Wright Brothers – Famous Wright Airplane Flights

Articles relating to famous flights taken by the Wright Brothers.

The first accurate eyewitness article describing the Wright airplane in flight was published in an unlikely publication called “Gleanings in Bee Culture” in January 1905. Amos Ives Root, the magazine’s creator, publisher and editor, wrote it. Stranger yet, Root had the approval of the publicity-shy Wrights to write the article.

And Root was not just a casual observer, rather he was invited by the Wrights to witness, keep detailed notes and write about an important event in the history of aviation taking place at Huffman Prairie. The Wrights planned to attempt the first flight in a complete circle. Doing so would validate the Wrights’ mastery of three-axis control. Here is Root’s description of the event as he wrote it in “Gleanings:”

“It was my privilege, on the 20th day of September, 1904 to see the first successful trip of an airship, without a balloon to sustain it, that the worlds has ever made, that is, to turn the corners and come back to the starting-point.”

“During all of these experiments they kept so near the soft marshy ground that a fall would be no serious accident, either to the machine or its occupant. In fact, so carefully have they managed, that, during these years of experimenting, nothing has happened to do any serious damage to the machine nor to give the boys more than what might be called a severe scratch.”

“I think great praise is due along this very line. I told you there was not another machine equal to such a task as I mentioned, on the face of the earth; and, furthermore, just now as I dictate there is probably not another man besides these two who has learned the trick of controlling it.”

“In making this last trip of rounding the circle, the machine was kept near the ground, except in making the turns. If you watch a large bird when it swings around in a circle you will see its wings are tipped up at an incline. The machine must follow the same rule; and to clear the tip of the inside wing it was found necessary to rise to a height of perhaps 20 or 25 feet.”

“When the engine shut off, the apparatus glides to the ground very quietly, and alights on something much like a pair of light sled-runners, sliding over the grassy surface perhaps a rod or more. Whenever it is necessary to slow up the speed before alighting, you turn the nose up hill. It will then climb right up on the air until the momentum is exhausted, when, by skillful management, it can be dropped as lightly as a feather.”

“Since the above was written they have twice succeeded in making four complete circles without alighting, each circle passing the starting point. These circles are nearly a mile in circumference each; and the last flight made Dec. 12 could have been prolonged indefinitely had it not been that the rudder was in such position it cramped the hand of the operator so he was obliged to alight. The longest flight took only five minutes and four seconds by the watch. Over one hundred flights have been made during the past summer. Some of them are 50 or 60 feet above the ground.”

Root, age 64, didn’t waste any time traveling the 200 miles from his home in Medina, Ohio near Cleveland to Dayton. He boarded with the Dave Beard family whose farm house was the closest to Huffman Prairie. On the morning of September 20, he walked over to the flying field and introduced himself to the Wright brothers and asked for permission to observe their experiments. Surprisingly, the Wrights readily agreed and invited him to be their guest. A long time friendship began soon after.

How is it that Root was readily accepted while many others writers were rebuffed? It turns out that Root and the Wrights had many things in common.

Root grew up on a farm, was a good reader and read a lot at an early age. He had an intense interest in the natural world, particularly in science. He loved machines and was interested in chemistry and electricity. He owned the first bicycle in Northern Ohio.

The bicycle was the kind with a large front wheel in front. It was difficult to ride, but Root was determined to learn how even though people laughed at his effort.

He left home at an early age and with a partner, toured the Midwest giving demonstrations on electricity and magnetism. That enterprise ended in tragedy when his partner and their horse drowned while crossing a swollen stream. His story on the tragedy, his first venture in writing, appeared in the Medina Gazette.

He then became interested in jewelry, read up on the subject, built a factory making jewelry and became wealthy. In the process he married a local girl and subsequently had five children.

He became interested in bees when one day a swarm of bees hovered over his workplace. As a hobby he read every thing he could find on bees and became the leading authority in the world on bees. He founded the A. I. Root company in 1869 and manufactured a new beehive that for the first time made it possible for beekeepers to harvest their honey without destroying the colony of bees.

He decided to share what he had learned with others so he founded and published a trade journal about bees and named it “Gleanings in Bee Culture.” By 1904, it had been in publication for 30 years.

