Wright Brothers – The Military Airplane

Articles relating to the ongoing of the Wright Brothers and the US military.

On September 17, 1908, Orville crashed with Lt. Selfridge as passenger during a flight at Ft. Myers, Virginia. Selfridge died soon after and Orville was left with injuries that pained him throughout the rest of his life.

They were circling the parade ground when, on the beginning of the third circle as they were headed toward the wall of Arlington Cemetery at about 100 feet off the ground, Orville heard a slight tapping at the rear of the machine.

He turned and looked behind him, but couldn’t see anything. Sensing something was wrong, he decided to cut the power as soon as he completed his turn toward the crowd. Suddenly, he heard two thumps, followed by violent shaking. He struggled with the controls as the machine dropped toward the left, causing the nose to drop. The machine hit the ground at full speed and nosed over, burying Orville and Selfridge.

The respected Scientific Journal published an article, Lessons of the Wright Aeroplane Disaster in their September 26, 1908 issue. The article, including my comments, follows below.

“Seldom has there occurred a more pitifully tragic disaster than the sudden fall of the Wright aeroplane, involving the death of that promising young officer Lieut. Thomas E. Selfridge, and inflicting shocking injuries on the talented inventor, Orville Wright.

That the disaster should have occurred at the culmination of a series of brilliant flights, and on the eye of winning that prize of government recognition for which the Wright brothers had striven, unaided, through long years of patient toil, renders the disaster extremely pathetic, and accentuates that world-wide sympathy in which the Scientific Journal so sincerely shares.

But although the accident is deplorable, it should not be allowed to discredit the art of aerospace navigation. If it emphasizes the risks, there is nothing in the mishap to shake our faith in the principles upon which the Wright brothers built their machine, and achieved such brilliant success.

The defect was purely of structural detail. The breaking off of the blades of the propeller of an airship is comparable to bursting the tire on an automobile. In each case there is the danger of an upset; but in neither should the accident be taken to indicate that the principles and design of the whole machine are at fault.”

Comment: One of the propeller blades did break off although that is not what caused the crash. Here is what really happened.

The right blade flattened when it developed a longitudinal crack. That started a sequence of events.

The blade then lost enough power to cause unequal thrust between the two blades. The resulting vibration is what Orville heard as a light tapping noise.

Next in the sequence of events was that that the vibration loosened a stay wire fastened to the tube that housed the propeller axle. The axle moved enough to bring the undamaged propeller blade in contact with the upper stay wire attached to the vertical rudder in the tail.

The wire broke and wrapped itself around the propeller blade, breaking it off, causing the loud thumping sound. That was the broken blade seen flying from the machine.

The broken blade, however, was not the cause of the crash. It was the vertical rudder that had been loosened by the loss of the stay wire. It caused the Flyer to first swerve right toward the cemetery, then to the left, so that it was heading north up the field.

At this point Orville moved the wingwarping lever to the right to straighten the wings and at the same time moved it forward to move the vertical rudder to the right in order to glide to the ground. The problem was that the rudder, without its upper stay wire, was so tilted to the horizontal that it functioned more as an elevator. This sent the Flyer into a fatal dive and ultimate crash.

Orville had been forewarned of possible trouble when on September 9, a propeller developed an 18 1/2-foot split. Orville had to have Loren ship two new blades from Dayton. The new blades had the same chord but were two inches longer.

The Scientific American continued: “Nevertheless, it must be admitted that if the demand for absolutely first-class design and material is strong in the automobile, it is doubly so in the aeroplane.

Judged by the nature of the work it has to do, and in view of the tragic penalties which may attach to the breakage of any one of its delicate and nicely calculated parts, it would seem that a broader margin of safety should be allowed in cutting down the size and weight to secure the necessary lightness.

The supporting planes (wings) with their fragile wooden struts and hair-like wires, constitute a trussed bridge, whose strength, like that of a chain, is no greater that the strength of its weakest link.

Should a single strut or wire snap, the whole fabric must collapse. Similarly, the equilibrium of the whole structure is so sensitive to disturbance, that any sudden change in the opposed forces, such as was occasioned by the snapping of one of the two propellers, must instantly upset the delicate poise, and change the aeroplane suddenly, from a self-sustaining machine to an inert mass, subject to the destructive force of gravity.

The lessons of this particular case are, first, that wood is too uncertain a material to safely endure the complicated stresses due to thrust, high centrifugal force, excessive vibration, or the possibility of contact with the machine to which a propeller is subjected; and, secondly, that the distribution of the thrust between two propellers, placed on either side of the center of gravity, constitutes, as this terrible accident has too clearly shown, a constant invitation to disaster.

Should one propeller break, become loose, or be disconnected from its chain drive, the whole power of the engine becomes concentrated at a point several feet to one side of the center of resistance of the machine, with the result that it becomes immediately unmanageable, and is driven violently from its path; whereas the breaking of a single, centrally-placed propeller would have no greater effect upon the control than would the simple stopping of the motor.

Undoubtedly, it was the inevitable confusion created by the breaking of the propeller on the vertical rudder wire that caused the disaster; for although Wright made a gallant effort to bring the machine back to control, stopping his motor, etc., the horizontal rudders appear either to have failed or to have been pulled in the wrong direction; the aeroplane, after partially righting, taking a sudden and steep plunge to the ground.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all, however, is, that, to render the aeroplane reliable, some method of automatic control of both lateral and horizontal stability must be devised. This control should automatically hold the rudders and plane tips in the requisite position for equilibrium, any deviation therefrom being made separate manual control.”

Comment: The Wrights ignored the free advice. Wilbur was in France at the time of the accident. When he returned and had time to examine what had happened, he stated, “The splitting of the propeller was the occasion of the accident; the uncontrollability of the tail was the cause.”

In June 1909, they tested a replica of the failed 1908 propeller in a barn behind Loren’s house. The first test blade cracked after less than two minutes running. They concluded that the propeller had a weak spot on the concave side that allowed the blade to flatten and split.

The blades were redesigned and made heavier at that point and canvas was added down their concave sides. Also, the tubes supporting the propeller axles were braced so that any vibration would not cause the propellers to reach the wires bracing the vertical rudder in the tail. The problem was solved.

We are now at war and the airplane has already played a significant role in the war on terrorism. This article will look at what the inventors of the airplane, the Wright Brothers, had to say about the role of airplanes in war.

The Wrights Involvement in Warplanes

In 1909, the Wright Brothers sold the first airplane to the U.S. Army. The contract included training pilots. In the beginning, the primary role of the airplane in wartime was for observation. Before 1915, when Orville (Wilbur died in 1912) left the Wright Company, the company had sold a total of fourteen airplanes to the Army.

The notion that the airplane would put an end to war was widely held at the time. Dayton’s Mayor Edward Burkhart characterized this attitude during his presentation of medals to the Wright brothers during Dayton’s celebration of their accomplishments in June 1909.

“With the perfect development of the airplane, wars will be only an incident of past ages.”

A float in the parade that followed the presentations sponsored by the West Side Business Men’s Association, reiterated this theme with a banner that was emblazoned with the message: “The Wright Brothers Invention Should Prevent Further Wars And Insure Peace”

Not everyone shared this belief. One was Lt. Frank Lahm. Lt. Lahm was influential in arranging Orville’s 1908 trials at Fort Myer, Va. The month after the Dayton’s Celebration, Lt. Lahm was the passenger with Orville when he set a world record of one hour and 12-minutes for two-person flight at Ft. Myer. In October he was one of two officers trained to be a pilot by Orville.

Lt Lahm promoted flight to his superiors in the Army as “unquestionably having considerable military value.” He retired in 1941 as a Brigadier General one week before Pearl Harbor’s vivid demonstration of flight’s military capabilities.

