Wright Brothers – The Military Airplane

Articles relating to the ongoing of the Wright Brothers and the US military.

The September 11, 1908 edition of the newspapers carried a story about Orville’s flights at Ft. Myer outside Washington D.C.

The article contains several interesting items in addition to Orville’s record-breaking flights. It notes a race with a pigeon. Wind forces its way under Orville’s goggles and inflames his ideas. Orville receives a cable from Wilbur that is written in code. Orville is quoted predicting aeroplanes will carry up to seven passengers and perform loops the loops. Augustus Herring requests an extension of time to submit his aeroplane, and Orville declines to fly at amusement parks.

Concerning Herring, to everyone’s surprise, Herring was the low bidder for providing a Heavier-Than-Air Machine for the Army Signal Corps. He bid $20,000. That was $5,000 under the Wright brothers’ quote. The Army solved a possible dilemma by accepting both proposals.

Orville and Wilbur knew Herring very well. He had attended the Wrights’ glider experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1902.

Herring said he would provide an airplane and fly it to Washington. After the Army had given him numerous extensions of time, Herring stopped the charade by formally requesting his contact be voided for reasons of non-delivery.

Here is the article: “Under adverse conditions Orville Wright, the aviator, yesterday placed the world’s record for continuous flight in heavier-than air machines a notch higher by remaining in the air for one hour, five minutes and fifty-two seconds.

Comment: He also flew two figure eigths.

He has performed the unequaled feat of breaking the world’s record three times in two days. The general opinion in Washington is that the present record will remain untouched until one of the Wright brothers makes up his mind to surpass it. It is believed that no aviator except the Wrights will be able to equal it for some time.

Comment: The next day (12th) Orville broke his own record, circling 71 times and set a duration record for the longest flight of 1908.

A light wind was blowing when the aeroplane was launched from the track on the Fort Myer grounds, but it did not interfere with the ascent of the machine. At 5:08 o’clock the launching weights were loosened and the aeroplane slid down the track. In spite of the wind, Mr. Wright made wider circles than he has before attempted since he began his experiments here.

Frequently he ventured off the parade ground toward an open field adjoining the Arlington National Cemetery. Each time, however, he made a broad turn to come back up to the parade ground before starting on his next circuit.

Mr. Wright also sought higher altitudes yesterday than he did in the earlier flights. Once or twice the aeroplane reached a height of about 160 feet. He made no attempt to remain so high in the air for any length of time, but usually dropped back to his normal height of about fifty feet.

During one of the circuits of the parade ground a pigeon tried to keep pace with the aeroplane, but it was soon distanced.

The engine did not work as well yesterday as it did in the two record-breaking flights Wednesday. It missed about four explosions every minute. This small percentage, however, did not affect the length of the flight. When the machine landed near the starting point the bearings of the engine showed no signs of overheating, and there was still sufficient fuel in the gasoline tank to have enabled Mr. Wright to continue his flight some time longer.

One reason he descended was that the wind had forced its way under his goggles and inflamed his eyes. The wind gradually increased and at the conclusion of the flight it was blowing at the rate of about twelve miles an hour. The sky was cloudy and the air a bit cool.

The aeroplane made a total of fifty-eight circuits over the parade grounds. They were much larger in diameter, however, than those of Wednesday. It is estimated that the aeroplane covered about forty-five miles yesterday at an average speed of approximately thirty-eight miles an hour.

Messages and telegrams of congratulation on his record smashing achievements poured in upon Mr. Wright yesterday. Just as he climbed out of the machine yesterday afternoon, a package of telegrams was handed to him by Charles Taylor, his mechanic.

One was from the Aero Club of America. Another was from the Aeronautic Society of America.

Mr. Wright said he had received a cablegram from his brother, Wilbur Wright, who is in France, but he said it was written in code and in French and he had not been able to decipher all of it. All he could understand, he said, were the two French words “tres bien.”

The official trials will probably not be held until next week. Mr. Wright wants to fly more trials with an additional passenger before submitting his aeroplane to the official trials. He will probably devote today and tomorrow to this practice.

