Wright Flights are Publicly Disclosed in 1906

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Military Airplane

Few people really believed that the Wright brothers had flown until their public fights in 1908 and 1909 in Europe and at Ft. Myer in the U. S.

In 1905 they had developed the first practical airplane and had flown twenty-four miles in the heavier-than-air flying machine in 38 minutes while completing 30 consecutive circuits of a course at Huffman Prairie in Dayton.

The challenge now was to sell the airplane without prematurely revealing their secrets of design. They decided that the best way was to do this was to require an up front contract of sale before demonstrating their machine to serious buyers. Their policy was “no contract, no look.”

First Public Announcement

The Aero Club of America was formed in 1905 patterned after the Aero Club de France. They decided that something had to be done to counteract the critics that questioned whether the Wrights had flown as claimed. Even the prestigious Scientific American magazine wrote a critical article questioning whether the flights of 1903-5 had taken place.

William J. Hammer, of the Aero Club of America, visited the Wrights in Dayton, and convinced them to write an official account of their experiments of 1904 and 1905 for release to the public. The Wrights agreed and the Aero Club of America endorsed the Wrights’ account and released it for public consumption.

Below is the record written by the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, made known by the Aero Club of America. It is the first public announcement ever made by the Wrights, the result of whose work has been awaited with keener interest than of any of the score of inventors who have been trying to solve the problem of aerial navigation.

The Report

“Though America,” wrote the Wright brothers in their report to the Aero Club, “through the labors of Prof. Langley, Mr. Chanute and others, had acquired not less than 10 years ago the recognized leadership in the branch of aeronautics which pertains to birdlike flight.”

“It has not heretofore been possible for American workers to present a summary of each year’s experiments to a society of their own country devoted exclusively to the promotion of aeronautical studies and sports. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we now find ourselves to make a report to such a society.”

“Previous to the year 1905, we had experimented at Kitty Hawk, NC, with man carrying gliding machines in the years 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903, and with a man carrying motor flyer, which on December 17, 1903, sustained itself in the air for 59 seconds, during which time it advanced against a 20-mile wind a distance of 852 feet.”

“Flights to the number of more than 100 had also been made at Dayton, Ohio in 1904 with a second motor flyer. Of these flights, a complete circle, made for the first time on September 20, and two flights of three miles each, made on November 9 and December 1 respectively were the most notable performances.”

“The object of the 1905 experiments was to determine and discover remedies for several obscure and somewhat rare difficulties which had been encountered in some of the 1904 flights, and which it was necessary to overcome before it would be safe to employ Flyers for practical purposes.”

Date. Miles flown. Time. Cause of stopping.

Sept. 26 11 1/8 18.00 Exhaustion of fuel

Sept. 29 12 19.55 Exhaustion of fuel

Sept. 30 — 17.15 Hot bearing

Oct. 3 15 1/4 25.05 Hot bearing

Oct. 4 20 3/4 33.17 Hot bearing

Oct 5 25 1/5 38.03 Exhaustion of fuel

“The experiments were made in a swampy meadow about eight miles east of Dayton and continued from June until the early days of October when the impossibility of longer maintaining privacy necessitated their discontinuance.”

“Owing to many experimental changes in the machine and the resulting differences in its management, the earlier flights were short, but toward the middle of September means of correcting troubles were found and the flyer was at last brought under satisfactory control. From this time forward almost every flight established a new record.”

“It will be seen that an average speed of a little more than 38 miles an hour was maintained in the last flight. All of the flights were made over a circular course of about three-fourths of a mile to the lap, which reduced the speed somewhat.”

“The machine increased its velocity on the straight parts of the course and slowed down on the curves. It is believed that in straight flight the normal speed is more than 40 miles an hour.”

“In the earlier of the flights named above less than six pounds of gasoline was carried. In the later ones a tank was fitted large enough to hold fuel for an hour, but by oversight it was not completely filled before the flight of October 5.”

In the last three years, a total of 160 flights have been made with our motor-driven flyers, and a total distance of almost exactly 160 miles covered, an average of a mile to each flight. But until the machine had received its final improvements the flights were mostly short, as is evidenced by the fact that the flight of October 5 was longer than the 105 flights of the year 1904 together.”

“The lengths of the flights were measured by a Richard anemometer, which was attached to the machine. The records were found to agree closely, with distances measured over the ground when the flights were made in calm air over a straight course; but when the flights were made in circles a close comparison was impossible because it was not practicable to accurately trace the course over the ground.”

“In the flight of October 5 a total of 20.7 circuits of the field was made. The times were taken with stop watches.”

“In operating the machine it has been our custom for many years to alternate in making flights, and such care has been observed that neither of us has suffered any serious injury, though in the earlier flights our ignorance and the inadequacy of the means of control made the work exceedingly dangerous.”

“The 1905 flyer had a total weight of about 925 pounds, including the operator, and was of such substantial construction as to be able to make landings at high speed without being constrained or broken.”

From the beginning the prime object was to device a machine of practical utility, rather than a useless and extravagant toy. For this reason extreme lightness of construction has always been resolutely rejected. On the other hand, every effort has been made to increase the scientific efficiency of the wings and screws, in order that even heavily built machines may be carried with a moderate expenditure of power.”

“The favorable results which have been obtained have been due to improvements in flying quality because of more scientific design and to improved methods of balancing and steering.”

“The motor and machinery poses no extraordinary qualities. The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.”

In view of the fact that all of the flights which have been mentioned were made in private, it is proper that the names of persons who witnessed one or more of them should be given.

We therefore name E. W. Ellis, assistant auditor of the city of Dayton; Torrence Huffman, president of the Fourth National Bank; C. S. Billman, secretary of the West Side Building Association; Henry Webbert, W. H. Shank, William Fouts, Frank Hamburger, Charles Webbert, Howard M. Myers, Bernard H. Lambers, William Webbert, Reuben Schindler, William Weber, all of Dayton, Ohio; and O. F. Jamieson of East Germantown, Indiana, Theodore Waddell of the census department, Washington, D. C., David Beard of Osborn, Ohio, and Amos Stauffer of Osborn, Ohio.” (end or Wrights’ report).

The board of directors of Aero Club responded with the following resolutions:

Whereas the Messrs. Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville of Dayton, Ohio have developed an aeroplane type of flying machine that many times has carried a man safely through the air at high speed and continuously over long distances and, therefore, of practical value to mankind;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Aero Club of America thereby expresses to them the hearty felicitations on their achievement in devising, constructing and operating a successful and man-carrying dynamic flying machine; and

Be it further resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be addressed to Messrs. Wilbur and Orville Wright at Dayton, Ohio.

Few secrets have been as closely guarded as that of the Wright brothers. It has been known that they were attaining considerable success, but every effort to gain any accurate information has heretofore been met with positive refusal.

The New York Herald reported that Americans of wealth who are genuinely interested in attempts to solve the problem of aerial navigation, or who would gladly provide a large expense fund in return for the honor of being known as leaders in the effort to conquer the air, have been rudely turned away by Orville and Wilbur Wright.

“I am satisfied that they solved the fundamental principles of the great problem,” said Arnold Fordyce, who represented the French Government in the recent negotiations with the Wrights, “I believe they have settled the question of whether or not it is possible for man to fly.” The French were interested.

When Mr. Fordyce, arrived in Dayton shortly after Christmas, 1905, he was employed by the Le Journal and also representing M. Etienne, French Minister of War, and a private group of French capitalists. He made as careful an examination as was possible against the great wall of silence set by the Wrights. From residents of the city he learned of the aeroplane flights and finally he was shown several photographs of the machine in full flight, after the terms of the tentative French contract had been agreed upon.

The syndicate planned to buy a Flyer as a gift to France after successful demonstration fights.

“I know that all of this seems fantastic,” Fordyce admitted, “and of the dream order, but there are certain evidences back of it, all of which convince me that these men have discovered the secret for which the whole world has been working for many generations.”

According to the terms of this test, the aeroplane must leave the ground, fly 31 miles within an hour, with one operator, against an air current of a specific force, make certain evolutions and return to the starting point, using a motor of 16 horsepower.

To witness this test, a committee consisting of a representative of the French war department of the president of the French Republic, and two aerial experts will accompany Mr. Fordyce when he returns to this country.

The Wrights’ stipulated that the airplane must be turned over to the French military.

The French then asked for a one-year extension. Apparently because of the probability of war in Europe had subsided.

Subsequently an agreement was signed and $25,000 was deposited in the Paris branch of J. P Morgan on Feb 5, 1906. An additional $275,000 would be paid by the French for the rights to the invention. The Wrights were to make demonstration flights in France by April 5.

It never happened. The French said they didn’t want to risk public ridicule.

It would be 1908 before the Wrights would receive contracts to demonstrate their airplane. When it happened it occurred simultaneously in both France and America.

Reference: The Springfield Daily Republican, Monday, March 19, 1906.

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