a relatively low speed, perhaps not much exceeding 20 miles per hour, but the problem of increasing the speed will be much simpler in some respects than that of increasing the speed of a steamboat; for, whereas in the latter case the size of the engine must increase as the cube of the speed, in the flying machine, until extremely high speeds are reached, the capacity of the motor increases in less than simple ratio; and there is even a decrease in the fuel per mile of travel. In other words, to double the speed of a steamship (and the same is true of the balloon type of airship) eight times the engine and boiler capacity would be required, and four times the fuel consumption per mile of travel: while a flying machine would require engines of less than double the size, and there would be an actual decrease in the fuel consumption per mile of travel. But looking at the matter conversely, the great disadvantage of the flying machine is apparent; for in the latter no flight at all is possible unless the proportion of horse-power to flying capacity is very high; but on the other hand a steamship is a mechanical success if its ratio of horse-power to tonnage is insignificant. A flying machine that would fly at a speed of 50 miles per hour with engines of 1,000 horse-power would not be upheld by its wings at all at a speed of less than 25 miles an hour, and nothing less than 500 horse-power could drive it at this speed. But a boat which could make 40 miles an hour with engines of 1,000 horse-power would still move 4 miles an hour even if the engines were reduced to 1 horse-power. The problems of land and water travel were solved in the nineteenth century, because it was possible to begin with small achievements, and gradually work up to our present success. The flying problem was left over to the twentieth century, because in this case the art must be highly developed before any flight of any considerable duration at all can be obtained.

'However, there is another way of flying which requires no artificial motor, and many workers believe that success will come first by this road. I refer to the soaring flight, by which the machine is permanently sustained in the air by the same means that are employed by soaring birds. They spread their wings to the wind, and sail by the hour, with no perceptible exertion beyond that required to balance and steer themselves. What sustains them is not definitely known, though it is almost certain that it is a rising current of air. But whether it be a rising current or something else, it is as well able to support a flying machine as a bird, if man once learns the art of utilising it. In gliding experiments it has long been known that the rate of vertical descent is very much retarded, and the duration of the flight greatly prolonged, if a strong wind blows UP the face of the hill parallel to its surface. Our machine, when gliding in still air, has a rate of vertical descent of nearly 6 feet per second, while in a wind blowing 26 miles per hour up a steep hill we made glides in which the rate of descent was less than 2 feet per second. And during the larger part of this time, while the machine remained exactly in the rising current, THERE WAS NO DESCENT AT ALL, BUT EVEN A SLIGHT RISE. If the operator had had sufficient skill to keep himself from passing beyond the rising current he would have been sustained indefinitely at a higher point than that from which he started. The illustration shows one of these very slow glides at a time when the machine was practically at a standstill. The failure to advance more rapidly caused the photographer some trouble in aiming, as you will perceive. In looking at this picture you will readily understand that the excitement of gliding experiments does not entirely cease with the breaking up of camp. In the photographic dark-room at home we pass moments of as thrilling interest as any in the field, when the image begins to appear on the plate and it is yet an open question whether we have a picture of a flying machine or merely a patch of open sky. These slow glides in rising current probably hold out greater hope of extensive practice than any other method within man's reach, but they have the disadvantage of requiring rather strong winds or very large supporting surfaces. However, when gliding operators have attained greater skill, they can with comparative safety maintain themselves in the air for hours at a time in this way, and thus by constant practice so increase their knowledge and skill that they can rise into the higher air and search out the currents which enable the soaring birds to transport themselves to any desired point by first rising in a circle and then sailing off at a descending angle. This illustration shows the machine, alone, flying in a wind of 35 miles per hour on the face of a steep hill, 100 feet high. It will be seen that the machine not only pulls upward, but also pulls forward in the direction from which the wind blows, thus overcoming both gravity and the speed of the wind. We tried the same experiment with a man on it, but found danger that the forward pull would become so strong, that the men holding the ropes would be dragged from their insecure foothold on the slope of the hill. So this form of experimenting was discontinued after four or five minutes' trial.

'In looking over our experiments of the past two years, with models and full-size machines, the following points stand out with clearness:--

'1. That the lifting power of a large machine, held stationary in a wind at a small distance from the earth, is much less than the Lilienthal table and our own laboratory experiments would lead us to expect. When the machine is moved through the air, as in gliding, the discrepancy seems much less marked.

'2. That the ratio of drift to lift in well-shaped surfaces is less at angles of incidence of 5 degrees to 12 degrees than at an angle of 3 degrees.

