Wright Brothers – Famous Aviators

Articles relating to the famous aviators of the world other than the Wright Brothers.

Red Tails

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

The Red Tails Squadrons consisted of brave black pilots, mechanics and tecthnicians of World WarII who helped  defeat NAZI Germany. They became know as the Tuskegee Airman. There are three different parts to the Tuskeegee Airmenfighter pilots, bomber pilots, and support group.

The Original Tuskegee Airmen served  between 1941 and 1948. There are over over 14,000 names certified as Tuskegee Airmen.

Not all Tuskegee Airmen were pilots They had mechanics, instructors,etc.

In addition to the red tail P51s, the Tuskegee pilots flew P40, P39, P47 and the P51 Musta was Tuskegee.

The name Tuskegee came from Tuskegee Universty founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. In 1939, all black colleges were given  money to pay for pilot training programs. One of the first was Tuskegee University.

Not everyone liked these programs. They fully expected the program to fail and titled the program the “Tuskegee Experiment.”

There was one influencial person who helped turn this kind of thinking around. It was Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife. The staff was shocked when they learned that this wasn’t a walk around and back visit.

She wanted a black pilot to fly her around the sky. Her pilot was Charles Anderson. She asked him whether it was truly possible for blacks to fly.

He answered, “certainly we can” For the next 40 minutes, Roosevelt flew with Anderson.

The world’s first airline passenger flew with Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, NC on May 14, 1908. His name was Charlie Furnas. The flight was a short hop.

Later the same day, Furnas flew with Orville Wright. They covered 4,506 yards in four minutes and a few seconds.

The Wright brothers were in Kitty Hawk to test their airplane that had been modified to carry a pilot and a passenger in accordance with U.S. Army requirements. These flights were the first made by the brothers since 1905 in Dayton.

Furnas, a mechanic, was born in West Milton, Ohio near Dayton in 1880. Furnas had done some odd jobs for the Wrights in the hope that they would teach him to fly.

He showed up at the Kitty Hawk camp without prior notice on April 15. The Wrights were surprised to see him, but they did need some help, so they hired him to help restore their old camp.

One hundred and one years later a bronze marker has been placed in West Milton on the front lawn of a funeral home on Main Street in the house where he was born and raised.

The historic marker reads:

“CHARLES FURNAS, 1880-1941, IN 1908, WEST MILTON NATIVE CHARLES FURNAS WORKED AS A MACHINIST IN DAYTON DOING ODD JOBS FOR THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, THE INVENTORS OF THE FIRST PRACTICAL AIRPLANE. AT THE TIME THE U.S. ARMY HAD AGREED TO PURCHASE AN AIRCRAFT FROM THE WRIGHT BROTHERS PROVIDED IT WOULD CARRY A PILOT AND A PASSENGER. FURNAS WORKED WITH THE BROTHERS TO ADAPT THEIR PLANE. ON MAY 14, 1908, HE FLEW FIRST WITH WILBUR AND THEN ORVILLE, BECOMING THE WORLD’S FIRST AIRPLANE PASSENGER. FOLLOWING THE LAST FLIGHT, THE WRIGHT BROTHERS ENGAGED CHARLES FURNAS FULL TIME. AS THE FIRST PERSON HIRED TO BUILD AIRPLANES, HE WAS THE FIRST EMPLOYEE IN WHAT WOULD BECOME THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY. HE WORKED WITH ORVILLE AND WILBUR TO DEVELOP “SIGNAL CORPS NO. 1,” AMERICA’S FIRST MILITARY AIRCRAFT AND THE BEGINNING OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE. HE LEFT EMPLOYMENT WITH THE WRIGHT BROTHERS TO START A GARAGE IN WEST MILTON, BUT REMAINED FRIENDS. ORVILLE ATTENDED HIS FUNERAL IN 1941.”

Wernher von Braun

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Following the Legacy of the Wright brothers

Sixty-six years after the First Flight of the Wright brothers, Wernher von Braun’s Saturn V rocket powered Apollo 11 carried Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to the moon. In so doing he demonstrated that men could fly into space, thus greatly extending what the Wright brothers had started at Kitty Hawk with their first flight of 120 feet.

Wilbur and Orville were the first to define and solve the problem of flight – – be able to (a) take-off from the earth, (b) sustain flight under control and (c) land safely.

Von Braun’s Apollo 11 system was a magnificent demonstration of the application of this basic approach to space flight.