“Gleanings” became more than a publication on bees, it included the other things that Root was interested in such as gardening, science and technology and religion and had an international circulation of some 150,000.

Religion was important facet of Root’s life. His employees were expected to attend daily prayer meetings on company time. He didn’t believe in drinking alcohol, smoking or working on Sunday. He believed that technological progress was a gift from God and would result in social betterment.

Many farmers at the time considered automobiles to be a menace. Local citizens considered Root eccentric.

The beginning of Root’s article in “Gleanings” reflects his God-technological sentiments.

“What has God wrought? – Num. 23:23.

“Dear friends, I have a wonderful story to tell you – a story that, in some respects, out rivals the Arabian Night fables – a story, too, with a moral that I think many of the younger ones need, and perhaps some of the older ones too if they will heed it.”

“God in his great mercy has permitted me to be, at least somewhat, instrumental in ushering in and introducing to the great wide world an invention that may outrank the electric cars, the automobiles, and all other methods of travel, and one which may fairly take a place beside the telephone and wireless telegraphy. Am I claiming a good deal? Well, I will tell my story, and you shall be the judge. In order to make the story a helpful one I may stop and turn aside a good many times to point a moral.”

“— These two, perhaps by accident, or maybe as a matter of taste, began studying the flights of birds and insects. From this they turned their attention to what has been done in the way of enabling men to fly. They not only studied nature, but they procured the best books, and I think I may say all the papers, the world contains on this subject.”

“When I first became acquainted with them, and expressed a wish to read up all there was on the subject, they showed me a library that astonished me; and I soon found they were thoroughly versed, not only in regard to our present knowledge, but every thing that had been done in the past.”

“These boys (they are men now), instead of spending their summer vacation with crowds, and with such crowds as are often questionable, as so many do, went away by themselves to a desert place by the seacoast. You and I have in years past found enjoyment and health in sliding down hill on the snow; but these boys went off to the sandy waste on the Atlantic coast to slide down hill too: but instead of sliding on snow and ice they slid on air.”

“With a gliding machine made of sticks and cloth they learned to glide and soar from the top of a hill to the bottom; and by making not only hundreds but more than a thousand experiments, they became so proficient in guiding these gliding machines that they could sail like a bird, and control its movements up and down as well as sidewise. Now, this was not altogether for fun or boys’ play. They had purpose in view.”

The Wrights and Root shared the same moral principles and demonstrated the same passion, desire and commitment for what they believed in. They also shared the characteristics of a contrarian. Root was someone who could appreciate what the Wrights had accomplished.

Root stood next to Orville near the catapult directly in the flight path during one flight and described the exciting experience as follows:

“The engine is started and got up to speed. The machine is held until ready to start by a sort of trap to be sprung when all is ready; then with a tremendous flapping and snapping of the four-cylinder engine, the huge machine springs aloft. ”

“When it first turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it; and I said then, and believe still, it was one of the grandest sights, if not the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say – a locomotive made of aluminum.”

“Well, now imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.”

Root asked plenty of questions. One had to do with lift.

“I confess it is not clear to me, even yet, how that little aluminum engine, with four paddles, does the work. I asked the question,

“Boys, would that engine and these two propellers raise the machine from the ground if placed horizontally above it?”

“Certainly not, Mr. Root. They would not lift a quarter of its weight.”

“Then how is it possible that it sustains it in the air as it is?”

“The answer involves a strange point in the wonderful discovery of air navigation. When some large bird or butterfly is soaring with motionless wings, a very little power from behind will keep it moving.”

“Well if this motion is kept up, a very little incline of the wings will keep it from falling. A little more incline, and a little more push from behind, and the bird or the butterfly, or the machine created by human hands, will gradually rise in the air. I was surprised at the speed, and I was astonished at the wonderful power of this comparatively small apparatus.”

Root again emphasizes that God welcomes technological change in a follow-up article in the next issue of “Gleanings” published on January 15th.

“It has often been remarked that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a ship under full sail, especially a new sailing vessel with clean white canvas.”

