Dayton Celebration Events

In 1899 Wilbur flew a kite in a park near his home to test his idea of wing warping. The success of this experiment led to further experimentation at Kitty Hawk and the invention of the airplane.

While I was in Dayton for the Inventing Flight celebration I decided to find the location of this park. It is not marked on the map and there is no marker at the location. Ed, a good friend of mine who lives in Dayton, and I took on the challenge.

Before I proceed further with the search, let’s review what occurred in 1899.

Wilbur for some time had been “afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man.” He knew that the German, Otto Lilienthal and Englishman, Percy Pilcher had died because they couldn’t control their gliders by shifting the weight of their bodies.

Wilbur looked for a better way to achieve control by watching how birds obtained control. He observed that they did it by changing the lift on one side and then the other by twisting their wings.

Orville thought about the possibility of building a mechanical mechanism into a flying machine to twist the wings. The brothers gave up on this idea because they couldn’t figure out to build such a mechanism strong enough, but also light enough to be practical.

The breakthrough came one day when Wilbur was talking to a customer in their bicycle shop and was absentmindedly twisting a bicycle tube box. It immediately occurred to him that they could build a box kite type glider with similar structure that would be sturdy but also have flexible wing tips.

Orville tells how it worked. “He (Wilbur) demonstrated the method by means of a small pasteboard box, which had two of the opposite ends removed. By holding the top forward corner and rear lower corner of one end of the box between his thumb and forefinger and the rear upper corner and the lower forward corner of the other end of the box in like manner, and by pressing the corners together the upper and lower surface of the box were given a helicoidal twist, presenting the top and bottom surfaces of the box at different angles on the right and left sides.”

Wilbur proceeded to build a large box kite. It consisted of two 5-foot wings, 13-inches wide constructed in a biplane configuration. The wings were trussed and braced in such a way that they could be twisted in the desired way by four control lines connected to two sticks, one in each hand. A fixed elevator was attached to the trailing edge.

Wilbur ventured to a local field with a group of neighborhood boys to try it out. It worked. He could make it turn left or right and dive or climb.

Orville, who was not present during the demonstration, said later, “We felt that the model demonstrated the efficiency of our system of control.”

The brothers now thought of bigger experiments involving man-carrying machines. The following year they made their first trip to Kitty Hawk.

Back to the search for the location of where Wilbur flew the kite.

I initially thought the location might be Riverside Park that is along the Miami River and not far from the Wrights’ home. But on further research the location was said to be near a seminary near Euclid Ave and First St. At that location there were homes and a small business building. The seminary was long gone.

I found out later that Bishop Milton Wright had recommended that the seminary be established.

A short block north of there was a large school building next to a park known as John Ahlers Park in West Dayton. The park looked like a good place to fly a kite. We went in the school and found a teacher who was packing school supplies. He knew nothing about what we were looking for. He did tell us the school was about to be torn down.

We went outside and walked around the park and in so doing noticed that the Paul Laurence Dunbar House was just down the street (Edison St.). We decided to walk down to the Dunbar House to see if they knew anything about Wilbur flying his kite in the neighborhood. At the house we were fortunate to be greeted by Ms La Verne Sci, the director. She was waiting for a group of visitors to arrive. We popped the question to her. She was quick to respond that the Ahlers Park was the place.

In hindsight it makes sense that Wilbur would fly his kite in open field near the seminary that his father had help establish.

We also learned from Ms Sci that Dunbar had chosen this location for his house because the seminary in the neighborhood had attracted an intellectual community at the turn of the century.

We had visited the Dunbar house the day before and didn’t realize that the park was where Wilbur flew his kite just up the street. Which raises the question, why are there no makers identifying this significant location in the history of flight?

Although reporters sometimes are a bit blasé about some of the dignitaries they write about, there are always a few celebrities that are just a little out of the ordinary.

Recently, this reporter had the opportunity to attend a function (courtesy of my husband) that took place in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Harrison Ford, famous for acting in films that include Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series and Air Force One, was featured as the master of ceremonies for the National Aviation Hall of Fame 2003 Pioneers of Flight Homecoming.

