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

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.

Not Again!

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

The January 2005 of Carolina Journal, a monthly journal of news, analysis and commentary, contained the following article:

Ohio Targeted for Aviation Claims

No longer able to tolerate its false claims based on the location of Wilbur and Orville’s origins, NC Attorney General Roy Cooper said he will sue the state of Ohio for claiming to be the “birthplace of aviation.”

He said the “clearly false assertion” was undermining North Carolina’s long time reputation for being “first in flight,” and therefore harming its tourism and ultimately, its esteem.

“As self-established arbiter of linguistic integrity,” Cooper said, “I say Ohio’s motto is pure hogwash. They are ‘birthplace of aviators’ perhaps, but not aviation.”

Cooper said he would demand that Ohio replace all license plates that promote the slogan, and that the state remove the phrase from all state advertising. He said it would be unethical for lawmakers there to not remedy the situation.

After all, the Wright brothers could have chosen the winds off lake Erie to test their plane, Cooper said. “But they came to the Outer Banks instead. So, if they don’t take care of this, then phooey on Ohio!”

Comment: I thought we saw the end of this debate before the centennial celebration, but apparently not. Ohio has the right to the claim of being “birthplace of aviation” for the clear fact that the Wright Flyer and its predecessor kites and gliders were conceived, designed and built in Dayton, Ohio.

The Wrights selected Kitty Hawk as the site for flight testing because of its wind, sand, and isolation.

I know Roy Cooper and think very highly of him. I voted for him. But in this case he is wrong. This argument about mottoes is becoming tiresome. It is time to move on.

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.