Katharine Wright

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Katharine Wright

Katharine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the first heavier than air powered flying machine, was the only Wright sibling to graduate from college.

Interestingly, Milton Wright, the children’s father, claimed that he gave his children distinctive first names so that they had no need for middle names. In addition, Katharine’s brothers bestowed upon her the nickname of “Swes” which is an affectionate German derivative for “Little Sister.”

Although she was indeed her brothers little sister, Katharine had a short childhood, since her mother Susan Wright’s early death from the effects of tuberculosis when Katharine was but 15, threw her into the role of the lady of the house with all its duties. The loss was devastating for her, but at a suggestion by her father, Katharine found solace in the collection of many varieties of flowers which she dried and pressed into an album that she kept with her always.

Not only did Katharine have household duties, but she also inherited other responsibilities. Because her father was a Bishop and an important leader in the United Brethren Church, Katharine found that she must also be a hostess at her father’s church functions at home and when he traveled as well as being head of the Wright household.

Actually there were five Wright children in the Wright household, but the youngest ones, Orville, Wilbur and Katharine were exceptionally close as they were growing up. It has been speculated that Will, Orv, and Kate had made a pact never to marry. Since the three of them enjoyed each other’s company. However, as Katharine grew into adulthood, she drew the attention of quite a few gentleman admirers, related to the fact that she was described as “Having coal black hair, deep blue eyes and a smile that could blind you.” She was also very out-going and comfortable engaging anyone in conversation.

It was her father, Milton, who determined that Katharine should have the advantage of attending a college so that she could realize a career to depend upon. It was he who chose teaching as the ideal career opportunity for Katharine. She excelled in the language arts, but did not do well in mathematics. Katharine attended the co-educational Oberlin College in Northern Ohio, one of the first to admit women and did indeed graduate with a teaching degree. Katharine returned to her home town of Dayton, Ohio, and taught at Steele High School. Her first assignment was to teach beginning Latin.

By 1901, Katharine found that her Latin class, a required course for all the students, had poor students as well as good ones and some disruptive students. As the only sister of four older brothers, she was no stranger to boisterous behavior. That and her self-assurance and natural bossiness made her more than a match for teenage boys. She was ready for them and nipped their smartness in the bud.

Managing to bring some of the rich social life she had enjoyed in college home to Dayton with her, Katharine initiated parties, bicycle outings and camping trips from her home. When Orville and Wilbur were working on achieving actual flight for their heavier than air powered flying machine, Katharine helped them by watching over their bicycle shop, paying bills, depositing receipts and fighting with the help. {She and Charlie Taylor, the Wright’s machinist, were not fond of one another}

In 1902 when the brothers were laboring at home before taking their plans to Kitty Hawk, NC, Katharine complained “the flying machine is in the process of making now. Will spins the sewing machine around by the hour while Orv squats around marking the places to sew. There is no place in the house to live but I’ll be lonesome enough by this time next week and wish that I could have some of their racket around.”

However, Katharine found another phase added to her life when extended family members needed care-giving following illness and then again when Orville was seriously injured from a crash while flying, she took emergency leave from teaching school to tend to his needs.

When the Wrights went to Europe in 1907, Katharine’s found that her unofficial position for them at home increased. She corresponded with newspapers and magazines for them and answered queries for scientific information, screened business offers and politely handled cranks.

In 1909 Katharine requested an extended leave of absence and traveled with Orville to join Wilbur in France to help sell their flying machine to the French. Katharine provided the social chemistry the Wrights needed to make their enterprise work. She also learned to speak fluent French while she was there.

When Katharine returned home, she renewed her friendship with a gentleman by the name of Harry Haskell she had met at Oberlin College and that led to marriage. It was a marriage that was frowned upon by her brother Orville, who refused to speak to her after she had married. In spite of Orville’s painfully selfish reaction to her marriage, Katharine was extremely happy in her new life. Then when Katharine fell ill with pneumonia, and lay dying, Orville finally relented and hurried to her side just before she passed on.

File Photo: Bain News Service

Tough Cycling

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Orville and Wilbur Wright not only manufactured bicycles, they were active cyclists who took long rides and participated in bicycle races. Wilbur describes one fun ride around the Dayton area of 31 miles. Orville won races and medals.

My son Don, is an aeronautical engineer who works for the FAA, enjoys riding bicycles and belongs to a racing team in Seattle.

This year he journeyed to Europe to participate in the 2006 Tour De France pre-race over the Alps. Some 8,000 cyclists took advantage of the opportunity. The route included three beyond category climbs, and one 1st category climb over a 104-mile ride including the leg killing combination of ascents and descents of the massive Galibier and Le Telegraph passes.

