Wright Activities Before and After 1903

Orville and Wilbur hadn’t flown since 1905. Now they were returning to Kitty Hawk for practice and renewing their pilot skills.

They had finally secured contacts to sell their airplane. One was with a French syndicate and the other was with the U.S. Army. In 1905 they decided not to fly again unless they secured a contract for their airplane. As luck would have it they secured two contracts requiring demonstration flights at the same time – one at Ft. Myer and the other in France.

They shipped a modified 1905 Flyer to Kitty Hawk on April 4, 1908 and unpacked and assembled the machine at Kitty Hawk on April 27. The modified Flyer had two upright seats and an improvised control system to accommodate the design change.

They flew for the first time on May 6 averaging 41-mph over a distance of 1008 feet.

The Wrights wanted privacy, but the press found out about their return to Kitty Hawk and a number of newspapers had reporters there, including the New York Herald, New York American, London Daily Mail and Colliers Weekly.

Several of the reporters tried to hide their presence so as not to spook the Wrights, but they didn’t fool them.

Here is one of the news accounts of the Wright flights that had a byline of Manteo, May 11 and appeared in the May 12 edition of the Chicago Record-Herald.

“In flying-machine flights at Kill Devil Hill today the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, made long gains over distances heretofore flown. The longest flight today, the distance being computed by the telegraph poles of the United States weather bureau, was two and seven-sixteenth miles, almost a mile in excess of their best record previous to today.

Starting from the foot of Kill Devil Hill at 9:36 o’clock this morning the machine did not again touch ground for three minutes and seven seconds, making the two and seven-sixteenths miles. Its course was directed north, almost parallel with the beach for a mile and three-eighths, then it was turned west, passing around a sand hill for five-sixteenths of a mile, after which it circled southwest back toward the starting point for three-fourths of a mile.

It was then made to light easily on the ground, the average time by the machine on the flights computed at 46.774 miles an hour.

Comment: It’s interesting that the reporters, hiding a distance from the Wright camp, used telephone poles to estimate distance and then calculated speed to a three decimal point accuracy.

At no time was the machine more than twenty feet above the ground, the only rises in its course being taken to avoid sand hills.

Imagine a noisy reaper flying through the air, with a rising and falling motion similar to that of a bird, and a fair picture of the Wright brothers’ flying machine in action is obtained.

Another flight made today was of two and one-sixteenth miles. The machine pursued the same course on this flight as it did before, until it reached the point of last turning in the previous flight. Whether from design or accident, the machine kept straight ahead when it reached the point, and when it had passed it three-eighths of a mile and was approaching a body of water it was made to light easily.

The machine moved slowly in this flight, taking three minutes and fifty seconds to make the distance, or at the rate of 32.281 miles an hour. Another flight of a mile in length and several shorter were also made.

After the machine lights it has to be rolled back to the rail before it can be started again. To do this it is placed on a pair of wheels, and, with its engine in action, it almost forces itself along.

The Wright brothers guard their machine with the utmost care. They will not operate in sight of a stranger, if they know it.

A result of these trips the brothers are confident that their aerial locomotive will carry them as great a distance as 500 miles and easily at a speed of forty miles an hour.

They believe in fact that the only limit to the distance will depend upon the duration of the supply of gasoline in the engine and that they could have gone as high as the clouds today, had they been so disposed.

Comment: I wonder where the 500-mile figure came from?

It was 10:30 o’clock this morning when the brothers were ready for the flight. The weather conditions were favorable, a lively breeze from twenty to twenty-five miles an hour blowing.

First the airship was placed on a single-track railway about 300 feet long and run along the rails for the purpose of getting the engine up to speed, Orville Wright, the operator, and his brother, both lying flat on their faces in order to give less resistance to the wind.

Comment: The Flyer had vertical seats so neither Orville or Wilbur would be lying flat, nor did they fly together at the same time at Kitty Hawk. They did take up their first passenger, Charlie Furnas of Dayton, Ohio.

While this was being done the machine was held by a sort of trap. Rapidly gaining momentum until it had reached a velocity of about twenty-five miles an hour, the car was then released by springing of this trap and the huge aeroplane sprang aloft to the accompaniment of a chorus of cheers from the few spectators.

When about one-quarter of a mile from the starting point the engine was shut off and the vessel sank gently to the ground.” (End of Article)

The Wrights flew a total of 22 flights between May 6 and May 14.

On May 23, the Scientific American reported on the Wright Flights at Kitty Hawk and admitted for the first time that “In view of these semi-public demonstrations, there can be no further doubt of the claims made by the brothers as to their ability to fly.”

Wilbur left Kitty Hawk for France by way of New York on May 17.

Orville left for Dayton by way of Ft. Myer on May 23. At Ft. Myer he inspected the grounds he would be flying from for the U.S. Army trials.

The Model C was the standard production airplane for the Wright Co. in 1913. The Army originally purchased six Wright Model Cs and five of these airplanes had crashed killing six men. Major Samuel Reber, the officer in charge of Army aviation called for an investigation and the resulting conclusions were that the crashes were caused by design error, not pilot error.

The 1912 Model C was the successor to the popular Model B and was delivered to the Army in 1912. It replaced the prominent triangular blinkers of the Model B with vertical vanes attached to the forward end of the skids.

It employed a more powerful engine to meet the Army specifications; that the machine climb at the rate of 200 feet per second, have a fuel supply sufficient for a 4-hour flight and carry a weight of 450 pounds, including pilot and passenger. It also had a simplified control system that was difficult to learn for new pilots.

In order to help understand the problems with the Model C, I will digress a bit to provide some background.

After Wilbur’s death, Orville took over as president of the company. It was a job he didn’t want but he really didn’t have a choice. He was not a good president. His vision for the company was clouded by an obsessive desire to protect their patent rights that were under attack by Glen Curtiss. Orville and the rest of the family blamed the stress that Wilbur was under while defending the patent as a contributing factor in his death.

Even before Wilbur’s death, the Wright airplanes were technologically beginning to fall behind the competition. The Model C was such a machine. The standard model was slow and unstable and used a twin-lever control system that was confusing to operate.

The problem with the Army began on June 11, 1912. U.S. Army Lt. Leighton Hagelhurst and Wright co-pilot Arthur Welsh were killed in a Model C when they crashed at College Park, Md. Then on September 4, 1913, Lt. Moss Love was killed in a Model C at the Army’s new North Island training facility at San Diego, California.

Two months later, on November 14, Lt. Perry Rich crashed into Manila Bay, Philippines, and died. Tens days later, student pilot Lt. Hugh Kelly and chief instructor Eric Ellington were killed in a second crash at North Island.

The death of Ellington set off alarm bells in Dayton. Ellington had the reputation as one of the best pilots in the Army. He had been corresponding with Grover Loening, the Wright Company’s factory manager about problems with the Model C machine. Ellington told Loening that the machine was tail heavy and difficult to control.

Orville had hired Loening as factory manager after he had fired the former factory manager, Frank Russell, when he took over as president. Loening was a 1910 engineering graduate of Columbia. Orville knew him because Wilbur had met him the year before in New York City.

Loening was now convinced that there was a fundamental design defect in the Model C Machine. Although Orville thought highly of Loening, he emphatically disagreed with his conclusion.

Orville maintained that the problem was pilot error. The Model C had a powerful new engine and the pilots were not accustomed to it. He suspected that most of the crashes were a result of stalls caused by the pilots misjudging their angle of attack.

Orville intended to solve the perceived problem in two ways. One, he developed an angle-of-incidence indicator that detected small changes in the angle of attack that allowed the pilot to know when his climb or dive was too steep.

The more powerful engine was to be used for climbing only. If the engine was flown at full power on level flight, the angle of attack becomes critical and should be kept between 5 and 10 degrees in order to maintain the center of pressure on the wing at the proper position. Orville predicted that 90% of the accidents caused by stalling would be eliminated if they paid attention to the new indicator.

Secondly, he developed an automatic pilot that he had been working on since 1905. He received a patent for this device in October 1913 and was awarded the Collier Trophy for the device on February 5, 1914. In a performance at Huffman Prairie in December he wowed members of the Aero Club of America, when he took-off and flew seven circles of the field with his hands held over his head.

Unfortunately for Orville’s invention, Lawrence Sperry soon after adapted a balancing device to airplanes that his father had invented for counteracting the roll and pitch of a ship. The Sperry device performed the same function as Orville’s mechanical device but with gyroscopes. The Sperry device became the standard for future use.