'3. That in arched surfaces the centre of pressure at 90 degrees is near the centre of the surface, but moves slowly forward as the angle becomes less, till a critical angle varying with the shape and depth of the curve is reached, after which it moves rapidly toward the rear till the angle of no lift is found.

'4. That with similar conditions large surfaces may be controlled with not much greater difficulty than small ones, if the control is effected by manipulation of the surfaces themselves, rather than by a movement of the body of the operator.

'5. That the head resistances of the framing can be brought to a point much below that usually estimated as necessary.

'6. That tails, both vertical and horizontal, may with safety be eliminated in gliding and other flying experiments.

'7. That a horizontal position of the operator's body may be assumed without excessive danger, and thus the head resistance reduced to about one-fifth that of the upright position.

'8. That a pair of superposed, or tandem surfaces, has less lift in proportion to drift than either surface separately, even after making allowance for weight and head resistance of the connections.'

Thus, to the end of the 1901 experiments, Wilbur Wright provided a fairly full account of what was accomplished; the record shows an amount of patient and painstaking work almost beyond belief--it was no question of making a plane and launching it, but a business of trial and error, investigation and tabulation of detail, and the rejection time after time of previously accepted theories, till the brothers must have felt the the solid earth was no longer secure, at times. Though it was Wilbur who set down this and other records of the work done, yet the actual work was so much Orville's as his brother's that no analysis could separate any set of experiments and say that Orville did this and Wilbur that--the two were inseparable. On this point Griffith Brewer remarked that 'in the arguments, if one brother took one view, the other brother took the opposite view as a matter of course, and the subject was thrashed to pieces until a mutually acceptable result remained. I have often been asked since these pioneer days, "Tell me, Brewer, who was really the originator of those two?" In reply, I used first to say, "I think it was mostly Wilbur," and later, when I came to know Orville better, I said, "The thing could not have been without Orville." Now, when asked, I have to say, " I don't know," and I feel the more I think of it that it was only the wonderful combination of these two brothers, who devoted their lives together or this common object, that made the discovery of the art of flying possible.'

Beyond the 1901 experiments in gliding, the record grows more scrappy, less detailed. It appears that once power-driven flight had been achieved, the brothers were not so willing to talk as before; considering the amount of work that they put in, there could have been little time for verbal description of that work--as already remarked, their tables still stand for the designer and experimenter. The end of the 1901 experiments left both brothers somewhat discouraged, though they had accomplished more than any others. 'Having set out with absolute faith in the existing scientific data, we ere driven to doubt one thing after another, finally, after two years of experiment, we cast it all aside, and decided to rely entirely on our own investigations. Truth and error were everywhere so in,timately mixed as to be indistinguishable.... We had taken up aeronautics as a sport. We reluctantly entered upon the scientific side of it.'

Yet, driven thus to the more serious aspect of the work, they found in the step its own reward, for the work of itself drew them on and on, to the construction of measuring machines for the avoidance of error, and to the making of series after series of measurements, concerning which Wilbur wrote in 1908 (in the Century Magazine) that 'after making preliminary measurements on a great number of different shaped surfaces, to secure a general understanding of the subject, we began systematic measurements of standard surfaces, so varied in design as to bring out the underlying causes of differences noted in their pressures. Measurements were tabulated on nearly fifty of these at all angles from zero to 45 degrees, at intervals of 2 1/2 degrees. Measurements were also secured showing the effects on each other when surfaces are superposed, or when they follow one another.

'Some strange results were obtained. One surface, with a heavy roll at the front edge, showed the same lift for all angles from 7 1/2 to 45 degrees. This seemed so anomalous that we were almost ready to doubt our own measurements, when a simple test was suggested. A weather vane, with two planes attached to the pointer at an angle of 80 degrees with each other, was made. According to our table, such a vane would be in unstable equilibrium when pointing directly into the wind, for if by chance the wind should happen to strike one plane at 39 degrees and the other at 41 degrees, the plane with the smaller angle would have the greater pressure and the pointer would be turned still farther out of the course of the wind until the two vanes again secured equal pressures, which would be at approximately 30 and 50 degrees. But the vane performed in this very manner. Further corroboration of the tables was obtained in experiments with the new glider at Kill Devil Hill the next season.

'In September and October, 1902 nearly 1,000 gliding flights were made, several of which covered distances of over 600 feet. Some, made against a wind of 36 miles an hour, gave proof of the effectiveness of the devices for control. With this machine, in the autumn of 1903, we made a number of flights in which we remained in the air for over a minute, often soaring for a considerable time in one spot, without any descent at all. Little wonder that our unscientific assistant should think the only thing needed to keep it indefinitely in the air would be a coat of feathers to make it light! '

It was at the conclusion of these experiments of 1903 that the brothers concluded they had obtained sufficient data from their thousands of glides and multitude of calculations to permit of their constructing and making trial of a power-driven machine. The first designs got out provided for a total weight of 600 lbs., which was to include the weight of the motor and the pilot; but on completion it was found that there was a surplus of power from the motor, and thus they had 150 lbs. weight to allow for strengthening wings and other parts.

They came up against the problem to which Riach has since devoted so much attention, that of propeller design. 'We had thought of getting the theory of the screw-propeller from the marine engineers, and then, by applying our table of air-pressures to their formulae, of designing air-propellers suitable for our uses. But, so far as we could learn, the marine engineers possessed only empirical formulae, and the exact action of the screw propeller, after a century of use, was still very obscure. As we were not in a position to undertake a long series of practical experiments to discover a propeller suitable for our machine, it seemed necessary to obtain such a thorough understanding of the theory of its reactions as would enable us to design them from calculation alone. What at first seemed a simple problem became more complex the longer we studied it. With the machine moving forward, the air flying backward, the propellers turning sidewise, and nothing standing still, it seemed impossible to find a starting point from which to trace the various simultaneous reactions. Contemplation of it was confusing. After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous position of each having been converted to the other's side, with no more agreement than when the discussion began.

'It was not till several months had passed, and every phase of the problem had been thrashed over and over, that the various reactions began to untangle themselves. When once a clear understanding had been obtained there was no difficulty in designing a suitable propeller, with proper diameter, pitch, and area of blade, to meet the requirements of the flier. High efficiency in a screw-propeller is not dependent upon any particular or peculiar shape, and there is no such thing as a "best" screw. A propeller giving a high dynamic efficiency when used upon one machine may be almost worthless when used upon another. The propeller should in every case be designed to meet the particular conditions of the machine to which it is to be applied. Our first propellers, built entirely from calculation, gave in useful work 66 per cent of the power expended. This was about one-third more than had been secured by Maxim or Langley.'

Langley had made his last attempt with the 'aerodrome,' and his splendid failure but a few days before the brothers made their first attempt at power-driven aeroplane flight. On December 17th, 1903, the machine was taken out; in addition to Wilbur and Orville Wright, there were present five spectators: Mr A. D. Etheridge, of the Kil1 Devil life-saving station; Mr W. S.Dough, Mr W. C. Brinkley, of Manteo; Mr John Ward, of Naghead, and Mr John T. Daniels.[*] A general invitation had been given to practically all the residents in the vicinity, but the Kill Devil district is a cold area in December, and history had recorded so many experiments in which machines had failed to leave the ground that between temperature and scepticism only these five risked a waste of their time.

[*] This list is as given by Wilbur Wright himself.

And these five were in at the greatest conquest man had made since James Watt evolved the steam engine --perhaps even a greater conquest than that of Watt. Four flights in all were made; the first lasted only twelve seconds, 'the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself into the air by its own power in free flight, had sailed forward on a level course without reduction of speed, and had finally landed without being wrecked,' said Wilbur Wright concerning the achievement.[*] The next two flights were slightly longer, and the fourth and last of the day was one second short of the complete minute; it was made into the teeth of a 20 mile an hour wind, and the distance travelled was 852 feet.

[*] Century Magazine, September, 1908.

This bald statement of the day's doings is as Wilbur Wright himself has given it, and there is in truth nothing more to say; no amount of statement could add to the importance of the achievement, and no more than the bare record is necessary. The faith that had inspired the long roll of pioneers, from da Vinci onward, was justified at last.

Having made their conquest, the brothers took the machine back to camp, and, as they thought, placed it in safety. Talking with the little group of spectators about the flights, they forgot about the machine, and then a sudden gust of wind struck it. Seeing that it was being overturned, all made a rush toward it to save it, and Mr Daniels, a man of large proportions, was in some way lifted off his feet, falling between the planes. The machine overturned fully, and Daniels was shaken like a die in a cup as the wind rolled the machine over and over--he came out at the end of his experience with a series of bad bruises, and no more, but the damage done to the machine by the accident was sufficient to render it useless for further experiment that season.

