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.”

Steve Fossett is the modern version of the original daredevil pilots such as Arch Hoxsey and Ralph Johnstone of the Wright Brothers exhibition team that was formed in 1910. They take death-defying risks to become the pilot that flies the highest, fastest and farthest.

Hoxsey and Johnstone played the odds of death and lost. Fossett has taken great risks and so far has beaten the odds. He is one of the Millennial Pioneers who create a cutting edge for aviation and aerospace in the new millennial century. This is the story of his latest great adventure.

His objective was to establish a new world record for the longest nonstop, unrefueled flight. Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager piloting the Scaled Composites Voyager aircraft in 1986 held the current record.

Stretching the limits is nothing new for the 61-year old millionaire native of Tennessee. He has swum the English Channel, driven in the 24 Hours Le Mans auto race and set more than 20 speed sailing world records. He also has set flying records for the fastest trips across the Atlantic and around the globe. In 2002 he became the first person to circle the world alone in a balloon.

The planned itinerary for his latest adventure of flight was to take off from the Kennedy Space Center, with the GlobalFlyer, a lightweight experimental airplane, and circle the globe. The GlobalFlyer is owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic and was built by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites.

Continuing the journey, It will cross the Atlantic Ocean a second time and land in Kent, England. If successful, it would be the first time that a major aviation distance record ended in England since Louis Bleriot flew the English Channel in 1909.

The flight almost didn’t get off the ground on Feb. 8, 2006. The airplane almost ran out of runway. The Kennedy runway is 15,000 -ft long and he had to use almost all of it with his 9-ton JP-4 fuel load.

Seconds from disaster, Fossett said that he “had to really pull on the stick with all his might to get it off the ground.” It would have meant instant death with his large fuel load if he had run out of runway and crashed into a large ditch at the end of the runway.

To make matters worse, he hit two birds a few seconds after rotation. The birds were later found to be 30-oz black breasted plovers with 12-inch wingspans. Fortunately, they did no damage to the GlobalFlyer.

But another problem emerged. The ventilation system malfunctioned. The temperature rapidly rose in the claustrophobic refrigerator size cockpit. The temperature rose to 130F and the instruments ceased to work in the hot environment. He was able to reduce the temperature. If he had not, he would have had to return to Kennedy or ditch in the ocean.

If all these problems weren’t enough, several hours into the trip it was discovered that during the climb on takeoff some 750 pounds of precious fuel had vented out of the aircraft. This is equivalent of about 1,000 miles of range.

Favorable winds would now be most important to succeed in breaking the distance record. During the first part of the flight Foster was able was able to find favorable easterly jetstreams. When he arrived over India he ran into unexpected turbulence that that so severe that he put on his parachute and oxygen mask in case the airplane broke apart.

Foster originally wanted to start his journey several days earlier for better weather, but China denied him overflight rights until after the Chinese New Year.

Fortunately, he was able to fly on and reach Florida completing one swing around the world and continue on his way to England. At this point his worry was did he had enough fuel to get there?

His worry would soon change when another more serious problem occurred. The generator failure light illuminated while flying over the border between Wales and England. With no generator power, the battery that powers the systems of the airplane lost voltage and would have a life of only 25 minutes.

Fossett declared an emergency and requested directions to the nearest airfield. He chose Bournemouth International Airport some 100 miles closer than Kent, his original destination.

His rapid descent had an unexpected side effect of overwhelming the defrost system and fogged over the canopy so that constant wiping was required just to see. Luckily he had landed at Bournemouth before so he had some familiarity with the airport. He landed successfully but blew two tires in the process.

He had flown 26,389 miles in about 76 hours. It was a little short of his goal but it beat the existing record of 24,987 miles for a nonstop flight set in 1986.

He had little sleep during the flight but did take a few “power naps” of less than 10 minutes each. For food, he consumed milkshakes.

If the generator failure had occurred a couple hours earlier, the chances are he would have had to bail out or ditch into the ocean.

