Wright Activities Before and After 1903

The historic Wright brothers’ factory buildings in Dayton are in jeopardy. The buildings are the first American facility specifically designed and built for the manufacture of airplanes from 1910-1916. In these buildings, The Wrights helped to transform the airplane from a curious wonder into a serious method of transportation.

The Delphi Corp. now owns the buildings and has continuously used them for the manufacture of airplane and automotive parts. Delphi entered bankruptcy reorganization on Oct. 8, 2005. There are five Delphi plants in Dayton employing 4,200 employees.

The Delphi plant where the Wright buildings are located is the former General Motors Inland complex located on West Third Street several miles further west of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park site on West Third street.

Delphi desires to reject its union contracts and terminate post-retirement health-care plans and life insurance for hourly employees.

The Delphi complex covers 67.3 acres. The original Wright Company factory buildings occupy approximately one acre.

The first Wright factory building, building no. 1, was completed in November 1910. It was equipped with the most modern machinery available and capable of producing two airplanes a month. Building no. 2 was built a few months later raising the production capability to four airplanes a month, a capacity greater than any other airplane factory in the world in that time period.

The Model B was the first airplane built at the Wright factories and the first to be mass-produced. Many aviation advancements and improvements were introduced. The Model B was followed by the Models R, EX, C, D, E, F, CH, G, H and HS.

The two factory buildings are single-story rectangular commercial brick. They retain much of their original architectural integrity, including gabled roofs with eyebrow parapets. During the Wrights tenure, building no. 1 contained a double-door entry. There was an office located in front of building no. 1. I have been told that the office is still used.

In 1915, Orville Wright sold The Wright Co. to a group of eastern investors and accepted payment for services as a consulting engineer during the new owners first year of operation. In 1916 The Wright Co. merged with the Glenn Martin Co. to form the Wright-Martin Aircraft Co. and the factory buildings were sold. The General Motors Corporation-Inland Div. owned the buildings during much of that time.

One good thing that Delphi and the previous owners have done is to maintain the factory buildings in good condition. This has not always been the case with other historic Wright buildings. Orville’s laboratory on West Third St. was torn down to make room for a gasoline station.

The downside of the GM/Delphi ownership is that they have had insufficient appreciation of the historic significance of the Wright buildings. Visitors are not permitted. Even during the Centennial Celebration in 1903 Delphi would not allow a picture to be taken of the exterior of the buildings.

I, a former General Motors employee, experienced this myself during the Centennial celebration in 1903. The Wright buildings are located just inside the Third street entrance to the complex. I pulled up the gate and asked the guard if I could take a picture. He said no. I asked him to check with his boss. The answer from his boss was still no. I returned on Sunday when no one was there and took pictures through the closed chain link gate.

The National Park Service has conducted a thorough Assessment of the issues and alternatives involved incorporating The Wright Company factory as a unit of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. As I am writing this, the draft NPS Assessment is being widely circulated for public review and comment.

Here is an excerpt: “If The Wright Company factory buildings (site) were to be added to the park, rehabilitating factory buildings 1 and 2 to their 1910-1911 exterior and interior appearance would offer a unique opportunity to discuss the techniques and practices that the Wright brothers employed for the construction of the nation’s first mass-produced airplanes in surroundings that appear much as they did during the period of significance.”

“The park’s interpretive focus would be on how The Wright Company factory played a role in the birth of the American industry through the early development of the age of flight. Possible exhibits include replica Wright brothers’ aircraft, machinery, and interpretation of the social and economic impacts of the world’s first airplane factory. After rehabilitation, the buildings could accommodate the display of up to six aircraft.”

The are two major obstacles confronting the National Park Service. The first is finding a willing owner to either sell or cooperate in developing the Wright brothers’ factory site as a historic park.

The second is finances. The assessment estimates that it would require $8.8 – 13.2 million in development cost if the National Park Service were to develop and manage the site. This figure includes the cost of interpretive exhibits and media, including machinery, replica aircraft, and aircraft components, estimated at $3.1 – 4.0 million.

The obstacles are great but may be overcome. There is no question that it would be a tragedy not to save this historic gem for the American people.

The National Park Service, if requested by the owner, is willing to provide technical assistance for nomination of the site as a National Historic Landmark. Maybe that is where to start.

Update, 2008: Wright Factories Buildings Closer to Joining National Park. A House committee recently approved a bill that would add The Wright Company Factory buildings to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and Amanda Wright-Lane, great-grandniece of the Wright brothers, testified in support of S 3286 and HR 4199 bills. The buildings are currently owned by Delphi Corp.