In 1911, Lieutenant Henry H. “Hap” Arnold learned to fly at the Wright Flying School in Dayton. He rose to the rank of five-star general and commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II and later served as the first Chief of Staff of the newly created U.S. Air Force.

Roy Brown was another pilot that trained at the Wright Flying school. He was officially credited for shooting down Captain Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, who had 80 confirmed kills in WW I. Brown, a Canadian, wanted to join the Royal Naval Air Service after graduating from high school. One of their requirements was you needed a pilot’s certificate.

He found that the only pilot school in Canada was already full, so his father paid for his training at the Wright Brothers’ school in Dayton, Ohio. The cost was $250 for 240 minutes in the air, plus living expenses that could total $600 in 1915. He received his license, number 361 on November 15, 1915.

In early 1917, a group of Dayton’s businessmen formed the Dayton Wright Airplane Company with the intention of creating a sport of aeronautics. Orville was appointed a director and consulting engineer.

On April 6, America declared war on Germany. The objective of the fledgling company now changed from the manufacture of a few sport planes to the mass production of airplanes for combat. The company received a large contract from the government to build the British de Haviland DH-4 airplane.

Orville was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section of the Signal Officers Reserve Corps. He was assigned to work with the engineers at Dayton Wright.

Orville’s Thoughts

Orville’s thoughts about the transformation were revealed in a letter dated June 21, 1917 to C. H. Hitchcock in response to an aircraft program laid out by the Aircraft Production Board:

“When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. That we were not alone in this thought is evidenced by the fact that the French Peace Society presented us with medals on account of our invention. We thought governments would realize the impossibility of winning by surprise attacks, and that no country would enter into war with another of equal size when it knew that it would have to win by simply wearing out the enemy.”

Orville went on to give his recommendations of what to do now that America was at war.

“Nevertheless, the world finds itself in the greatest war in history. Neither side has been able to win on account of the part the aeroplane has played. Both sides know exactly what the other is doing. The two sides are apparently nearly equal in aerial equipment, and it seems to me that unless present conditions can be changed, the war will continue for years.

However, if the Allies’ armies are equipped with such a number of aeroplanes as to keep the enemy planes entirely back of the line, so that they are able to direct gun-fire or to observe the movement of the Allied troops-in other words, if the enemy’s eyes can be put out – it will be possible to end the war. This is taking into account what might be done by bombing German sources of munition supplies, such as Essen (Krupp Works), which is only about one hundred and fifty miles behind the fighting lines. But to end the war quickly and cheaply, the supremacy in the air must be complete as to entirely blind the enemy.”

Orville’s intention was to promote the concept that the Allies could break the deadlock on the ground by using the airplane to gain control of the air. He believed that the stalemate between the two large armies was the result of the effectiveness of the airplane for observation.

In a letter of August 1, 1917 to Frank Harris, a magazine editor he amplified his ideas:

“An attempt to destroy the Krupp works at Essen could be undertaken successfully only in the case the Allies have a preponderance of fighting aeroplanes, so that the machine carrying bombs could be safely conveyed. I have never been a strong advocate of bombing from aeroplanes. I certainly would not like to see the Allies adopt the German’s barbarous policy of dropping bombs among the civilians where no military advantage is to be gained.”

Note: The Krupp factory developed a giant, 43-ton howitzer, which could deliver a 2,200 pound shell more than 9 miles. The weapon was called “Big Berths” after Gustav Krupp’s wife.)

Orville continued, ” In order to make bombing from aeroplanes effective, a vast number of planes would be required, and these well protected, so that the bombs could be dropped from a comparatively low height. Bombs dropped from a height of two miles or more rarely hit even near the mark for which they are intended.”

Orville’s comments received much attention in the New York Times and were the most authoritative appraisal of the strategic use of air power at the time.

World War I ended on November 11, 1919. In a letter to a well wisher, Orville commented:

“The aeroplane has made war so terrible that I do not believe any country will again care to start a war.”

