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.”

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.”

The Tuskegee airmen escorted bombers into Europe during World War II and equality into America.

A representative group of the famous Tuskegee airmen spoke of their proud heritage to a group of boys and girls at recent meeting of the NASA sponsored Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) in Warren County, NC.

Tuskegee Airman

The Tuskegee Air Corps training program was initiated at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1941 at the instigation of General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. It was not a popular move at the time. Many Army Air Corps officers viewed the program with suspicion and amusement.

Arnold was not easily intimidated. He was one of first pilots taught to fly by the Wright brothers at Huffman Prairie Field in 1911 and qualified to fly with less than four hours flying time. He went on to become a five-star general and commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. Huffman Field is now a part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The first five Black-Americans to qualify as military pilots graduated from Tuskegee in March of 1942. Army Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. a West Point graduate, was one of the graduates. After graduation he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and become commanding officer of the all black 99th Fighter Squadron.

In 1944, a significant event occurred that made the Tuskegee Airman famous. Bombers flying over Northern France and Germany without fighter escort were being shot down at a high rate, 114 in February. Davis volunteered his group to provide the high-risk fighter escort.

Davis’s group was now designated the 332nd and was equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts. On delivery of the airplanes the ground crew painted the tails red and from then on they were known as the Red Tail Squadron.

The Davis’s Red Tails lost very few bombers during 200 escort missions. They were so successful that bomber pilots requested them as their escorts. Representative of their success was this message from a bomber commander: “Your formation flying and escort was the best we have ever seen.” Davis, now Colonel Davis, received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

By the end of World War II, almost 1,000 Black pilots had earned their wings during the time frame of 1941 to 1946. More than half served overseas. Many earned Air Medals in combat and more than 150 earned Distinguished Flying Crosses. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. would earn a general’s star, becoming the first black Air Force general.

Because of their distinguished record, when the war ended, the War Department was pressured to reassess their segregated military policy. President Truman subsequently issued Executive Order 9981 that integrated the Air Force (the Air Force became a separate service in September 1947).

Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, is flourishing today with more than 200,000 visitors a year. Booker T. Washington founded the school. Agricultural chemist George Washington Carver discovered 300 uses for peanuts there. Famous black poet and friend of Orville Wright Paul Dunbar wrote the school alma mater.

The National Park Service is building the $29 million Tuskegee Airman Memorial that’s expected to draw 400,000 visitors annually after opening in 2007.

Mr. Leonard Hunter, President of the Tuskegee Chapter in Goldsboro, NC provided a strong message to SEMAA students. He told them (majority of which were black) that if the airmen could succeed despite the handicaps of discrimination, they could succeed now with the opportunities they have. “It would be a disservice to yourself and your parents if you didn’t. You can do it!”

Mrs. Lavon-De Driver, wife of one of the attending airman and historian of the chapter, didn’t leave the girls out of the discussion by indicating that there were many black woman involved in providing support services for the Tuskegee airmen during the war.

Update: The Tuskegee Airman were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in early 2006. There were about 40 Tuskegee airman from North Carolina during World War II.

About SEMAA:

SEMAA is an exciting science program featuring hands-on fun activities. NASA substantially funds the program’s curriculum and a computer-enhanced laboratory. Unfortunately, budgets cuts at NASA may result in the termination of the program.

Three repeating Saturday sessions are offered during the academic school year. Each session last eight weeks. In addition there is a summer camp during June. All sessions are free. All kids at the Warren County site with perfect attendance are provided with an expense free trip to Washington, D.C. during the summer. As if that wasn’t enough, kids are given a free airplane ride by the EAA.

Check out the SEMAA web site, http://www.semaa.net.