Then it happened again. On February 9, 1914, another pilot, Lt. Henry Post died in a crash at North Island. Six men had now been killed in crashes of the Model C. The number constituted one half of all Army pilots killed in air crashes. This is what instigated the Major Reder’s call for a board of investigation. The board concluded after their investigation, that the machine’s elevator was too weak and condemned the Model C as “dynamically unsuited for flying.”

Orville disagreed with the conclusion but cooperated with the investigation. He sent several of his employees, including Oscar Brindley his leading instructor at Huffman Field, to conduct the investigation at North Field.

Brindley, in his initial report, found that aircraft maintenance was a major problem. Major Reder thereupon advertised for an engineer to oversee the airworthiness of airplanes in the Army inventory and to organize a small research and development unit.

Loening applied for the job and was hired. His first action was to declare all the Wright and Curtiss airplanes unsafe to fly. He blamed part of the problem on the pusher type (propellers in back) design. He believed that the pusher type airplanes were prone to stall and when they crashed the engine too often fell and crushed the pilot. Curtiss Machines were having as many problems if not more as the Wright machines.

Loening wrote to Orville several times, but Orville seldom answered his letters. As a result, Loening believed that Orville never forgave him for outlawing the Wright airplanes.

In the meantime Orville was fighting Glen Curtiss in the continuing patent lawsuit and also working on a plan to sell the Wright Company. The latter task he successfully accomplished on October 15, 1915.

The reorganized Wright Co. developed two new airplanes to replace the Wright Model C, the Wright Models K and L. The Model K was built for the Navy and the Model L was a light scout airplane. Both were of a completely new design, placing the propellers in the front (tractor type) and used ailerons instead of wingwarping for the first time.

The company was losing money and merged with the Glenn L. Martin Co. and the Simplex Automobile Co. in 1916 to form the Wright-Martin Co. The new company prospered as an aircraft engine builder.

Glenn Curtiss developed a tractor type machine of his own in 1944 designated the Model J. A later version became the popular JN-4D (Jenny) of World War I.

The Wright-Curtiss patent dispute wasn’t settled until 1917 when the federal government stepped in to settle it during World War II.

Just as Wilbur had wowed the French with his flying exploits, Orville did the same thing in Germany. During the summer and fall of 1909, Orville made 19 flights, set world records for altitude and duration of flight, including flight with a passenger, in front of crowds of 200,000 people.

In May of 1909 the Flugmachine Wright Gesellshaft was founded to manufacture Wright Flyers in Germany.

Initially Germany wasn’t interested in inviting the Wrights to demonstrate their airplane. Wilbur thought it was because officials were afraid of the possible consequences of a blunder. It seemed that every official near the emperor was in constant fear of losing his standing.

Another reason was that the Germans were preoccupied with Count Ferdinand Zeppelin and his dirigibles.

There were some German army officers that began to think that flying machines might prove more effective for war than dirigibles. Captain Richard von Kehler was one of these officers. He proposed the formation of a company to manufacture Wright Flyers when the Wrights were in Rome in April. The result was the formation of the “Flugmachine” Wright Company in Germany on May 13, 1909.

Captain Alfred Hildebrandt was another one of the officers who were supporting airplanes. He had witnessed Wilbur fly at Pau and was greatly impressed. He wanted to get Wilbur to Germany to demonstrate what his machine could do.

Hildebrandt, on behalf of the German newspaper, Lokal-Anzeiger, offered the Wrights a substantial fee to fly in Germany. The Wrights accepted. The family decided that Orville would fly in Germany because Wilbur had flown in France. Katharine would accompany Orville on the trip.

Orville and Katharine left Dayton for Europe on August 8, 1909. Katharine took a leave of absence from Steele High School where she was a teacher. It turned out that she never returned to teaching.

They sailed from New York on August 10 aboard the Kronprinzessin Cecilie and arrived in London on August 16 and in Berlin on August 19.

While in Britain, Orville and Katharine, accompanied by Charles S. Rolls, founder of the British Rolls-Royce automobile company, visited Sheppey Island to inspect Wright airplanes under construction under license by the Short Brothers. Earlier in the year a contract had been signed with the Short Brothers to construct a dozen Wright Flyers.