In 1999, Aviation Week & Space Technology polled aerospace professionals worldwide to name the top 100 stars of aerospace. Over one million responses were received. The Wright brothers came in first and von Braun was second.

von Braun was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in 1941. Orville, born in 1871 and Wilbur born in 1867, came from a middle class family. They all had one significant thing in common, their passion for flying.

Von Braun flew small planes, multi-engine, executive jets, fighter planes, old converted bombers, seaplanes and gliders. He even flew faster than the speed of sound

They had many other things in common. This article will present a few of them.

Education:

The Wrights had a high school education but didn’t received diplomas. von Braun received a BSME in Engineering and a Ph.D. in physics in Germany.

High schools provided a solid education when the Wright brothers attended school. It enabled the brothers to later self-educate themselves sufficiently to research, test and design an airplane. Wilbur in particular was able to self-educate himself at home during a period of illness that resulted from an injury received from playing hockey in high school. Their father, Bishop Wright, had a library that included books on science, engineering and mathematics as well as religion, philosophy, geography, geology and politics.

Orville was challenged about his capability to do 7th grade math upon moving to Dayton from Indiana. At the end of the year he received the top grade on the city-wide math exam.

von Braun as a child disliked math, but decided that he would need to be proficient in it if he expected to learn about space travel.

The Wrights and von Braun were excellent readers. Orville demonstrated to his second grade teachers that he could read a book upside down. Von Braun could read a newspaper upside down at the age of 4.

They all had photographic memories.

Von Braun wrote articles for the school magazine. Orville started a school newspaper.

Influence of Family:

The Wrights’ mother attended Hartsville College and studied literature, math, Latin and Greek. She was the daughter of a wagon maker. She learned how to use tools from her father. She encouraged her sons to build things and learn how things worked.

Von Braun’s mother was well educated. She spoke 6 languages, loved great music and fine art and was a serious ornithologist and astronomer.

Her son learned to play the piano, and at 15 composed music, writing 3 short original pieces for the piano.

Both families provided a religious environment. The Wrights’ father was a Bishop in the United Brethren Church and their mother had religious training. von Braun studied the world’s religions and loved to talk about religion and philosophy and would often quote by memory from the Bible.

Critics warned the Wrights’ that “if God wanted man to fly he would have given them wings.”

Von Braun was told that “his rockets were punching holes in the sky causing a draught.”

In later years Orville said, “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always enough encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”

Dreams:

Bishop Wright on returning from a trip brought the brothers a toy helicopter type machine that would fly. Wilbur was age 11 and Orville age 7 at the time. They were fascinated with the gadget and tried to make it larger so they could fly. It didn’t work, but that early experience with flight helped rekindle their interest later on.

Von Braun at 15 read a science fiction article that described an imaginary flight to the moon. This fueled his interest further after he had earlier attached 6 large rockets to his wagon that propelled it into a fruit stand.

Orville and von Braun were free spirits as children and often got in trouble with their pranks. That didn’t stop them from continuing the practice into adulthood.

When they were older and both serious about their dreams, they consulted famous men who would become their mentors. For the Wright’s it was Octave Chanute, the senior expert on gliders and flying in the U.S.

For von Braun it was rocket scientist Hermann Obeth. Von Braun sent for his book, “The Rocket into Interplanetary Space,” and later at the age of 18 volunteered to be an apprentice for him.

Obeth believed that you could build a machine which (a) could climb beyond our atmosphere, (b) that man could leave the gravity of Earth, (c) that man could survive flight in a ship in space, and (d) that the exploration of space could be profitable.

Nine Lives:

Experimenting with airplanes and rockets was dangerous business. Neither Von Braun nor the Wright brothers died because of their work although they had close calls. You might say they had nine lives.

Von Braun survived launch-pad explosions, almost being hit by an incoming V-2 warhead in Germany, Allied bombing raids during Word War II, imprisonment by Himmler and the Gestapo, a car wreck that killed his driver, a serious attack of hepatitis, errant U.S. missiles and a near miss in an aircraft.

Orville survived a crash of the 1902 glider at Kitty Hawk, a crash of the 1904 airplane in August and again in November at Huffman Prairie in Dayton, and a crash of the 1905 airplane in Dayton. A crash of the Flyer during the U.S. Army qualification tests on September 17, 1908 at Fort Myer almost killed him and there was another accident at Fort Myer the following year. Orville flew the 1911 glider into the side of a hill at Kitty Hawk and crashed the glider again 6 days later. He was in a train wreck in France in January 1909.