The official start of the race was at the bottom of the L’ Alpe d’Huez. As I am wrote this, I watched the Tours 15th stage in which Floyd Landis won the Yellow Jersey on this mountain. The 13.8-kilometer ride to the top includes 21 hairpin switchbacks. An estimated 1 million spectators watched.

Floyd Landis went on to win the yellow jersey in Paris for the Tour.

Here is the story in Don’s words:

“Whoo, I made it! Three beyond category climbs, a 1st category climb and 104 miles – more difficult than any single stage in the Tour. I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve concluded that a 39×27 is not a low enough gear for 16,000+ feet of climbing at grades of 7-11% for miles on end. A compact crank, or at least 38 x 28, would have definitely helped.

The start was pretty disorganized. I stayed in a hotel at the top of the Alpe d’ Huez. The start was in Bourg d’Oisan, at the base of the Alpe at 7:15 AM. We had been told that there was a free shuttle if you sign up in advance, but none of the people I talked to knew anything about it. That turned out not to be a big deal as it gave me the opportunity to descend the Alpe, something I had only done previously in a driving thunderstorm.

I flew down the switchbacks, passing plenty of other riders and a few cars, and was having a great time. It had taken me a little over an hour to go up it a couple of years ago; it only took 15-18 minutes to go down it.

The start was supposed to be in waves of a thousand every fifteen minutes or so. With a number of 3726, I figured that I would be starting around 8 AM. They directed all the riders down this side road into a big disorganized mass. At one point there was a diversion for numbers higher than 600. (There were more than 8,000 riders registered for this insanity.)

I saw a number of riders less than 600 take that lane, as it was not backed up like the main lane was. We progressed forward very slowly, then finally were able to get on our bikes and ride forward, still very slowly. At one point, the lane for the riders with numbers greater than 6,000 re-merged with the main lane – all the riders who went down that lane actually got a shortcut!

Suddenly, I was riding under what looked to be the start banner and realized that I had just started! Sure enough, it was around 8 AM.

We had about 10-15 miles of flat road before the first climb. People were generally going pretty slow, so I spent a lot of time trying to find my way around and through large groups of cyclists. We went by a couple of intersections with median strips where they had a policeman waving yellow triangular flags over their heads like at the Tour de France. Pretty cool.

When we started up, my plan was to take it easy up the first two climbs, hopefully saving something for the Galibier and the finish up Alpe d’Huez. Even though I was trying to go easy, I was steadily passing scores (hundreds) of riders who were basically spread across the entire width of the narrow road. Motorcycles with the race kept going up the left side of the road, trying to maintain a little space over there for any traffic that might be foolish enough to be coming the other way.

At the top of the Col du Glandon (which we did instead of Col de la Croix Fer because of road maintenance), things came to a halt. I followed some other cyclists who had gotten off their bikes and were hiking over the Glandon on foot above the road. There was a water stop at the top of the mountain, and I thought that was what had caused the jam-up. When we got back to the road on the other side of the mountain, there were police blocking the road.

The descent off of Glandon is very steep and tricky, with a sheer drop-off on one side. The police said that there had been an accident involving 5 cyclists. I never heard what had happened or how the cyclists were.

I ended up being delayed over an hour. I later heard a number of cyclists called it quits at that point and turned around. I was worried about how they would start us going again, and did not relish the thought of descending the Glandon with thousands of other cyclists at the same time. Fortunately, they let us off in small groups. As on Alpe d’Huez, I was not impressed with the descending skills of the other cyclists. I flew down that thing, again passing hundreds of cyclists on the long descent. The switchbacks were tight and unforgiving, but they were easy to see and slow down for.

On the flats between the Glandon and the Col du Telegraph, I again could not find a group going the speed I wanted to go. I couldn’t even find a group that was maintaining 20 mph. Finally, after passing a lot of groups, one group latched on to me, then some of their guys took some pulls. (Most of the riders were content to let anyone pull forever.) One guy finally came up and pulled for the last few miles at 25 mph – just what I was looking for. And he didn’t mind staying up there. At one point, I went up alongside him and told him we were doing a great job –- he just said that he flats.

At the base of the Telegraph, I was out of water, so I stopped at a bar to get some. It took me about 10-15 minutes just to get a water bottle filled. I started up the Telegraph, thinking that it was the shortest and easiest of the climbs, again passing other cyclists at a good clip. After a little bit, I came upon a sign that said 10k to the summit. I was hoping it was going to be more like 5k at that point, as I was starting to feel it. At 3k to go, I was really running low on energy, and for the first time, although I was still passing a good number of cyclists, I was also being passed by several groups.

