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:


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.


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.”


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.


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.”

Einstein’s Wing Flops

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Einstein once took an interest in aviation and tried to design an improved wing. He wrote a technical article in August 1916 in which he proposed a new shape for wings that he hoped would improve lift.

His proposal was a wing with a large mid-chord arch.

His paper began with the question, “Where does lift come from that allows airplanes and birds to fly?” To answer the question, he searched the existing published literature on the subject and concluded that not even a primitive answer was to be found.

He evidently didn’t have the Wright brothers’ 1902 wind tunnel data or he probably would have pursued a different idea.

Einstein used Bernoull’s theorem as a basis for the design of his improved wing. Lift is created by the pressure differential created by the flow of air over a wing.

Bernoulli’s Theorem developed by Daniel Bernoulli, an eighteenth century scientist discovered that as the velocity of a fluid (such as air) increases, its pressure decreases.

In the case of an airplane, the theorem postulates that the wing is shaped to force the air flowing over the upper surface of a cambered wing to flow faster to cover a longer distance than the air flowing over the lower surface. The faster air on the top surface creates a pressure differential resulting in an upward force on the wing.

The hump on the top of the wing surface, Einstein thought, would create an even longer path for the air to travel, resulting in additional lift.

Einstein’s proposal for a wing design was given to Paul Ehrhardt who had flown for two-minutes as a passenger with Orville in 1909. He was the technical manager of an aircraft company in Berlin. He forwarded the proposal to his engineering group for evaluation.

Engineering consulted with Einstein and subsequently compared 99 conventional airfoils in a wind tunnel with Einstein’s foil. All but two the conventional foils had higher lift-to-drag ratios.

This was not a result that Einstein envisioned.

Einstein’s proposal didn’t work because the Bernoulli explanation of lift that he relied upon is incorrect when applied to airplane wings even though it still can be found in popular literature.

A better explanation of lift is based on Newton’s Third Law that postulates that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Issac Newton has been regarded for over 300 years as the founding exemplar of modern physical science.

As applied to a wing, the thrust of the airflow passing over the trailing edge of a wing is bent downward. The downward thrust of the air creates an equal upward force that is lift.

Other determinants of lift in addition to the shape of the wing include the size of the wing, velocity of the air flowing over the wing, the density of the surrounding air and the angle of attack.

Following the German wind tunnel tests on the Einstein wing, they constructed a full-size prototype airplane consisting of a WW I German biplane with “Enstein’s wings” attached.

Ehrhardt decided to be the test pilot. After a long takeoff run, the plane went in to an unintended roll as he took-off. Ehrhardt said that he landed quickly and safely and “was overjoyed to find himself on firm ground and still in one piece.”

Ehrhardt further elaborated on his experience, saying that the plane was hard to control tending to “waddle while flying something akin to the flight of a pregnant duck.”

Einstein accepted the failure of his wing design with good humor. He wrote to Ehrhardt, “That is what can happen to a man who thinks a lot, but reads little.

The year 2005 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s extraordinary year in which he published five scientific papers that fundamentally changed our knowledge of space, time, light and matter. His genius made possible the development of computers, satellites, telecommunication, lasers, television and nuclear power. Not bad for someone who never learned to drive a car.

The year 2005 also is important time for the Wright brothers and to society. It is the 100th anniversary of the time when they developed the first practical airplane. It took the genius of Wilbur and Orville to accomplish that.

Reference: Einstein’ Wing, Air & Space, April/May 2005.

Harriet Quimby

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Harriet Quimby was a female pioneer in aviation. She was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license, the first woman to fly solo over the English channel and the seventh woman to be enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

She was flamboyant, ambitious, beautiful, daring and tragically the first woman to die at an aviation meet.

Harriet loved anything associated with speed. In October 1910 she heard about an international air show to be held at Belmont Park. She decided to attend and while there she met daredevil pilot John Moisant. She was excited when he won a race around the Statue of Liberty and asked him to teach her to fly.

“Flying looks easy,” she said to Moisant. “I believe I could do it myself and I will.”

Her self-confidence came from a mother who didn’t want her daughter to grow up depending on a man. Harriet’s father had gone into bankruptcy as a poor farmer while she was growing up in Coldwater, Michigan.

The family subsequently moved to Oakland, California, searching for a better life. Harriet thrived in the freer lifestyle of California. She tried acting for a while, but found her niche in journalism, writing articles for the San Francisco Bulletin in 1890.

Her boundless energy caused her to travel to New York City, the journalism capital of the world, in 1903. When she arrived she had no job or place to live. It wasn’t long before she found a journalism job as a drama critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, a top magazine of the day.

Soon after, she engaged in activities usually reserved for men; such as driving and fixing her own automobile, using a typewriter and photographing her own pictures to accompany her articles.

Her writing expanded to subjects as controversial as exposing child neglect. She even wrote seven movie scripts that were made into movies, another first for a woman.

She convinced Leslie’s to finance her flying lessons in return for writing articles about her flying experiences. She wanted to obtain her lessons at the Wright brother’s flying school in Dayton, but the school didn’t accept woman students.

In a seeming contradiction, Katharine Wright, the Wright brothers’ sister was active in the suffrage movement and Milton, her father, and Orville contributed money to the movement. They even marched through downtown Dayton in behalf of the movement.

The Wright flying school did later admit women for pilot training and graduated three of them before the school closed.