There is something especially exhilarating about the way in which the canvas catches the wind and sends the ship scudding through the waves. But to me the sight of a machine like the one I have pictured, with its white canvas planes and rudders subject to human control, is one of the grandest and most inspiring sights I have ever seen on earth; and when you see one of these graceful crafts sailing over your head, and possibly over your home, as I expect you will in the near future, see if you don’t agree with me that the flying machine is one is one of God’s most gracious and precious gifts.”

Root was concerned about others stealing the Wrights’ secrets.

“I may add, however, that the apparatus is secured by patents, both in this and in foreign countries; and as nobody else has as yet succeeded in doing any thing like what they have done I hope no millionaire or syndicate will try to rob them of the invention or laurels they have so fairly and honestly earned.”

Root was prescient in his observation. It wasn’t long before Glen Curtiss and the Smithsonian Institution in this country and others in Europe would steal their secrets and try to claim credit for their invention.

Even today some people credit Glen Curtiss with making the first public flight of an airplane in the U.S. on July 4, 1908. For this feat the Aero Club of America awarded him American pilot license No. 1.

Roots also had thoughts about the future of the airplane.

“When Columbus discovered America he did not know what the outcome would be, and no one at the time knew; and I doubt if the wildest enthusiast caught a glimpse of what really did come from his discovery. In a like manner these brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery is going to bring to the children of men. No one living can give a guess of what is coming along this line, much better than any one living could conjecture the final outcome of Columbus’ experiment when he pushed off through the trackless waters. Possibly we may be able to fly over the North Pole, even if we should not succeed in tacking the “stars and stripes” to its uppermost end.”

Why did the Wrights choose Root to publish a detailed account of their exploits? They were obviously comfortable with Root, but I think there was more to it than that. I think they relished having a nontraditional publication out scoop the establishment press. Such an event would appear to the Wrights’ sense of humor

They gave Root the permission just before Christmas to go to press with his article. The Wrights wanted to wait until they were not with their experiments for 1904 before the article was published.

Root also sent his article to the Scientific American magazine for publication, but the Scientific American didn’t believe the story was worthy of publication and therefore rejected it.

Note: The Root Company is still in business in Medina, Ohio, and today manufactures high quality candles. (www.rootcandles.com)

It was the fall of 1909 and New York City planned a huge Hudson-Fulton Celebration to commemorate two great episodes in the history of the Hudson River. One was the 300th anniversary of Captain Henry Hudson’s upstream cruise to the future site of Albany. The other was the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s steamboat trip.

The largest gathering of some 40 naval vessels, both American and foreign, were going to participate.

Two famous American aviators, Wilbur Wright and Glen Curtiss also agreed to participate and perform air demonstrations.

The year 1909 had been a spectacular year for the Wright Brothers. Their flights were the talk of two continents. President William Howard Taft had given them medals. Wilbur’s flight over New York would be the piece de resistance.

Glen Curtiss was also doing well. He had just won the Gordon Bennett Trophy for setting a new world speed record in Rheims France. The newspapers proclaimed Curtiss the “Champion Aviator of the World.”

Both parties were in the news for another reason. The Wrights had just filed suit against Curtiss and others for violating their 1906 patent covering airplane control systems. Their exhibitions in New York would pit the two against each other in the air preceding their upcoming battle in court. One New York newspaper observed: “It is a matter of pride and supremacy with each of them.”

Preflight

Just prior to the planned flights, the Aero Club of America sponsored a luncheon and reception in New York City to honor Curtiss’s victory at Rheims, France. The introductory speaker introduced Curtiss as the American who won the “greatest victory in the history of aerial effort.” Curtiss received a gold medal.

Wilbur, who was a club member, was invited but declined to attend saying that he was too busy preparing his airplane for the demonstration flights.

One of his unusual preparations was to add an ordinary red canoe to his airplane. The canoe would be a precaution in case he would have to land in the water. The canoe was tied to the bottom wing pointing fore and aft and covered with a canvas cover.

Curtiss meanwhile was dismayed to find that his partner in the Herring-Curtiss Company, Augustus Herring, without conferring with him, had contracted for $5,000 to display his Rheim’s airplane in Wanamaker department stores for two months. He would have to use an untried alternative airplane in the celebration.

The Flights

All flights would emanate from Governors Island. The island was located in the harbor a half mile off Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan. At the time the headquarters of the U.S. First army was located there. Two hangars, one for Wilbur and one for Curtiss were erected on the sand flats.

