Wright Brothers – Famous Aviators

Articles relating to the famous aviators of the world other than the Wright Brothers.

Red Tails

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

The Red Tails Squadrons consisted of brave black pilots, mechanics and tecthnicians of World WarII who helped  defeat NAZI Germany. They became know as the Tuskegee Airman. There are three different parts to the Tuskeegee Airmenfighter pilots, bomber pilots, and support group.

The Original Tuskegee Airmen served  between 1941 and 1948. There are over over 14,000 names certified as Tuskegee Airmen.

Not all Tuskegee Airmen were pilots They had mechanics, instructors,etc.

In addition to the red tail P51s, the Tuskegee pilots flew P40, P39, P47 and the P51 Musta was Tuskegee.

The name Tuskegee came from Tuskegee Universty founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington. In 1939, all black colleges were given  money to pay for pilot training programs. One of the first was Tuskegee University.

Not everyone liked these programs. They fully expected the program to fail and titled the program the “Tuskegee Experiment.”

There was one influencial person who helped turn this kind of thinking around. It was Eleanor Roosevelt, the President’s wife. The staff was shocked when they learned that this wasn’t a walk around and back visit.

She wanted a black pilot to fly her around the sky. Her pilot was Charles Anderson. She asked him whether it was truly possible for blacks to fly.

He answered, “certainly we can” For the next 40 minutes, Roosevelt flew with Anderson.

The world’s first airline passenger flew with Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, NC on May 14, 1908. His name was Charlie Furnas. The flight was a short hop.

Later the same day, Furnas flew with Orville Wright. They covered 4,506 yards in four minutes and a few seconds.

The Wright brothers were in Kitty Hawk to test their airplane that had been modified to carry a pilot and a passenger in accordance with U.S. Army requirements. These flights were the first made by the brothers since 1905 in Dayton.

Furnas, a mechanic, was born in West Milton, Ohio near Dayton in 1880. Furnas had done some odd jobs for the Wrights in the hope that they would teach him to fly.

He showed up at the Kitty Hawk camp without prior notice on April 15. The Wrights were surprised to see him, but they did need some help, so they hired him to help restore their old camp.

One hundred and one years later a bronze marker has been placed in West Milton on the front lawn of a funeral home on Main Street in the house where he was born and raised.

The historic marker reads:


Wernher von Braun

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Following the Legacy of the Wright brothers

Sixty-six years after the First Flight of the Wright brothers, Wernher von Braun’s Saturn V rocket powered Apollo 11 carried Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to the moon. In so doing he demonstrated that men could fly into space, thus greatly extending what the Wright brothers had started at Kitty Hawk with their first flight of 120 feet.

Wilbur and Orville were the first to define and solve the problem of flight – – be able to (a) take-off from the earth, (b) sustain flight under control and (c) land safely.

Von Braun’s Apollo 11 system was a magnificent demonstration of the application of this basic approach to space flight.

In 1999, Aviation Week & Space Technology polled aerospace professionals worldwide to name the top 100 stars of aerospace. Over one million responses were received. The Wright brothers came in first and von Braun was second.

von Braun was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in 1941. Orville, born in 1871 and Wilbur born in 1867, came from a middle class family. They all had one significant thing in common, their passion for flying.

Von Braun flew small planes, multi-engine, executive jets, fighter planes, old converted bombers, seaplanes and gliders. He even flew faster than the speed of sound

They had many other things in common. This article will present a few of them.


The Wrights had a high school education but didn’t received diplomas. von Braun received a BSME in Engineering and a Ph.D. in physics in Germany.

High schools provided a solid education when the Wright brothers attended school. It enabled the brothers to later self-educate themselves sufficiently to research, test and design an airplane. Wilbur in particular was able to self-educate himself at home during a period of illness that resulted from an injury received from playing hockey in high school. Their father, Bishop Wright, had a library that included books on science, engineering and mathematics as well as religion, philosophy, geography, geology and politics.

Orville was challenged about his capability to do 7th grade math upon moving to Dayton from Indiana. At the end of the year he received the top grade on the city-wide math exam.

von Braun as a child disliked math, but decided that he would need to be proficient in it if he expected to learn about space travel.

