Flying Sideways

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Kitty Hawk Years

“Like a Street Car Flying Sideways”

What does it look like – the flying machine of the Wright brothers?

Imagine a street car, built of light spruce braces, wires and white canvas, and that with the sides knocked out; then imagine slung in the middle of this a buzzing gasoline engine about as big as an ordinary chair without the back; then imagine a light double decked plane thrust out in front.

Add two propellers, each six feet in diameter, whirling at the opposite side of the contraption from the front, where the light rudder planes are – and that is the flying machine.

Note: Propellers were 8.5 feet in diameter.

It moves sidewise. When it starts up it looks like a runaway streetcar moving side forward.

When the engines are started it stands for a moment, humming like a top. Then slowly it sneaks ahead, and presently it may be seen, about 20 feet from the earth, slipping along with a noise like a stationary automobile.

The Wrights have made it a rule to keep close to the earth. They do this for two reasons. In the first place, if they are to fall, they would rather fall a short distance. In the second place, it is really more difficult to navigate close to the earth, just as it is harder to navigate a ship close to a dangerous shore. And they want practice in navigating their machine.

They make flights in circles and curves aiming to return to the starting point. There is no reason, however, why the machine they have made would not soar 10,000 feet into the air, and travel on a straight line for 15 or 20 miles but they have never tried any such spectacular stunts.

The Wrights are well known in this country about Kitty Hawk and the Island of Manteo.

The life saving patrols who go along the Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil shore have seen many of their flights.

The Wright brothers began their experiments in aerial navigation in 1896. They first built a double-decked glider, and, with the help of two men to launch it, the operator found he could leave the side of a steep sand hill and slide down hill on the wind.

Note: The first experiment occurred in 1899 in Dayton with Wilbur flying a box-like kite to test the wingwarping control system.

This machine was 22 feet long and 14 feet wide, including the rudder, and was about 6 feet high. It carried no engine or motor of any kind, and its purpose was to fly in the wind more like a man-carrying kite than anything else.

Note: The machine referred to above was the 1901 glider.

Experiments with gliding machines of this sort lasted from 1900 to 1903.

Then the Wrights decided it was time to take the next step, and add a motor to their gliding machine.

It was December of that year before they were ready for the first test of their man-carrying motor driven apparatus. But on Dec. 17 the test was made, and the machine flew.

That date really marks the beginning of man’s mastery of the air, so long essayed in vain. The flight was a short one, being about as long as a city block; but it was enough to show that the principle was correct. It showed the Wrights that it was possible to build a machine which could carry a man, and propel itself with its own power, fuel, etc., and be subject to the control of the operator.

Nearly five years have passed since than. A number of machines have been built by the Wrights, and flown, some at Kitty Hawk, and some at their home in Dayton.

One minute was a long time to remain in the air in the first flight; 38 minutes is the time record up to date. The distance covered had grown from 852 feet to between 24 and 25 miles. Now the machine will carry two men instead of one.

During all the time since 1900 the experiments of the Wrights have been known about and watched with interest by such as Prof. Alex. Graham Bell, Octave Chanute, and the late Prof. S. P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

These men have talked to the writer and has assured him of their entire confidence in the work of the Wrights, and have added their opinion that its importance will be realized in future years to be as great as that of the inventors of the steam engine, the locomotive and similar revolutionizing discoveries.

In reporting their work to the Aero Club of America of which they are members, the Wright brothers have furnished to the club the names and addresses of 17 reputable citizens who have the tests and who certify to the truth of the Wright brothers’ statements. These names may be had on application to the Aero Club of America.

An extra amount of credit is due the Wright brothers by reason of their absolute independence in working out the problem of man flight. They are by trade bicycle mechanics, and have supported themselves while working on flying machines on the side, by selling and repairing bicycles in Dayton.

They have worked the machine out with their own hands, and without any subsidy from public or private source.”

Reference: Gilson Gardner, San Diego Sun, May 22, 1908.

Next post: