Wrights Return to Kitty Hawk in 1908

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Wright Activities Before and After 1903

Orville and Wilbur hadn’t flown since 1905. Now they were returning to Kitty Hawk for practice and renewing their pilot skills.

They had finally secured contacts to sell their airplane. One was with a French syndicate and the other was with the U.S. Army. In 1905 they decided not to fly again unless they secured a contract for their airplane. As luck would have it they secured two contracts requiring demonstration flights at the same time – one at Ft. Myer and the other in France.

They shipped a modified 1905 Flyer to Kitty Hawk on April 4, 1908 and unpacked and assembled the machine at Kitty Hawk on April 27. The modified Flyer had two upright seats and an improvised control system to accommodate the design change.

They flew for the first time on May 6 averaging 41-mph over a distance of 1008 feet.

The Wrights wanted privacy, but the press found out about their return to Kitty Hawk and a number of newspapers had reporters there, including the New York Herald, New York American, London Daily Mail and Colliers Weekly.

Several of the reporters tried to hide their presence so as not to spook the Wrights, but they didn’t fool them.

Here is one of the news accounts of the Wright flights that had a byline of Manteo, May 11 and appeared in the May 12 edition of the Chicago Record-Herald.

“In flying-machine flights at Kill Devil Hill today the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio, made long gains over distances heretofore flown. The longest flight today, the distance being computed by the telegraph poles of the United States weather bureau, was two and seven-sixteenth miles, almost a mile in excess of their best record previous to today.

Starting from the foot of Kill Devil Hill at 9:36 o’clock this morning the machine did not again touch ground for three minutes and seven seconds, making the two and seven-sixteenths miles. Its course was directed north, almost parallel with the beach for a mile and three-eighths, then it was turned west, passing around a sand hill for five-sixteenths of a mile, after which it circled southwest back toward the starting point for three-fourths of a mile.

It was then made to light easily on the ground, the average time by the machine on the flights computed at 46.774 miles an hour.

Comment: It’s interesting that the reporters, hiding a distance from the Wright camp, used telephone poles to estimate distance and then calculated speed to a three decimal point accuracy.

At no time was the machine more than twenty feet above the ground, the only rises in its course being taken to avoid sand hills.

Imagine a noisy reaper flying through the air, with a rising and falling motion similar to that of a bird, and a fair picture of the Wright brothers’ flying machine in action is obtained.

Another flight made today was of two and one-sixteenth miles. The machine pursued the same course on this flight as it did before, until it reached the point of last turning in the previous flight. Whether from design or accident, the machine kept straight ahead when it reached the point, and when it had passed it three-eighths of a mile and was approaching a body of water it was made to light easily.

The machine moved slowly in this flight, taking three minutes and fifty seconds to make the distance, or at the rate of 32.281 miles an hour. Another flight of a mile in length and several shorter were also made.

After the machine lights it has to be rolled back to the rail before it can be started again. To do this it is placed on a pair of wheels, and, with its engine in action, it almost forces itself along.

The Wright brothers guard their machine with the utmost care. They will not operate in sight of a stranger, if they know it.

A result of these trips the brothers are confident that their aerial locomotive will carry them as great a distance as 500 miles and easily at a speed of forty miles an hour.

They believe in fact that the only limit to the distance will depend upon the duration of the supply of gasoline in the engine and that they could have gone as high as the clouds today, had they been so disposed.

Comment: I wonder where the 500-mile figure came from?

It was 10:30 o’clock this morning when the brothers were ready for the flight. The weather conditions were favorable, a lively breeze from twenty to twenty-five miles an hour blowing.

First the airship was placed on a single-track railway about 300 feet long and run along the rails for the purpose of getting the engine up to speed, Orville Wright, the operator, and his brother, both lying flat on their faces in order to give less resistance to the wind.

Comment: The Flyer had vertical seats so neither Orville or Wilbur would be lying flat, nor did they fly together at the same time at Kitty Hawk. They did take up their first passenger, Charlie Furnas of Dayton, Ohio.

While this was being done the machine was held by a sort of trap. Rapidly gaining momentum until it had reached a velocity of about twenty-five miles an hour, the car was then released by springing of this trap and the huge aeroplane sprang aloft to the accompaniment of a chorus of cheers from the few spectators.

When about one-quarter of a mile from the starting point the engine was shut off and the vessel sank gently to the ground.” (End of Article)

The Wrights flew a total of 22 flights between May 6 and May 14.

On May 23, the Scientific American reported on the Wright Flights at Kitty Hawk and admitted for the first time that “In view of these semi-public demonstrations, there can be no further doubt of the claims made by the brothers as to their ability to fly.”

Wilbur left Kitty Hawk for France by way of New York on May 17.

Orville left for Dayton by way of Ft. Myer on May 23. At Ft. Myer he inspected the grounds he would be flying from for the U.S. Army trials.

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