The Wrights and von Braun were excellent readers. Orville demonstrated to his second grade teachers that he could read a book upside down. Von Braun could read a newspaper upside down at the age of 4.

They all had photographic memories.

Von Braun wrote articles for the school magazine. Orville started a school newspaper.

Influence of Family:

The Wrights’ mother attended Hartsville College and studied literature, math, Latin and Greek. She was the daughter of a wagon maker. She learned how to use tools from her father. She encouraged her sons to build things and learn how things worked.

Von Braun’s mother was well educated. She spoke 6 languages, loved great music and fine art and was a serious ornithologist and astronomer.

Her son learned to play the piano, and at 15 composed music, writing 3 short original pieces for the piano.

Both families provided a religious environment. The Wrights’ father was a Bishop in the United Brethren Church and their mother had religious training. von Braun studied the world’s religions and loved to talk about religion and philosophy and would often quote by memory from the Bible.

Critics warned the Wrights’ that “if God wanted man to fly he would have given them wings.”

Von Braun was told that “his rockets were punching holes in the sky causing a draught.”

In later years Orville said, “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always enough encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity. In a different kind of environment, our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”


Bishop Wright on returning from a trip brought the brothers a toy helicopter type machine that would fly. Wilbur was age 11 and Orville age 7 at the time. They were fascinated with the gadget and tried to make it larger so they could fly. It didn’t work, but that early experience with flight helped rekindle their interest later on.

Von Braun at 15 read a science fiction article that described an imaginary flight to the moon. This fueled his interest further after he had earlier attached 6 large rockets to his wagon that propelled it into a fruit stand.

Orville and von Braun were free spirits as children and often got in trouble with their pranks. That didn’t stop them from continuing the practice into adulthood.

When they were older and both serious about their dreams, they consulted famous men who would become their mentors. For the Wright’s it was Octave Chanute, the senior expert on gliders and flying in the U.S.

For von Braun it was rocket scientist Hermann Obeth. Von Braun sent for his book, “The Rocket into Interplanetary Space,” and later at the age of 18 volunteered to be an apprentice for him.

Obeth believed that you could build a machine which (a) could climb beyond our atmosphere, (b) that man could leave the gravity of Earth, (c) that man could survive flight in a ship in space, and (d) that the exploration of space could be profitable.

Nine Lives:

Experimenting with airplanes and rockets was dangerous business. Neither Von Braun nor the Wright brothers died because of their work although they had close calls. You might say they had nine lives.

Von Braun survived launch-pad explosions, almost being hit by an incoming V-2 warhead in Germany, Allied bombing raids during Word War II, imprisonment by Himmler and the Gestapo, a car wreck that killed his driver, a serious attack of hepatitis, errant U.S. missiles and a near miss in an aircraft.

Orville survived a crash of the 1902 glider at Kitty Hawk, a crash of the 1904 airplane in August and again in November at Huffman Prairie in Dayton, and a crash of the 1905 airplane in Dayton. A crash of the Flyer during the U.S. Army qualification tests on September 17, 1908 at Fort Myer almost killed him and there was another accident at Fort Myer the following year. Orville flew the 1911 glider into the side of a hill at Kitty Hawk and crashed the glider again 6 days later. He was in a train wreck in France in January 1909.


They each won the gold Langley medal. The Wright brothers were the first to receive the medals and von Braun won his 59 years later. He was the thirteenth person to receive the medal.

The Smithsonian established the Langley Medal in 1908 at the suggestion of Alexander Graham Bell. It is awarded for “meritorious investigations in connection with the science of aerodynamics and its application to aviation.

The Apollo 11 Astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are also Langley Medal winners.

All three men shared their critics; whose opinions were that all three were crazy, flakes and more.

Von Braun put it in perspective. “Enthusiasm and faith are necessary ingredients of every great project. Prophets have always been laughed at, deplored and opposed, but some prophets have proved to be following the true course of history.”

