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

The First Flight Society inducted NASA retired aeronautics engineer Richard Whitcomb, who made supersonic flight possible, into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine at the Wright Brothers National visitor’s center in Kill Devil Hills, NC, during celebration activities commemorating the 104th anniversary of flight on Dec. 17, 2007.

His portrait will be displayed in the flight room of the visitors’ center where it will join those of other aviation pioneers. The tradition began in 1966 with the portrait of the Wright brothers.

Whitcomb followed in the best tradition of the Wright brothers, who when confronted with the claim of experts that man could never fly, showed them that they were wrong.

Whitcomb was also faced with the claim that man could never fly faster than the speed of sound. Many in the aeronautical experts in the 1930s and 1940s believed in the existence of an invisible barrier in the sky that prevented aircraft from flying faster than the speed of sound, which was approximately 700 mph.

Government researchers at McCook Field in Dayton and others first identified the problem on aircraft propellers in the 1920s. When the tips of a whirling propeller approached the speed of sound, it lost efficiency because of a drastic loss of lift. They simply could not turn any faster.

The big problem seen by the experts was the problem of overcoming drag. Both the Wrights and Whitcomb used their intellect and wind tunnel tests to solve the problem of drag. Tom Crouch, senior curator at the Smithsonian’s air and Space Museum noted that “Whitcomb battled the enemy of drag and won.”

The problem of drag facing the designers of supersonic aircraft was the large increase in drag associated with the formation of shock waves that occurred at speeds just below and above the speed of sound (transonic speeds). An airplane can experience severe instability at these speeds.

When an aircraft moves at the speed of sound, shock waves build up in front of it creating a single, very large shock wave. During transonic flight, a plane must pass through this large shock wave as well as contending with the instability caused by air moving faster than sound over parts of the wing and slower in other parts. The phenomenon is explained by the Bernoulli principle.

One day late in 1951 Whitcomb relates that he was thinking about the problem and trying to visualize the air passing over a body at transonic speed when he came to the startling realization that the air passing over a body at transonic speed behaved in a different way than the experts thought. He concluded that what really caused transonic drag was not the diameter of the fuselage alone, rather it was the drag rise created by the total cross-sectional area of the fuselage, wings and tail.

Since wings added most to this area, drag could be reduced significantly by tucking in or narrowing the fuselage where the wings attached and then expanding the fuselage at their trailing edges. Using this configuration the air would be displaced less violently, the waves and drag would diminish, thus enabling an airplane to pass more easily through the transonic zone.

He concluded that the same amount of air had to be replaced to get out of the way to make room for the plane, but with the trimmed down “wasp waist,” the air would not be displaced in such violent shock patterns. The configuration became known as the “area rule.” It was shaped more like an old-fashioned soda bottle.

His discovery was particularly timely because at that moment virtually all military fighters aimed at sustained level supersonic flight was doomed to remain below Mach 1 because of the incapability of the jet engines of the time to overcome the tremendous drag rise.

On August 1954, his ideas were confirmed in practice when a Grumman F9F-9 successfully breezed through sonic speed in level flight without the use of an afterburner, the first time this had been done.

Whitcomb was awarded the prestigious Collier trophy for his achievement and many other awards.

He continued to refine and extend his basic concept for commercial jets and well as military planes.

In the 1960s he conceived the “supercritical airfoil,” an airfoil whose primary attribute was improved performance at high subsonic speeds.

In the 1970s he developed what is called “winglets.” These are devices placed at the wingtips, normal to the wingspar, extending both upward and downward. The devices reduce wingtip vortices and the induced drag such vortices create. The aerodynamic efficiency of the wing is improved and fuel consumption reduced as well.

Tom Crouch notes that “Dick Whitcomb’s intellectual fingerprints are on virtually every commercial aircraft flying today.”

Whitcomb’s personality was in many respects similar to that of the Wrights. He was a conservative and shy and didn’t like administrative duties. In the laboratory he was a creative radical and in some respects management didn’t know quite know how to deal with him, so they pretty much let him do what he wanted.

A prominent feature of the Wright Flyer that successfully flew at Kitty Hawk, NC is the forward protruding horizontal elevator or canard configuration. Most people are puzzled by the configuration because most modern airplanes incorporate the horizontal elevator into the tail of the airplane.

Sonic Cruiser

This may soon change. Boeing recently announced their concept for a new generation of commercial airplanes. They call it the “Sonic Cruiser.” Their design employs canards in a fashion similar to that employed by the Wright Brothers in their early airplanes.

