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

NASA Jet Sets New Speed Record

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

A small, pilotless NASA experimental airplane set a new speed of almost 10 times the speed of sound on Tuesday November 17, 2004. It comes 100 years, 11 months, after the Wright brother’s first controlled flight. The NASA airplane, the X-43A, reached about 6,600 mph during a short flight over the Pacific Ocean that demonstrated that hypersonic flight is possible.

Orville’s first flight on December 17, 1903 was capable of a speed of about 34-mph in still air. On that day there was a head wind of 27-mph so that the ground speed was much slower. Wilbur had no trouble running along side the Flyer, steadying it, while it traveled down the launching rail.

During the early days of aviation, increases of flight speed were relatively slow.

To put this in perspective, by 1909 the Wright airplane demonstrated an average speed of 42.6-mph during the Army flight demonstrations at Fort Myer.

One year later the Wrights built an airplane designed for racing that demonstrated a significant increase in speed. It was clocked at flying over 77-mph with a new eight-cylinder engine. It was the Wright Model R, nicknamed the “Baby Grand.”

Less than 24 years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, Charles Lindbergh’s airplane, the “Sprit of St. Louis,” was capable of attaining a maximum speed of 125-mph on his solo flight to Paris.

The development of the jet engine resulted in rapid improvements in speed.

An historic breakthrough in speed came on October 14, 1947, when Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound (supersonic flight) flying the Bell X-1. His record-breaking speed was Mach 1.06, or 700 mph, and proved that airplanes can fly safely in the mysterious aerodynamic zone around Mach 1 formerly known as a “sound barrier.”

The SR-71A Blackbird spy plane flew in excess of 2,200-mph, or Mach 3 in 1964.

NASA has been working for the last few years on hypersonic flight, or speeds greater than Mach 5. Among the technical challenges of flying this fast is the development of an engine that can stand the forces necessary to generate hypersonic speed. A conventional jet engine would fly apart at hypersonic speed.

Jet engines operate according to Newton’s Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That means that the faster the jet, the faster the exhaust has to be shooting out of the engine.

In a conventional jet engine the turbine blades that are used to compress air for combustion would fly apart.

The purpose of NASA’s research is to develop technology for a new type of engine known as a “scramjet” that can work at hypersonic speeds. Scramjet is an acronym for “supersonic combustion ramjet.”

A scramjet has no moving parts and achieves compression by sucking in and compressing air at supersonic speeds. It reaches rocket-like speeds, but unlike rockets, it does not need oxygen to ignite the fuel supply. Instead it takes oxygen from the atmosphere.

For a long time experts thought that it was not possible to ignite the fuel in a supersonic air stream. It would be analogous to “striking a match in a hurricane.”

NASA built and tested three unmanned vehicles containing the new engine. They tested three vehicles so that, like the Wright brothers, they could use the lessons learned from each succeeding flight to improve the next one.

Operational testing is particularly essential for the X-43A because, while the Wrights were able to effectively used their wind tunnel to design their Flyer, it is very difficult to test on the ground at hypersonic speeds. While the design of the engine is mechanically simple it is very complex aerodynamically.

The first test flight failed because of a booster rocket problem. The second test established a new world speed record of Mach 7. The last flight, on Nov. 17, broke the previous record by flying at a spectacular Mach 10.

Here is the sequence of events during the last test flight:

Scramjets start to work only at about Mach 6 and therefore must be given a boost. A modified Pegasus rocket provides the boost.

The 12-foot long wedge-shape X-43A, attached to the nose of the Pegasus rocket, was carried under the right wing of a B-52B aircraft to 40,000 feet. It was then dropped about 50-miles off the southern California coast.

The solid rocket motor took the stack up to mach 10 at 110,000 feet.

The motor burned out after 7-8 seconds and pistons pushed the X-43A forward away from the rocket and the higher density of the X-43A made it pull ahead of the Pegasus rocket.