Harriet Quimby

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Harriet Quimby was a female pioneer in aviation. She was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license, the first woman to fly solo over the English channel and the seventh woman to be enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

She was flamboyant, ambitious, beautiful, daring and tragically the first woman to die at an aviation meet.

Harriet loved anything associated with speed. In October 1910 she heard about an international air show to be held at Belmont Park. She decided to attend and while there she met daredevil pilot John Moisant. She was excited when he won a race around the Statue of Liberty and asked him to teach her to fly.

“Flying looks easy,” she said to Moisant. “I believe I could do it myself and I will.”

Her self-confidence came from a mother who didn’t want her daughter to grow up depending on a man. Harriet’s father had gone into bankruptcy as a poor farmer while she was growing up in Coldwater, Michigan.

The family subsequently moved to Oakland, California, searching for a better life. Harriet thrived in the freer lifestyle of California. She tried acting for a while, but found her niche in journalism, writing articles for the San Francisco Bulletin in 1890.

Her boundless energy caused her to travel to New York City, the journalism capital of the world, in 1903. When she arrived she had no job or place to live. It wasn’t long before she found a journalism job as a drama critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, a top magazine of the day.

Soon after, she engaged in activities usually reserved for men; such as driving and fixing her own automobile, using a typewriter and photographing her own pictures to accompany her articles.

Her writing expanded to subjects as controversial as exposing child neglect. She even wrote seven movie scripts that were made into movies, another first for a woman.

She convinced Leslie’s to finance her flying lessons in return for writing articles about her flying experiences. She wanted to obtain her lessons at the Wright brother’s flying school in Dayton, but the school didn’t accept woman students.

In a seeming contradiction, Katharine Wright, the Wright brothers’ sister was active in the suffrage movement and Milton, her father, and Orville contributed money to the movement. They even marched through downtown Dayton in behalf of the movement.

The Wright flying school did later admit women for pilot training and graduated three of them before the school closed.

Harriet turned to Moisant’s Aviation School on Long Island, who accepted her in 1911. John Moisant was no longer at the school because he was killed in an air meet in New Orleans.

Her instruction consisted of 33 lessons with a little over 4 1/2 hours flying time. On July 31st she flew her first flight test, performing everything right except that she over shot the landing, coming down 40 feet outside the required 160 foot circle. Her flight instructors thought that would discourage her and she would give up.

They didn’t really know Harriet. The next day she tried again and set an accuracy record for her landing. She triumphantly walked over to one of the officials, looked him in the eye and said, “Well, I guess I get my license!”

She did, thus becoming the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license. Earlier that year, a French woman was the first women in the world to receive a license.

She was not a feminist by any means; she opposed confrontation. She viewed her ability to fly as demonstrating through example that woman can do almost anything men can do.

Leslie’s appointed her Aviation Editor and instituted a new department devoted to the subject of aviation. Her articles on her flying experiences in Leslie’s sold out. Some of her articles had titles such as “How a Woman Learns to Fly” and “How I Won My Aviator’s License.”

She created a new fashion style for woman in aviation. The normal flying suits were not flattering to woman. Her outfit consisted of a one-piece suit made of purple satin with knee-length pants and a satin hood. Her accessories were flying goggles, elbow-length gloves and high-laced black boots. She became known as the “Dresden China Aviatrix.”

She joined an exhibition group and won her first cross-country race, winning $600. She followed that up by winning $1,500 for a night flight under a full moon.

Similar to the Wright brothers, she would not fly on Sunday. In her case it was at the request of her mother.

Only three months after earning her flying license, she decided she wanted a new challenge. She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. She ordered a new airplane for the event, a 50-hp French Beloit monoplane.

Three years earlier, Louis Bleriot had won the London Daily Mail’s 1,000-pound prize for the first successful crossing and became an instant French hero.

By the time Harriet arrived in Britain, the weather had turned bad and her plane had arrived late. The two unexpected events deprived her from having an opportunity to practice flying her new plane. But, she was impatient and concerned that some other woman might make the attempt before she did.

Finally there was a break in the weather on April 16, 1912 so she decided to go even though there were reports of fog near the French coast. The only instrumentation she had was a compass that a friend gave her.