Mr. Wright expected to make only a ten-minute flight this afternoon. The anemometer attached to the machine is graduated in the metric system and can only register a maximum distance of ten kilometres.

“Aeroplanes to carry six or seven passengers can now be built,” said Mr. Wright, in speaking of the observations which he has made during his flight and experiment, “and it will not be long before some aviator will be able to loop the loop in the air. In fact, some may do it without intending to. Our machine is perfectly safe, the only danger being in the way we handle it.”

The chief signal officer of the Army received a telegram today from A. M. Herring, who is under contract to deliver an aeroplane at Fort Myer, for which he will receive $20,000, if the same conditions which Orville Wright will have to fulfill are satisfactorily accomplished. Mr. Herring asked for an extension of thirty days in which to do a little shop work on his machine.

It is very likely that the Secretary of War will grant Mr. Herring ‘s request, as it would be impracticable to conduct the tests of both the Wright brothers and the Herring aeroplanes at the same time.

Since making his record-breaking flights at Fort Myer, Orville Wright has declined numerous offers from amusement managers for public flights. “I’m not in that sort of business,” said Mr. Wright.”

In the fall of 1908 Orville conducted demonstration flights for the U.S. Army at Fort Myer outside Washington, D.C. His flights broke all aviation records for distance and time. As might be expected, the U.S. Navy also became greatly interested.

The Wrights had finally secured a contract from the Army to buy their airplane for $25,000 if they could meet the Army specification that required their airplane carry a pilot and passenger a distance of 125 miles at a speed of 40-mph. It must remain aloft for at least one hour and land without damage.

Orville arrived at Ft. Myer on August 20, 1908 to begin the qualification flights. Wilbur was already in France performing qualification flights for a French syndicate.

Orville flew for the first time on September 3. The crowd was sparse. Since it was his first flight at Ft. Myer, he played it safe and flew one and one-half turns around the parade ground. His flight lasted 1 minute, 11 seconds.

A similar first flight at Le Mans by Wilbur caused great excitement. In stark contrast, Orville’s flight was met with little notice. A local Washington newspaper carried the story on page 3.

There was one important person who did see the flight. It was the 21-year-old son of President Theodore Roosevelt. I’m sure he gave a first hand account to his father.

Orville flew every day over the next week and a half. His flights on September 9, began to create great excitement as he set three world records.

The first flight was for 57 minutes, 13 seconds – setting a new world endurance record.

Almost immediately he took-off again, flying for 62 minutes, 15 seconds, breaking his previous record.

Next he flew with Lt. Frank Lahm as a passenger for 6 minutes, 24 seconds – a new endurance record for a flight with a passenger. The flight lasted until dusk and could probably qualify as the first night flight.

The following day, September 10, he set another record with a flight of 65 minutes, 52 seconds at an estimated altitude of 200 feet.

Edward Burkhart, mayor of Dayton, Ohio, sent Orville a letter of congratulations.

The record-breaking flights got the attention of the U.S. Navy. The following article appeared in a Washington newspaper on September 10.

“The two aeroplane flights made by Orville Wright at Fort Myer yesterday, which broke all records for distance and time, have aroused the officers of the Navy to action. Secretary of Navy Metcalf was one of the most enthusiastic spectators and Assist Secretary Newberry has been following the Fort Myer tests closely”.

“Lt. George C. Sweet of the Bureau of Equipment has been detailed to observe the Fort Myer tests for the Navy.”

“Secretary Metcalf was asked if the Navy intended to buy an aeroplane as a beginning in the application of aeronautics to that branch of the service”.

“I cannot say what we might do,” he replied. “Of course we would need funds for that purpose. There is only one reason I can see why Mr. Wright’s machine impracticable for use in the Navy, and that is his starting apparatus. An officer has been detailed to observe the flights and what we do will depend on what is learned from these tests.”

“Lt. Sweet has been present for every flight of the Wright aeroplane at Fort Myer and was so impressed by its performance that he suggested that the Navy Department keep in close touch with the progress in aerial flight.