The flights were scheduled to begin on September 27, but rain cancelled any attempt to fly. On Wednesday morning, September 29, Curtiss was the first to take off. He had trouble getting into to the air because his wheels didn’t roll easily in the sand. It was a short flight witnessed by an Army officer and a friend.

Two hours later, Wilbur took off with the aid of a starting rail. After a short seven-minute flight, he announced he was ready for his first official public flight

Alerted, nearly a million people were massed along the docks, parks, streets and rooftops. Some forty warships from many nations filled the harbor.

He started at 8:57 a.m. Before getting into his seat Wilbur thoroughly tested his engine. He faced the west, and the wind was not as strong as when Curtiss flew.

Charles Taylor, Wilbur’s mechanic ran along with the airplane until it lifted off the ground. Orville wasn’t with Wilbur because he was in Germany near Potsdam engaged in training Captain Paul Engelhard on how to fly the Wright airplane. The German empress witnessed several flights and congratulated Orville on his success.

Turning to the left Wilbur made a wide sweep of the field and headed toward Brooklyn. He circled the Island becoming lost from view of the spectators behind a clump of trees.

He reappeared on the outer side of Fort Castle William and made a complete circle over the southern half of the airfield before coming around a second time very close to the ground. When he was about to land the left wing tip scraped the sand and whirled the machine around so that it landed sideways on its skids.

A New York newspaper reported that an upset Wilbur said, “That’s the worst landing I’ve made in a long time, and I’m not going to try anything like that again.”

“I thought surely the machine would be smashed to pieces. It is the only machine in the world that would stand such a bad landing.”

After Wilbur inspected his airplane to see if it had suffered any damage, Curtiss who had reached the field as Wilbur landed, greeted his rival familiarly and asked him, “How’s it going this morning?”

“Very good,” responded Wilbur, “but I made a very bad landing.”

Conditions for flying improved as the day progressed and a large crowd gathered at the Battery and boats surrounded Governor’s island in expectation of further exhibitions.

After tightening the wires and screws of his airplane and shifting the starting rail so that it faced directly against the wind, Wilbur took-off again using the entire 165-feet of the monorail.

Leveling out at 200 feet, the Wright Flyer circled the island once and headed out to sea in the direction of the Statue of Liberty. As Wilbur reached the Statue, he passed over the outward-bound Lusitania, the pride of the oceans. Passengers crowded the decks to watch him.

Wilbur pointed the Flyer directly at the Statue; then banked sharply and circled behind and passed within 20 feet of the metal drapery that makes up the waist. Spectators in New York thought he was going to crash as he passed out of their sight behind the statue.

On he continued, banking the Flyer as he passed under the upraised arm. Then he leveled the wings and turned toward Governor’s Island. As he passed over the Lusitania again, people were waving hats, coats and anything else they could find. There was a deafening blast in salute from the ship’s foghorn.

On the return trip Wilbur was flying with the speed of an express train. When he reached the airfield flying about 10 to 15 feet off the ground, he brought his machine head up to the wind and made a perfect landing.

“I guess I made 50-mph coming back,” Wilbur remarked.

He started the flight at 10:18 a.m. and landed back at Governor’s Island after a flight of 6 minutes and 30 seconds and was mobbed by reporters. Wilbur, as usual, showed little emotion. Some thought they saw a slight smile.

Curtiss has Problems

Bad weather prevented further flying for several days. Curtiss was anxious because he had an another contract commitment to appear in St. Louis. He saw his chance on Sunday. He knew that the Wrights never flew on Sundays because of their religious beliefs.

Late in the day the wind subsided and he made two attempts to fly. The first time he had some trouble with the engine. The second time he made a swing around Governor’s Island and landed. There were few witnesses and it didn’t count as an official flight.

He decided he had enough and that it was more important to honor his commitment in St. Louis so he left New York

Another Success for Wilbur

Wilbur wasn’t finished yet. On Monday, October 4 he took off at 9:53 a.m. and proceeded up the Hudson River. He had a life jacket tied to the lower wing at his feet. Two American flags flew from the front elevator.

First he flew past Manhattan over the wharves and warehouses. Crowds were cheering him on his way. He continued up the river. Sometimes when there were no structures in his way, he dropped low for people to see him better.