Considering the event was one that should not be missed, I was eager to go and even more eager to see how close I could get to the actor. Should I have the good fortune to actually speak to the man, what could I say that would be different from the other mundane uttering of all those gorgeous babes lined up to see him?

Doing my homework, I read in the local paper about his passion for flying his own airplanes, which include a restored de Havilland Beaver DHC-C, a Bonanza B36TC, a Gulfstream G1V-SP, a Cessna Grand Caravan and a Bell 407 helicopter.

It was reported that Ford, 61, took flying lessons when he was a student at Ripon College in Wisconsin. At that point, before his star status had been established, he found that flying was too expensive and he was forced to stop until he was in his 50’s and could afford the luxury of time and money necessary to pursue the experience.

On the evening preceding the Harrison Ford Dinner, we met a gentleman who boasted that he could arrange a meeting between Ford and myself. Promises, promises. There were 2,200 guests attending the prestigious Ford Dinner. But nonetheless, I believed the gentleman. His own wife was attending the gala just so that she could meet Ford.

On the night of the dinner, we managed to find the gentleman and his wife and I am sure that they never got any closer than we did. Harrison Ford had a magnificent security system. The president of the United States could not have been more closely guarded. Sitting with some other Ford Fans, I was invited to join a group of ladies that vowed to tackle Ford as a group and subdue him.

He had previously mentioned that he did not think Calista Flockhart would be able to attend, so I knew I would not get to speak to her to tell her to eat, as instructed by our son, Dan. As it turned out, the closest I got to Harrison Ford was to take his photo as he spoke at the podium.

Actually the dinner was not a total loss in spite of my inability to speak to Harrison Ford. The purpose of the black tie event was to salute the 178 men and women enshrined in the Hall of Fame in honor of the Centennial of Powered Flight. Ford solemnly led us through the memories evoked by such names as Ohio Senator John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, James A. Lovell Jr. and Walter M. Schirra Jr., all former astronauts; as well as naval aviator James B. Stockdale.

Altogether, two dozen enshrinees were introduced to the Aviation Hall of Fame that night, with a short history given on each one. Included in the ceremony was a toast to Wilbur and Orville Wright by two members of the Wright family, Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright. So what if I never got close to Harrison Ford. ~ By: Mary Lou Stimson

Tom Crouch received the Dayton Walk of Fame Award in a ceremony hosted by Wright-Dunbar, Inc. on September 29, 2006.

Crouch is senior curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and author of numerous books on the Wright brothers. His “The Bishop Boys,” is considered the best book about the Wright brothers. Some other great books either authored or co-authored by Crouch include, “A Dream of Wings,” “Wings, A History of Aviation from Kites to the Space Age,” and “Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age.”

The award consists of a plaque that is embedded in the brick sidewalk along West Third Street where several dozen other plaques honor other Daytonians for their contributions both locally and nationally.

The immediate area includes the site of the last bicycle shop where the 1903 flyer was built (1127 West Third St.). Other printing and bicycle locations include a printing shop in the Hoover Block building at 1060 West Third, first printing shop at 1210 West Third, first bicycle shop site at 1005 West Third, and the second bicycle site at 1034 West Third.

Not far away is the Wright Cycle Co. on South Williams St., the Wright family home on Hawthorn St., and Orville’s Laboratory on North Broadway St.

The citation on the plaque states:

“Author, Historian, Museum Curator. His dedication to educating the nation about aviation history has helped to focus attention on the Wright brothers and Dayton. He authored several award winning books and developed national exhibits about aviation history as a senior curator at the Smithsonian Institution.”

Crouch earned a Ph.D. at Ohio State University.

During my visit to Dayton for their “Inventing Flight” celebration, I found presenters consistently attributing the Wrights’ disappointment with the performance of their 1900 and 1901 gliders to errors in the Lilienthal data upon which the brothers had based their glider designs. This is a common fallacy that is repeated in many books on the Wright Brothers.

