Wright Brothers – Famous Aviators

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

More than any other single flight since the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh’s solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in 1927, revolutionized aviation. It hastened the transition of the airplane from an instrument of war and sport to that of commercial use. Lindbergh prophesized after his flight that “the year will surely come when passengers and mail will fly every day from America to Europe.”

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of the event, Erik Lindbergh honored his grandfather by recreating the famous solo flight.

I have a personal interest in this exciting event as I attended the Naval Officers Candidate School with Erik’s father, Jon, in 1954.

Charles Lindbergh Honors Orville Wright

Charles Lindbergh and Orville Wright enjoyed a close friendship and admired each other. When Lindbergh returned to America after his famous flight, he was committed to attend ceremonies in Washington, New York and St. Louis. After he fulfilled these commitments, his next act was to visit Orville in Dayton to pay his respects to the surviving inventor of the airplane.

He landed at Wright Field on the outskirts of Dayton on June 22, 1927, less than a month after the flight to Paris. A large crowd was awaiting them in downtown Dayton. Orville didn’t like crowds any more than Lindbergh did, so he suggested they take a back way to Orville’s home, Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, skipping the crowds. Lindbergh readily agreed.

The plan went awry when the crowds showed up at Hawthorn Hill just as Orville and Lindbergh sat down for dinner. They shouted for Lindbergh to appear, in the process trampling Orville’s flowerbeds. Lindbergh saved the flowers by agreeing to appear briefly on a small balcony outside of Katharine’s room to wave to the people.

They met periodically thereafter, since they served on a number of committees together, which included the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics.

On one occasion, Lindbergh attempted to mediate the controversy between the Smithsonian Institution and Orville over the rightful refusal by Orville to display the 1903 Flyer in the Smithsonian Institution. Orville demanded that the Smithsonian recant their claim that the Langley Aerodrome was the first airplane that was capable of flight. Lindbergh failed in his mission, noting that Orville was as difficult to deal with as the Smithsonian, but that the greater fault was with the Smithsonian. Lindbergh wrote, “He has encountered the narrow mindedness of science and dishonesty of commerce.”

On other occasions, Lindbergh urged Orville to write an autobiography about the Wright Brothers. Lindbergh, himself, had written his own autobiography because he thought it was important to accurately record important historical events for posterity. After repeated attempts he gave up. Orville just wasn’t interested enough to tackle the task. He agreed to have others try, but he didn’t like what they had written.

Lindbergh demonstrated his profound admiration for the Wrights by his agreement to move his famous monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, to make room in the Smithsonian for the arrival of the 1903 Wright Flyer when the Flyer was finally returned to the U.S. from the London Science Museum in 1948. Orville and the Smithsonian had belatedly reached an agreement on the display of the Flyer after the Smithsonian admitted that the claims for the Aerodrome could not be substantiated.

The Spirit of St. Louis had been the centerpiece in the Hall of Arts and Industries Building since 1928. Lindbergh sold the airplane to the Smithsonian for $1 after the completion of his successful U.S. and Latin American air tours. Lindbergh considered it an honor to move it to the rear of the hall.

Lindbergh Flies Again

When Erik was a child he would ask his grandfather how it felt to fly across the ocean alone. His grandfather would respond with, “read the book.” Later when Erik was older, he made a carving of the Spirit of St. Louis. That set him thinking again about his grandfather’s flight and how it must have been to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean. He decided that “I want to do that.” Now was the time to find out for himself how his grandfather felt and to honor him on the 75th anniversary of the event by restaging his grandfather’s famous flight.

Erik followed the same flight plan as his grandfather had done in 1927. He left Lindbergh Field, San Diego, on April 14, 2002 (a month earlier than his grandfather) in the New Spirit of St. Louis.

San Diego was the starting point because Ryan Airlines in San Diego had built the original Spirit of St. Louis.

The next day Eric flew to St. Louis where the original financial backers for his grandfather resided.

He next flew to Republic Airport in Farmington, New York, the departure point for Le Bourget Field in Paris. He chose Republic Airport as a stand-in for Roosevelt Field that his grandfather had used. The site of Roosevelt Field is now a shopping mall.