Before the war ended, there were fighters, observation planes, and multi-engine bombers which could carry thousands of pounds of bombs. The Allies launched some 200,000 planes, the Germans 1/3 as many. The Allies also suffered 3 times the air casualties.

At the beginning of World War II, Orville still hoped that the airplane would be an instrument of peace. In a letter to Henry Ford of April 22, 1942, Orville wrote:

“I quite agree with you that the aeroplane will be our main reliance in restoring peace to the World.”

In a letter of September 7, 1943 to Edward D. Smith, an executive with NCR Corporation, he wrote:

“It was air power that made such a terrible war possible, but it also is air power that we will have to depend upon to stop it.”

President Truman honored Orville with the Award of Merit for distinguished service to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics during the World War II.

On the occasion of his seventy-fourth birthday, Orville’s life-long optimism about the role of the airplane as an instrument of peace began to fade. In an answer to a friend, Lester Gardner, of August 28, 1946, Orville wrote:

“I once thought the aeroplane would end wars. I now wonder whether the aeroplane and the atomic bomb can do it. It seems that ambitious rulers will sacrifice the lives and property of all their people to gain a little personal fame.”

Orville’s crash at Fort Myer on September 17, 1908 resulted in the death of his passenger, Lt. Selfridge. Although the unfortunate accident was frightening to the brothers, it was not entirely unexpected. Flying was still a dangerous occupation.

Investigation of his Fort Myer crash revealed that the basic cause was a longitudinal crack in one blade of the right propeller. The damaged blade not only lost power, it also caused a vibration that ultimately brought the other undamaged blade in contact with a stay wire leading to the vertical rudder in the tail. The wire was cut and wrapped itself around the blade causing it to break off. The rudder without the stay wire tilted over horizontally. In this position it functioned as an elevator causing the Flyer to nose over into the fatal dive.

From his hospital bed, Orville, with sister Katharine’s help, requested an extension to their Army contract, which the Army quickly approved. Both brothers returned in June 1909 to fulfill the terms of the Army Signal Corps Specification. This time Wilbur went along to help with the preparations.

The specification required an airplane capable of carrying two men at a speed of 40 mph while staying in the air for at least one hour. If successfully met, the Wrights’ would be awarded $25,000 plus $2,500 for each mph above 40.

The Army Signal Corps Flyer they brought with them in 1909 not only had strengthened propeller blades, but also a reduced wing area to increase speed, and a redesigned control lever used for turning. The control lever was split into two controls that allowed a separate fine-tuning of the rudder by turning the wrist.

Flying commenced on Tuesday June 29, but quickly ran into trouble. Orville had three aborted takeoffs and two minor accidents in three days. On Friday, Orville almost suffered another significant injury when the engine suddenly stopped while flying.

What should have been a routine glide in for a landing ran into trouble when the right wing snagged a small dead thorn tree at the end of the parade ground. The tree ripped through the fabric and broke several of the wing’s ribs. The Flyer made a hard landing that collapsed both landing skids.

Orville was stunned, but uninjured. It had been only nine months after his near fatal crash the year before.

When Wilbur reached the scene, he found a photographer taking pictures of the damaged airplane. Angered, he grabbed a piece of wood off the ground and hurled it at him; then demanded the photographic plate.

After the bad start, events turned for the better. On July 27, Orville fulfilled the specification requirement of a two-man flight for one hour, breaking the world’s record set by Wilbur in France. His passenger was Lt. Frank Lahm who had reported to the now deceased Lt. Thomas Selfridge.

The second specification requirement was for a ten-mile, two-man speed test. The course was laid out to require a round-trip to Alexandria, Virginia and back. The turning point in Alexandria was called Shooter’s Hill where the George Washington Masonic Memorial is now located. At the time, the cornerstone had just been laid.

Orville’s passenger this time was Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois.

(In 1916, Foulois commanded the “1st Aero Squadron,” the army’s first air force. Their first military action was to provide support to General’s Pershing’s incursion into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Foulois would later rise to the rank of a major general.)

Orville chose Foulois because he had experience in map reading and, as a bonus he didn’t weigh much (126 pounds). His skill would be critically needed because the terrain in those days was rugged between Ft. Myer and Alexandria, containing three ravines and a forest. There would be no good place for an emergency landing.

One has to marvel at Orville’s fearlessness. Since 1902, he had endured five serious crashes. Last year’s crash was nearly fatal. But, there was no hint of any hesitancy of going again.

Orville and Lt. Foulois took off from the parade ground at Fort Myer on July 30th with President William Howard Taft and a crowd of 7,000 spectators cheering them on. The Flyer climbed to 50 feet and circled the parade ground twice before heading off to Alexandria.

When the Flyer flew out of sight, the crowd fell silent with apprehension. They were aware of the rugged course. Wilbur estimated what the time of travel would be, but when the Flyer didn’t appear at the appointed time, he grew concerned and beads of sweat formed on his forehead and rolled down his checks.

A spectator shouted, “he’s down!” Katharine gave him a sharp reprimand. “How do you know he’s down?” Then there were cries of “there it comes,” as the Flyer reappeared over the treetops to the south.

Orville nosed the plane down to pick up speed as it roared with a flourish over the finish line to the cheers of the crowd and the honking of horns. He went on to circle Arlington Cemetery, then turned off the motor and glided in for a landing. Pandemonium reigned as the two men were almost mobbed by the crowd.

President Taft congratulated Orville on the spot. Lt. Foulois said it was the only time he ever saw Wilbur smile.

The next day they learned that the Flyer’s average speed was calculated to be 42.58-mph. That meant they earned a $5,000 bonus to add to their earned 40-mph price of $25,000. On August 2, 1909 the Signal Corps accepted the Wright Flyer for military use. It was the first airplane purchased and placed in service by any government.

This model, sometimes known as Signal Corps No. 1, now resides in the Smithsonian Institution and is the only one of its type constructed by the Wrights.

In the fall of 1908, The Wright Brothers were scheduled to perform demonstration flights in France and at the U.S. Army’s Fort Myer, Virginia, at the same time. Wilbur went to France and Orville went to Fort Myer. It was the first time that the team was not together for a major event. It may have had played a role in Orville’s almost fatal crash.

Orville’s Military Flyer was delivered to Fort Myer eight days before the Army’s contract deadline of August 20 for required demonstration flights.

On September 1, the first demonstration was successfully concluded. The demonstration consisted of the airplane being successfully moved to the parade ground in an Army combat wagon. Portability was one of the Army’s specification requirements.

The first public flight of the Flyer in America took place on September 3 before some 500 spectators. President Theodore Roosevelt’s son was among them.

The Flyer took off from the parade ground. As it reached the south end of the field, Orville turned east toward Arlington Cemetery and followed the cemetery wall back toward the parade ground. In attempting to make a second circuit of the field, Orville pulled his steering lever the wrong way, necessitating a quick landing to avoid hitting the top of a tent. He came down just in time, damaging both landing skids of the airplane, but otherwise unhurt.

No matter, the spectators cheered. The Scientific American enthusiastically reported the event: “The Wright Brothers have followed closely the soaring birds in the method of steering and maintaining their transverse equilibrium; and that this method works goes without saying.”

On September 9, Orville set a new world’s record for passenger flight carrying Lt. Frank Lahm on a six minute flight circling the field 6 1/2 times. Lieutenant Lahm was the one who had first interested the Army in the Wright plane. He later rose to the rank of brigadier general in 1926 and became commander of the Army Air Corps.

Three days later Orville set two new records. Flying with a passenger, he flew nine minutes. Then flying alone, he achieved a new distance record by circling the field 71 times in one hour, 14 minutes and 20 seconds.

Summing up his successes, he had set nine new world records. His speed was officially clocked at 38 mph.