In Berlin the emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, ordered Count Zeppelin to fly his newest dirigible to Berlin and on Sunday, August 29, the big silver dirigible sailed over the city while all the church bells in the city provided a loud greeting. A crowd of some 100,000 people was at Tegel parade ground to see the ship land.

Also there were Orville and Katharine on the viewing platform with the royal family. Count Zeppelin dipped the nose of the ship in a salute to the emperor. After landing and paying respects to the emperor, Count Zeppelin was introduced to Orville and Katharine. That night, the Orville and his sister dined with the emperor in his castle.

The following week on August 30, Orville showed what an airplane could do that a dirigible could not. He started his program by making preliminary flights of 52 minutes before a gathering of military officials at Tempelhof parade ground near Berlin.

On September 4, Orville made his first public exhibition flights under the sponsorship of Lokal-Anzeiger. He flew for 19 minutes, 2 seconds for a distance of about 20 kilometers. The crowd’s cheers were like those Wilbur received in France.

During the week of September 6-11 Orville flew before crowds as large as 200,000. Crown Prince Wilhelm, Crown Princess Ceclie were among the spectators.

Mrs. Alfred Hildebrandt was a passenger on one of the flights. She flew for 8 minutes, 38 seconds and became the first woman to fly as a passenger of an airplane in Germany.

On September 15, Orville took a few days off and traveled to Frankfurt for a ride in Count Zeppelin’s new dirigible, Zeppelin LZ 6 on a 50-mile trip from Frankfort to Mannheim. Travelling with him were Captain Hildebrandt and three members of the royal family. Hildebrandt acted as an interpreter. Katharine accompanied the group in the dirigible, Parseval

The press of the crowd was so great on arrival in Mannheim that Orville got separated from the rest of the group. He couldn’t remember the name of the hotel where they were to have lunch and without Hildebrandt he couldn’t ask anyone for directions. Fortunately, a member of the reception committee found him and brought him to the hotel.

On September 17, Orville set a new flying record for a flight that lasted 54-minutes, 34-seconds and at a height of 565 feet.

The next day he set another record. According to a Berlin newspaper on September 18: “Orville Wright made a new record at the Tempelof field for sustained aeroplane flight with a passenger. He remained in the air for one hour and 35 minutes carrying Capt. Englehardt. He broke his own record, made July 27, when he stayed up with a passenger for one hour and 12 minutes”.

Captain Paul Englehard was a retired German naval officer who was being trained to be a pilot by Orville. He completed three solo flights on October 13 and earned pilot’s license No. 3 in Germany.

The Empress of Germany, along with Prince Adalbert, Prince August Wilhelm and Princess Viktoria witnessed Orville’s achievement.

That afternoon Orville flew again. This time alone. This time a broken water pump terminated his flight after flying for 1 hour, 45 minutes.

This day’s flights completed Orville’s obligation to fly under the contract with Lokal-Anzeiger.

Orville than moved his operations to Bornstedt drill grounds at Potsdam about 17 miles south of Berlin. His flights there weren’t private but members of the royal family were in attendance most of the time.

Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, 20, was particularly interested in flying. He convinced Orville to take him up. On October 2, the Crown Prince donned an overcoat to protect himself from oil splatters from the engine and was given a fifteen-minute flight. It was the first member of a royal family to ride in an airplane.

He kept urging Orville to fly higher. Orville kept the machine at an altitude of near 60 feet. Under different circumstances he was willing to oblige the Prince, but he was not about to take any chances that would get him in trouble with Prince’s father, the Kaiser.

The Crown Prince, nevertheless was overjoyed with the 15 minute ride and expressed his gratitude by presenting Orville with a fancy jeweled stickpin consisting of a crown set in rubies surrounding the initial “W” in diamonds. The diamond encrusted “W” stood for Wilhelm but the Prince told Orville it could just as well stand for Wright.

Later that day, Orville set an unofficial altitude record by soaring to 1,600 feet during a twenty-minute flight.

On October 15, Orville made his last appearance in Germany by topping off his stay with a spectacular flight of 25-30 minutes before Emperor Wilhelm, the Empress, Princess Viktoria Luise and General von Plessen. The Kaiser had been away on business and had not seen Orville fly as yet.