“The airplane would prove invaluable in naval warfare,” he remarked to an Army officer, during Wright’s flight yesterday. “Mr. Wright’s machine requires a speed of twenty-four miles an hour as an impetus to rise into the air. It would, therefore, require no launching apparatus if it were started from one of the scout cruisers, which makes twenty-two and twenty-three knots an hour or about twenty-seven miles. It could fly over the advance column of an enemy’s fleet and drop explosives or secure valuable information.”

“Instead of skids which Mr. Wright uses for land purposes the aeroplane could be fitted with two light water skids similar to rowing shells, so that it could land on water. After the machine made a flight, it could be brought alongside of the ship and pulled out of the water by means of the davits.” (End of Article)

The demonstration flights were going according to plan when tragedy struck on September 17. A propeller split during a flight with Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge as a passenger. The airplane nosed down and hit the ground at full speed from a height of 75 feet. Orville was seriously injured and Selfridge was killed.

The Army gave the Wrights an extension to their contract permitting them to return the following summer to complete their demonstration flights.

Orville, along with Wilbur, did return the following year and completed the Army requirements on July 30, 1909.

Wrights Do Wonders

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Military Airplane

On September 17, 1908, Orville crashed when a propeller split on his plane while flying at Fort Myer. The split propeller caused his machine to go out of control. Orville was seriously injured and his passenger Lt. Selfridge died.

The Army extended the required time to qualify for selling their machine to the Army for a year to enable Orville to heal from his injuries.

Orville did return in 1909 to fly for the first time on June 29. He took four cautious flights that day to get used to the handling of the flying machine. His task was somewhat more complicated because a change in the design of the controls had been made to provide for controlling the rudder by a twist of the wrist.

Another design change provided a spark-retarding pedal on the footbar for throttling the engine.

On July 2, he flew again but ran into serious problems when the engine stopped running which caused Orville to hit a small thorn tree when he landed. He was not injured but shaken up. The incident must have brought back bad memories of the previous year. But that didn’t stop him from flying.

Wilbur saw a photographer taking pictures of the damaged plane. He reacted by grabbing a piece of wood off the ground and threw it at him while demanding the exposed film. This part of his personality was not revealed very often.

The worst part of the damage to the plane was to the fabric covering the wing. That repair mandated a trip back to Dayton by Orville for repair. He returned on July 2 and flew again on July 12. Things were going better now and on July 20 he set new records.

The July 21, 1909 Portland Daily Press carried the following article, byline Washington July 20.

Marvelous Flying by Ohio Aviators.

New Record Established.

Machine Soared and Cut Circles at Will of Operator.

A new record for aviation in America was established by Orville Wright, in the Wright aeroplane late today, at Fort Myer by a spectacular flight of one hour, 20 minutes, 45 seconds duration. The longest previous flight was in the United States was 74 minutes, made by Mr. Wright at Fort Myer last fall.

During the entire flight the machine was under perfect control, but several times appeared to the spectators to be on the point of diving to earth.

Several thousand people were given an exhibition which included the most daring feats of aviation yet accomplished and at its conclusion a mighty cheer went up.

The machine traveled a distance of about 70 miles and at one time during the flight the height attained, between 260 and 280 feet, exceeded the highest point ever reached by a heavier than air machine in this continent. The most wonderful part of the flight was the execution of three complete “figure eights,” which required careful maneuvering in directing the machine. Not the slightest mishap occurred during the flight, but there were moments when the crowd almost breathlessly, fearing the aviator was losing control of his artificial bird.

A thrill passed through the spectators as the white flyer, apparently beginning to dive to the earth would regain its equilibrium and speed onward around the oval above the parade ground. After rounding the course a half hundred times the aviator directed the machine’s course around the small double circle of a “figure eight.” It was the first time this season and the second time during his career that he has executed this maneuver.

To the amazement of the crowd the machine described a second eight and then a third one, after which it was guided back to its former course of large ovals.

After he had been in the air half an hour, making a complete round of the field each time, Mr. Wright maneuvered the machine through several short circles, some not more than 500 feet in diameter.