Reference: The Wright Co. Factory Boundary Assessment and Environmental Assessment. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Dayton, Ohio. The National Park Service. January 2006.

The Wright brothers can best tell the story of how the Wright machine takes off and makes a flight. They wrote about the experience in a 1908 issue of Century Magazine. It is quoted below.

“In order to show the general reader the way in which the machine operates, let us fancy ourselves ready for a start.

The machine is placed upon a single rail track facing the wind, and is securely fastened with a cable.

The engine is put in motion, and the propellers in the rear whirr. You take your seat at the center of the machine by the operator. He slips the cable, and you shoot forward.

An assistant who has been holding the machine in balance on the rail, starts forward with you, but before you have gone fifty feet the speed is too great for him, and he lets go. Before reaching the end of the track the operator moves the front rudder (note: they called the elevator, the rudder at that time) and the machine lifts from the rail like a kite supported by the pressure of the air underneath it.

The ground under you is at first a perfect blur, but as you rise the objects become clearer. At the height of one hundred feet you feel hardly any motion at all, except for the wind which strikes your face.

If you did not take the precaution to fasten your hat before starting, you have probably lost it by this time.

The operator moves a lever, the right wing rises, and the machine swings about to the left, yet you do not feel the sensation of being thrown from your seat, so often experienced in automobile and railway travel. You find yourself facing the point from which you started.

The objects on the ground now seem to be moving at much higher speed, though you perceive no change in the pressure of the wind on your face. You know then that you are traveling with the wind.

When you near the staring point, the operator stops the motor while still high in the sky. The machine coasts down at an oblique angle to the ground, and after sliding fifty or a hundred feet comes to rest.

Although the machine often lands when traveling at a speed of a mile a minute, you feel no shock whatever, and cannot, in fact, tell the exact moment at which it first touched the ground.

The motor close beside you kept up an almost deafening roar during the whole flight, yet in your excitement you did not notice it till it stopped.”

The same article the Wrights discussed some of the difficulties met with by experimenters in constructing a machine that will have good stability.

“The balancing of a flyer may seem, at first thought, to be a very simple matter, yet almost every experimenter had found in just this the one point which he could not satisfactorily master.

Many different methods were tried. Some experimenters placed the center of gravity far below the wings, in the belief that the weight would naturally seek to remain at the lowest point. It was true, that, like the pendulum, it tended to seek the lowest point; but also, like the pendulum, it tended to oscillate in a manner destructive of all stability.

A more satisfactory system, especially for lateral balance, was that of arranging the wings in the shape of a V, to form a dihedral angle, with the center low and the wing-tips elevated.

In theory this was an automatic system, but in practice it had two serious defects: first, it tended to keep the machine oscillating; second, its usefulness was restricted to calm air.”

The Century Magazine in their comment on the above mistakenly maintains the wrong paradigm popular at the time that a successful design of a machine will incorporate automatic equilibrium.

The Magazine states the following: “The Wright machine has demonstrated that it can fly in a wind as great as 20 miles an hour, while none of the other aeroplanes have ever flown in a wind of half this velocity. In this one point alone it is far superior to all other aeroplanes; and doubtless, in time, the brothers will perfect it so that it will have automatic equilibrium and thus be capable of use by almost any individual.”

A Wright Type B airplane will participate in the World famous Farnborough (England) International Airshow in July 2008. The airplane is a civilian version of the authentic replica of the Model B located at the Franklin Institute in Pennsylvania.

The flights at the Airshow will help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first flight in the United Kingdom.

The replica was built by a group of volunteers in Dayton, Ohio. A spokesman said that this replica has many refinements and safety improvements that do not detract from its authenticity, but enhance its beauty and flying safety. The plane essentially operates under the same horsepower, weight and controls used by the Wright brothers.

In 1911, the Wrights received a contract from the U.S. Signal Corps for two Type B Aircraft. They built a factory on the West-side of Dayton to build these and other airplanes. Some twenty people were involved in construction of the Army’s Model B.

If you were interested in the “Art of Aviation” and becoming a “birdman” (pilot), the usual procedure was to meet with Orville in his office at the factory. Although, the first meeting might take place at their Huffman Prairie Flying Field, reachable by the interurban train from Dayton to the flying field at the Simms Station stop. Orville spent a lot of time at the flying field because he enjoyed being involved in the flying activities more than working in the office.

Lessons at the Wright School cost $60 per hour of direct training provided in 15-minute intervals. There was a potential large cost saving at the Wright School because there was no charge for breakage of the machine. Most other flying schools required the student to pay for breakage.

New students were considered to be “ground huggers” by the birdman and their associates. Orville would counsel nervous students, “Don’t be nervous, it’s just like learning to ride a bicycle.”

The student would then be assigned to his instructor and to the Wrights’ chief mechanician, Charley Taylor. Both men were professional and had a low tolerance for foolishness.

Before taking to the air the student would be tutored in the Wright techniques for construction and maintenance of airplanes and in the fundamental principles of flight. This included the means for lifting and dropping the machine by angling the elevator surfaces and the means for turning by coordinating movements of the rudder surfaces with wing warping.

In one room of the factory the Wrights’ had built a flight simulator, named the “kiwi bird.” The simulator was a Type B without an engine and tail assembly. It was cradled to allow lateral movement only.

An electric motor driving a cam continuously changed the angle of the planes about the longitudinal axis. As the student pilot manipulated the combination warp and rudder lever properly, the planes were returned to a level attitude.

Usually it required the student to spend several hours over three or four days seated on the kiwi bird, practicing until correction of lateral imbalance became instinctive.

Once this phase is completed the student pilot journeyed to the Simms Station Field for flight training. The field was a converted cow pasture, bare except for a thorn tree at one end and a large wooden shed at the other. The field was over 300-feet long, which was long enough to accommodate even inept students.

The students first task was to help pull the 1,250 pound Model B from the shed. The machine rode on wheels and skids that replaced the steel track that was used on earlier models.

The model B had its control surfaces at the rear of the machine unlike previous Wright models. A 35-hp water-cooled engine powered eight-foot propellers to turn at about 45-rpm.

The first procedure, which the student was taught to perform every time before flight, was the ground check. It included a walk around that included inspecting its fitness, checking patches of fabric and testing the webwork of wires.

If everything checked out to be ok, the instructor and student would climb into two side by side wicker seats lined with corduroy, perched on the forward edge of the lower plane.

Between the two seats stood the wing-warping lever with a hinged upper section for independent rudder control. By rotating the top portion of the lever the pilot could add or subtract rudder action by a somewhat difficult wrist-twisting movement.

To make the task easier, a right-handed pilot was trained in the left seat so that his “better” hand could be used.

There was another lever at the outside of each seat to use to change altitude.

A spring-loaded foot treadle that was reachable from either seat adjusted speed. Pressing on the foot treadle advanced or retarded the ignition spark, providing a range of engine power.

To start the engine, one man primed the intake manifold from an oil can filled with gasoline. The engine was then started with the compression released; otherwise, you would need two heavyweight wrestlers to turn the propellers.

Two other men swung the propellers; the engine fired in a blast of smoke as they ran to grasp the wing tips. The pilot than turned the compression-release lug and switched on the fuel-tank value. The spark-retard was not released until the engine was running smoothly.

At that point the pilot would wave the assistants to let loose of the machine. The pilot kicked at the treadle and pushed the elevator-control lever. The machine bounced along the ground as the machine gained speed. The tail assembly raised and its skids left the ground as the “B” wobbled into the air.

It was customary at the Wright school for the novice student to only act as an observer on his first flight. After landing, the aviators, mechanicians, and workman on the ground would go through a ritual of carefully examining the machine to see if the student passenger “had squeezed the paint off.”

A typical flight-training schedule would consist of a 15-minute airborne period per day over several days. The first couple of days the student would learn to perform left and right turns and then figure eights. The task of the student was to maintain level flight, as well as perform aerodynamic turns without slipping and skidding. It was like balancing on a knife-edge. One mishap, one lapse of concentration, could result in a plunge into oblivion.

By the third, flight the student was participating in takeoff and landing maneuvers. One helpful bit of advice given to the student on taking off and landing was to “look at your shadow. When it leaves you, you’re in the air; when it reappears again, you’re down.” Landing too hard was hazardous to skids and wheels.

By the sixth day, the student had operated the machine under his own skills through a complete cycle.

Generally student flight was restricted to afternoons and then only in still air. Orville established this rule. He said, “Otherwise we can’t tell whether the wind or the student is knocking the machine about.”

Orville would often observe the training dressed in his derby and dark business suit. He would admonish his students against foolhardy thoughts or acts. He emphasized the maxims of safety. Caution and concentration were bywords expressed to students for survival.

Orville would often tell of the horse-drawn carriage waiting on the road that bounded the pasture, its driver, a somber gentleman with tall black hat, following with keen interest each day’s flights. That man, Orville said ominously, was the local undertaker.

Once the instructor and teacher were satisfied that the student was ready to solo, Orville as well those other present would gather to watch the solo flight. After a successful flight, the observers would cheer while the pilot was proclaimed a master of airplanes — a “birdman.”

After qualifying as an aviator, the Type B could be purchased for $5,000.

An extra benefit of being a student at the Wright School was that Orville would regularly invite most of his students to his Hawthorne Street home for dinner with his father, Bishop Milton Wright, his sister, Katharine, and his brother Lorin.

Reference: Fight of the VIN FIZ by E. P. Stein

Following Wilbur’s success at Les Hunaudiere and Camp d’Auvours near Le Mans, he moved his flying activities to the elite resort town of Pau on January 14, 1909. The weather was warmer and the flying field was much better. His major task was to train three Frenchmen to fly the airplane now that he had satisfied the airplane’s performance requirements for the French syndicate who planned to build Wright airplanes in France. He was not in Pau to set any flying records although he wowed everybody who saw him fly in Pau.

He was provided a level unfenced field almost a mile square known as Pont Long located eight miles south of Pau with a fine view of the Pyrenees Mountains. The virtual absence of trees allowed Wilbur the luxury to fly large circuits of three to four miles and not stray too far from his hangar-shed.

The shed at Pont Long was much better that the two he had at Le Mans. It was large enough that he didn’t have to dissemble the Flyer’s tail frame and front rudder every time it entered or left the shed. His living quarters were much nicer and he had his meals provided by a French chef selected by the mayor. He also had a special telephone line to Pau where Orville and Katharine were staying in a fancy hotel.

Wilbur for the first time wore a good-looking black leather motorcyclist’s jacket for flying in cold weather. It was the first leather aviation jacket.

His three student pilots were balloonist Paul Tissandier, Captain Paul Lucas-Girardville and Count Charles de Lambert. Tissandier would later be the first to fly around the Eiffel Tower.

This is how the New York Herald described his first flight at Pau on February 3, 1909:

“A constant stream of automobiles bound for the flying field was reported everywhere after one o’clock this afternoon,.. as Mr. Wilbur Wright’s preparations came to an end today and it was believed that he would make his first flight.

Early comers, however, saw nothing to indicate that a flight was being prepared, the only change being a derrick for weights in position and a long metal rail over which Mr. Wright was continually walking, testing and examining the joints. A wind from the west began to blow, a strange event in Pau, and clouds began to gather.

Several people had left when, without notice, the doors of the aeroplane shed opened slowly and a weird structure, the Wright aeroplane, came out. Its motor is a new one, made in Paris on Mr. Wright’s design. Mr. Wilbur Wright examined it with loving care, Mr. Orville Wright assisting. Miss Wright was in the crowd, looking hardly at all nervous.

Suddenly the propellers began to whirl round at a great rate. After another careful examination the Wrights announced that the motor was working well. The engine was stopped and the structure was wheeled out in front of the spectators to the starting rail. It took some time to get the machine properly balanced and to hoist the counterweight, which is about three hundred pounds heavier than that used in America.

Again the curious propeller whizzed round, and Mr. Wilbur Wright took his seat, but descended to oil another bearing. It had been thought that Mr. Paul Tissandier would go up with the aviator, but he stayed on the ground directing the men. Dr. Speakman, official timekeeper of the Aero Club took his stand by the derrick, a stopwatch in hand.

Are you ready?

Up to this there had been quite a loud hum of conversation from the people assembled, but now a hush fell on the assembly, a pause almost of dread.

Let’s go!

The weights fell, and with whirling propellers the fairylike machine tore along the rail to the end by the turn of one lever, and at twelve minutes past four it soared into the air, turning and wheeling up and down as graceful as an albatross, showing the perfect command which the aviator had over every movement and every part of the machine. It had an undulating movement of its own.

Activated by these wonderful levers, the aeroplane glided down to the ground, skimmed over it, then went up forty meters, down again, and so on. As it turned and the movement of the wings prevented the sound of the motor from being heard. All thought the machine had stopped, and an “Oh!” was heard from the whole crowd, which was fascinated by the maneuver, but there was no pause, as the aviator, wheeling on a frightfully acute angle, again circled.

And in this way he seemed to describe a couple of circles and something like a figure eight, and for a second or two the machine seemed to rest motorless against the white line of the Pyrenees. The scene was very beautiful.

Then Mr. Wright came to the ground just beside the starting point, having been in the air just under six minutes.

Mr. Wright traveled at an estimated speed of sixty-five kilometers an hour. He received a great ovation on coming down, and at twelve minutes to five again left the ground. This time he attained a far higher elevation, but there was no height balloons and no measures of length, it is difficult to give an accurate estimate.

He went away to the northwest, turned with consummate ease and came over the heads of the crowd, soaring away to the east over the crowd of automobilists, then back again toward the Aero Park and over it at a tremendous elevation, the machine looking like a thing of life.

Then, to show his power, Mr. Wright made several circles with an extremely small radius, the aeroplane heeling over to an angle of forty-five degrees, after which it descended, coming down as gently as any bird. He spent more than five minutes in the air.

The Mayor congratulated Miss Wright gracefully on the marvelous skill of her brother, and the universal expression was one of wonder at the immense reserve of power Mr. Wright possesses. He never seemed to exert himself. It was the most marvelous performance ever seen at Pau.”

New students who were being trained to fly first flew as a passenger. The student first learned to manipulate the horizontal front rudder (elevator) in straight-line flight. Then he was allowed to manipulate the warping and rudder control stick located between the two seats. Wilbur would sit with his hands on his knees ready to react to any mistakes.

Wilbur explained the operation of the lever located between the seats to a journalist:

“You see by moving this lever forward, you warp the right wing downward into a greater angle of incidence and lessen the angle of the opposite wing. That throws a greater resistance on this side, and he pointed to the end of the right wing. It tends to turn the machine, but when I move this lever forward, see, the rear rudder (vertical tail) moves to the left and counters any turning effect. The wings are warped with a fore and aft movement, and with the same hand the top of this lever can be bent to the right or left and the rear rudder turned to steer in a corresponding direction. When desired, by bending over this lever to the right or left, the rudder can be worked independently of the wing warping.”

Student pilots were designed either right-handed or left-handed pilots. The pilots trained by Wilbur (or Orville) sat on the right and learned to manipulate the wing warping rudder lever, located between the two seats, with their left hand. These were called left-handed pilots.

When a left-handed pilot trained another pilot, the student sat in the seat at the left and learned to manipulate the lever with his right hand and was therefore known as a right-handed pilot.

Orville once attempted to fly a Wright machine as a left-handed pilot, that is sitting in the seat at the right and manipulating the wing warping-rudder stick with his left hand. He said, “that was the wildest flight of my life. I never again attempted to pilot using the let-hand controls.”

Wilbur missed his family and convinced Orville and Katharine to visit him in France. They joined Wilbur in Pau after first spending two days in Paris. They almost didn’t make it to Pau because they were involved in a serious train wreck thirty miles outside of Pau. The express train they were on collided with a slow local train. Two passengers were killed and many injured. Fortunately Orville and Katharine both escaped with no injuries.

Many famous people came to watch Wilbur fly at Pau. One of these was King Alfonso XIII of Spain. He was greatly interested in the Flyer and asked all kinds of questions of Wilbur. He didn’t fly, although he greatly wanted to, because his wife and senior advisors told him not to.

Katharine later heard about it and commented that King Alfonso was a “good husband” for keeping his promise to his wife that he would not fly.

That didn’t stop Katharine from flying. Just as night was beginning to fall on February 15, she flew with Wilbur for seven minutes and four seconds. That was the first flight she had ever been on. On March 17 she flew again for 12 minutes 22 seconds. This time it was in front of King Edward VII on one of the two flights that he observed. He vigorously waved his hat and cheered as they flew by the stands. He proclaimed that she was the “ideal American.”

Katharine made a big impression on everyone and some of what they wrote about her was exaggerated. Such as, she helped her brothers financially and solved difficult mathematical problems for them. She exclaimed, “I did no pioneer work in connection with the invention of the airplane.”

Wilbur was also subjected to false statements. He was named co-respondent in a divorce suit filed by a lieutenant in the French Army. It turned out that a newspaper reporter substituted Wilbur’s name for the real person in order to get publicity.

The day before Wilbur made his final flight at Pont-Long, Tissandier and de Lambert each made solo flights of more than 20 minutes each. These flights served to silence the skeptics who claimed that you had to have acrobatic ability to fly the Wright machine.

Wilbur made his last flight at Pont-Long on March 20 and then headed for Rome where he had accepted an offer of $10,000 from the Aeronautical Society of Rome for a Flyer and the training of a pilot to fly it.

He made sixty-four flights during his stay at Pau. Some of his flights were recorded on movie film; the first films ever made of Wilbur flying.

The airfield site at Pont Long is still used today as the airport for Pau.

Wilbur gave the four-year old Flyer he flew at Pau to Lazare Weiller and members of the French syndicate. He had a new machine shipped from Dayton that he forwarded on to his next stop in Rome.

By 1905 the Wrights had developed a practical airplane that for the first time could be controlled by a pilot. Having achieved that goal, they decided to develop an automatic stabilizer that could fly the airplane straight without a pilot’s intervention.

They were successful in their effort and were awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy by the Aero Club of America for their device on January 5, 1914. The prize recognized the most significant contribution to aeronautics made during the year of 1913.

Unfortunately for the Wrights, Lawrence Sperry publicly unveiled a more technologically advanced device in France six months later on June 18, 1914.

The Wrights began their work on the device in secrecy sometime after 1905. Their concept was to develop an adaptive system with feedback. A change in direction of heading, automatically applies power to adjust the airplane controls in yaw, roll and pitch as appropriate, and brings the airplane back to its original heading.

The 30-pound device consisted of a pendulum and vertical vane that were connected to a power source which drove servomotors. Whenever the pendulum swung out of vertical the wing warping control was activated to restore yaw and roll balance.

Similarly the horizontal vane sensed pitch stability and activated the elevator control.

The original power source was compressed air, then it was replaced with a battery, and in the final version, a small windmill set in motion by wind was used.

The pilot could adjust the vane at any angle desired for use in climbing or descending. It could also be switched on or off by the pilot as desired.

They applied for a patent on February 8, 1908 although the device was still in development and not been flight tested yet because of desire to maintain secrecy.

The Wrights worked on the device intermittently, as time would allow. In the fall of 1911 they had progressed to the point where they decided to test it out on a new glider at Kitty Hawk. However a number of reporters also showed up, so in order to maintain secrecy on the new device, they flew the glider without using the automatic control feature.

Their patent (#1,075,555) was granted October 14, 1913 although they still had not flight-tested it.

The Wrights didn’t seem to be in any hurry in using the device until Glenn Curtiss had won the Collier Trophy two years in a row during 1911 and 1912. Curtiss had won the trophy for his development of flying boats.

Orville decided Curtiss wasn’t going to win again in 1913. He decided he would use the Automatic Stabilizer to win the prize with.

In the fall of 1913, Orville installed the stabilizer on a special Wright Model E airplane that utilized a single pusher propeller. He kept the details of the stabilizer secret even from the Wright Company. He purposely waited until the last day of the year to fly for the prize.

He invited the Aero Club’s judges to Huffman Prairie to see a demonstration of his new device on a cold snowy day, December 31st.

He turned up his coat collar, put on a pair of goggles and took off. He made a total of 17 flights.

His most spectacular flight consisted of 7 full circles of the field with both hands held in the air. The automatic stabilizer kept the same angle of bank and almost the same altitude. He wowed the judges and was awarded the prize on February 5, 1914.

The stabilizer was then offered as an option for use with the sale of Wright 1910-1911 Model B flyers.

However, it saw little use, because on June 18, 1914, a young Lawrence Sperry, as part of a great safety competition, unveiled a totally new type of stabilizer to the world. The safety competition was jointly sponsored by the Aero-Club de France and the French War Department.

In his demonstration flight, Sperry took off from the Seine in a Curtiss C-2, climbed to altitude and flew back down the river. At the appropriate moment, his mechanic, Emile Cachin, crawled 7 feet out on the wing as Sperry lifted his hands from the controls and stood up in the cockpit. The plane sped by the judges as the crowd went wild.

What Sperry had done was adapt a balancing mechanism invented by his father, Elmer, for counteracting the rolling of ships, to an airplane. The device employed two gyroscopes that performed the function of the pendulum and vanes in the Wrights’ device.

The invention was a new technology that would create expanded opportunities for application in the future. It certainly has done that and is used in today’s satellites and space flights.

The rapid obsolescence of the automatic stabilizer was symbolic of what was also happening to the Wright airplanes. The awarding of the Collier trophy to the Wrights signaled the end of an era in which the Wrights had invented and nurtured the airplane to a reality. In so doing they set a standard of excellence for others to follow in their footsteps.

References: The Bishops Boys by Tom Crouch; Wilbur and Orville by Fred Howard