Medals:

They each won the gold Langley medal. The Wright brothers were the first to receive the medals and von Braun won his 59 years later. He was the thirteenth person to receive the medal.

The Smithsonian established the Langley Medal in 1908 at the suggestion of Alexander Graham Bell. It is awarded for “meritorious investigations in connection with the science of aerodynamics and its application to aviation.

The Apollo 11 Astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are also Langley Medal winners.

All three men shared their critics; whose opinions were that all three were crazy, flakes and more.

Von Braun put it in perspective. “Enthusiasm and faith are necessary ingredients of every great project. Prophets have always been laughed at, deplored and opposed, but some prophets have proved to be following the true course of history.”

More than any other single flight since the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh’s solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in 1927, revolutionized aviation. It hastened the transition of the airplane from an instrument of war and sport to that of commercial use. Lindbergh prophesized after his flight that “the year will surely come when passengers and mail will fly every day from America to Europe.”

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the event, Erik Lindbergh honored his grandfather by recreating the famous solo flight.

I have a personal interest in this exciting event as I attended the Naval Officers Candidate School with Erik’s father, Jon, in 1954.

Charles Lindbergh Honors Orville Wright

Charles Lindbergh and Orville Wright enjoyed a close friendship and admired each other. When Lindbergh returned to America after his famous flight, he was committed to attend ceremonies in Washington, New York and St. Louis. After he fulfilled these commitments, his next act was to visit Orville in Dayton to pay his respects to the surviving inventor of the airplane.

He landed at Wright Field on the outskirts of Dayton on June 22, 1927, less than a month after the flight to Paris. A large crowd was awaiting them in downtown Dayton. Orville didn’t like crowds any more than Lindbergh did, so he suggested they take a back way to Orville’s home, Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, skipping the crowds. Lindbergh readily agreed.

The plan went awry when the crowds showed up at Hawthorn Hill just as Orville and Lindbergh sat down for dinner. They shouted for Lindbergh to appear, in the process trampling Orville’s flowerbeds. Lindbergh saved the flowers by agreeing to appear briefly on a small balcony outside of Katharine’s room to wave to the people.

They met periodically thereafter, since they served on a number of committees together, which included the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.

On one occasion, Lindbergh attempted to mediate the controversy between the Smithsonian Institution and Orville over the rightful refusal by Orville to display the 1903 Flyer in the Smithsonian Institution. Orville demanded that the Smithsonian recant their claim that the Langley Aerodrome was the first airplane that was capable of flight. Lindbergh failed in his mission, noting that Orville was as difficult to deal with as the Smithsonian, but that the greater fault was with the Smithsonian. Lindbergh wrote, “He has encountered the narrow mindedness of science and dishonesty of commerce.”

On other occasions, Lindbergh urged Orville to write an autobiography about the Wright Brothers. Lindbergh, himself, had written his own autobiography because he thought it was important to accurately record important historical events for posterity. After repeated attempts he gave up. Orville just wasn’t interested enough to tackle the task. He agreed to have others try, but he didn’t like what they had written.

Lindbergh demonstrated his profound admiration for the Wrights by his agreement to move his famous monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, to make room in the Smithsonian for the arrival of the 1903 Wright Flyer when the Flyer was finally returned to the U.S. from the London Science Museum in 1948. Orville and the Smithsonian had belatedly reached an agreement on the display of the Flyer after the Smithsonian admitted that the claims for the Aerodrome could not be substantiated.

The Spirit of St. Louis had been the centerpiece in the Hall of Arts and Industries Building since 1928. Lindbergh sold the airplane to the Smithsonian for $1 after the completion of his successful U.S. and Latin American air tours. Lindbergh considered it an honor to move it to the rear of the hall.

Lindbergh Flies Again

When Erik was a child he would ask his grandfather how it felt to fly across the ocean alone. His grandfather would respond with, “read the book.” Later when Erik was older, he made a carving of the Spirit of St. Louis. That set him thinking again about his grandfather’s flight and how it must have been to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean. He decided that “I want to do that.” Now was the time to find out for himself how his grandfather felt and to honor him on the 75th anniversary of the event by restaging his grandfather’s famous flight.

Erik followed the same flight plan as his grandfather had done in 1927. He left Lindbergh Field, San Diego, on April 14, 2002 (a month earlier than his grandfather) in the New Spirit of St. Louis.

San Diego was the starting point because Ryan Airlines in San Diego had built the original Spirit of St. Louis.