By the time the Kaiser arrived, it was getting dark. Orville took off and flew to 300-feet, circled, dove, flew out-of sight and returned for a total flight of 30 minutes. Most of the flight was flown after sunset with only the illumination being the moon and stars. Three royal cars lined up and turned on their headlights so Orville could see to land.

The Kaiser was ecstatic about the flight and bombarded Orville with questions. In appreciation, the Emperor presented a signed photograph of himself to Orville.

The next day Orville and Katharine left for Paris and London on their way home to Dayton.

One other thing that Orville did before he left Germany was to visit the home of Otto Lilienthal. Orville and Wilbur thought highly of Lilienthal and gave him credit for helping shape their ideas about designing a flying machine.

The Wright Brothers have been often criticized for their uncompromising approach to many disagreements and business dealings after their first flight in 1903. Their approach, the close bond between the brothers, their secrecy with regard to their experiments and their mistrust of outsiders were extensions of their father’s philosophy that a tightly unified family was the best defense against the pressures of an essentially wicked world which was not to be trusted.

Milton Wright, the father of Wilbur and Orville, was a bishop in the United Brethren Church. He was a man of strong fundamental Christian values and an iron will to follow them. Born in a log cabin in Rush County, Indiana in 1828 in a religious home, he knew from a young age that the church would be his career.

At the age of eighteen an itinerant preacher introduced him to the United Brethren Church. He experienced a religious conversion and felt salvation. The church doctrine emphasized the importance of a moral life, temperance and abolition of slavery.

The grand vision of the church was to enable the reign of God in the New World and for that to occur, Christian reformers must first sweep away the works of Satan. God was on one side and evil was on the other. The salvation of one’s self and of his fellows demands a struggle. The church was a protestant sect that was popular in the rural areas of the Midwest in the 1890s with a peak membership of some 200,000 members.

Milton preached his first sermon on his twenty-second birthday in 1850. He was earning his living on the family farm and supplementing his income by teaching in local schools. IN 1850 he entered Hartsville College, a small Indiana school run by the United Brethren Church, and was ordained a minister in 1856. He previously also became certified in 1852 to teach penmanship, grammar, reading, writing, arithmetic and geography.

He never graduated from college but later in life he was awarded a honorary degree of divinity by Western College another Brethren college.

He met his wife, Susan Koener, while at Hartsville and they were married in 1859. She believed in his religious calling and devoted her life to supporting him and the family.

He inculcated in his children strength of character, firmness of purpose and self-confidence in their pursuits. He taught them that with hard work they could accomplish anything.

Church business required Milton to be a frequent traveler. Although often not physically at home, he was a strong influence on his children. His admonition to the children was that the world beyond Hawthorn St. was fraught with dangers and temptations. Only family was safe, reliable and sustaining.

Within the family he was broadminded. He didn’t seem to be concerned that neither Wilbur nor Orville seldom attended church. He encouraged curiosity. Orville later in life said Wilbur and he had been “lucky enough to grow up in a home environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests and to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.”

In general outlook Milton was a reformer. As a youth he was antislavery and later on a supporter of women’s rights and suffrage. He was a principled person.

He was no stranger to controversy. The first major controversy Milton became embroiled in resulted in the permanent splitting of the church into two factions, the New Constitution (Liberals) and the Old Constitution (Radicals). Milton was the leader of the latter.

Milton had a way with words. He gave this benediction at the award ceremony during The Wright Brothers Celebration in 1909. “We have met this day to celebrate an invention — the dream of all ages — hitherto deemed impractical. It suddenly breaks on all human vision that man, cleaving the air like a bird, can rise to immense heights and reach immeasurable distances. We ask thy peace to rest on this occasion and thy benediction on every heart.”

Here is another example; this time, the occasion is the death of Wilbur. “A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.”

The church split over the issue of admitting freemasons to church membership. Milton strongly supported the church policy that prohibited their admission because he believed the freemasonry constituted a secret society that was unchristian and anti democratic. They were “ominous rivals of Christianity.”

At the church conference in 1869 many younger members of the church, referred to as “Liberals,” wanted to increase church membership and freemasons were a growing untapped potential for recruitment.

That same year the conservative majority, known as “Radicals” of which Milton was a member, installed him as editor of the church newspaper, The Religious Telescope. Milton was picked because the Radicals wanted to exercise better control of the content of church publications. The printing plant was in Dayton, so that necessitated the move of the Wright family to Dayton.

As editor of church publications, Milton became one of the most influential members of the church and a leading spokesman of the Radicals.

After eight years as editor, he was elected a bishop in 1877. Four years later he lost his bid for reelection as bishop and editor because of the vote of the growing number of the Liberal members and some alienated Radicals that were tired of Milton’s uncompromising ways.

Milton moved the family to Richmond, Indiana and continued his crusade against secret societies by publishing a series of articles known as Reform Leaflets. Wilbur wrote and published his first article in support of his father during this period. He followed-up his first article with many more articles and editorials.

Milton returned to Dayton in 1884 with the family.

In 1885, the Liberals established a commission for the purpose of rewriting the old constitution and creed as an attempt to settle the 20-year schism in the church. As a peace offering to Milton, he was reelected bishop with the help of the liberal vote. They then assigned him to the West Coast to get him out of their hair.

When the commission voted on the changes in the constitution, Milton was the only bishop to vote against the change. Outvoted, he walked out and took 10,000 to 15,000 members with him.

Milton reorganized his followers as the United Brethren Church in Christ (Old Constitution).

Six weeks later there was bad news; Susan Wright died after a long illness.

The two factions of the church soon began to fight over millions of dollars of church assets. The largest asset was the printing establishment in Dayton. The Liberal faction didn’t agree that the printing establishment should belong with the Radicals and the dispute continued in courts in seven states that lasted until 1900.

Wilbur, only 22, became the chief strategist in helping his father fight the court battles that ensued, including preparing legal briefs.

Bishop Wright served as the publishing head of the Old Constitution church until 1893. He then tried to get Wilbur appointed to the post, but was unsuccessful. Millard Fillmore Keiter, a Brethren minister, was elected to assume his duties.

In 1901 Keiter was up for reelection. This didn’t sit well with Milton because he suspected that Keiter was misappropriating church funds and he demanded an investigation. This began the second major dispute involving Milton that would divide the church.

Keiter was removed from his publishing position prior to a planned hearing. An audit found that he had left an unexplained deficiency of some $7,000.

Milton went to Huntington, Indiana, the site of the new church college, on February 10 to attend a hearing on the matter. Keiter claimed that the deficiency was just simple carelessness. The church board voted 4-3 in favor of Keiter because they didn’t want to continue the controversy and risk public disclosure after the disputes of the past. They did dismiss Keiter from office.

Milton was incensed at the decision because he was not permitted to question Keiter. “It was a farcical investigation.” He resolved that this wasn’t the end of the matter.

He sent Wilbur and Lorin, who was a trained accountant, to review the records. Wilbur reported back, “there is something rotten here.”

Milton responded with articles and petitions on the matter and ignoring church policy, reported the fraud to civil authorities. Keiter was arrested but charges were dismissed in April 1902 on the basis of technicalities.

The following month Keiter retaliated by filing disciplinary charges against Milton accusing him of libel and breaching the church code of settling disputes out of court. A special church commission was established to investigate Milton’s conduct. A hearing was scheduled for the annual church conference in August.

In May, Milton and Wilbur visited Huntington. The bishop made a peace proposal but it was voted down.

A war of words raged through the summer of 1902. Wilbur took over as his father’s chief counselor and prepared his father’s defense. Like his father, he enjoyed matching wits with the veteran lawyers. Orville did all the typing and printing.

Wilbur traveled again to Huntington to review the charges in detail. Upon his return he prepared a critical essay for publication in the church newspaper. He wrote, “When my father and myself came to examine the charges carefully, we at once saw that the whole thing was a mere sham. There never was any real intention of bringing the case to trail. The real purpose was to harass the accused.”

In the meantime, Wilbur and Orville were working on their 1902 glider. They were still trying to finish the critical calculations on their lift and drift tables resulting from their wind tunnel experiments. Fortunately Octave Chanute offered to help with some of the calculations. He visited the Wrights in Dayton in July and received instructions on performing the calculations. Even with his help there was doubt as to when Wilbur and Orville would be able to journey to Kitty Hawk.

On July 21, Milton wrote in his diary, “the boys resumed the preparation of my third pamphlet and completed it.” The whole family spent several days stuffing envelopes and stamping them.

Orville and Wilbur finally left for Kitty Hawk on August 25th.

While the brothers were at Kitty Hawk in August, the elders of the church in absentia found Milton guilty of “insubordination to constituted authority” and “going to the law” against a fellow Christian. The board did not want Keiter’s irregularities to be made public. They offered Milton sixty days to confess his errors or face expulsion from leadership in the church.

They should have known that Milton would ignore them. He countered that the bishops that made this decision had no constituted authority to make that judgment, thus their action was void.

Many clergy and layman supported Milton and he continued to perform his duties as usual.

After returning from Kitty Hawk at the end of October, Wilbur still hadn’t had time to review all of the lift and drag calculations performed by Chanute because he had to leave again to attend to affairs for his father.

Milton celebrated his 74th birthday at home on November 17.

At the end of November, Wilbur still hadn’t finished reviewing Chanute’s calculations and excused himself to Chanute writing, “Affairs at Huntington have required much of my time and thought recently.”

The showdown on expulsion came the following year in the first week of August 1903, one month before the brothers left Dayton for Kitty Hawk on September 25th with the Flyer for their attempt to be the first to fly. The meeting was held in Messick, Indiana. Wilbur arrived at the meeting just as his father and the presiding bishop were both gaveling the conference to order.

The local sheriff was summoned to restore order and served Milton a “cease and desist order.” Three days later, the bishops voted 22 to 2 to expel Milton. However, the vote didn’t settle the issue and the controversy dragged on.

In May 1905, a General Conference of the church (old constitution) was held in Caledonia, Michigan to decide Milton’s fate once and for all. This time a large majority of attendees voted in Milton’s favor to render the expulsion null and void.

Milton retired shortly thereafter at the age of 77. He lived another eleven years. At age 81 Orville took him up for a ride in a Wright Model B. The bishop thinking that Orville was flying too conservatively yelled over the noise of the engine, “Higher, Orville, Higher.”

As for Keiter, he and some of his supporters broke away from the United Brethren Church. But he got himself into trouble again. He embezzled $2,000 from a supporter and was arrested for land fraud.

The politics involved in these activities impacted Orville’s and Wilbur’s attitude about attending church. They continued to practice their father’s conservative Christian values but decided not to attend church.

One can now better understand the numerous battles the brothers were involved in with their airplane from the perspective of their father’s church struggles. Wilbur was intensely involved with the long time patent fight with Glenn Curtiss over illegal infringements of the Wright patent.

Orville was involved in the Smithsonian controversy over Langley’s Great Aerodrome. The Smithsonian claimed that the Aerodrome could have been the first airplane to fly if only their catapult had worked properly on launch.

Like his father would do, Wilbur defended their patent in a number of time consuming court battles at home and abroad. Orville, frustrated with the fraudulent claims of the Smithsonian, sent the Flyer to the London Science Museum in 1925. He didn’t authorize its return until 1948 after the Smithsonian had publicly retracted their claims.

September 2, 1908 newspapers announced that Wilbur Wright, near Le Mans France, had made an endurance test of two hours the day before. However, he had to descend when “his motor gets hot.” Consequently he devoted himself to making examinations of the Bollee motor.”

The reference to a Bollee motor was an error. Wilbur made examinations of the Wright motor. Bollee made motors in his automobile factory in Le Mans where Wilbur assembled the Flyer, but Wilbur used an old Wright engine that he had brought from home for his airplane.

Two other topics of interest with regard to flying were printed in the same paper. The first is as follows:

“Interest in aeronautics created by exhibitions now being conducted by Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio, show no signs of subsiding.”

“Although the French aeroplanists acknowledge generously the superiority of the performances of Wright’s machine over the existing foreign models in the matter of equilibrium, flying qualities, flying in a wind and general control, a majority of experts still insist that the attendance of a tail and the method of launching the Wright machine constitute vital weaknesses.”

The comment about a tail demonstrates their lack of knowledge about how to fly with control.

The comment about the effectiveness of launching refers to the Wright use of dropping a weight from a pylon to catapult the Flyer off the launching rail into the air.

Later, the French must have reconsidered Wilbur’s use of the catapult launching and decided it gave him an advantage. The Aero-Club de France announced an altitude competition that contained a restriction on the use of a catapult in a disguised attempt to handicap Wilbur. He won the prize anyway on November 23 by employing an extra long launching rail that enabled him to dispense with the catapult.