That was the end of the good news. On September 17, Orville was preparing to take-off with Charlie Taylor, his long time mechanic, when a senior Army officer asked if he wouldn’t mind taking along an Army observer instead. Taylor, who was already seated in the passenger seat, jumped out. The new passenger was Lieutenant Tom Selfridge.

Lt. Selfridge was a member of the review committee, so Orville didn’t have much choice in the matter. He wasn’t pleased because he didn’t trust Selfridge. He was a member of a group (Aerial Experimental Association) that included Alexander Graham Bell and Glen Curtiss, who were developing their own airplane. In an unusual arrangement, President Theodore Roosevelt, at the request of Bell, had assigned Lt. Selfridge to the project.

On the fourth circuit of the parade grounds before some 2,000 spectators at around 5:00 p.m., Orville heard a strange tapping sound in the rear. He was flying at an altitude of at least 100 feet at the time. He turned and saw nothing, but thought it best to immediately prepare to land.

Suddenly, there were two loud thumps and the machine began to shake. Orville shut off the engine but found that the control levers didn’t work. The machine turned to the left, paused a moment, made a complete turn and went into a dive. About 25 feet from the ground it seemed that he had regained some control and the plane started to right itself, but it was too late.

The Flyer hit the ground with a terrific force near the gate in the cemetery wall. Orville and Selfridge were pinned under the wreckage, unconscious, with their faces buried in the dust. Soldiers and spectators ran across the field and assisted in lifting Orville and Selfridge from under the tangled mass of machinery, wires and shreds of muslin.

Charlie Taylor leaned against the wrecked Flyer, buried his face in his arms and cried after helping to remove the two men.

At the hospital it was found that Orville had fractured several ribs, fractured his left thigh including a dislocation, and suffered a scalp wound. While serious, miraculously, it was not life threatening, although it left him with frequent back pain for the rest of his life and his left leg 1/8 inch shorter than the other.

Lt. Selfridge was not as lucky. His head was covered with blood as he was lifted from the wreckage. He had been crushed under the plane and died three hours later following surgery without gaining consciousness. Selfridge, a 1903 West Point graduate, was buried with appropriate military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. He had the dubious distinction to be the first person to die in the crash of a propeller-driven airplane.

Wilbur in Le Mans, France, when he heard the news of the crash, blamed himself for not being there. He wrote his sister Katharine, “— I cannot help thinking over and over again if I had been there, it would not have happened.”

Wilbur, on September 21, determined to try for a record flight, believing he could cheer his brother. He did. Before 10,000 spectators he flew 1 hour, 31 minutes, 25 seconds covering 61 miles for a new record.

At year’s end Wilbur won the Michelin prize of 20,000 francs and a trophy. The prize was established by industrialist Andre Michelin to be awarded for the longest flight of 1908.

Next: Orville recovers and successfully completes Army trials.

Few people really believed that the Wright brothers had flown until their public fights in 1908 and 1909 in Europe and at Ft. Myer in the U. S.

In 1905 they had developed the first practical airplane and had flown twenty-four miles in the heavier-than-air flying machine in 38 minutes while completing 30 consecutive circuits of a course at Huffman Prairie in Dayton.

The challenge now was to sell the airplane without prematurely revealing their secrets of design. They decided that the best way was to do this was to require an up front contract of sale before demonstrating their machine to serious buyers. Their policy was “no contract, no look.”

First Public Announcement

The Aero Club of America was formed in 1905 patterned after the Aero Club de France. They decided that something had to be done to counteract the critics that questioned whether the Wrights had flown as claimed. Even the prestigious Scientific American magazine wrote a critical article questioning whether the flights of 1903-5 had taken place.

William J. Hammer, of the Aero Club of America, visited the Wrights in Dayton, and convinced them to write an official account of their experiments of 1904 and 1905 for release to the public. The Wrights agreed and the Aero Club of America endorsed the Wrights’ account and released it for public consumption.