The X-43A engine inlet was then opened and in 3 seconds the engine started firing using hydrogen fuel maintaining a speed of Mach 9.65 at 110,000 feet. This continued for 10-12 seconds. The inlet door then closed 8-9 seconds later for the rest of the flight.

The X-43A then descended while performing maneuvers to test its aerodynamic characteristics. The craft splashed into the ocean after an approximate total flight time of 14 minutes and 850 miles.

What now? Any near term applications of scramjets will probably be military because that is where the money is and NASA has not funded a continuation of the $230 million program. The Wright brothers also received a military contract in 1909.

One of the advantages of a scramjet rocket is that it doesn’t require a heavy, huge oxygen container. Rockets combine liquid fuel with liquid oxygen to create thrust. The larger the rocket the larger the oxygen container in a conventional rocket.

Without the added weight and space, cheaper and easier space missions are possible such as flights to the moon and space stations. Airplanes can cross the Atlantic in 40 minutes.

The U.S. Air Force is researching how to use the technology to create cruise missiles that could reach enemy targets at lightning speed.

Few people in the early days of aviation saw the potential of the airplane. The Wrights themselves didn’t foresee jumbo jets routinely flying across the oceans or space flight.

After World War II, the Dayton Wright Airplane Co., then owned by General Motors, decided to stop building and selling airplanes because they thought there was no longer a profitable future for airplanes after the war.

What the NASA X-43A has done for hypersonics is equivalent to what the Wright brothers did for subsonics 100 year ago. It is amazing what has been accomplished in such a relatively short time.

Founder of the X Prize

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

It was an exciting moment on October 4, 2004 when SpaceShipOne completed its mission by flying seventy miles into space to win the X Prize.

The media contained pictures of Burt Rutan, the designer of the craft, the pilots Michael Melvill and Brian Binnie who flew the two flights, and Paul Allen who provided most of the funds. You had to look hard to find the short, smiling man who was responsible for the prize.

His name is Peter H. Diamandis, and he is an interesting story in itself. Diamandis became obsessed with space as a boy when he watched the Apollo moon landing. He too wanted to go there.

He decided to become an Aerospace engineer and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he was active as a student in pursuing his interest in space travel.

His father was a medical doctor and his parents were not so sure he was pursuing the right career. His mother wanted him to be a doctor and follow in the footsteps of his father. To please her, after graduation from MIT he attended Harvard Medical School and earned his medical degree.

He now had two degrees but his passion was still space travel. In 1986, after the Challenger disaster, he concluded that the best and quickest way to open the space frontier was through the private sector.

From that time on he has dedicated himself to find a way to achieve the advancement of human spaceflight by making space travel accessible to everyone.

He had a vision, but how does one make it happen. He had supporters as well as many doubters. The break came when Greg Marynjak, a college friend and now the X Prize Foundation Director, gave Diamandis a copy of Charles Lindbergh’s autobiography “The Spirit of St. Louis.”

The aviation legend, Lindbergh, was motivated by the $25,000 prize that Raymond Orteig established for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. Lindbergh’s triumphal flight on May 21, 1927 opened the way for rapid commercialization of flight.

Diamandis wasn’t so much interested in Lindbergh after reading the book as he was in the idea of a prize to motivate innovation. He reasoned, why not create a space prize and get some St. Louis businessmen to back it just as Lindbergh had done. He decided to call it the X Prize worth $10 million.

In March of 1996, he followed Lindbergh’s script and invited a group of St. Louis businessmen for drinks at the historic Racquet Club, using the same table used by Lindbergh a generation before.

Diamandis told them that St. Louis could be a “gateway to the stars” while showing them old clips of James Stewart playing Lindbergh in the movie, “Spirit of St. Louis.”

It must have been quite a show. He picked up $25,000 from the seven businessmen in attendance. It was a great start.

On May 18th under the Arch in St. Louis, he announced the formation of the X Prize Foundation. The first privately financed team to fly a reusable spacecraft would win the $10 million dollar X Prize. Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, Eric Lindbergh, was there as a vice president and trustee of the X Prize Foundation.