Having sufficiently satisfied himself that he could execute these circles, he went back to making large ovals again and continued these for some time. Than, after circling the field 54 times, the machine started cutting the “figure eights,’ much to the delight of the crowd.

When he had completed these clever maneuvers the aviator started to make a showing in regards to height. Slowly the aeroplane rose to a higher altitude on each lap until it had soared to a distance of between 250 and 280 feet from the ground. At this altitude the machine flew half a dozen rounds and then gradually descended toward the earth. Mr. Wright made a successful and easy landing after completing 83 rounds of the field.

In today’s flight, Mr. Wright met the requirements set forth by the government, except that of carrying one passenger and making the five mile straight away run. Both Wilbur and Orville Wright declared today that the machine is working much better, but that they want to have several more trials before the official test.

Wilbur Wright, replying to a comment the flight today would have covered the width of the English channel, which Herbert Latham unsuccessfully attempted to cross yesterday, said it would have been possible for his brother to have crossed from France to England and to have returned to France again without landing. He also remarked that it would have been easy to have continued today’s flight as far as Baltimore.

Comment: On July 30, he completed the final demonstration to win the Army contract. With Lt. Benny Foulois as his passenger, Orville flew a ten-mile round trip from Fort Myer to Alexandria in an average speed of 42.583 miles per hour.

Five days before, Louis Bleriot had flown 23.5 miles across the English Channel.

The Wrights had finally won an army contract to sell an airplane if they met specified performance requirements. Orville traveled to Washington in the fall of 1908 to fly their airplane while Wilbur was in France flying demonstration flights for a commercial syndicate.

Orville’s first public flight took place on September 3rd before 500 spectators at Ft. Myers, Virginia. President Theodore Roosevelt’s son was among the spectators.

This was the headline of the newspapers on September 9, 1908 provided by the United Press.

WRIGHT BREAKS WORLD FLYING RECORDS TODAY AT FORT MYER, VA.

Remains in Air 57 Minutes, 31 Seconds, Traveling at Rate of 35 Miles an Hour and Turning Curves with Ease.

Wonderful Performance Means His Machine is Able to Stand Test Devised by the Government and Will Be Accepted for the Army.

To America and Orville Wright, a modest young man of Dayton, Ohio, go the honor of accomplishing the most marvelous feat in aviation yet recorded. The Wright aeroplane, operated by the aviator, whose brother Wilbur has been conducting successful tests in France, sailed today over and around the parade ground at Fort Myer, Va., for 57 minutes and 31 seconds, exceeding by more than 26 minutes the world-breaking record made last Monday by Delagrange, near Paris.

Comment: Leon Delagrange was a fashionable Parisian sculptor who was one of the early experimenters in glider and powered flight. He became one of the most colorful aviators during 1908 and was a feature attraction at air meets in Europe. He raised the world’s records for duration and distance four times in five months during 1908.

During the flight, the Wright machine maintained an average speed of about thirty-eight miles an hour or only two miles an hour less than that required under the government contract for speed on a straightaway course.

Comment: Signal Corps Specification No. 486 required an aircraft capable of carrying two men for 125 miles at an average minimum speed of 40 mph and staying in the air for at least one hour and landing without serious damage.

Could Have Remained Up Longer.

Upon alighting, Wright expressed the utmost astonishment that he had remained in the air so long a time and regrets that he had not made it an hour.

“I could have remained up ten or fifteen minutes longer,” he said. “I still had some gasoline left. The motor worked almost to perfection, there being only an occasional slip. I shall try another flight, as soon as I can load up the gasoline tank and look at the engine.”

All Conditions Favorable.

This morning’s flight started at 8:15, the aeroplane being launched as usual from a track laid upon the ground and by means of counterbalancing weights.

Weather conditions could not have been more favorable. The sun was shining brightly, the atmosphere was crisp and exhilarating, and only a slight breeze was blowing.

Big Crowd Sees Performance.

Attracted by the announcement that Wright was to try for a record flight, a crowd of army and navy officers and citizens had gathered in the parade ground.

Sailing along at express train speed, the bird-like craft responded immediately to the slightest touch of the steering lever, and maneuvered higher or lower, as the planes were managed by the operator.