He success took a superhuman effort with a lot of luck thrown in. Fossett admitted, “I was really lucky to make it here today, there was a lot going on.”

The Global Flyer will eventually be displayed in the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udar-Hazy Center.

References: New York Times, Feb. 12, 2006; Washington Post, March 17, 2006; Aviation Week and Space Technology, Feb. 13 and Feb. 20, 2006.

Ralph Johnston was a member of the first group of five members of the Wright brother’s exhibition team. He had the personality for such an adventure. At the age of 15 he became a trick bicyclist. His specialty was riding his bike up a springboard and performing a flip in midair. His tolerance for risk may have been his downfall. He would die in an airplane crash while performing within six months.

The team’s debut in an air show was at the Indianapolis Speedway in June 13, 1910. Two weeks later Johnstone set a new Canadian endurance record in Montreal. He was making a reputation as a fearless flyer.

The high risk flying began to take its toll. In August at Asbury Park, New Jersey, Johnstone flying a Model B Flyer for the fist time and crashed into parked cars while landing. Arch Hoxsey, another team member, had an accident that injured spectators at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Orville and Wilbur were becoming concerned about the risk their flyers were taking. Wilbur wanted plan flying and wrote a letter warning them. “I am very much in earnest when I say that I want no stunts and spectacular frills —.”

The admonition had little effect as they continued their stunts. The competitive juices flowed too strongly.

In October, Johnstone was sent to Richmond, Virginia to perform at their county fair. He was the current celebrity on the team, holding world’s altitude record of 9,714 feet.

The highlight of the flying exhibition at the fair was to be Richmond’s Mayor, David Richardson, flying as a passenger with Johnstone on the third day of the three-day exhibition. Richardson decided to make the flight over his wife’s objection.

On the day of the Mayor’s planned flight Johnstone’s program of flight was conservative and he had experienced no problems. He promised to be careful with the Mayor and not try anything fancy.

The only worry among the 50,000 spectators was whether Johnstone could get the airplane off the ground with the overweight mayor as a passenger. Johnstone assured everyone that there wasn’t any problem and there wasn’t.

Before being strapped in his seat, Mayor Richardson announced to the crowd: “I’m not taking this trip up into the air for notoriety, but as the personal representative of Richmond.” He continued, “I’m going up to keep her in the front rank in the march of progress.”

The flight was going well as Johnstone circled 50 feet over the grandstand. Then the unexpected happened. The mayor caught up in excitement raised his free hand to wave. His arm hit the exposed fuel line with such force that it broke. Immediately the engine stopped.

The airplane glided down to about 20-feet above the ground then crashed. The crowd was silent as people rushed to the wreck.

Fortunately, it looked worse than it was. Both men were stunned but not seriously hurt.

Johnstone and the team went on to fly in other flying exhibitions. The dangerous stunts continued and so did the accidents. Johnstone performed what was called the “Dive of Death.” He would dive from 1,000-feet with a pullout at the last possible minute.

On November 17 Johnstone’s flirting with death came to an end in Denver. He went into a spiraling dive and never pulled out. His body was smashed beyond recognition. He was the first American pilot to die in an airplane crash.

Before fellow team member Arch Hoxsey could reach the wreck, spectators had stripped Johnstone’s body of his gloves and other clothing items.

Hoxsey died of similar circumstances as Johnstone six weeks later in Los Angeles.

The cause of the crash could have been Johnstone falling out of seat during his dive. Airplanes of that period didn’t have seat belts. Harriet Quimby, the first woman to fly the English Channel was thrown out of her airplane over Boston Harbor and killed in 1912.

Profits began to decline while death and injury among pilots continued to decline. Five of nine aviators on the Wright payroll died in the crash of Wright airplanes. The Wrights dissolved the exhibition team in November 1911.

Reference: “With a Wave to the crowd, mayor nearly said farewell, by Larry Hall, Richmond-Times Dispatch, March 1, 2006.