Eric two years ago celebrated the 75th Anniversary of his grandfather’s famous flight across the Atlantic by duplicating the flight by himself.

Also in attendance in St. Louis was Burt Rutan, the ultimate winner of the first X Prize with his SpaceShipOne. He was also the first to register for the prize. Later he admitted that he didn’t think about designing a spacecraft until 1999. He begin a full development program two years later after Paul Allen agreed to provide most of the financing for the effort.

After the initial burst of enthusiasm, Diamandis found it hard to raise the prize money. The big corporations shied away because they were afraid that the mission would fail and they didn’t want their corporate name attached to a failed spacecraft.

Despite round the clock fund raising efforts by Diamandis, the X Prize Foundation was potentially looking at bankruptcy as 2001 began. Then by chance, Diamandis read a Fortune magazine article about a couple of Texan telecommunication entrepreneurs who were interested in space travel.

He rushed to Dallas and met Anousheh Ansari and her brother-in-law, Amir. Bingo! He received a commitment of more than $1 million. The X Prize race was still on, but now under the banner of the renamed Ansari X Prize and Anousheh Ansari became a board member of the X Prize Foundation.

In another interesting strategy by Diamandis, who is always thinking out-of-the-box, an insurance company will be the entity that actually pays the prize money. The X Prize foundation (Ansari) paid an insurance company, Bermuda-based XL Capital, for a special “hole-in-one” insurance policy in which the insurance company essentially bets against success. The insurance company lost and must pay the prize money.

The X Prize Foundation will award the X Prize at a ceremony in St. Louis on November 6th.

The X Prize, said Diamandis, is the beginning, it is not the end of space competitions. Twenty-six teams had registered for the X Prize and many plan to continue their effort to fly a spacecraft.

The one closet to launch is the da Vinci project. The team leader, Brian Feeney, hopes to try a launch by November 1.

Also, the X Prize Foundation has announced an annual X Prize Cup to be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico that will serve as an air show for spacecraft. Prizes will be awarded in categories such as: fastest turnaround time, maximum number of passengers per flight, maximum altitude, fastest flight time, and coolest ship. The event hopes to launch some fifty space flights over a 10-day period beginning in December 2006

SpaceShipOne was a suborbital achievement. The ultimate goal is for orbital flight. Robert Bigelow, who heads an aerospace company in Nevada, has announced a “Bigelow Prize” worth $50 million.

Spacecraft Earns $40 Million

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

It took six years to develop, but for the second time in five days, a piloted reusable suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, flew into the fringes of space, nearly 70 miles (367,442 feet) above the earth, before gliding back to a safe landing in the Mojave Desert. In so doing it flew seven miles higher than the arbitrary line marking the beginning of space and won the $10-million Ansari X Prize and became the first privately developed plane to rocket into space.

The previous record for a space plane was held by the military developed X-15 that reached an altitude of 67 miles (354,200 feet) in 1963.

The X prize-winning flight on October 4, 1904 coincided with the 43rd-anniversary of the Soviet Union’s 184-pound Sputnik I that triggered the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Also sadly, it coincided with the death of astronaut Gordon Cooper, 77, who flew the last Mercury mission-Faith 7 on May 1963.

There was jubilation close to that of the Wright Brothers achievement when the spacecraft landed. Some people have called the achievement a new era in flight and have compared the feat to the Wright Brothers historic flight, calling the Mojave the new Kitty Hawk. One observer remarked, “It feels a little bit like Kitty Hawk must have.”

Unlike the Wright Brother’s flight nearly 101 years ago, which stirred little interest or press, the event was documented live on television and around the world, by many major news agencies, including CNN, ABC, Fox, Reuters, Associated Press, to name a few.

The X prize set requirements that included altitude (at least 100 kilometers), and vehicle reliability (the spacecraft flies twice within 2 weeks).