Fifty-eight times Wright circled around the course, while spectators breathlessly followed its evolutions.

Cheers at Every Minute Over Record.

When it became known that Wright had broken the world’s record of 31 minutes continuous flight and there was, apparently, no desire on his part to return to earth, a rousing cheer went up. From then on, every person who owned a watch kept tab and hurrahed as the minutes sped by.

Finally, when the aeroplane gently descended and poised expectantly above the ground, the crowd rushed forward and as it came to a standstill as softly as a bird alighting, every person present shouted congratulations to the aviator.

Anemometer Goes Wrong.

Unfortunately, the anemometer, relied upon to register speed repeated itself and no exact data is available as to the rate. Observers who have witnessed previous flights express the option that it reached 38 miles an hour and computing the distance of the parade ground circuit with the rate of speed, it is estimated that during the 57 minutes and 31 seconds of his flight, Wright covered a distance close to 40 miles.

Reaches Height of 120 Feet.

Since the present tests began, on September 4th, the machine had not reached a greater altitude than half a hundred feet. Just to show its possibilities, Wright soared up occasionally to double that height and at one time reached 120 feet.

Wright Knew It Was In Machine.

While refilling his gasoline tank, Wright announced that he would fly again this afternoon and make an attempt to break this morning’s record.

“I am not at all surprised with the record,” he said, “for I knew it was in the machine. Our best previous record was a flight of thirty-eight minutes at Dayton, O. I do not know how high I went today, but think it must have been considerably over 100 feet at times, for I was above any of the trees surrounding the parade grounds.”

“Of course, I have instruments within sight that are supposed to tell me the speed, but when a fellow is as busy as I was, he does not have very much time to make observations. The only evidence of great speed that one feels while in the air is the way the tears come from his eyes.”

Can Carry Three Passengers.

“If I fulfill the government requirements I shall remain here for some time to instruct the officers in the use of the machine. My aeroplane will carry three passengers, but, when I put a heavier load, my flight will be considerably shortened, because it requires a great deal more gasoline to run the motor. With only one person aboard, I can carry enough gasoline to operate the machine for five hours.”

When asked whether he intended cabling his brother news of his achievement he said he guessed not, because he thought, “Wilbur would hear all about it through the press dispatches.”

Squier Thinks It’s Splendid.

“Have I anything to say?” asked George O. Squier, acting chief signal officer today, when asked for a statement of the attitude of the war department, over Wright’s record breaking flight, “well, I should say so. It is splendid. We are greatly pleased.”

Insures Acceptance of Machine.

This performance insures the acceptance of the aeroplane by the United States government at the contract price of $25,000

Under the terms of the agreement, Wright was to have until the last of September to comply with the government’s requirements, as to speed and endurance. The machine was to make an average speed of 40 miles an hour on a straightaway course of five miles and return, and was to be able to remain in the air for one hour.

Comment: The contract specified that for every mile an hour above 40-mph, the Wrights would be paid an extra $2,500. On the contrary for every mile an hour below 40-mph they would pay a penalty of $2,500. They later won a $5,000 bonus by flying 42.58-mph.

Although today’s test for endurance was not official, no one who saw the remarkable flight has any doubt that Wright can duplicate the feat at any time. His average speed today was thirty-five miles an hour, but it is believed that there is no question but that he can make 40 miles an hour on a straightaway course, whenever he cares to.

Wright was not striving for speed today and necessarily had to lower the momentum in taking the curves around the parade ground.

Comment: Wilbur flew two more flights that day. On his second flight he broke his own record by remaining airborne for 62 minutes, 15 seconds. On his third flight, he made his first passenger flight in public taking Lt. Frank Lahm for a 6-minute, 24-second spin. It set a new endurance record for a flight with a passenger.

Description of Aeroplane.

The aeroplane, which is an improvement on the one now being tested in France by Wilbur Wright, weighs in the neighborhood of 800 pounds, exclusive of fuel for passengers, and there are accommodations for the two of the latter. It measures eight feet high, forty feet in width and thirty-three feet fore and aft, and its planes have an area of 500 square feet.