A canard configuration refers to any horizontal surface that is placed ahead of the wings.

The Boeing design team is focusing on an airliner that could operate above 40,000 feet at Mach .95 (95% of the speed of sound.) or greater over a range of 10,350 miles carrying 500 to 600 passengers. The Sonic Cruiser would save an hour and a half on a North Atlantic route and two and a half-hours across the Pacific.

The Sonic Cruiser also employs a double tail just like the Wright Flyer.

Lilienthal Killed

The Wright Brothers had very specific reasons for utilizing the canard configuration. First was safety. The Wrights were very familiar, even afraid of the kind of sudden, uncontrollable dive that killed Lilienthal, the famous German glider experimenter, in 1896.

Lilienthal had experienced a phenomenon known as a “stall.” A stall occurs under the conditions of climbing when the angle at which the wing strikes the air is so great that the airstream passing over the top side of the wing breaks away and turbulence sets in. The wing immediately losses all lift. If a stall occurs too close to the ground for the pilot to recover, a fatal crash inevitably occurs.

The Wrights, as with all the other experimenters, were only vaguely aware of how wings reacted to the air pressure created by the wind flowing over them. The Wrights thought that the tendency of pressure on a wing in level flight was to turn the nose of the glider upward. Their forward elevator was designed to exert a counteracting nose-down pressure. Later they would find that the tendency was just the reverse, to nose dive, but their elevator would still work to counteract this pressure and provide fore and aft control.

Canard Prevents Fatal Crashes

They were lucky in that the canard design provided an unexpected additional benefit. Wilbur found this out to his good fortune while flying their glider in 1901. He was flying at about 30-feet when suddenly he lost forward speed and the nose of the glider moved upward. Adjusting the elevator was having no effect. Desperately, Wilbur moved his body forward as far as he could to bring the nose down. To the surprise of Wilbur and worried onlookers, instead of a neck-breaking dive, the glider gently “parachuted” to the ground.

Later in the day, he stalled again. This time the strong wind was blowing the glider backward in what looked like would be a deadly tail-slide and tumble to the ground. Again Wilbur was able to bring the glider to earth with a mush-like glide. The Wrights decided to keep the design with the elevator up-front, certain it provided protection from nose-dives.

An additional advantage of the canard design was that the elevator in front provided a visual indicator of the glider/airplane’s attitude in flight. This is crucial as an aid for a pilot to maintain control of his aircraft and particularly important for the Wrights who were teaching themselves how to fly.

There is a downside to the canard design. It is very sensitive to movement. This often resulted in the Wrights experiencing undulating flight paths. The sensitivity increased with speed. When the Wrights began to build airplanes with speeds above 60 mph in 1910, they moved the elevator to the rear.

Foundation of Aeronautical Engineering

The Wright Brothers had started out to make some small contribution to aeronautical progress. But in three years of study and experimentation, the brothers had surpassed all other flight researchers. They established theories and practices of Aeronautical Engineering still used in all aircraft design today, including the space shuttle.

First Female Space Tourist

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Anousheh Ansari, 40, has purchased her $20 million ticket and rode the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 spaceship to the international Space Station on September 18, 2006. with her were Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Lopez-Alegria.

She is the fourth tourist to visit the space station.

Ansari, born in Iran, is an American entrepreneur millionaire from Plano, Texas.

As a young girl in Iran, she used to gaze at the stars and dream of some day flying into space. Her opportunity came when the Russians began selling tickets to the International Space Station in 2001 to raise money for their space program.

A Virginia based company, Space Adventures, brokers the tickets for the Russians. She has spent the last few months training for the trip at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center and at Star City outside Moscow.

Ansari is no stranger to space adventures. In 2001, she and her brother-in-law contributed most of the $10 million X-Prize whose objective was to spur commercial space travel. Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne won the prize in 2004.

Ansari can afford the steep ticket price. In 1993, she and her husband, Hamid, quit their jobs at MCI and started their own telecommunications company. They took a big gamble at the time. They cashed out their retirement funds of $50,000 to start the new company. Seven years later they sold the company for $750, 000.

She emigrated to the United Stated in 1984 at the age of 16. The Shah had been overthrown and as a woman she would have no opportunity to study science at an Iranian university. In America she received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science at George Mason University and a master’s degree from George Washington University.

Ansari was listed in Fortune’s Magazine’s “40 under 40” in 2001 and honored by Working Woman Magazine as the winner of the year 2000 National Entrepreneurial Excellence Award.