Below is the record written by the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, made known by the Aero Club of America. It is the first public announcement ever made by the Wrights, the result of whose work has been awaited with keener interest than of any of the score of inventors who have been trying to solve the problem of aerial navigation.

The Report

“Though America,” wrote the Wright brothers in their report to the Aero Club, “through the labors of Prof. Langley, Mr. Chanute and others, had acquired not less than 10 years ago the recognized leadership in the branch of aeronautics which pertains to birdlike flight.”

“It has not heretofore been possible for American workers to present a summary of each year’s experiments to a society of their own country devoted exclusively to the promotion of aeronautical studies and sports. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we now find ourselves to make a report to such a society.”

“Previous to the year 1905, we had experimented at Kitty Hawk, NC, with man carrying gliding machines in the years 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903, and with a man carrying motor flyer, which on December 17, 1903, sustained itself in the air for 59 seconds, during which time it advanced against a 20-mile wind a distance of 852 feet.”

“Flights to the number of more than 100 had also been made at Dayton, Ohio in 1904 with a second motor flyer. Of these flights, a complete circle, made for the first time on September 20, and two flights of three miles each, made on November 9 and December 1 respectively were the most notable performances.”

“The object of the 1905 experiments was to determine and discover remedies for several obscure and somewhat rare difficulties which had been encountered in some of the 1904 flights, and which it was necessary to overcome before it would be safe to employ Flyers for practical purposes.”

Date. Miles flown. Time. Cause of stopping.

Sept. 26 11 1/8 18.00 Exhaustion of fuel

Sept. 29 12 19.55 Exhaustion of fuel

Sept. 30 — 17.15 Hot bearing

Oct. 3 15 1/4 25.05 Hot bearing

Oct. 4 20 3/4 33.17 Hot bearing

Oct 5 25 1/5 38.03 Exhaustion of fuel

“The experiments were made in a swampy meadow about eight miles east of Dayton and continued from June until the early days of October when the impossibility of longer maintaining privacy necessitated their discontinuance.”

“Owing to many experimental changes in the machine and the resulting differences in its management, the earlier flights were short, but toward the middle of September means of correcting troubles were found and the flyer was at last brought under satisfactory control. From this time forward almost every flight established a new record.”

“It will be seen that an average speed of a little more than 38 miles an hour was maintained in the last flight. All of the flights were made over a circular course of about three-fourths of a mile to the lap, which reduced the speed somewhat.”

“The machine increased its velocity on the straight parts of the course and slowed down on the curves. It is believed that in straight flight the normal speed is more than 40 miles an hour.”

“In the earlier of the flights named above less than six pounds of gasoline was carried. In the later ones a tank was fitted large enough to hold fuel for an hour, but by oversight it was not completely filled before the flight of October 5.”

In the last three years, a total of 160 flights have been made with our motor-driven flyers, and a total distance of almost exactly 160 miles covered, an average of a mile to each flight. But until the machine had received its final improvements the flights were mostly short, as is evidenced by the fact that the flight of October 5 was longer than the 105 flights of the year 1904 together.”

“The lengths of the flights were measured by a Richard anemometer, which was attached to the machine. The records were found to agree closely, with distances measured over the ground when the flights were made in calm air over a straight course; but when the flights were made in circles a close comparison was impossible because it was not practicable to accurately trace the course over the ground.”

“In the flight of October 5 a total of 20.7 circuits of the field was made. The times were taken with stop watches.”

“In operating the machine it has been our custom for many years to alternate in making flights, and such care has been observed that neither of us has suffered any serious injury, though in the earlier flights our ignorance and the inadequacy of the means of control made the work exceedingly dangerous.”

“The 1905 flyer had a total weight of about 925 pounds, including the operator, and was of such substantial construction as to be able to make landings at high speed without being constrained or broken.”

From the beginning the prime object was to device a machine of practical utility, rather than a useless and extravagant toy. For this reason extreme lightness of construction has always been resolutely rejected. On the other hand, every effort has been made to increase the scientific efficiency of the wings and screws, in order that even heavily built machines may be carried with a moderate expenditure of power.”