The next day Eric flew to St. Louis where the original financial backers for his grandfather resided.

He next flew to Republic Airport in Farmington, New York, the departure point for Le Bourget Field in Paris. He chose Republic Airport as a stand-in for Roosevelt Field that his grandfather had used. The site of Roosevelt Field is now a shopping mall.

Erik did not fly a reproduction of his grandfather’s airplane, but it is similar. The Lancair 300 is a small, 310 hp single engine, state-of-the-art airplane made of composite materials that has been modified for the trip. The sleek red and white Lancair has been referred to as the Lexus of small airplanes. It is capable of cruising at a speed of 184 mph. That is 76 mph faster than his grandfather’s plane. The extra speed permits him to fly the 3,610 miles to Paris in 17-20 hours compared to his grandfather’s 33 1/2 hours, cutting the time of the flight almost in half.

Eric’s actual time was 17 hours and 7 minutes.

The original plane cost $10,580 ($100,000 in today’s dollars). The new “Spirit” cost $289,000.

Erik’s plane is smaller, with a wing span that is 10 foot smaller, but it is more reliable. He could also see better. The “Spirit” had no front windshield because a gas tank was placed in the space.

It was also more comfortable. His grandfather sat in a hard wicker chair. Eric had comfortable leather seat.

Erik, 36, had a better airplane, but he was faced with a challenge his grandfather didn’t have. Erik has rheumatoid arthritis disease that nearly crippled him by the age of 21 and required knee replacement surgery. Before the arthritis hit him, he was a champion gymnast and ski racer. Some two years ago he began taking a new drug that has resulted in significant improvement in his condition.

His Lancair has a side stick control and room inside the cockpit so he can stretch. Erik spent months training for the trip under the guidance of Stanley R. Mohler, Director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The family worried that the trip might cause his arthritis to produce dangerous fatigue. Even for a perfectly healthy person, the trip was a risky proposition. But Erik was determined, so the family supported him.

In addition to honoring his grandfather, he hopes his trip will raise awareness of the Arthritis Foundation as well as several other organizations.

One of these is the X Prize Foundation. The foundation has offered a prize of $10 million for the first private reusable spacecraft to carry passengers to an altitude of 62 miles and back. The X Prize has a similarity to the Orteig prize that motivated Erik’s grandfather. Erik is the Director of the X Prize Foundation.

Raymond Orteig, a French expatriate and New York hotel owner, believed that the future of aviation lay in the peaceful pursuit of transoceanic air travel. In 1919, he offered a prize of $25,000 to the first aviator to fly the Atlantic Ocean nonstop between New York and France. It is estimated that 117 people flew over the Atlantic Ocean before Lindbergh’s flight met Ortieg requirements.

The History Channel filmed Erik’s flight (www.HistoryChannel.com).

Erik was a speaker at the Wright Brothers’ Centennial Celebration at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and I had the privilege of speaking with him.

Erik revealed that a suspenseful sequence shown in the History Channel video in which all communications ceased for a short period while flying inside a weather front was not a concern to him. He was in communications with pilots of commercial flights.

At one point during these conversations there was a humorous incident. Erik told one of the pilots that there seemed to be a group of airplanes on the horizon. He was told it was the moon, not airplanes.

Eric said his takeoff wasn’t as suspenseful as his grandfathers who barely had made made it off the ground before running out of runway. But he did have to be careful when taxiing on the runway so that he didn’t turn too fast because the wings were full of fuel and and could sway back and to tip over the airplane.

The wings had been modified to hold an additional 200 gallons of gas. This was about 2/3rds of the amount carried by his grandfather. The total weight of Erik’s plane was 4,260 pounds compared to 5,250 pounds carried by his grandfather.

Erik had no problems on takeoff.

He also was concerned at the other end of the trip about whether his reflexes after the long trip would still be sensitive enough to make a good landing. It turned out that he “nailed it.”

He said, “I made the flight in half the time of my grandfather and ate twice as much.”

Here is a picture of Erik on the left and myself on the right.

A. Scott Crossfield, 84, left Prattville, Ala. around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning April 19, 2006 in his Cessna 210A headed for the airport in Manassas, Va., located hear his home in Herndon, Va. He had been talking to graduating cadets at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. about his experiences.

He was reported missing two hours later after his plane dropped from radar while flying at 11,500 feet. The next day he was found dead in his crashed plane in a heavily forested gully of the mountainous region some 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. The plane’s wreckage fell in two areas about a mile apart. It appears the plane broke up in the storm. He was alone on the flight.