The motor, especially invented by Wright Brothers, is rated at from 25 to 30 horsepower and is capable of 1,400 revolutions a minute. It operates two propellers driven in opposite directions at the rear of the machine each of which theoretically attains a speed of more than 500 revolutions a minute.

To remain in the air, the aeroplane must run at least 26 miles an hour.

The frame work of the machine is constructed of spruce and ash, strong and yet light, covered with muslin nearly as heavy as regulation balloon cloth.

The planes form what Wright calls a “heliocord,” or in other words they are twisted down on the ends. The control of the upward or downward motion of the machine is achieved by a box kite arrangement which projects a number of feet in front of the main framework. It is also covered with muslin.

In the rear, a corresponding “tail” projects nearly the same distance, forming the rudder. This, with the forward planes, are controlled by an arrangement of three levers, two of which operate the lateral movement, and the remaining one, the fore and aft.

The motor is located within a couple of feet of the operator’s seat in the center of the framework, and Wright explained that it is unnecessary to touch it after starting.

Comment, the rest of the story: Orville was not able to complete the performance trials because of a crash. On September 17, flying with a passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, his airplane crashed as a result of a broken propeller blade. Selfridge was killed and Orville was seriously injured.

The Army gave the Wrights an extension to their contract to permit them to return in the summer of 1909 to complete their demonstration flights. Orville, accompanied by Wilbur, returned to Ft. Myer in 1909 and on July 30th Orville successfully flew the final demonstration flight.

As for Delagrange, he was present to see Wilbur’s first flight at the Hunaudieres race course near Le Mans. The French said that the Wrights were a pair of “bluffeurs.” On Saturday, August 8, 1908 Wilbur flew for the first time in France. His demonstrated that he could make graceful deep turns in flight under total control. The French aviators in attendance were stunned. Delagrange admitted, “Monsieur Wright has us all in his hands. We are beaten.”

Delagrange died in a plane accident in 1910.

Reference: The Union and Advertiser, Rochester, NY, Sept, 9, 1908

On September 17, 1908, Orville crashed with Lt. Selfridge as passenger during a flight at Ft. Myers, Virginia. Selfridge died soon after and Orville was left with injuries that pained him throughout the rest of his life.

They were circling the parade ground when, on the beginning of the third circle as they were headed toward the wall of Arlington Cemetery at about 100 feet off the ground, Orville heard a slight tapping at the rear of the machine.

He turned and looked behind him, but couldn’t see anything. Sensing something was wrong, he decided to cut the power as soon as he completed his turn toward the crowd. Suddenly, he heard two thumps, followed by violent shaking. He struggled with the controls as the machine dropped toward the left, causing the nose to drop. The machine hit the ground at full speed and nosed over, burying Orville and Selfridge.

The respected Scientific Journal published an article, Lessons of the Wright Aeroplane Disaster in their September 26, 1908 issue. The article, including my comments, follows below.

“Seldom has there occurred a more pitifully tragic disaster than the sudden fall of the Wright aeroplane, involving the death of that promising young officer Lieut. Thomas E. Selfridge, and inflicting shocking injuries on the talented inventor, Orville Wright.

That the disaster should have occurred at the culmination of a series of brilliant flights, and on the eye of winning that prize of government recognition for which the Wright brothers had striven, unaided, through long years of patient toil, renders the disaster extremely pathetic, and accentuates that world-wide sympathy in which the Scientific Journal so sincerely shares.

But although the accident is deplorable, it should not be allowed to discredit the art of aerospace navigation. If it emphasizes the risks, there is nothing in the mishap to shake our faith in the principles upon which the Wright brothers built their machine, and achieved such brilliant success.

The defect was purely of structural detail. The breaking off of the blades of the propeller of an airship is comparable to bursting the tire on an automobile. In each case there is the danger of an upset; but in neither should the accident be taken to indicate that the principles and design of the whole machine are at fault.”

Comment: One of the propeller blades did break off although that is not what caused the crash. Here is what really happened.

The right blade flattened when it developed a longitudinal crack. That started a sequence of events.