She put on an extra raincoat and took off from Dover at 5:30 a.m. It wasn’t long before she hit the fog bank and couldn’t see where she was going. To make matters worse, her plane had an open cockpit that allowed oil from the engine to blow back in her face.

She flew up to 6,000 feet but that didn’t help. She was forced to rely on her compass that she held cradled between her knees. When she finally broke through the fog, she was 25 miles south of her destination at Calais. She decided to land safely on the sandy beach at Hardelot. The flight had taken one hour and 9 minutes.

It was a remarkable achievement, but she received little recognition for the event. It was her fate that the Titanic disaster, that took 1,573 lives, occurred two days before her flight. The news on the Titanic pushed her achievement off the front page.

That didn’t discourage Harriet, she was off to another air meet two months later. She was offered $100,000 to participate in a Boston air meet, which would take place over Boston Harbor.

At the meet, promoter William Willard asked her for an airplane ride in her 70-hp Bleriot, one of the latest models of military monoplanes. She agreed, but then his son wanted to go also. They decided to settle the matter by a flip of the coin. Willard senior won. As fate would have it, that gamble was one too many.

William Willard weighed some 200 pounds, which stretched the weight limit for the fragile Beloit plane. There was no problem with the take-off on July 1, 1912, but then at about 2,000 feet Willard did something surprisingly stupid – he stood up. No one knows for sure why; maybe it wanted to say something to Harriet. The Beloit plane is configured so the passenger sat in a separate cockpit behind the pilot, so Harriet couldn’t see what was happening.

Then he tumbled out of the plane. There were no seat belts in the plane, which was common for airplanes at that time. It permitted easier access to the engine that often caught on fire or needed some adjustment.

Harriet was confronted with a tail that rose suddenly with the shift in the center of gravity without knowing the cause. She fought to control the plane that was now pitching violently. Then she too was catapulted out of the plane.

To the horror of some thousands of spectators, the two tumbling bodies hit the shallow muddy waters of the bay some 300 feet from the shore. They were both killed instantly. She was 37 years old.

Ironically Harriet had earlier written an article on the dangers of flight in which she advocated the use of seat belts. In another article, Good Housekeeping Magazine, she wrote, “Only a cautious person – man or woman – should fly. I never mount my machine until every wire and screw has been tested. I have never had an accident in the air. It may be luck, but I attribute it to the care of a good mechanic.”

In another twist of fate, If she had been flying a Wright airplane, Willard would have been sitting next to her instead of behind and the accident would probably not have happened. The fact that she was not using a Wright plane most likely goes back to her not being able to attend the Wright flying school.

There were other explanations given in addition to the one I have provided for the cause of the crash such as adverse weather and mechanical problems. I believe the one I provided is the cause that is most believable.

The Boston Post, still not accepting that a woman could fly, gave her faint praise by giving her honorary male status by writing, “She took her chances like a man and died like one.”

She lived life to the fullest and in the process she helped open the door to women to fulfill their life’s potential.

Now, some 100 years later she is remembered on a 50 cent U.S. Postal Stamp and only recently by induction into the U. S. Aviation Hall of Fame. There is a brief description of her achievements on a historic sign near her grave in Kensico Cemetery, Westchester, N.Y.

The headline on the New York Times read: “Miss Earhart Forced Down at Sea, Howland Isle Fears; Coast Guard Begins Search.”

She was one of the world’s most famous pilots and now she had disappeared on a around-the-world flight on a leg from New Guinea to tiny Howland Island in the Pacific ocean.

To this day she has not been found and no one knows for sure what happened to her, the airplane, or her navigator.

There has been plenty of conjecture, some of it bizarre, such as the claim that she was on a spy mission and had been captured by the Japanese.

Roy Conyers Nesbit has written a new book: Missing Believed Killed, that offers a plausible explanation of what really happened. My article is based on his extensive research.

Amelia first burst on the national scene in 1928 when she became the first woman to fly the North Atlantic from New York to London. She never flew the airplane. She was a passenger and log keeper. But that didn’t minimize her achievement to the public.

She was important enough to stand next to Orville Wright during the dedication of the cornerstone of the Wright Memorial at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1928. The occasion was held on the 25th anniversary of the Wrights’ first flight.