When he could see Grants Tomb in upper Manhattan, he turned left and flew across the river until he neared the Palisades. Then he turned left again and headed back south.

He flew over many battleships anchored along the New Jersey shore. It was the first time an airplane ever flew over battleships. Some of the officers on the ships may have sensed that a new day in the nature of warfare was not far away.

It would take General Billy Mitchell another fifteen years to convince the U.S. Military of that fact when he bombed and sank a ship in a demonstration of air power.

Soon Wilbur reached the harbor again near Ellis Island, turned, and landed at Governor’s Island after a 42-mile round trip to the blaring horns of thousands of ships below him.

It was a magical moment not soon to be forgotten by those who were there. It was also Wilbur’s last public flight. “The whistles of the passing tugs and ferry boats were tooting a mighty chorus and the Battery sea wall was black with people. The news was flashed over the city, and from windows of the towering buildings thousands forgot all else and watched the huge artificial bird sailing up the river.”

It was also Wilbur’s last public flight. He had planned to fly again in the afternoon. While the engine was warning up, a cylinder head blew off breaking through the motor casing. It ripped a two-foot hole in the upper wing and shot 20-feet into the air, landing within a few feet of Wilbur. Thus ended one of the most spectacular and dangerous over the water flights that anyone had ever taken up to that time.

Celebration

Two men from Dayton flew a Wright “B” Flyer replica around the Statue of Liberty on Memorial Day, 2003.

Juan Trippe

Juan Trippe as a teenager witnessed Wilbur’s flight around the Statue of Liberty. Who is Trippe? Later in life he founded Pan American airways in1927. After seeing Wilbur fly, he dreamed of becoming a pilot, which he did as a military pilot in 1917.

Trippe hired Charles Lindbergh to help promote international travel by airplane. In 1945, Pan Am became the first airplane to introduce tourist class, cutting the New York to London fare by more than half and effectively launched the modern age of air travel.

California or Bust

The first transcontinental airplane flight across the U.S. is one of the most significant flights in aviation history. The flight, achieved in 1911, was eight years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the 32-year-old cigar smoking flamboyant pilot, was one of those single-minded people who does not give up until success is achieved. Rodgers had to make 70 landings and crashed at least 16 times. He survived an exploding engine, thunderstorms, souvenir hunters and an in-flight run-in with an eagle. His plane was almost completely rebuilt twice.

Rodgers is the grandson of Commodore Calbraith Perry, whose “gunboat diplomacy” opened Japan to the West in 1854. He became interested in making the flight after publisher William Randolph Hearst offered a prize of $50,000 to the first man to make a transcontinental flight in thirty days or less.

Preparation

In preparation for the flight, Rodgers attended the Wrights’ flying school held at Huffman Prairie in Dayton, Ohio. The Wrights’ charged $60 an hour for a minimum of four hours of training. Rodgers was a fast learner and soloed after only 90 minutes of training.

The airplane he would fly was assembled by hand at the Wrights’ factory in Dayton. The spruce and wire biplane didn’t look too much different than the original Wright Flyer that first flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903. It was powered by a Wright 35 horsepower single-speed four-cylinder engine and had a fifteen gallon gas tank that could provide for a 3 1/2 hour flight time.

The airplane was given the designation Model EX which meant it was a single-seat exhibition model version of a 1911 Wright B. The Wrights sold the airplane to Rodgers for $5,000. The price included some spare parts.

Rodgers secured the Armour Company of Chicago as sponsor for the trip in return for promotion of their new grape flavored soft drink called “Vin Fiz.” The airplane was christened with a bottle of the drink and the letters Vin Fiz were prominently displayed on its wings and tail. A bottle of the drink was strapped to the frame of the plane. As the plane flew over major cities, people would look up and see the Vin Fiz logo, which may have been the birth of aerial advertising. Rodgers would earn $3 to $5 for every mile flown.

The Flight

Rodgers took off from Sheepshead Bay, Long Island on September 17, 1911. Since there were no navigational aids for the flight at the time, his plan was to follow railroad tracks as much as possible. Using Railroad tracks for navigation had its problems. At one switching point he followed the wrong tracks and ended up in Scranton, Pa., rather than Elmira, NY.

