Wright Airplane Returns to Kitty Hawk

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Wright Activities Before and After 1903

The “Scientific American,” May 30, 1908, carried the following article:

The Wright Aeroplane Test in North Carolina.

Upon the return of the newspaper correspondents and photographers from North Carolina, considerable more information was obtainable regarding the recent flights made by the Wright brothers in testing their aeroplane than has hitherto been available.

Unfortunately, not one of these men is a qualified technical observer, for which reason we are little better off for details than we were before.

In addition to the frontispiece showing the aeroplane as it appears in flight, we are enabled, owing to the courtesy of P. F. Collier & Son, (Colliers Magazine) to show our readers two photographs at long range of the aeroplane in flight around Kill Devil Hill. These photographs, while quite minute, nevertheless when magnified give some idea of the actual appearance of the machine in flight; but their greatest value lies in dispelling all doubt as to the ability of the Wright machine to fly and to make good its designers’ claims.

Comments: The wrights had developed the practical airplane in 1905. They made the decision at the end of the 1905-flying season that they would not fly again until they had a signed contract for its sale in hand. Their patent wasn’t granted until 1906 and even then the patent wouldn’t assure protection from their competitors stealing their secrets.

In 1908, they finally had secured contracts in France and the U. S. government for their airplane contingent on demonstration of operational performance. Their customers wanted a machine that would carry two people and a system of controls allowing the pilot to teach a passenger how to fly.

Their new design was basically the 1905 machine updated to incorporate a new upright seating arrangement, a new control system and a more powerful engine. The control system replaced the saddle with three control sticks. One elevator control stick was placed at the left hand of the pilot and another at the right hand of the passenger/student. The wingwarping and rudder controls were placed between the two seats.

The redesign of the controls along with the fact that the Wrights had not flown since 1905 necessitated they spend time practicing flying the new machine. They, therefore, decided to return to Kitty Hawk in 1908. End of Comments

All those who witnessed the flights agree that the performance of the machine was marvelous, and that the speed attained with the small motor of 30 horsepower was remarkable.

Comments: News organizations had been reporting on the new Army contract and were aware of the creation of a French syndicate to buy a Wright machine. They knew that the Wrights would soon be flying again and they wanted to be there when they did.

Three reporters representing leading newspapers were assigned to observe the Wright activities. Knowing the Wrights reluctance to fly when reporters were observing, they tried to hide some distance away. It wasn’t pleasant duty. They had to cope with snakes, mosquitoes, ticks and, at times, heavy rains. They were probably upset to find out later that the Wrights knew they were there all the time. End of Comments.

As already noted in our last issue, the speed in question appears to have been from 45 to 48 miles an hour, although the last flight was timed in 7 minutes and 40 seconds, during which the life savers claim that the machine traveled slightly over 8 miles.

The distances are said to be fairly accurate, since they were gauged by the known space between telegraph poles and the number of poles in the course.

The probability is, however, that the speed of the machine did not at any time exceed 48 miles an hour. In fact, the Wrights do not claim a speed of much over 40 miles an hour.

Still, according to report, they state that before the flights witnessed by outsiders, they made three flights of 18, 24, and 32 miles respectively.

In their final flight they had intended to remain in the air an hour and twenty minutes, or a third longer than is required in the government test; but a false movement of one of the operating levers caused them to plunge downward. Not more than $50 worth of damage was done to the machine, and save for a few scratches the aviator was uninjured.

Comment: The accident could have been very serious. After flying some 8,900 feet, Wilbur became confused while operating the elevator control and dived the machine into the sand while moving at 41 miles an hour. He suffered severe bruises and bumps and wrecked the machine. End

A close study of the photographs which we reproduce shows that the horizontal rudder in front of the machine is of the double or triple-surface type.

Comment: The photographs were the first ever published of a Wright airplane in the air. End

The vertical rudder also can be seen well out at the rear, as well as the two propellers, half of each of which is in sunlight, and the other half in shadow.

The aviator is seen sitting in the middle of the lower plane, while there are several tubes for the cooling water of the motor running vertically upward to the upper plane from the motor, which is located in a fore-and-aft direction in the center of the lower plane, and which drives each of the two through chains.

A second lever in front of the aviator operates the vertical rudder, and a third one twists the planes to aid in steering.

In the tests recently made, the Wright brothers were trying out their new form of steering and control by means of levers and with the operator in a sitting position. In their former flights in 1905, the operator lay prone, and the change to a sitting position necessitated a different method of control.

Comment: On May 14, Wilbur flew with their friend Charlie Furnas aboard. Charlie was a mechanic from Dayton. This was the first time two men had ever flown together on a Wright airplane. End

The brothers are quite satisfied with the results they have obtained, and there is little doubt that more will be heard from them in the near future.

Upon hearing of their flights, Henry Farman sent a challenge for them to come to France and fly in competition with him. The Wrights paid no attention to this challenge. Their confidence in their machine is such that they do not believe it necessary to make a public trial either here or abroad in order to interest the other governments, which may yet purchase machines from them.

Since their trial flights in North Carolina have been witnessed by newspapermen, and photographs of these flights have been secured, there is no longer any doubt of the pre-eminence of America in aviation.

We hope that before the end of the year we shall be able to arrange for a public contest near New York, in which all the prominent foreign and American aviators will compete, and endeavor to win for the first time the Scientific American trophy.

Comment: Wilbur, under pressure from the French syndicate, left camp on May 17 to proceed directly to France via New York. Orville returned to Dayton to complete work on the machine he would fly in demonstrations for the Army at Ft. Myer beginning in September. End

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