Her place in history was assured in 1937 when she became the first woman to fly solo across the North Atlantic. She flew her red Vega from Newfoundland to a field of cows near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Her husband called her “Lady Lindy” after Charles Lindbergh who had accomplished the feat ten years earlier.

She went on to establish many flying records including cross-country speed records and was the first person to fly solo over the Pacific from Hawaii to California.

By the time she was 38 years old, she knew that her risky career would be coming to an end in the near future, so she wanted to do something adventurous to cap off her career.

She decided to set a new record by flying around the world following a course that would keep her close as possible to the equator.

The feat would require a larger and faster airplane than her single engine Vega. She chose a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra.

The Electra was modified to hold about 1,200 US gallons of fuel by adding 6 fuel tanks in the fuselage and 6 tanks in the wings. This gave a theoretical range of 4,000 miles in still air at airspeed of 145-mph and an altitude of 4,000 feet.

It was known from the beginning that the long flight, which included several over the water segments including the 2,556-mile nonstop flight to Howland Island, would require a navigator to help Amelia.

She was not a knowledgeable navigator and couldn’t perform celestial navigation because of her mathematical inadequacy. Her technique up to this time had been to fly a compass course as accurately as possible and then try to pick up visual landmarks. When flying across oceans she headed toward large land masses which she was bound to reach eventually.

Initially two men were selected for the navigation job. The first was Captain Harry Manning, the commander of the USS, President Roosevelt. The other was Frederick J. Noonan, an experienced ship and aerial navigator who served as a navigator for the Martin 130 China Clipper that flew from California to Hong Kong.

Another man, Paul Mantz, was hired to teach Amelia how to fly the twin engine Electra. When fully loaded, Amelia’s Electra weighed over 3,300 pounds more than the standard Electra. The heavier airplane required very careful handling, especially on take-off.

Amelia soloed in 1921 after 10 hours of instruction. Some pilots said she lacked an instinctive feel for the controls of an airplane. Mantz was concerned with her tendency to jockey the throttles on take-off to correct the slight swings in yaw instead of using the rudder. She did practice diligently under Mantz’s guidance, including spending time in a Link Trainer.

Additionally, it was decided that Mantz would serve as co-pilot on the first leg of the round-the-world flight from California to Hawaii to provide additional tutoring.

The flight to Hawaii was without incident. The next morning they were to fly to Howland Island. Then disaster struck. The machine ground-looped on take-off. It was a miracle that the fully fuelled airplane didn’t catch on fire, but no one was hurt.

They returned to California and sent the airplane back to Lockheed for rebuilding. The repairs took two months and cost $14,000.

The weather underwent a seasonal change so it was decided to make the second attempt flying in a reverse direction to the east. Fred Noonan was still available to make the flight.

One other change was made that later would have tragic consequences. Amelia had the 250 foot trailing aerial removed that was used for obtaining bearings on 500 kilohertz frequency (kHz) that was normally transmitted in Morse code from ground stations. She didn’t like the bother of winding in and out the antenna and neither she nor Noonan were good at Morse code.

She began their second attempt of flying around the world on May 20, 1937. They left Oakland and thence forth traveled to Tucson; New Orleans; Miami; Puerto Rico; Venezuela; Dutch Guinea; Brazil; Senegal; French West Africa; French Chad; Anglo-Egyptian Sudan; Italian Eritrea; India; Burma; Singapore; Java; Australia and on June 29, Lae, New Guinea. They had flown 22,000-miles since leaving Oakland.

While in Australia, Amelia decided to leave the parachutes behind to save weight and because they would be of no use flying over the Pacific. That may have been another mistake.

Their next destination was Howland Island, a small island that was two miles long and a half a mile wide setting about 20 feet above sea level at its highest point.

Two boats were stationed along the route. One, a tug, the USS Ontario, was placed at the halfway point and the other, the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca was positioned near Howland. The Itasca was equipped to receive and transmit radio bearings and provide a visual smoke signal.

Amelia decided to reduce weight further by unloading all surplus equipment and baggage and possibly even the survival kit.