Finally, the summit, and another good, though much shorter descent before the next climb, the monster Galibier (above 9,000 feet in elevation). I knew I was in need of some solid food (gels and Power Bars just weren’t cutting it at that point). I stopped at a little kind of drive-in food stand that was selling sandwiches and pizza. Pizza sounded good to me, so I ordered one. When it came, I didn’t realize how big it was going to be. I wolfed down half of it, then offered the rest to the other emaciated riders waiting in line for food. Then it was time to start the Galibier.

I remembered the Galibier from having ridden it a few years ago as very long, but not very steep. However, with the amount of energy I’d already expended, and the heat, which was making it very difficult to stay hydrated, it seemed a lot harder this time. It was here that I decided that my gear selection was inadequate – my normal cadence in my lowest gear resulted in a speed of about 7 mph, 6 mph was okay, but I was starting to get bogged down. 5 mph was a really slow cadence, and if I was under 5 mph, I felt like it was time to stop.

All those people I’d been passing had lower gears that would allow a higher cadence at lower speeds, saving their legs a bit for the distance. I ended up having to stop 2 or 3 times on the way up the Galibier. It was at this point that I started wondering if I was going to complete the ride. (Actually, I’d been wondering that since the day before when I took a little recon ride that my legs didn’t like too much, and started wondering about my gearing.) At the top, I took a quick stop for more water and some orange and banana slices that they had. I knew that it would be pretty much all downhill from there until Alpe d’Huez.

Again, the descent was loads of fun. The first part is more technical (and more exposed). I remember that the other time I’d done it, I thought I would never want to do it in a race because of the exposure – if you missed a turn on some of those turns, it was a long way down. But this time, maybe knowing what to expect, I didn’t think it was bad at all. The descents were definitely the most fun part of the whole event and well worth the price of admission by themselves.

I was again passing large number of riders, but when the road finally straightened out a bit, a group latched onto me and we started riding together. It was a good thing, too, because it was a headwind the whole way back. Even though it was downhill, when the grade lessened, the headwind was making it a bit difficult to go it alone. After a slight uphill that detached a number of in our group, five of us finally started riding in a continuously rotating paceline, which was necessary due to the wind.

We all stopped at the final food stop at the base of Alpe d’Huez. It was about 4:15 PM. If I hadn’t been delayed an hour at the Col du Glandon, I would have still had a shot at a gold medal if I could get up the Alpe in about an hour. Well, I could do that on fresh legs, but not on toasted ones like I now had. I was kind of glad that I didn’t have a shot at that because all I wanted to think about now was surviving.

It took me about a ½ hour to eat, drink, fill water bottles, and convince myself that I had better get started. I knew that the first 4 switchbacks were the hardest, at grades over 11%, so I set a goal of making it to switchback 17 before thinking about stopping (The numbers get smaller as you ride up the Alpe).

I didn’t make it. I had to stop at 18. Then I started having some chain skipping problems, so I had to stop a couple more times to deal with that. The places that I had remembered it as being less steep were still very difficult. What had taken me over an hour a few years ago (when I was not trying to go real hard) took me nearly 2 hours (1:45 to 1:50) this time, including about 3 or 4 stops. Some riders were walking their bikes, but most had those infuriating low gears that they could continue to ride in even though they were going just slightly faster than a walking pace. It was sure faster than I was going while I was stopped, though!

It eases off in the last couple of kilometers as you go through the alpine village at the top. The last kilometer really eases off, then it goes a little downhill through a roundabout, then around a left hand to an uphill finish. I was waiting for that and really kicked it up for the finish, jumping to the big ring for the little downhill and sprinting past some riders on the finishing uphill.

It was kind of cool in that they had the final 1 k blocked off with the Tour de France type fencing, and there was a grandstand set up with people cheering you on. There wasn’t any 1 k kite or banner, but the finish banner was pretty neat.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I stopped and bent over my bike. Then I noticed that the place where your timing chip actually recorded your finish was a few feet further on, and all the people I had just passed were going by me to the electronic finishing lanes.

Oh well, what else? I rolled forward to the electronic finish and got my official time – 10 hours and 33 minutes – good enough for a silver medal (which you had to purchase).

Well, that’s it for my excellent adventure (for the old guy from Newcastle, Washington).”

Comment: I would say so! For a guy in his late 40s, his performance was simply amazing.

Flight Safety – June 2006

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Two significant events concerning space flight and commercial aviation occurred in June 2006.