The blade then lost enough power to cause unequal thrust between the two blades. The resulting vibration is what Orville heard as a light tapping noise.

Next in the sequence of events was that that the vibration loosened a stay wire fastened to the tube that housed the propeller axle. The axle moved enough to bring the undamaged propeller blade in contact with the upper stay wire attached to the vertical rudder in the tail.

The wire broke and wrapped itself around the propeller blade, breaking it off, causing the loud thumping sound. That was the broken blade seen flying from the machine.

The broken blade, however, was not the cause of the crash. It was the vertical rudder that had been loosened by the loss of the stay wire. It caused the Flyer to first swerve right toward the cemetery, then to the left, so that it was heading north up the field.

At this point Orville moved the wingwarping lever to the right to straighten the wings and at the same time moved it forward to move the vertical rudder to the right in order to glide to the ground. The problem was that the rudder, without its upper stay wire, was so tilted to the horizontal that it functioned more as an elevator. This sent the Flyer into a fatal dive and ultimate crash.

Orville had been forewarned of possible trouble when on September 9, a propeller developed an 18 1/2-foot split. Orville had to have Loren ship two new blades from Dayton. The new blades had the same chord but were two inches longer.

The Scientific American continued: “Nevertheless, it must be admitted that if the demand for absolutely first-class design and material is strong in the automobile, it is doubly so in the aeroplane.

Judged by the nature of the work it has to do, and in view of the tragic penalties which may attach to the breakage of any one of its delicate and nicely calculated parts, it would seem that a broader margin of safety should be allowed in cutting down the size and weight to secure the necessary lightness.

The supporting planes (wings) with their fragile wooden struts and hair-like wires, constitute a trussed bridge, whose strength, like that of a chain, is no greater that the strength of its weakest link.

Should a single strut or wire snap, the whole fabric must collapse. Similarly, the equilibrium of the whole structure is so sensitive to disturbance, that any sudden change in the opposed forces, such as was occasioned by the snapping of one of the two propellers, must instantly upset the delicate poise, and change the aeroplane suddenly, from a self-sustaining machine to an inert mass, subject to the destructive force of gravity.

The lessons of this particular case are, first, that wood is too uncertain a material to safely endure the complicated stresses due to thrust, high centrifugal force, excessive vibration, or the possibility of contact with the machine to which a propeller is subjected; and, secondly, that the distribution of the thrust between two propellers, placed on either side of the center of gravity, constitutes, as this terrible accident has too clearly shown, a constant invitation to disaster.

Should one propeller break, become loose, or be disconnected from its chain drive, the whole power of the engine becomes concentrated at a point several feet to one side of the center of resistance of the machine, with the result that it becomes immediately unmanageable, and is driven violently from its path; whereas the breaking of a single, centrally-placed propeller would have no greater effect upon the control than would the simple stopping of the motor.

Undoubtedly, it was the inevitable confusion created by the breaking of the propeller on the vertical rudder wire that caused the disaster; for although Wright made a gallant effort to bring the machine back to control, stopping his motor, etc., the horizontal rudders appear either to have failed or to have been pulled in the wrong direction; the aeroplane, after partially righting, taking a sudden and steep plunge to the ground.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all, however, is, that, to render the aeroplane reliable, some method of automatic control of both lateral and horizontal stability must be devised. This control should automatically hold the rudders and plane tips in the requisite position for equilibrium, any deviation therefrom being made separate manual control.”

Comment: The Wrights ignored the free advice. Wilbur was in France at the time of the accident. When he returned and had time to examine what had happened, he stated, “The splitting of the propeller was the occasion of the accident; the uncontrollability of the tail was the cause.”

In June 1909, they tested a replica of the failed 1908 propeller in a barn behind Loren’s house. The first test blade cracked after less than two minutes running. They concluded that the propeller had a weak spot on the concave side that allowed the blade to flatten and split.

The blades were redesigned and made heavier at that point and canvas was added down their concave sides. Also, the tubes supporting the propeller axles were braced so that any vibration would not cause the propellers to reach the wires bracing the vertical rudder in the tail. The problem was solved.