While in the space station for eight days, she will be conducting blood and muscular experiments for the European Space Agency. She believes that entrepreneurial minds and money will speed innovation. She hopes that her example will spur others to explore space for the future of mankind.

She returned safely on Sept 29 in Kazakhstan.

Lance Armstrong recently won his seventh consecutive Tour de France. In doing so he has become the most accomplished cyclist of his generation and earned a position in the exclusive tier of world athletes who dominate their sport for years.

His speed was the fastest in the 102 years of the tour. He completed the 2,232-mile course in 86 hours, 15 minutes, 2 seconds for an average speed of 25.88 mph.

In Europe, and especially in France, cycling is considered a major sport and Armstrong’s achievement is a tremendous accomplishment. In this country most people consider cycling a minor sport although in recent years because of Armstrong, the Tour de France has become a must-see event for three weeks each summer. OLN-TV reported an average audience of 1.7 million, the largest in the history of OLN.

It wasn’t always that way. A hundred years ago Americans were bicycle crazy. Among those Americans were the Wright Brothers.

There are some common elements that Armstrong and the Wright Brothers share. This is the story.

Wright Brothers Bicycle, Father of the Airplane

The Wrights established a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio in 1892, at a time when bicycles were popular and touted as a “boon to mankind” as well as a national necessity. Orville and Wilbur started the business because many friends were asking them to repair their bikes. Even then the Wrights had a reputation for having exceptional mechanical skills and they were well known in the bicycle community as well as avid bikers.

They were leaders of a local bicycle club and Orville had a number of medals for winning bike races. Wilbur did not race, but he did participate, sometimes serving as a starter.

The bicycle business was so good they decided to drop their existing printing business and concentrate on manufacturing and selling their own brand of high quality bicycles in 1896. Their bicycle business was destined to become the key to inventing the first powered airplane, the Flyer.

The funds from the business financed the construction of their gliders and the Flyer, as well as their trips to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wrights never made more than $3,000 a year from their bicycle shop, but they were frugal with their funds. Inventing flight cost them the grand sum of $1,200.

Possibly even more important, they developed their successful concept for man-flight from their bicycle experience. They were the first to view flying an airplane as comparable to riding a bicycle. They knew that to fly an airplane, balance and control were important. One must learn how to do it just as one must learn to ride a bicycle. A pilot must bank turns just as a rider on a bicycle turns a corner.

The Wrights incorporated many bicycle parts in the Flyer. The propeller sprocket-and-chain drives were modified bicycle parts. So was the chain used in the wing warping linkage, spoke wire, tubular steel, ball bearings and later, bicycle wheels. A bicycle wheel hub kept the Flyer on a wooden rail until takeoff.

One of the critical considerations of designing an airplane or racing a bicycle is an efficient use of energy to accomplish the work required. The Wrights, unlike their competitors, used the scientific method to achieve this goal with the Flyer.

Their machine only required a 12-horsepower gas engine fed by a 2-1/2 quart fuel tank to propel the 605-pound Flyer. Their competitors, in the meantime, had much more powerful engines, but failed.

The Wrights accomplished this feat by designing a lightweight, but strong structure. The wings were contoured to provide maximum lift. Propellers were shaped to produce maximum thrust and a streamline design, including the pilot in a prone position, were employed to reduce drag (wind resistance).

In contrast, nine days before the Wrights won the race to be the first to fly, Samuel P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, failed to fly his “Great Aerodrome.” An incredible 52-horsepower engine powered the machine but the power was wasted by a poor aerodynamic design and it crashed into the Potomac River like a rock after launching from a houseboat in the Potomac River.

Lance Armstrong, King of the Hill

Things didn’t look good for Armstrong back in October 1996. His doctor’s told him he had testicular cancer that had metastasized to his brain, abdomen and lungs. They gave him a chance of survival of between 40-50%. In reality, they thought his chances were much worse.

Lance Armstrong’s miracle recovery from advanced testicular cancer and his racing achievements are products of his choice of a high-risk form of chemotherapy (ifosfamide) and an intense physical training program. He went on to win the world’s most grueling sport less than three years later.

Efficient use of energy is as vital for Lance as it was for the Wright Flyer. Cyclists use up some 10,000 calories a day while racing.

Here are two vignettes that illustrate Lance’s challenge and success.

One of the key victories in the year 2001 Tour de France was the race up the Alpe d’Huez during stage 10 of the 20-stage race in which Lance beat Jan Ullrich, who won the Tour in 1997 and his main threat every year, by almost two minutes.

Ullrich is a powerful rider, but he weighs more than Armstrong. If two riders produce the same amount of power, but one weighs less than the other does, the lighter rider has the capability of climbing faster.

The strategy of Armstrong was to use his advantage in power to weight ratio to burst past Ullrich just as the riders started up the steep slope of the Alpe d’ Huez.

To set this up, US Postal’s Jose Luis Rubiera set a blistering pace in front of Lance allowing Lance to ride in his slip stream and save energy. Ullrich was next in line, but out of the slipstream, and had to use up additional precious energy to keep up. Once Rubiera could no longer set the pace, he moved aside and Lance, with a burst of speed, left Ullrich behind to win the stage.

The other vignette took place during the just finished Tour’s first stage 19-kilometer time trial.

Armstrong rolled down the starting ramp a minute after Ullrich, who has never been overtaken in a time trial. Armstrong got off to a slow start because his foot slipped off the pedal. No matter, A mile or so later Armstrong passed him on the right without so much as a glance. Ullrich never recovered from the shock.

Armstrong’s high cadence climbing style and strong aerobic engine gives him an advantage in the mountains. He has the ability to produce more power than the other riders do before he reaches his lactate threshold. The lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid, a byproduct of chemical breakdown, accumulates in the muscles faster than it can be cleared, causing fatigue.

Armstrong trains specifically to raise his lactic threshold by endurance training. There are no short cuts. An athlete’s body will slowly change in response to stress placed on it. Fuel utilization becomes more efficient, tendons and ligaments grow stronger and muscle cells increase their ability to store and process glycogen, a source of energy in the body.

Armstrong trains predominately going uphill, keeping the intensity below the lactic threshold. The purpose is to push the threshold up by training just below the threshold. Training above the threshold has the opposite effect and reduces the threshold. Scientifically measuring a number of parameters such as heart rate, blood lactate and power measured in watts, monitors all of this activity.

He rides every day from two to eight hours and spends an hour three days a week in the gym. He also does some trail running.

Challenges become Opportunities

Both the airplane pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright and cyclist Lance Armstrong have had their critics. Critics said the Wright Flyer was too fragile and underpowered. People in Dayton used to mock their kite flying experiments. Many people didn’t believe they had actually flown at Kitty Hawk until years later. The French mocked them as “bluffers,” than cheered Wilbur when he flew in France not far from Paris in 1908.

The French cheered Armstrong in Paris but some French have hassled Armstrong with spiteful rumors of drug charges. They believe that his heroic achievements were too good to be true without the use of performance enhancing drugs.

The Wrights and Armstrong both challenge the parameters of the physical world. One with machines the other with his body. They both view the physical challenges as opportunities, not boundaries and use the scientific approach to obtain success.

They both exhibited a single-minded commitment and passion that enabled them to succeed. The Wrights built gliders and an airplane that exhibited meticulous workmanship that probably exceeded that necessary for experimental purposes. Their approach mirrored their construction of quality bicycles.

Lance focused on such details as his diet, his training program, bicycle components, Jersey fibers, wattage produced during workout and heart rate.

Armstrong, 165 pounds, pushed his Trek bicycle design team to give him a lighter and more efficient bicycle. The design team used aerospace-pioneered software that predicted how air would pass over the carbon fiber bicycle most efficiently. Armstrong exclaims we’re “fanatics!”

Neither the Wrights or Armstrong have college degrees. Armstrong says that “what we do is hard work and hard works wins it.”

Armstrong recently summed it up: “You have to have a basic gift and then it’s how you work with that gift, how you shape it, the work that you do, the intensity you do it in and then the motivation for the race.”

On Sunday July 24, 2005, Lance Armstrong, 33, stood on the winning platform before an estimated 500,000 people on the Champs-Elysees while the U.S. National Anthem played. In the background were the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. He bit his lip to keep from shedding a tear. He had ridden a total of 15,174 miles in his seven Tour victories. He exclaimed,”Vive le Tour.” Paused and added, “Forever”

President Bush remarked, “Lance is an incredible inspiration to people from all walks of life, and he has lifted the spirits of those who face life’s challenges. He is a true champion.”

Lance says he now has two top priorities – his family and his cancer foundation. The latter has raised some $85 million.

His 5-year old son said at the end of the ceremonies – “Daddy can we go home and play?”