Harriet turned to Moisant’s Aviation School on Long Island, who accepted her in 1911. John Moisant was no longer at the school because he was killed in an air meet in New Orleans.

Her instruction consisted of 33 lessons with a little over 4 1/2 hours flying time. On July 31st she flew her first flight test, performing everything right except that she over shot the landing, coming down 40 feet outside the required 160 foot circle. Her flight instructors thought that would discourage her and she would give up.

They didn’t really know Harriet. The next day she tried again and set an accuracy record for her landing. She triumphantly walked over to one of the officials, looked him in the eye and said, “Well, I guess I get my license!”

She did, thus becoming the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license. Earlier that year, a French woman was the first women in the world to receive a license.

She was not a feminist by any means; she opposed confrontation. She viewed her ability to fly as demonstrating through example that woman can do almost anything men can do.

Leslie’s appointed her Aviation Editor and instituted a new department devoted to the subject of aviation. Her articles on her flying experiences in Leslie’s sold out. Some of her articles had titles such as “How a Woman Learns to Fly” and “How I Won My Aviator’s License.”

She created a new fashion style for woman in aviation. The normal flying suits were not flattering to woman. Her outfit consisted of a one-piece suit made of purple satin with knee-length pants and a satin hood. Her accessories were flying goggles, elbow-length gloves and high-laced black boots. She became known as the “Dresden China Aviatrix.”

She joined an exhibition group and won her first cross-country race, winning $600. She followed that up by winning $1,500 for a night flight under a full moon.

Similar to the Wright brothers, she would not fly on Sunday. In her case it was at the request of her mother.

Only three months after earning her flying license, she decided she wanted a new challenge. She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. She ordered a new airplane for the event, a 50-hp French Beloit monoplane.

Three years earlier, Louis Bleriot had won the London Daily Mail’s 1,000-pound prize for the first successful crossing and became an instant French hero.

By the time Harriet arrived in Britain, the weather had turned bad and her plane had arrived late. The two unexpected events deprived her from having an opportunity to practice flying her new plane. But, she was impatient and concerned that some other woman might make the attempt before she did.

Finally there was a break in the weather on April 16, 1912 so she decided to go even though there were reports of fog near the French coast. The only instrumentation she had was a compass that a friend gave her.

She put on an extra raincoat and took off from Dover at 5:30 a.m. It wasn’t long before she hit the fog bank and couldn’t see where she was going. To make matters worse, her plane had an open cockpit that allowed oil from the engine to blow back in her face.

She flew up to 6,000 feet but that didn’t help. She was forced to rely on her compass that she held cradled between her knees. When she finally broke through the fog, she was 25 miles south of her destination at Calais. She decided to land safely on the sandy beach at Hardelot. The flight had taken one hour and 9 minutes.

It was a remarkable achievement, but she received little recognition for the event. It was her fate that the Titanic disaster, that took 1,573 lives, occurred two days before her flight. The news on the Titanic pushed her achievement off the front page.

That didn’t discourage Harriet, she was off to another air meet two months later. She was offered $100,000 to participate in a Boston air meet, which would take place over Boston Harbor.

At the meet, promoter William Willard asked her for an airplane ride in her 70-hp Bleriot, one of the latest models of military monoplanes. She agreed, but then his son wanted to go also. They decided to settle the matter by a flip of the coin. Willard senior won. As fate would have it, that gamble was one too many.

William Willard weighed some 200 pounds, which stretched the weight limit for the fragile Beloit plane. There was no problem with the take-off on July 1, 1912, but then at about 2,000 feet Willard did something surprisingly stupid – he stood up. No one knows for sure why; maybe it wanted to say something to Harriet. The Beloit plane is configured so the passenger sat in a separate cockpit behind the pilot, so Harriet couldn’t see what was happening.

Then he tumbled out of the plane. There were no seat belts in the plane, which was common for airplanes at that time. It permitted easier access to the engine that often caught on fire or needed some adjustment.

Harriet was confronted with a tail that rose suddenly with the shift in the center of gravity without knowing the cause. She fought to control the plane that was now pitching violently. Then she too was catapulted out of the plane.

To the horror of some thousands of spectators, the two tumbling bodies hit the shallow muddy waters of the bay some 300 feet from the shore. They were both killed instantly. She was 37 years old.

Ironically Harriet had earlier written an article on the dangers of flight in which she advocated the use of seat belts. In another article, Good Housekeeping Magazine, she wrote, “Only a cautious person – man or woman – should fly. I never mount my machine until every wire and screw has been tested. I have never had an accident in the air. It may be luck, but I attribute it to the care of a good mechanic.”

In another twist of fate, If she had been flying a Wright airplane, Willard would have been sitting next to her instead of behind and the accident would probably not have happened. The fact that she was not using a Wright plane most likely goes back to her not being able to attend the Wright flying school.

There were other explanations given in addition to the one I have provided for the cause of the crash such as adverse weather and mechanical problems. I believe the one I provided is the cause that is most believable.

The Boston Post, still not accepting that a woman could fly, gave her faint praise by giving her honorary male status by writing, “She took her chances like a man and died like one.”

She lived life to the fullest and in the process she helped open the door to women to fulfill their life’s potential.

Now, some 100 years later she is remembered on a 50 cent U.S. Postal Stamp and only recently by induction into the U. S. Aviation Hall of Fame. There is a brief description of her achievements on a historic sign near her grave in Kensico Cemetery, Westchester, N.Y.