Erik did not fly a reproduction of his grandfather’s airplane, but it is similar. The Lancair 300 is a small, 310 hp single engine, state-of-the-art airplane made of composite materials that has been modified for the trip. The sleek red and white Lancair has been referred to as the Lexus of small airplanes. It is capable of cruising at a speed of 184 mph. That is 76 mph faster than his grandfather’s plane. The extra speed permits him to fly the 3,610 miles to Paris in 17-20 hours compared to his grandfather’s 33 1/2 hours, cutting the time of the flight almost in half.

Eric’s actual time was 17 hours and 7 minutes.

The original plane cost $10,580 ($100,000 in today’s dollars). The new “Spirit” cost $289,000.

Erik’s plane is smaller, with a wing span that is 10 foot smaller, but it is more reliable. He could also see better. The “Spirit” had no front windshield because a gas tank was placed in the space.

It was also more comfortable. His grandfather sat in a hard wicker chair. Eric had comfortable leather seat.

Erik, 36, had a better airplane, but he was faced with a challenge his grandfather didn’t have. Erik has rheumatoid arthritis disease that nearly crippled him by the age of 21 and required knee replacement surgery. Before the arthritis hit him, he was a champion gymnast and ski racer. Some two years ago he began taking a new drug that has resulted in significant improvement in his condition.

His Lancair has a side stick control and room inside the cockpit so he can stretch. Erik spent months training for the trip under the guidance of Stanley R. Mohler, Director of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The family worried that the trip might cause his arthritis to produce dangerous fatigue. Even for a perfectly healthy person, the trip was a risky proposition. But Erik was determined, so the family supported him.

In addition to honoring his grandfather, he hopes his trip will raise awareness of the Arthritis Foundation as well as several other organizations.

One of these is the X Prize Foundation. The foundation has offered a prize of $10 million for the first private reusable spacecraft to carry passengers to an altitude of 62 miles and back. The X Prize has a similarity to the Orteig prize that motivated Erik’s grandfather. Erik is the Director of the X Prize Foundation.

Raymond Orteig, a French expatriate and New York hotel owner, believed that the future of aviation lay in the peaceful pursuit of transoceanic air travel. In 1919, he offered a prize of $25,000 to the first aviator to fly the Atlantic Ocean nonstop between New York and France. It is estimated that 117 people flew over the Atlantic Ocean before Lindbergh’s flight met Ortieg requirements.

The History Channel filmed Erik’s flight (www.HistoryChannel.com).

Erik was a speaker at the Wright Brothers’ Centennial Celebration at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and I had the privilege of speaking with him.

Erik revealed that a suspenseful sequence shown in the History Channel video in which all communications ceased for a short period while flying inside a weather front was not a concern to him. He was in communications with pilots of commercial flights.

At one point during these conversations there was a humorous incident. Erik told one of the pilots that there seemed to be a group of airplanes on the horizon. He was told it was the moon, not airplanes.

Eric said his takeoff wasn’t as suspenseful as his grandfathers who barely had made made it off the ground before running out of runway. But he did have to be careful when taxiing on the runway so that he didn’t turn too fast because the wings were full of fuel and and could sway back and to tip over the airplane.

The wings had been modified to hold an additional 200 gallons of gas. This was about 2/3rds of the amount carried by his grandfather. The total weight of Erik’s plane was 4,260 pounds compared to 5,250 pounds carried by his grandfather.

Erik had no problems on takeoff.

He also was concerned at the other end of the trip about whether his reflexes after the long trip would still be sensitive enough to make a good landing. It turned out that he “nailed it.”

He said, “I made the flight in half the time of my grandfather and ate twice as much.”

Here is a picture of Erik on the left and myself on the right.

A. Scott Crossfield, 84, left Prattville, Ala. around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning April 19, 2006 in his Cessna 210A headed for the airport in Manassas, Va., located hear his home in Herndon, Va. He had been talking to graduating cadets at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. about his experiences.

He was reported missing two hours later after his plane dropped from radar while flying at 11,500 feet. The next day he was found dead in his crashed plane in a heavily forested gully of the mountainous region some 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. The plane’s wreckage fell in two areas about a mile apart. It appears the plane broke up in the storm. He was alone on the flight.