“The favorable results which have been obtained have been due to improvements in flying quality because of more scientific design and to improved methods of balancing and steering.”

“The motor and machinery poses no extraordinary qualities. The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.”

In view of the fact that all of the flights which have been mentioned were made in private, it is proper that the names of persons who witnessed one or more of them should be given.

We therefore name E. W. Ellis, assistant auditor of the city of Dayton; Torrence Huffman, president of the Fourth National Bank; C. S. Billman, secretary of the West Side Building Association; Henry Webbert, W. H. Shank, William Fouts, Frank Hamburger, Charles Webbert, Howard M. Myers, Bernard H. Lambers, William Webbert, Reuben Schindler, William Weber, all of Dayton, Ohio; and O. F. Jamieson of East Germantown, Indiana, Theodore Waddell of the census department, Washington, D. C., David Beard of Osborn, Ohio, and Amos Stauffer of Osborn, Ohio.” (end or Wrights’ report).

The board of directors of Aero Club responded with the following resolutions:

Whereas the Messrs. Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville of Dayton, Ohio have developed an aeroplane type of flying machine that many times has carried a man safely through the air at high speed and continuously over long distances and, therefore, of practical value to mankind;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Aero Club of America thereby expresses to them the hearty felicitations on their achievement in devising, constructing and operating a successful and man-carrying dynamic flying machine; and

Be it further resolved, that a copy of these resolutions be addressed to Messrs. Wilbur and Orville Wright at Dayton, Ohio.

Few secrets have been as closely guarded as that of the Wright brothers. It has been known that they were attaining considerable success, but every effort to gain any accurate information has heretofore been met with positive refusal.

The New York Herald reported that Americans of wealth who are genuinely interested in attempts to solve the problem of aerial navigation, or who would gladly provide a large expense fund in return for the honor of being known as leaders in the effort to conquer the air, have been rudely turned away by Orville and Wilbur Wright.

“I am satisfied that they solved the fundamental principles of the great problem,” said Arnold Fordyce, who represented the French Government in the recent negotiations with the Wrights, “I believe they have settled the question of whether or not it is possible for man to fly.” The French were interested.

When Mr. Fordyce, arrived in Dayton shortly after Christmas, 1905, he was employed by the Le Journal and also representing M. Etienne, French Minister of War, and a private group of French capitalists. He made as careful an examination as was possible against the great wall of silence set by the Wrights. From residents of the city he learned of the aeroplane flights and finally he was shown several photographs of the machine in full flight, after the terms of the tentative French contract had been agreed upon.

The syndicate planned to buy a Flyer as a gift to France after successful demonstration fights.

“I know that all of this seems fantastic,” Fordyce admitted, “and of the dream order, but there are certain evidences back of it, all of which convince me that these men have discovered the secret for which the whole world has been working for many generations.”

According to the terms of this test, the aeroplane must leave the ground, fly 31 miles within an hour, with one operator, against an air current of a specific force, make certain evolutions and return to the starting point, using a motor of 16 horsepower.

To witness this test, a committee consisting of a representative of the French war department of the president of the French Republic, and two aerial experts will accompany Mr. Fordyce when he returns to this country.

The Wrights’ stipulated that the airplane must be turned over to the French military.

The French then asked for a one-year extension. Apparently because of the probability of war in Europe had subsided.

Subsequently an agreement was signed and $25,000 was deposited in the Paris branch of J. P Morgan on Feb 5, 1906. An additional $275,000 would be paid by the French for the rights to the invention. The Wrights were to make demonstration flights in France by April 5.

It never happened. The French said they didn’t want to risk public ridicule.

It would be 1908 before the Wrights would receive contracts to demonstrate their airplane. When it happened it occurred simultaneously in both France and America.

Reference: The Springfield Daily Republican, Monday, March 19, 1906.