There were no landing fields along the way. The primitive fields he had to land on were the principle cause of his accidents.

A three-car special train was outfitted with spare parts, engines and mechanics. Rodger’s wife and mother were aboard following him along his trip that would take him to Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Tucson and Phoenix on the way to heir final destination, Pasadena, California.

Charlie Taylor, the Wrights’ chief mechanic, was given a leave of absence by the Wrights to care for the plane and make repairs after every mishap. It would turn out to be a prescience decision.

The first leg of the flight to Middletown, N.Y. went well. The next morning, however, on takeoff, the rudder caught on a tree. Rodgers crashed into a chicken coup. He emerged with a cut on his head, but otherwise was unhurt.

That crash was a precursor of more to come. By the time Rodgers reached Pasadena on November 5, he had crashed so often that the only original parts of the airplane remaining were the vertical rudder and two wing struts. Replacements included 18 wing panels, twenty skids and two engines.

At Pasadena, 15,000 people awaited him at Tournament Park. Rodgers spiraled in to a soft landing on the polo field and was mobbed by the crowd.

He had flown 4,321 miles in 82 hours and 2 minutes of flying time. His average speed was 52 mph. Unfortunately, he failed to win the $50,000 Hearst prize because he took longer than 30 days to make the crossing. However, he did earn $20,000 from the Armour Company for the miles covered.

Persistence is Rewarded

Rodgers was not discouraged. In fact he was determined to go on to the ocean. On November 12 he took off from Pasadena but ran into trouble when he banked to avoid high-tension wires, lost altitude and crashed into marshy ground a dozen miles from Long Beach. He suffered two sprained ankles, a twisted back and a concussion.

Undeterred, a month later, with the plane repaired and himself on crutches, Rodgers flew to the beach and taxied the wheels of the Vin Fiz into the Pacific Ocean. It had been 84 days since he started his famous journey.

Tragedy Strikes

Rodgers was killed in an accident less than a year later on April 3, 1912. He was testing the engine that was giving him trouble when he swerved to miss a flock of sea gulls, hit one and plunged into the surf some 500 feet from the spot where he had landed in triumph five months earlier. The engine broke lose in the impact and struck Rodgers, breaking his neck.

A bronze plaque memorializing Rodger’s feat can be seen in the small remnant of Tournament Park off South Wilson Ave. in Pasadena. A reconstructed Vin Fiz now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Vin Fiz soft Drink to be Resurrected

A New Hampshire firm, Imagination Counts, owned by David Hallmark, plans to introduce the soft drink. The new soda is being manufactured by the Conner Bottling Co. in Newfields, NH and is targeted for niche mom-and-pop stores at $1.50 a bottle. The recipe calls for pure cane sugar instead of the original high fructose for the mild grape soda.

David Hallmark got the idea to reintroduce the soda when he planned to introduce a new educational board game involving Cal Rodgers. David feels that the story of the airplane and the soft drink are intertwined.

During his research for the game he discovered that the Vin Fiz trademark was available. That led to Hallmark contacting E.P. Stein who had written a book about the Vin Fiz in 1948, which in turn led to an agreement for Hallmark to use exclusive excerpts from Stein’s book in his board game.

Even New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has gotten involved in the project by declaring January 12, Vin Fiz Day, in honor of Rodgers who was born January 12, 1879.

Hallmark expects his soft drink will receive more exposure during the 100th anniversary of the flight of the Vin Fiz in 2011, when a documentary film recreate the flight – “with a bottle strapped to it

One of my prized possessions is a 2-inch square swatch of original Vin Fiz wing fabric.

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers successfully flew the first heavier-than-air powered airplane. Now the question became what could they do with their invention. Many people at the time thought airplanes had no practical value.

Originally, they pursued the problem of flight as a hobby. They had heard of the unfortunate crash and death of the German glider experimenter, Otto Lilienthal, in 1896 and speculated how man could successfully fly. Their first glider experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1900 convinced them that they were on the right track and further motivated them to continue serious pursuit of the quest.

Seven years of thought, work and money convinced them to seek profit from their investment by going into business with their invention. Initially, they pursued the only markets available to them at the time – barnstorming and selling airplanes to governments.

A unique new market opportunity arrived in the mail in 1910. The Wright Brothers received an unsolicited letter from Max Morehouse, a Columbus, Ohio department store owner inquiring “how much will you charge to bring a roll of silk ribbon from your city to our establishment?”

This inquiry led to a contact between Morehouse and the Wright Exhibition Company to fly 200 pounds of silk worth $800 from Dayton to Columbus.

The airplane to be used was the latest Wright airplane, the Model B. It was the first Wright airplane to use wheels instead of a sled design. Another significant design change was that the vertical stabilizer was moved from the front of the airplane to the rear behind the tail. The Model B had a thirty-nine foot wing span and was powered with a forty horsepower gasoline engine.

Philip Parmalee, a 24-year-old graduate of the Wright flying school, was selected as the pilot. He was trained at the Wright’s school located in Montgomery Alabama.

There were few navigational aids to guide flight in those days, so Orville gave Parmalee a map of a railroad track to follow to Columbus, which he fastened to a wing strut for ease of viewing.

At 10:45 a.m. on November 7, 1910, Parmalee took off from Huffman Prairie airfield outside of Dayton headed for Columbus. Huffman Prairie was in reality a cow pasture that the Wrights used after their experiments at Kitty Hawk. It is now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Parmalee’s destination in Columbus was a racetrack marked with white flags to improve visibility from the air.

Parmalee flew at an elevation of 2,000-3,000 feet sitting on the wing with no protection from the wind. The wind-chill factor that day was below zero. He would sometimes turn the plane so that he would be in the sun’s rays and clap his hands to keep warm.

Thousands of people lined the route and cheered as he flew over. Three thousand people waited at the Columbus racetrack for his arrival. Morehouse, always the businessman, charged them $1.00 for general admission and $1.25 for reserved seats. Parking was $3.00.

Sixty-six minutes after taking off from Dayton, Parmalee landed at the racetrack. He had covered the 65 miles in 66 minutes, setting a new world speed record for cross-country flight. The news of the first cargo flight was covered in newspapers around the world.

A new industry was launched, but it would be more than a decade before air cargo became commonplace. It would lead eventually to creating the present day global economy.

Morehouse, the department store owner, not only received worldwide publicity, but also made a profit on his $5,000 investment. In addition to selling tickets to the racetrack attendees, he sold swatches of the silk on a post card for five cents a card as well at lengths of silk for $1.35 a yard.

Philip Parmalee left the Wright Brother employment and flew early U.S. Air Mail. In early 1911 in San Francisco, he was the pilot of a Wright Model B that conducted the first Army experiments with dropping live bombs from aircraft. Two years after his celebrated cargo flight, he was killed in an airplane crash at Yakima, Washington.

Bird Strikes

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Wright Airplane Flights

A bird strike is what forced the US Airways Flight 1249 to crash land in the icy Hudson River. Fortunately, a skillful pilot managed to land the plane safely in the river and all 155 passengers survived.

Bird Strikes have been a known and common hazard since the Wright brothers started flying. The first recorded bird strike occurred while Wilbur Wright was flying over Huffman Prairie in Dayton in 1905.

In his diary, written on September 7, 1905, he recorded, “Twice passed over fences into Bread’s cornfield. Chased flocks of birds on two rounds and killed one which fell on top of upper surface and after a time fell off when swinging a sharp curve.”

The earliest known fatal airplane crash involving a bird took place in 1912. The plane, a Wright Model EX, which was a single-seat exhibition model version of a 1911 Wright Model B, flown by Wright trained Calbraith Perry Rodgers.

Rodgers was the first pilot to fly across country on a flight from Long Island, NY, to Long Beach, Calif. He flew over 4,321 miles with 70 landings (many crashes).

Rodgers was killed shortly after his transcontinental flight while testing a new engine. He ran into a flock of sea gulls, hit them and plunged into the surf some 500 feet from the spot where he had landed in triumph five months earlier. The engine, which had broken loose, and struck Rodgers in the back of his head, breaking his neck.

Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, where the Huffman Prairie Flying Field is located, reports that the base’s airplanes go through some 10 to 12 substantial bird strikes a year. However, not since 2005 has a collision resulted in a failed engine.