A new machine, stronger and heavier, was constructed by the brothers, and in the spring of 1904 they began experiments again at Sims Station, eight miles to the east of Dayton, their home town. Press representatives were invited for the first trial, and about a dozen came--the whole gathering did not number more than fifty people. 'When preparations had been concluded,' Wilbur Wright wrote of this trial, 'a wind of only three or four miles an hour was blowing--insufficient for starting on so short a track --but since many had come a long way to see the machine in action, an attempt was made. To add to the other difficulty, the engine refused to work properly. The machine, after running the length of the track, slid off the end without rising into the air at all. Several of the newspaper men returned next day but were again disappointed. The engine performed badly, and after a glide of only sixty feet the machine again came to the ground. Further trial was postponed till the motor could be put in better running condition. The reporters had now, no doubt, lost confidence in the machine, though their reports, in kindness, concealed it. Later, when they heard that we were making flights of several minutes' duration, knowing that longer flights had been made with airships, and not knowing any essential difference between airships and flying machines, they were but little interested.

'We had not been flying long in 1904 before we found that the problem of equilibrium had not as yet been entirely solved. Sometimes, in making a circle, the machine would turn over sidewise despite anything the operator could do, although, under the same conditions in ordinary straight flight it could have been righted in an instant. In one flight, in 1905, while circling round a honey locust-tree at a height of about 50 feet, the machine suddenly began to turn up on one wing, and took a course toward the tree. The operator, not relishing the idea of landing in a thorn tree, attempted to reach the ground. The left wing, however, struck the tree at a height of 10 or 12 feet from the ground and carried away several branches; but the flight, which had already covered a distance of six miles, was continued to the starting point.

'The causes of these troubles--too technical for explanation here--were not entirely overcome till the end of September, 1905. The flights then rapidly increased in length, till experiments were discontinued after October 5 on account of the number of people attracted to the field. Although made on a ground open on every side, and bordered on two sides by much-travelled thoroughfares, with electric cars passing every hour, and seen by all the people living in the neighbourhood for miles around, and by several hundred others, yet these flights have been made by some newspapers the subject of a great "mystery." '

Viewing their work from the financial side, the two brothers incurred but little expense in the earlier gliding experiments, and, indeed, viewed these only as recreation, limiting their expenditure to that which two men might spend on any hobby. When they had once achieved successful power-driven flight, they saw the possibilities of their work, and abandoned such other business as had engaged their energies, sinking all their capital in the development of a practical flying machine. Having, in 1905, improved their designs to such an extent that they could consider their machine a practical aeroplane, they devoted the years 1906 and 1907 to business negotiations and to the construction of new machines, resuming flying experiments in May of 1908 in order to test the ability of their machine to meet the requirements of a contract they had made with the United States Government, which required an aeroplane capable of carrying two men, together with sufficient fuel supplies for a flight of 125 miles at 40 miles per hour. Practically similar to the machine used in the experiments of 1905, the contract aeroplane was fitted with a larger motor, and provision was made for seating a passenger and also for allowing of the operator assuming a sitting position, instead of lying prone.

Before leaving the work of the brothers to consider contemporary events, it may be noted that they claimed--with justice--that they were first to construct wings adjustable to different angles of incidence on the right and left side in order to control the balance of an aeroplane; the first to attain lateral balance by adjusting wing-tips to respectively different angles of incidence on the right and left sides, and the first to use a vertical vane in combination with wing-tips, adjustable to respectively different angles of incidence, in balancing and steering an aeroplane. They were first, too, to use a movable vertical tail, in combination with wings adjustable to different angles of incidence, in controlling the balance and direction of an aeroplane.[*]

[*]Aeronautical Journal, No. 79.

A certain Henry M. Weaver, who went to see the work of the brothers, writing in a letter which was subsequently read before the Aero Club de France records that he had a talk in 1905 with the farmer who rented the field in which the Wrights made their flights.' On October 5th (1905) he was cutting corn in the next field east, which is higher ground. When he noticed the aeroplane had started on its flight he remarked to his helper: "Well, the boys are at it again," and kept on cutting corn, at the same time keeping an eye on the great white form rushing about its course. "I just kept on shocking corn," he continued, "until I got down to the fence, and the durned thing was still going round. I thought it would never stop." '

He was right. The brothers started it, and it will never stop.

Mr Weaver also notes briefly the construction of the 1905 Wright flier. 'The frame was made of larch wood-from tip to tip of the wings the dimension was 40 feet. The gasoline motor--a special construction made by them--much the same, though, as the motor on the Pope-Toledo automobile--was of from 12 to 15 horse-power. The motor weighed 240 lbs. The frame was covered with ordinary muslin of good quality. No attempt was made to lighten the machine; they simply built it strong enough to stand the shocks. The structure stood on skids or runners, like a sleigh. These held the frame high enough from the ground in alighting to protect the blades of the propeller. Complete with motor, the machine weighed 925 lbs.



XXII. 1919-1920
Part II--1903-1920: PROGRESS IN DESIGN