The first concerns the Space Shuttle. The next flight of the shuttle is scheduled for July 1. Two NASA engineers voiced their concern that the shuttle isn’t ready to fly.

Bryan O’Connor, NASA’s lead safety official, and Christopher Scolese, its chief engineer voted “no go” when agency officials met recently at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In an unusual move the rest of the officials voted yes for an ontime launch including NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

The concern of the two officials, who voted against the launch, was that the insulating foam that covers 34 metal brackets on the shuttle’s external fuel tank might dislodge during launching and damage the spacecraft’s protective heat shield beyond repair.

The July 1 launch was approved despite the objections because in the event of a damaged heat shield, the astronauts could stay in the International Space station until rescued by another shuttle.

The loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew on Feb. 1, 2003 was caused by foam debris. NASA engineers have redesigned the fuel tank and removed most sources of large pieces of potentially damaging debris.

However, during the shuttle Discovery launch last July, a hazardous amount of foam fell from its tank. As a result NASA engineers have further reduced the amount of foam used.

O’Connor and Scolese believe that the foam issue is still not fully resolved. They note that their concern is with the fate of the shuttle and not the safety of the seven-man crew of Discovery who can remain in the International Space Station in an emergency.

Update: Charlie Camarda, a member of the astronaut corps and long time NASA engineer, was removed from his job for his safety views. He wrote an e-mail to his engineering team saying that he was most proud of all of them at the flight readiness review meetings “when you stood up and presented your dissenting opinions and your exceptions/constraints for flight.”

Camarda told colleagues that he was forced out as director of engineering at Johnson Space Center after praising colleagues who dissented about going forward with the next flight of Discovery. He said he refused to step down from the high-level mission management team and “asked that if I would not be allowed to work this mission that I would have to be fired from my position and I was.”

For his work at NASA, Camarda received seven patents and more than 21 NASA awards for his technical innovations and accomplishments.

Update: (July 6) NASA engineers and managers are optimistic that the shuttle has reached orbit with no damage and substantially less shedding of foam debris from the external tank than in previous flights. There will be additional examinations over the next few days.

The second event concerns commercial airplanes landing in wet or icy weather.

On Dec. 8 last year, a Southwest Airlines jet (Flight 1248) skidded off the runway on to a highway while landing at Midway Airport, Chicago and crushed a car, killing a 6-year-old boy.

At a two-day FAA hearing last week new regulations were announced that would require pilots to add a buffer of at least 15% to their stopping-distance estimates on wet or icy runways.

The new rules, according to FAA airplane performance engineer Don Stimson (my son), mandate that when conflicting or mixed assessments of runway conditions are issued, pilots must use the worse case scenario, effectively erring on the conservative side.

The pilots of Flight 1248 had calculated much shorter stopping distances for their landing at Midway, 5,778 feet under poor runway conditions to 5,253 feet under fair conditions. Midway’s longest runway is 6,522 feet long, but obstructions outside the airfield prohibit landing on the first 696 feet.

Under the new rules, a stopping distance of 8,535 feet must be available for a plane comparable in weight and landing speed to the Southwest 737-700 involved in the Dec. 8 accident based on conditions of the runway that day.

Pilots and safety board investigators rated the first half of the Midway runway as fair and the second half poor just before the accident.

The final report and safety recommendations are expected to be released in early 2007.


New York Times, “In Opposing Launching, 2 NASA Officials Feared Shuttle’s Loss, Not Crew Safety,” June 22, 2006.

Chicago Tribune, “Midway gets U.S. warning on snow; More runway needed in wet or icy weather,” June 22, 2006.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, ” NASA Official says his safety views cost job,” June 28, 2006.

People were still trying to invent the airplane five years after the Wrights had flown.

The story of one such attempt August 8 was published in August 9, 1908 by the Inter-Mountain Republican newspaper in Salt Lake City.

Here is the article:

Opined That He Also Could Sail The Air

Finds His Wings Are Good Life Preservers But Not For Flying

Arioch Wheeler of Mianus, Conn., after weeks of reading about Count Zeppelin and Henri Farman, who are conquering the air, opined that he, Arioch, would make a flight, so he constructed for himself a pair of paper wings and today he suddenly left his turnip patch and made a wild dash for Hiram Johnson’s barn.

He clambered to the roof and blithely adjusted the wings.

Arioch then posed gracefully, took in the wind situation and then laid his course across the Mianus River, a stream 12 feet from the barn.

Some farmers were near by and saw the man perched on the roof. They yelled to him to come down but he merely stretched out his hands and shrieked,

” I am Count Zeppelin. I am going to fly.”