There was a severe storm with thunderstorms in the area. The turbulence in a severe thunderstorm can destroy an aircraft. A woman who lives near the crash site said she heard the plane having trouble in the storm. “He was trying to turn and he just went down.”

Crossfield’s fame comes from being the first pilot to fly twice the speed of sound in 1953 and when in 1959 he flew the X-15 rocket plane to the edge of space (72,00 feet) reaching a speed close to three times the speed of sound.

He still loved to fly and flew at least once a week. He had a private hangar for his Cessna at the Manassas Regional Airport where he maintained the plane himself.

I had the honor of meeting Crossfield when he played a key role for Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Va. He served as a key technical advisor and flight instructor in preparation for re-enacting the Wright brothers first flight on the 100th anniversary of the event at Kitty Hawk in 2003.

The Wright Experience researched and constructed a reproduction of the 1903 machine.

Crossfield was an ideal advisor because he had an advanced degree in Aeronautical Engineering as well as experience. He envied the Wright brothers because they could be involved in the entire engineering process from design to construction to flight.

Crossfield enjoyed working on the X-15 because, “I was very fortunate in being able to complete that whole circle.”

One of the most interesting functions he served with the Wright Experience was the training of the pilots to operate the 1903 Wright Flyer. All four were pilots but that may have been more of a handicap than being helpful. One had to start all over again to learn how to pilot the Flyer. They started with learning how to fly a glider first.

This task demonstrated Crossfield’s great versatility. He flew the X-15 at a speed of almost Mach 3 and was able to teach pilots to fly the Wright Flyer that flies at about Mach 0.05.

As time drew closer to the centennial, the four pilot candidates were cut from four to two. The winners were Kevin Kochersberger and Terry Queijo.

I met Crossfield and the pilots while they were practicing flying the reproduction flyer that would fly on December 17 at the National Wright Brothers Memorial. They were at the famous site to continue their practicing.

Kochersberger made the first successful flight with the reproduction Flyer on Nov. 20th.

I was there on Nov, 25th. Unfortunately, that was the day that Terry Queijo crashed the Flyer while trying to take off.

I observed that the front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence only took a second or two. Queijo was clearly shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt except for her pride.

Here is where I observed the character of Crossfield up close. He was not berating her for damaging the Flyer. Rather, he was talking to her like her grandfather might have talked to her. He was very calm and reassuring; a true gentleman. He was a grandfather with seven grandchildren.

I shot the picture at left moments after the crash. Crossfield is the one with the pointed hood facing the camera. Queijo is facing him on his immediate right (your left).

The flyer, after repairs, was back in the air Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight, piloted by Kochersberger, lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet, only 5 feet short of Orville’s famous first flight.

One of the other things I did was to get Crossfield’s autograph. It is something that I keep in a cherished place.

The most interesting function he served was the training of the pilots to operate the 1903 Wright Flyer. All four were pilots but that may have been more of a handicap than being helpful. One had to start all over again to learn how to pilot the Flyer. They started with learning how to fly a glider first.

As time drew closer to the centennial, the four pilot candidates were cut from four to two. The winners were Kevin Kochersberger and Terry Queijo.

I met Crossfield and the pilots while they were practicing flying the reproduction flyer that would fly on December 17 at the National Wright Brothers Memorial. They were at the famous site to continue their practicing.

Kochersberger made the first successful flight with the reproduction Flyer on Nov. 20th.

I was there on Nov, 25th. Unfortunately, that was the day that Terry Queijo crashed the Flyer while trying to take off.

I observed that the front end rose too fast and too steep. It stalled and just as suddenly slammed into the soft sand. The whole sequence only took a second or two. Queijo was clearly shaken and had a mouth full of sand but thankfully otherwise emerged unhurt except for her pride.

Here is where I observed the character of Crossfield up close. He was not berating her for damaging the Flyer. Rather, he was talking to her like her grandfather might have talked to her. He was very calm and reassuring; a true gentleman. He was a grandfather with seven grandchildren.