The other item in the newspaper was about a proposed channel crossing. “The morning papers declare that a Russian named Prince Botoloff has decided to attempt to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane. He has commissioned the brothers Voisin, aeroplane builders, to construct a large machine in the form known as the triplane. Prince Bototoff has never made a flight.”

In October, The London Daily Mail offered a prize of $5,000 for anyone who flew across the English Channel. The paper, by private communication, offered Wilbur an additional $5,000 if he won the prize. Wilbur gave it serious consideration and wrote Orville that he was tempted if he felt sure of decent weather.

Orville, who was recovering from a serious accident at Ft. Myer in the U.S., advised against it.

“I do not like the idea of your attempting a channel flight when I am not present.” He wrote. “I haven’t much faith in your motor running. You seem to have more trouble than I do.”

Wilbur sent a cablegram to the Chicago Daily on September 1 denying reports that he planned to fly across the English Channel. He said his primary goal was to complete the demonstration flights necessary to win the contract with a private syndicate to form a French Wright Company headed by M. Lazare Weiller, a wealthy businessman in France. It was capitalized at $140,000 with the Wrights to receive the largest share of the stock, royalties on all machines constructed, and a substantial sum of cash.

The contract required Wilbur to twice fly a distance of at least 50 kilometers with a passenger. Once this requirement was satisfied, he would train three Frenchman in the operation of the Flyer.

A report in the newspaper of October 6 reports that Wilbur fulfilled the conditions of the contract.

“Wilbur Wright, who on Saturday last established a world’s record for aeroplane flights, carrying a passenger, made a new record this afternoon when under similar conditions he remained in the air for an hour, 4 minutes and 26 seconds. His best previous record with a passenger was 55 minutes 37 seconds.”

“Mr. Wright thus fulfills the conditions of the contract by him and Lazarre Weiller, regarding a syndicate. The contract calls for the payment to Mr. Wright of $100,000 by the syndicate, in return for which the syndicate secures rights of the machine in France and the colonies. M. Weiller has already given an order to a French manufacturer for 50 aeroplanes on the Wright model.”

Wilbur also wanted to win the Coupe Michelin prize offered by Andre Michlin for the longest flight of the year.

Wilbur did win the prize on the last day of the year, December 31. He made the attempt thirteen days earlier but was forced down by a clogged oil line. The last day of the year was a cold day with freezing mist and light snow on the ground. He had to make two attempts that day. A broken fuel line halted the first attempt. The second attempt won the prize with a time in the air of 2 hours 18 minutes.

It was a remarkable achievement considering Wilbur had no protection from the elements.

In addition to the prize money of 20,000 franks, the French awarded the Wright brothers the Legion of Honor. The achievement wasn’t as sensational as flying the channel but it accomplished his goal of demonstrating his absolute superiority in the air.

The following year Louis Bleriot made the first flight over the English Channel on July 26, 1909. His airplane incorporated the use of the Wright’s wing warping method for control of bank and roll. Bleriot learned about it directly from Wilbur who explained to him how it worked after witnessing Wilbur’s first public flight on August 8, 1908.

All the while Wilbur continued to live in his shed on the flying field. It had no floor or indoor toilet facilities. As his flying achievements mounted along with his status as a celebrity, crowds numbering in the thousands came to see him fly. When he was inside his shed they tried to look in his windows to get a glimpse of him. Wilbur complained that he could hardly take a shower without someone trying to see inside. One woman even bored a peephole to look into his shed.

He still managed to dress-up in a tuxedo for the many testimonial dinners he attended.

Bishop Wright wrote to Wilbur advised him to be “sympathetic to the crowds, remembering how Christ had been sympathetic to the people.”

The engine that sometimes was temperamental performed well in early October when Wilbur flew with Leon Bollee as his passenger. Bollee weighed 224 pounds and the fact that the 30-40 hp motor had gotten him off the ground created much astonishment among the spectators.

Winter had set in, so on January 2, 1909, Wilbur sent the Flyer to the French resort town of Pau in the south of France where the weather was warmer for flying. Wilbur arrived on January 14 to continue another round of spectacular flights.

During the 5 months Wilbur spent flying near Le Mans, he completed 129 flights, many of those with passengers, and set 9 world records.