Several witnesses reported that Noonan drank heavily up to the night before take-off. He had a reputation of being a heavy drinker.

At 1000 hours local time (0000 GMT) on July 2nd, Amelia took off and headed for Howland Island, 2,556 miles away. (GMT means Greenwich Mean Time and is the time that is measured from the Greenwich Meridian line located at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England). Her estimated time of arrival at Howland was 1800 hours GMT that was a few minutes after sunrise. On the way she would travel through several time zones.

In her last letter to her husband she wrote:

“Not much more than a month ago, I was on the other side of the Pacific, looking westward. This evening, I looked eastward over the Pacific. In the fast moving days that have intervened the whole width of the world has passed behind me – except this broad ocean. I shall be glad when we have the hazards of its navigation behind us.”

Throughout her flight she transmitted messages every half-hour using her call-sign of KHAQQ, not knowing whether she was heard. The estimated range of the signal was up to 400 miles, but sometimes could be heard much further.

The early part of the flight was in daylight, where being able to see islands helped navigation. The night flight was mainly over open sea and Noonan navigated using stars and planets.

The radio operator at Lae heard Amelia clearly during the early part of the flight. She gave her first position report at about 850 miles out. The Electra was making an average ground speed of about 120-mph, indicating a stronger headwind than expected.

The USS Ontario, stationed at the halfway point never received a signal. An operator on the Island of Nauru, well to the North of the ship, reported receiving a signal but couldn’t make out what she said.

The next transmission anyone heard was on the Itasca stationed near Howland for the purpose of helping guide the Electra to a safe landing. The message came at 1744 hours GMT, only 16 minutes before the Electra was due to arrive.

Amelia indicated she was located about 200 miles out. The weather was not good. There were dark clouds to the northwest of the Itasca and visibility was poor. Amelia, flying under the cloud cover, would not be able to see the smoke signal from the ship from a long distance.

The next message was at 1817 hours GMT. Amelia asked for a bearing and gave her position as about 100 miles out. This was the first indication that something was amiss. She could not have flown 100 miles in the 30 minutes since her last transmission.

At 1912 hours GMT, Amelia transmitted:

“We must be on you now but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Being unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”

At 1929 hours GMT, the operators on the ship heard Amelia say,

“We are circling but cannot hear you.”

The problem with her transmission was that she was transmitting on 7,000 kHz, which was not a frequency that bearings could be taken. The operators on the ship were expecting bearings on 500 kHz, which is the frequency the trailing antenna would have transmitted if Amelia hadn’t removed it earlier in the trip.

It appears that Amelia was unable to hear any voice transmissions sent to her. She never was adept with the operation of her radio and this was a serious problem now.

At 2014 hours GMT, she sent her last message:

“We are on a line of position 157 to 337. Will repeat this message on 6,210 kcs. Wait, listening on 6,210 kcs. We are running north and south.”

The operators on the ship said her voice was heard loud and clear but broken and frenzied.

Amelia’s last desperate message was received 20 hours 25 minutes after take-off from Lae. The estimated range for the 950 gallons of gas on the Electra was 20 hours 13 minutes. They must have crashed a few minutes later somewhere not too far from Howland.

According to the skipper of the Itasca, the sea was very rough with up to 6-foot waves. Later arrivals reported snow showers and severe icing at the Equator.

Paul Mantz believes Noonan made a navigation error and missed the island. He believes that they came down under two possibilities. One was that Amelia tried to land too high above the water and stalled, killing both of them.

The other possibility was that she made a bad judgment and flew into a high roller of a wave with the same result.

If they had landed in the water safely, the Electra would have sunk within a minute or two based on experience with the airplane in WW II.

They originally carried emergency equipment on the airplane including a rubber dinghy, lifebelts, flares, flare-pistol, kite and rations. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that this emergency kit was removed earlier to save weight.

The most likely crash site is within 30 miles West of Howland Island

Amelia anticipated that she might someday crash and be killed. She wrote her own epitaph several years before her last flight:

“Hooray for the last great adventure! I wish I had won, but it was worth while anyway.”