I shot the picture at left moments after the crash. Crossfield is the one with the pointed hood facing the camera. Queijo is facing him on his immediate right (your left).

The flyer, after repairs, was back in the air Wednesday Dec. 4th. This 3rd flight, piloted by Kochersberger, lasted 12 seconds and went 115 feet, only 5 feet short of Orville’s famous first flight.

One of the other things I did was to get Crossfield’s autograph. It is something that I keep in a cherished place.

Update: The National Transportation Board has concluded that Crossfield and an air-controller were blamed for Crossfield’s crash during a severe thunderstorm. Crossfield knew he was flying into rough weather but did not ask for a weather update, and the air-controller did not provide one.

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.

Einstein’s Wing Flops

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Famous Aviators

Einstein once took an interest in aviation and tried to design an improved wing. He wrote a technical article in August 1916 in which he proposed a new shape for wings that he hoped would improve lift.

His proposal was a wing with a large mid-chord arch.

His paper began with the question, “Where does lift come from that allows airplanes and birds to fly?” To answer the question, he searched the existing published literature on the subject and concluded that not even a primitive answer was to be found.

He evidently didn’t have the Wright brothers’ 1902 wind tunnel data or he probably would have pursued a different idea.

Einstein used Bernoull’s theorem as a basis for the design of his improved wing. Lift is created by the pressure differential created by the flow of air over a wing.

Bernoulli’s Theorem developed by Daniel Bernoulli, an eighteenth century scientist discovered that as the velocity of a fluid (such as air) increases, its pressure decreases.

In the case of an airplane, the theorem postulates that the wing is shaped to force the air flowing over the upper surface of a cambered wing to flow faster to cover a longer distance than the air flowing over the lower surface. The faster air on the top surface creates a pressure differential resulting in an upward force on the wing.

The hump on the top of the wing surface, Einstein thought, would create an even longer path for the air to travel, resulting in additional lift.

Einstein’s proposal for a wing design was given to Paul Ehrhardt who had flown for two-minutes as a passenger with Orville in 1909. He was the technical manager of an aircraft company in Berlin. He forwarded the proposal to his engineering group for evaluation.

Engineering consulted with Einstein and subsequently compared 99 conventional airfoils in a wind tunnel with Einstein’s foil. All but two the conventional foils had higher lift-to-drag ratios.

This was not a result that Einstein envisioned.

Einstein’s proposal didn’t work because the Bernoulli explanation of lift that he relied upon is incorrect when applied to airplane wings even though it still can be found in popular literature.

A better explanation of lift is based on Newton’s Third Law that postulates that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Issac Newton has been regarded for over 300 years as the founding exemplar of modern physical science.

As applied to a wing, the thrust of the airflow passing over the trailing edge of a wing is bent downward. The downward thrust of the air creates an equal upward force that is lift.

Other determinants of lift in addition to the shape of the wing include the size of the wing, velocity of the air flowing over the wing, the density of the surrounding air and the angle of attack.

Following the German wind tunnel tests on the Einstein wing, they constructed a full-size prototype airplane consisting of a WW I German biplane with “Enstein’s wings” attached.

Ehrhardt decided to be the test pilot. After a long takeoff run, the plane went in to an unintended roll as he took-off. Ehrhardt said that he landed quickly and safely and “was overjoyed to find himself on firm ground and still in one piece.”

Ehrhardt further elaborated on his experience, saying that the plane was hard to control tending to “waddle while flying something akin to the flight of a pregnant duck.”

Einstein accepted the failure of his wing design with good humor. He wrote to Ehrhardt, “That is what can happen to a man who thinks a lot, but reads little.

The year 2005 is the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s extraordinary year in which he published five scientific papers that fundamentally changed our knowledge of space, time, light and matter. His genius made possible the development of computers, satellites, telecommunication, lasers, television and nuclear power. Not bad for someone who never learned to drive a car.

The year 2005 also is important time for the Wright brothers and to society. It is the 100th anniversary of the time when they developed the first practical airplane. It took the genius of Wilbur and Orville to accomplish that.

Reference: Einstein’ Wing, Air & Space, April/May 2005.