In an instant Arioch had flung himself into the air — and also into the Mianus River. The wings kept him afloat till he was rescued.

He has been advised to patent his wings and dub them life preservers.

Ever since the Wright brothers designed an airplane in Dayton that flew at Kitty Hawk, mankind has been fascinated with defying gravity and setting new records in the air.

Millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, 60, is one of these people. On Thursday, March 3, 2005, he became the first person to fly around the world solo without stopping or refueling, landing in Salina, Kansas after a 67-hour, 23,000-mile trip.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and longtime friend and fellow adventurer, was the primary sponsor of the adventure. The $1.5 million airplane, Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, was specifically designed for this record-breaking flight. It was designed by Burt Rutan and built by Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites Company. Rutan built SpaceShipOne, the first private craft to fly into space.

The GlobalFlyer is no ordinary plane. It consists of three hulls attached to a wing that measures more than half the wingspan of a Boeing 747. Its wingspan is 114 feet with a wing area of 400-feet squared. Its length is 44.1 feet and has 7 feet of pressurized space for the pilot in a cigar-shaped cabin.

When all 13 fuel tanks in the hulls and wing are filled with JP-4 aviation fuel, the maximum takeoff weight is 22,000 pounds. The fuel load constitutes 83% of the total weight. It has a single engine turbofan airplane sitting atop of the cockpit.

It took most of the 12,300 feet of the runway at Salina to get off the ground.

With a lift-to-drag ratio of about 37, the craft has the performance of a sailplane while flying. Drogue chutes are deployed when landing to provide a reasonable approach angle for the low-drag craft.

The flight had some anxious moments. Within an hour or so of takeoff, for some mysterious reason, 15% of the precious fuel vanished. The loss of the fuel raised concern that Foster might not have enough fuel to complete the trip. A “go-no go” decision would have to be made at Hawaii since the plane flying East around the globe had Hawaii as the last landing opportunity before reaching California.

Fortunately, there were stronger-than-expected tailwinds that gave Foster confidence to decide to say, “let’s go for it.” He crossed the California coastline on Thursday morning and had enough fuel remaining to make it to Salina, Kansas.

The craft cruises 285 mph at a high altitude of 45,000 feet, 12,000 feet higher than a typical jetliner. That enables it to catch the high altitude jet stream that flows eastward around the globe. A favorable jet stream is crucial to save fuel.

He did wear a parachute in the event of the worst case scenario that of ditching the airplane. Also, the GlobalFlyer was an excellent glider and could glide up to 200 miles without fuel before having to land.

Another problem that occurred early in the flight was with a faulty GPS navigational aid. The flight would have had to be discontinued if the GPS had failed. Fortunately the flight team was able to solve the problem.

Flight pioneers since the Wright brothers have put both their money and their lives at stake to surpass every speed and distance there was. The first successful flight around the world occurred in 1924, 21 years after the Wrights’ first flight. It was flown by two U.S. Army Douglas single engine open-cockpit World Cruisers, each with a crew of two. The flight took 175 days to cover 26,345 miles, stopping in 29 countries along the way for fueling and maintenance.

Aviation pioneer Wiley Post made the first solo global trip in 1933. He made seven stops along the way.

The first nonstop global flight without refueling was made in 1986 with a propeller driven airplane, the Voyager, by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan. Dick is the brother of GlobalFlyer and SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan.

Steve Foster is an unusual person who thrives on risk taking and has pursued other exploits and records besides flying in airplanes. These include swimming the English Channel, setting 21 speed records for sailing, participating in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, driving twice in the 24 hours Le Mans Car Race, and setting a ballooning record flying solo round-the-world in 2002.

Although he lives life on the edge, he is not foolhardy. Like the Wright brothers, the risks he takes are carefully calculated down to the minutest detail.

He is able to do these things financially because he has made millions as an investment executive in the high risk trading area of commodities and options.

Why did he want to be the first to fly nonstop around the world? He said, “That was something I wanted to do for a long time, a major ambition. I do these things because I want to do them for my self-esteem and my personal satisfaction.” I can hear Wilbur saying much the same thing.

After the flight he added, “Believe me, its great to be back on the ground. That was a difficult trip. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

He noted sleep deprivation was one issue as was as the unappealing diet of 12 diet milkshakes.

What’s in the future for Steve Fossett? He didn’t say except that he has three projects in planning right now. We may never know what they were.

Unfortunately, thirteen months after he mysterious disappeared on a fight taken on Sept. 3, 2007, over the Sierra Nevada mountains, his airplane and remains were found. Apparently he had flown his Bellanca Super Decathlon straight into a mountain on a cloudy day.