A piloted turbojet known as the White Knight carried SpaceShipOne to nearly 50,000 feet (above nearly 85% of the Earth’s atmosphere). There, SpaceShipOne fired its rocket for 84 seconds, climbing in a vertical trajectory at speeds of near three times the speed of sound. After reaching just under 70 miles above the Earth and experiencing several minutes of weightlessness, it coasted back into the Earth’s atmosphere where the pilot took over control and flew it as a glider to a landing at Mojave Airport.

It was a flawless flight in contrast to the two previous flights in which the pilot experienced control problems, but still completed the mission.

The X Prize foundation hopes to stimulate the same sort of proliferation of technologies and enterprise seen after the Wright brothers’ pioneering flight. Peter Diamandis, a businessman, established the X Prize eight years ago with the objective being to spur commercial space travel. He plans to present the $10 million dollar check to Mojave Aerospace Ventures in St. Louis on Nov. 6. Burt Rutan, the craft’s designer, and Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder who provided some $20 million to support the project, founded the winning partnership known as Mojave Aerospace Ventures.

Anousheh Ansari, an Iran-born engineer who made a fortune in telecommunications provided most of the $10 million for the prize. The X Prize is modeled after the $25,000 Orteig Prize that was won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for flying nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s grandson, Erik Lindbergh, is a trustee and vice-president of the X Prize Foundation.

Rutan says he will share the prize money with his employees at Scaled Composites, his company. The prize attracted more than two dozen teams from around the world.

The Wrights also privately financed their Flyer, although they weren’t millionaires.

Rutan has designed some of the oddest and innovative airplanes in the world over a career of 30 years. Like the Wright brothers, he is known for putting together known technologies into innovative ways to form new systems.

Rutan designed Voyager, a plane that flew nonstop around the world without refueling. He is considered by some as a national treasure.

The SpaceShipOne demonstrates two technological breakthroughs. One is a safer hybrid rocket engine, the first developed for human space flight since 1972. The second is the use of the ship’s movable tail section that folds up to serve as an airbrake as the plane descends.

After the prize-winning flight of SpaceShipOne, Rutan said: “Our success proves without question that manned space flight does not require mammoth government expenditures. It can be done by a small company with limited resources and a few dozen dedicated employees.”

In 1908, there were only 10 pilots in the world, including the Wright brothers. By 1912, after Wilbur flew in France in 1909, there were thousands of pilots. Many of the pilots must have said to themselves that if two bicycles makers can fly so can I.

Only 434 people have flown in space and they were trained and funded by governments. We now have two space pilots that have been awarded commercial astronaut wings by the FAA – Brian Binnie and Mike Melvill, the two pilots that flew the prize-winning flights. They are two of four pilots that have been trained to fly SpaceShipOne.

Binnie said after the second prize-winning flight, “flying this vehicle is literally a rush.”

Diamandis has announced the foundation of an annual X Prize cup to begin in December 2006 to maintain the momentum by sponsoring “space races.” The event aims to launch 50 space flights over a 10-day period with cash prizes given for such categories as altitude, speed and passenger capacity.

“We have to one winner here today, which is spectacular. But it’s insufficient to have a monopoly once again. We need to have a competitive market. We need to push the envelope to go higher, further and faster.”

The British billionaire tycoon and owner of Virgin Airlines, Richard Branson, has joined the effort by announcing that he plans to take tourists to space for a fee of around $200,000. He has formed a space tourism company named Virgin Galactic to license the technology from Rutan’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures and for Scaled Composites to build the first of five space-liners next year and fly paying passengers in suborbital flights as early as 2007. The first space-liner has already been named – V.S.S. Enterprise.

Branson plans to locate ships in several countries. He has already received 5,000 inquiries for tickets.

Profits generated will be used to develop a new generation of spacecraft capable of orbital flights capable of visits around the moon and space hotels.

Some critics have denigrated the use of SpaceShipOne as a vehicle for tourism. The Wrights, too, didn’t have a clear idea of how to use the airplane. The first uses were military. It took another 20 years for commercial travel by airplanes to become practical.