The truth of the matter is that it was not a problem of Lilienthal errors, rather it was a misinterpretation of his data that was the problem. Here is the story.

A frustrated Wilbur exclaimed to Orville in August 1901, “Not in a thousand years will man ever fly.”

At the time they were on a train returning to Dayton after failing for the second year in a row to achieve the lift for their glider that their calculations predicted. Wilbur recorded in his diary, “Found lift of machine much less than Lilienthal’s tables would indicate, reaching only about 1/3 as much.”

After further thought, Wilbur was cheered by the conclusion that the data they were using might be in error. In a speech on September 18 to the Western Society of Engineers, Wilbur suggested that “the Lilienthal tables might themselves be somewhat in error.” He also questioned the accuracy of the Smeaton coefficient.

Both the Lilienthal data and the Smeaton coefficient are used in the formula for calculating lift.

Otto Lilienthal was a famous German glider experimenter who had published a table containing coefficients of lift in 1895. The coefficient of lift is a multiplying factor that takes into consideration the various angles a wing assumes with regard to the flow of air know as the “angle of attack.” The value of the lift coefficient also varies with the shape of the wing.

The Smeaton Coefficient was used in the calculation of lift at the time of the Wright Brothers. It is a constant number used as a “coefficient of air pressure.” It serves as a multiplying factor used to calculate B122the numerical value of lift in air, as compared to other mediums, such as water or oil.

John Smeaton, an engineer, determined the value of this coefficient was 0.005 in 1759, from his study of windmills. Engineers used this value for 150 years, although others questioned its value and thought it was too high, including the famous early aviation pioneer George Cayley in 1809.

Both Lilienthal, in Birdflight, and Octave Chanute, in Progress in Flying Machines, cited the 0.005 value in their books. This heavily influenced the Wrights in using the same value.

The Wrights would soon find that the 0.005 value was too high. The error was a major cause of their calculation of a lift value that was too high.

However, Smeaton’s coefficient value did not affect the values of Lilienthal’s coefficients of lift.

Note: The Smeaton coefficient is no longer used in modern aerodynamic problems. Problems are formulated differently. My son, who is a graduate aeronautical engineer, had never heard of Smeaton when I first asked him about it.

Smeaton wasn’t the only source of the discrepancy between actual lift and the Wrights’ calculated values. They incorrectly interpreted the Lilienthal tables by not understanding that the table only applied to the one wing shape that Lilienthal used in his study. The wings that the Wrights used in 1900 and 1901 had different aspect ratios as well as differences in the location of the maximum camber of the wing.

The aspect ratio is a measure of the relationship between the length of the wing to the cord (width). The aspect ratio affects the value of the lift coefficient. Lower values of aspect ratio give lower values of the lift coefficient and visa versa within limits.

The aspect ratio for the Wright 1900 glider was 3.5 and the 1901 glider was 3.3. These values were considerably lower than the aspect ratio of 6.8 for the Lilienthal test wing. In other words, the Lilienthal wing was longer and narrower compared to the Wrights’ wing. The lift coefficient from Lilienthal’s tables used by the Wrights should have been reduced by 19% to account for their use of a lower aspect ratio.

Their other problem of interpreting the Lilienthal table had to do with the location of the point of maximum camber (high point on the curved wing).

The Wrights located their maximum camber close to the leading edge of the wing. The Lilienthal test wing was a circular shaped wing with the maximum point located at the middle of the cord. Here again the value coefficient of lift read from the table should have been reduced to account for the difference in location of the maximum camber.

The cumulative impact of the above errors on the calculation of lift amounted to the 1/3 reduction in lift that Wilbur noted for the Kitty Hawk 1900 and 1901 glider flights.

After their disappointing glider performance during the first two visits to Kitty Hawk, the Wrights decided to take a different approach to the problem of calculating lift. Rather than further examining the existing data provided by others, they decided to compile their own.

They built an instrumented wind tunnel and developed their own aerodynamic data by systematically testing some 200 airfoils of widely different shapes and configurations, going well beyond the Lilienthal table.

Shapes included squares, rectangles, and ellipses in configurations such as biplanes and triplanes. They included camber ratios ranging from 1/6 to 1/20 and maximum camber locations ranging from near the leading edge to the 1/2-chord position.

They found that the correct value of the Smeaton coefficient should be 0.003 and developed their own table of lift coefficients (and drag coefficients).

Their airfoil #12 was found to be the most aerodynamically efficient. Its camber was 1/20 and the aspect ratio was 6. This foil was used as a guide in designing their successful 1902 glider and ultimately the successful 1903 Flyer.

The 1902 glider had an aspect ratio of 6.7, about twice that of their previous gliders, and used camber ratios much shallower than Lilienthal test wing.

With his new knowledge and understanding, Wilbur wrote to Chanute in October 1901, “It would appear that Lilienthal is very much nearer the truth than we have heretofore been disposed to think.”

Here is a graph comparing Lilienthal and Wright lift-coefficient data. The Wright data is for their no. 31 wing model. It has the same wing planform shape (see picture at top of graph) and camber ratio (1/12) as Lilienthal’s. The airfoil shape is different. The Wright No. 31 has a parabolic shape and the maximum camber is closer to the front edge.

Although the two model wings are not identical, they are close enough to demonstrate that the Lilienthal data was close to what the Wrights determined using their wind tunnel.

If one compares the data around a 3% angle of attack, which is about what the Wrights were focusing on, the data is almost identical.

It turned out to be fortunate that the Wrights had problems with the determination of lift. It led them into doing research that propelled their knowledge far beyond anyone before them and established the Wright Brothers as the leading aeronautical engineers of their day.

Reference: A History of Aerodynamics by John D. Anderson, Jr.

Orville flew for the first time over the City of Dayton on the occasion of the 1910 Dayton Industrial Exposition and Fall Festival.

The Exposition featured various means of transportation including bicycles, automobiles, and balloons. Orville agreed to fly on Thursday September 22.

On the appointed day thousands of people swamped Dayton, standing along the river banks, house tops and every other vantage point that could be found.

Here is an edited account as printed in the Dayton Daily News:

Orville Wright sailed over his home city Thursday in one of the most spectacular flights that has ever been made in aircraft.

A dense crowd had been fringing the river banks, the bridges and the roofs of high buildings for hours before it was rewarded with a glimpse of the bird man. When at last screaming factory whistles heralded the approach of the machine, the crowd along the river bank stirred and shook itself out like a mammoth pennant waving a tribute and greeting to the aviator.

People pointed and eyes were strained until everybody saw the tiny speck in the sky and watched it slowly grow into a semblance of shape. The aeroplane was so high that everybody in the city could see it equally well and it is safe to venture that not a person in the city failed to see it.

It was a glorious sight. There was a Dayton boy soaring for joy high above the little threads silvering in the sunlight.

Beneath him the earth, like a tapestry, brimmed up in a circle of misty purple distances.

There was something very significant and appropriate about the course of the flight along the Mad and Miami rivers.

Not so many years ago intrepid pioneer settlers followed those same streams and built the city’s first house on the river bank near the confluence of the two streams. The house is still standing snuggled down among massive structures that the sons of those pioneers have wrought.

That little cabin has had its modicum of surprises since the first tenant passed its portals. It has seen the forests go that had once obscured the skyline. Then its view was more permanently obscured by steep buildings and bridges.

And now on Thursday it witnessed the announcement of another inroad of progress, the very air above it had been conquered and it will soon have to peep at the stars through a fitting maze of aircrafts.

This latest era was ushered in more suspiciously than any of the others.

The forests went almost stealthily and the city sprang up in the night. The street cars began their clanging without any warning, but when this mysterious little speck appears in the sky, it is heralded by a medley of all the factory whistles, the street cars stop and the people use the buildings for stepping stones and steeples for theater seats from which to witness this new scene in the masque of the ages.

That little old log cabin has certainly seen some history made.

When the aeroplane was over the city the faint crackling staccato of its unmuffled motor like distant musketry, could be heard by some, and the aviator could be seen moving in the machine.

Cheers went up from the crowd all along the course, but it is doubtful if any sound reached Mr. Wright but the screaming factory and railway whistles. The factories had stilled their wheels and traffic had stopped to exhaust the power in tribute to their new helpmate.

It was a pretty little touch of sentiment and an inspiring one that sent the aviator circling over his boyhood home. There the dream was cradled and nourished through years of varying vicissitudes until the goal was at last achieved and it was cradled in the clouds.

The aviators are dear to all Dayton, but imagine the emotions of the little family to which the aviator sailed and circled a majestic curtsey from the sky. No wonder Orville Wright soared on a rising altitude upon his return trip.

He said Friday morning that he reached an altitude of 3500 feet by the time he reached the city limits on the outward bound flight.

He visited those exalted spaces that are reverently avoided even by the birds, where he is alone with the silence and sunlight and almost on intimate terms with the stars.

The aeroplane was followed into the city by a stream of hundreds of automobiles. The aviator passed most of them not far from the testing grounds on his return to Simms Station, also known as Huffman Prairie. The average speed of the best automobiles was 25 miles per hour, with the roads such as they are in the vicinity of the station. The aeroplane made the entire trip of 22 miles in a trifle less than 25 minutes.

The eyes of the admiring multitude were able to follow the machine upon its return trip almost till it was over the testing grounds. The machine had diminished to a flyspeck in the hazy distance before a smudge of factory smoke finally blotted it out.

The wind for the trip could hardly have been more than favorable for the flight. Mr. Wright estimated his speed at 50 miles an hour going westwardly and 30 miles an hour on the return trip. The average speed was thus 40 miles per hour.

The course as outlined by Mr. Wright was over the Miami River from the confluence of the Mad and Miami Rivers to the Third Street bridge, thence over Third Street to Williams Street, the area of their original home and bicycle shops, and from there to the Wright Home in Oakwood, over which he circled for the return.

At the start of the trip the altitude was 300 feet. This was increased to 2500 feet over and on the outward journey of 3500 feet was reached, after the machine had passed over the Exposition grounds and reached the city limits.

Mr. Wright describes Dayton as being more beautiful from the clouds than it is at a close view.

Not only interurban electrics and steam cars, but also many automobiles with pennants of cities in other states bore evidence that thousands of people visited Dayton on aviation day.

When they came so far and waited so patiently for the flight it is needless to say that the spirit caught them in the magnificent result and the captive balloon, “Hoosier,” which soared immediately after the aeroplane had disappeared, did a land office business.

Owing to the generosity and public spiritedness of Mr. Wright, aviation day was a success. Superlatives are exhausted in telling just how successful it really was. Though it is somewhat inappropriate to measure such an ethereal and splendid thing as an airship flight in dollars, the general public should realize that Mr. Wright donated Dayton an exhibition that would cost any other city a good many thousands of dollars.

There is also an element of risk about a 22-mile flight even in a perfected Wright machine.

The Exposition officials and the community as a whole are not unmindful of the Wright company’s munificence.

Though the thousands of people who swarmed to the testing grounds at Simms Station to witness the start of the flight probably did not get as thrilling an exhibition as those in the city, they were rewarded by a number of flights by Walter Brookins and a new pupil, while Mr. Wright was circling the city.

Mr. Wright circled the field a number of times also at an altitude of 300 feet before setting out on his straight-away course for the city. The machine in which he sailed to Dayton was started about ten minutes till five o’clock.

Owing to the advertising which the exposition received through Mr. Wright’s spectacular flight, management has received urgent and numerous requests to continue the festival another week. The streets were jammed Thursday night and hundreds were turned away from the Memorial building where the hippodrome show is being held. The committee has decided that aviation features shall distinguish the final day, when the exposition will wind up in a big revel, and arrangements for a number of other interesting events.