There was a severe storm with thunderstorms in the area. The turbulence in a severe thunderstorm can destroy an aircraft. A woman who lives near the crash site said she heard the plane having trouble in the storm. “He was trying to turn and he just went down.”

Crossfield’s fame comes from being the first pilot to fly twice the speed of sound in 1953 and when in 1959 he flew the X-15 rocket plane to the edge of space (72,00 feet) reaching a speed close to three times the speed of sound.

He still loved to fly and flew at least once a week. He had a private hangar for his Cessna at the Manassas Regional Airport where he maintained the plane himself.

I had the honor of meeting Crossfield when he played a key role for Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Va. He served as a key technical advisor and flight instructor in preparation for re-enacting the Wright brothers first flight on the 100th anniversary of the event at Kitty Hawk in 2003.

The Wright Experience researched and constructed a reproduction of the 1903 machine.

Crossfield was an ideal advisor because he had an advanced degree in Aeronautical Engineering as well as experience. He envied the Wright brothers because they could be involved in the entire engineering process from design to construction to flight.

Crossfield enjoyed working on the X-15 because, “I was very fortunate in being able to complete that whole circle.”

One of the most interesting functions he served with the Wright Experience was the training of the pilots to operate the 1903 Wright Flyer. All four were pilots but that may have been more of a handicap than being helpful. One had to start all over again to learn how to pilot the Flyer. They started with learning how to fly a glider first.

This task demonstrated Crossfield’s great versatility. He flew the X-15 at a speed of almost Mach 3 and was able to teach pilots to fly the Wright Flyer that flies at about Mach 0.05.

As time drew closer to the centennial, the four pilot candidates were cut from four to two. The winners were Kevin Kochersberger and Terry Queijo.

I met Crossfield and the pilots while they were practicing flying the reproduction flyer that would fly on December 17 at the National Wright Brothers Memorial. They were at the famous site to continue their practicing.

Kochersberger made the first successful flight with the reproduction Flyer on Nov. 20th.

I was there on Nov, 25th. Unfortunately, that was the day that Terry Queijo crashed the Flyer while trying to take off.

I observed that the front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence only took a second or two. Queijo was clearly shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt except for her pride.

Here is where I observed the character of Crossfield up close. He was not berating her for damaging the Flyer. Rather, he was talking to her like her grandfather might have talked to her. He was very calm and reassuring; a true gentleman. He was a grandfather with seven grandchildren.

I shot the picture at left moments after the crash. Crossfield is the one with the pointed hood facing the camera. Queijo is facing him on his immediate right (your left).

The flyer, after repairs, was back in the air Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight, piloted by Kochersberger, lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet, only 5 feet short of Orville’s famous first flight.

One of the other things I did was to get Crossfield’s autograph. It is something that I keep in a cherished place.

The most interesting function he served was the training of the pilots to operate the 1903 Wright Flyer. All four were pilots but that may have been more of a handicap than being helpful. One had to start all over again to learn how to pilot the Flyer. They started with learning how to fly a glider first.

As time drew closer to the centennial, the four pilot candidates were cut from four to two. The winners were Kevin Kochersberger and Terry Queijo.

I met Crossfield and the pilots while they were practicing flying the reproduction flyer that would fly on December 17 at the National Wright Brothers Memorial. They were at the famous site to continue their practicing.

Kochersberger made the first successful flight with the reproduction Flyer on Nov. 20th.

I was there on Nov, 25th. Unfortunately, that was the day that Terry Queijo crashed the Flyer while trying to take off.

I observed that the front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence only took a second or two. Queijo was clearly shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt except for her pride.

Here is where I observed the character of Crossfield up close. He was not berating her for damaging the Flyer. Rather, he was talking to her like her grandfather might have talked to her. He was very calm and reassuring; a true gentleman. He was a grandfather with seven grandchildren.

I shot the picture at left moments after the crash. Crossfield is the one with the pointed hood facing the camera. Queijo is facing him on his immediate right (your left).

The flyer, after repairs, was back in the air Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight, piloted by Kochersberger, lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet, only 5 feet short of Orville’s famous first flight.

One of the other things I did was to get Crossfield’s autograph. It is something that I keep in a cherished place.

Update: The National Transportation Board has concluded that Crossfield and an air-controller were blamed for Crossfield’s crash during a severe thunderstorm. Crossfield knew he was flying into rough weather but did not ask for a weather update, and the air-controller did not provide one.