X Prize supporters hope to demonstrate that low-cost space travel is practical and profitable. Over time private ventures are expected to cut the cost of space travel through volume, innovation and attention to the bottom line. The first NASA space shuttle flew in 1981. It costs NASA over $1 billion for each launch of the shuttle.

Space flights are not without risk. FAA’s Blakey said, “There will be a bad day sooner or later. As long as potential passengers truly understand the risks, the government approach would be caveat aviator. This country was founded on people who are risk-takers.”

Rutan says he intends to build commercial craft that are at least 100 times safer than anything that has ever flown man to space.

SpaceShipOne Flies Again

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

On Wednesday September 29th SpaceShipOne successfully flew again in the pursuit of the X Prize competition worth $10 million. One more successful flight and they will have won it.

Here is the criteria for the winning the prize: the winning team must privately finance, build and launch a spacecraft that can carry three people 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, return safely to Earth, and then do it again within two weeks. Some 26 teams from seven countries are vying for the prize. The 62-mile threshold is generally accepted as the point where the Earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins.

The SpaceShipOne team is planning on completing the second flight requirement on Monday October 4th, although they have until October 13 at 0834 to make the attempt.

On Sept. 29 at 0712 the SpaceShipOne rocket ship attached to the White Knight, the carrier airplane, left the Mojave, California runway before thousands of spectators. The White Knight with its payload climbed to about an altitude of 48,000 feet where SpaceShipOne detached from the White Knight and its rockets fired, sending SpaceShipOne roaring straight up for about 2 minutes. Its bright streak toward space could be seen from the ground.

Before reaching apogee the pilot, Mike Melvill, experienced some nervous moments as the spacecraft began to spin unexpectedly as it sped through space at nearly three times the speed of sound. Melvill said later that he figures there were at least 20 turns, with some of them at a high rate producing a corkscrew like flight path. “I’m not sure what kicked it off,” he said. “It was probably something I did.”

Rutan, the designer of the craft, didn’t think it was pilot error. Instead he suggested it was the result of the “dihedral effect” in which air buffeting the spacecraft at an angle causes it to roll.

The spin caused the worried flight controllers on the ground to advise Melvill to abort his ascent, but Melvill was close to the goal of at least 62 miles altitude and kept going a few more seconds before shutting down the engine eleven seconds earlier than planned.

He achieved 64 miles (337,500 feet). After landing at 0833 without further incident he said, “I did a victory roll at the top.” “You just cannot describe what a feeling this is. Maybe I’m crazy.”

The first test flight last June 21st also had control problems. In this instance, the craft unexpectedly rolled to the left and then to the right and developed trim problems as the craft experienced horizontal wind shear. That problem was fixed and a new engine was designed to provide 20% greater thrust.

Experiencing control problems with experimental craft is not new. The Wright brothers had their own problems with controlling the Flyer.

An interesting aspect of the flight is that employees of Burt Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, contributed personal items to simulate the weight of two additional passengers to provide the 400 pounds required under the X Prize rules. All items were carefully weighed and sealed in boxes. The items included tools, toys, pictures of children, a prized watch and the ashes of Rutan’s deceased mother.

The X Prize is spurring private space flight. Just recently Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airways, announced the formation of a new company, Virgin Galactic, for the purpose of offering space jaunts in 2007. He plans to license the technology from Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a company founded by Rutan and Paul Allen, the billionaire cofounder of Microsoft and investor in the SpaceShipOne venture.

Tickets will cost about $208,000 for a 2-hour flight. They expect to fly 3,000 new astronauts in the first 5 years. Only a few civilians have flown into space and they paid much larger sums of money to ride on ships operated by the Russian government.

The biggest hurtle to space tourism may be legal and regulatory rather than technical. The House passed a bill earlier this year creating a licensing system. A similar bill is languishing in the Senate. A bill may not pass this year.

Melvill is scheduled to speak at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh on December 17th at a program observing the anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight.