Archive Section: Wright
Activities Before and After 1903
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Learning to Fly the 1911 Wright Type B Airplane
A Wright Type B airplane will participate in the World famous Farnborough
(England) International Airshow in July 2008. The airplane is a civilian
version of the authentic replica of the Model B located at the Franklin
Institute in Pennsylvania.
The flights at the Airshow will help commemorate the 100th
anniversary of the first flight in the United Kingdom.
The replica was built by a group of volunteers in Dayton, Ohio. A spokesman
said that this replica has many refinements and safety improvements that do not
detract from its authenticity, but enhance its beauty and flying safety. The
plane essentially operates under the same horsepower, weight and controls used
by the Wright brothers.
In 1911, the Wrights received a contract from the U.S. Signal Corps for two
Type B Aircraft. They built a factory on the West-side of Dayton to build these
and other airplanes. Some twenty people were involved in construction of the
Army’s Model B.
If you were interested in the "Art of Aviation" and becoming a
"birdman" (pilot), the usual procedure was to meet with Orville in
his office at the factory. Although, the first meeting might take place at
their Huffman Prairie Flying Field, reachable by the interurban train from
Dayton to the flying field at the Simms Station stop. Orville spent a lot of
time at the flying field because he enjoyed being involved in the flying
activities more than working in the office.
Lessons at the Wright School cost $60 per hour of direct training provided
in 15-minute intervals. There was a potential large cost saving at the Wright
School because there was no charge for breakage of the machine. Most other
flying schools required the student to pay for breakage.
New students were considered to be "ground huggers" by the birdman
and their associates. Orville would counsel nervous students, "Don’t
be nervous, it’s just like learning to ride a bicycle."
The student would then be assigned to his instructor and to the Wrights’
chief mechanician, Charley Taylor. Both men were professional and had a low
tolerance for foolishness.
Before taking to the air the student would be tutored in the Wright
techniques for construction and maintenance of airplanes and in the fundamental
principles of flight. This included the means for lifting and dropping the
machine by angling the elevator surfaces and the means for turning by
coordinating movements of the rudder surfaces with wing warping.
In one room of the factory the Wrights’ had built a flight simulator,
named the "kiwi bird." The simulator was a Type B without an engine
and tail assembly. It was cradled to allow lateral movement only.
An electric motor driving a cam continuously changed the angle of the planes
about the longitudinal axis. As the student pilot manipulated the combination
warp and rudder lever properly, the planes were returned to a level attitude.
Usually it required the student to spend several hours over three or four
days seated on the kiwi bird, practicing until correction of lateral imbalance
Once this phase is completed the student pilot journeyed to the Simms
Station Field for flight training. The field was a converted cow pasture, bare
except for a thorn tree at one end and a large wooden shed at the other. The
field was over 300-feet long, which was long enough to accommodate even inept
The students first task was to help pull the 1,250 pound Model B from the
shed. The machine rode on wheels and skids that replaced the steel track that
was used on earlier models.
The model B had its control surfaces at the rear of the machine unlike
previous Wright models. A 35-hp water-cooled engine powered eight-foot
propellers to turn at about 45-rpm.
The first procedure, which the student was taught to perform every time
before flight, was the ground check. It included a walk around that included
inspecting its fitness, checking patches of fabric and testing the webwork of
If everything checked out to be ok, the instructor and student would climb
into two side by side wicker seats lined with corduroy, perched on the forward
edge of the lower plane.
Between the two seats stood the wing-warping lever with a hinged upper
section for independent rudder control. By rotating the top portion of the
lever the pilot could add or subtract rudder action by a somewhat difficult
To make the task easier, a right-handed pilot was trained in the left seat
so that his "better" hand could be used.
There was another lever at the outside of each seat to use to change
A spring-loaded foot treadle that was reachable from either seat adjusted
speed. Pressing on the foot treadle advanced or retarded the ignition spark,
providing a range of engine power.
To start the engine, one man primed the intake manifold from an oil can
filled with gasoline. The engine was then started with the compression
released; otherwise, you would need two heavyweight wrestlers to turn the
Two other men swung the propellers; the engine fired in a blast of smoke as
they ran to grasp the wing tips. The pilot than turned the compression-release
lug and switched on the fuel-tank value. The spark-retard was not released
until the engine was running smoothly.
At that point the pilot would wave the assistants to let loose of the
machine. The pilot kicked at the treadle and pushed the elevator-control lever.
The machine bounced along the ground as the machine gained speed. The tail
assembly raised and its skids left the ground as the "B" wobbled into
It was customary at the Wright school for the novice student to only act as
an observer on his first flight. After landing, the aviators, mechanicians, and
workman on the ground would go through a ritual of carefully examining the
machine to see if the student passenger "had squeezed the paint off."
A typical flight-training schedule would consist of a 15-minute airborne
period per day over several days. The first couple of days the student would
learn to perform left and right turns and then figure eights. The task of the
student was to maintain level flight, as well as perform aerodynamic turns
without slipping and skidding. It was like balancing on a knife-edge. One
mishap, one lapse of concentration, could result in a plunge into oblivion.
By the third, flight the student was participating in takeoff and landing
maneuvers. One helpful bit of advice given to the student on taking off and
landing was to "look at your shadow. When it leaves you, you’re in the
air; when it reappears again, you’re down." Landing too hard was
hazardous to skids and wheels.
By the sixth day, the student had operated the machine under his own skills
through a complete cycle.
Generally student flight was restricted to afternoons and then only in still
air. Orville established this rule. He said, "Otherwise we can’t tell
whether the wind or the student is knocking the machine about."
Orville would often observe the training dressed in his derby and dark
business suit. He would admonish his students against foolhardy thoughts or
acts. He emphasized the maxims of safety. Caution and concentration were
bywords expressed to students for survival.
Orville would often tell of the horse-drawn carriage waiting on the road
that bounded the pasture, its driver, a somber gentleman with tall black hat,
following with keen interest each day’s flights. That man, Orville said
ominously, was the local undertaker.
Once the instructor and teacher were satisfied that the student was ready to
solo, Orville as well those other present would gather to watch the solo
flight. After a successful flight, the observers would cheer while the pilot
was proclaimed a master of airplanes --- a "birdman."
After qualifying as an aviator, the Type B could be purchased for $5,000.
An extra benefit of being a student at the Wright School was that Orville
would regularly invite most of his students to his Hawthorne Street home for
dinner with his father, Bishop Milton Wright, his sister, Katharine, and his
Reference: Fight of the VIN FIZ by E. P. Stein
Marketing Was Not the Wrights’ Forte
The Wright brothers were extraordinary inventors but they were not skilled
in marketing their product. They were not able to interest anyone in purchasing
their Flyer for five years after Wilbur designated it as a practical airplane.
Wilbur was convinced that the competition would not be able to develop a
practical airplane for at least five years. So when no one was interested in
their Flyer in 1905, their obsession with secrecy caused them not to display
the craft until they had a contract with a prospective buyer.
Their overwhelming concern was that someone would steal their design secrets
and claim prior rights as the inventor of manned, controlled, powered flight.
They didn't even publish their picture of the famous first flight that occurred
in 1903 until Sept. 1908.
Wilbur wrote, "We would have to expose our machine more or less, and
that might interfere with sale of our secrets."
In 1906, Santos-Dumont made a straight-line public flight in France that
measured nearly 200-feet. That should have been a wake-up call to the Wrights,
but Wilbur scoffed,
"If he has gone more than 300 feet, he has really
done something; less than this is nothing."
A month later Santo-Dumont flew more than 700 feet and won two prizes for
the first flight longer than 100 meters.
The Wrights still refused to make a public flight while trying to gain
military sales and working on improving engine design. Wilbur figured that only
a government could afford to buy their plane at the price they wanted to
charge. He was interested in selling a few planes at a big profit and then get
out of the business and return to performing research and design.
The following year, 1907, the French exploded with various airplane designs
and public flights. Enthusiasts established competitions and awarded prizes.
The Wrights could have won them all, but they weren’t interested. They
didn’t fly for nearly three years.
In the meantime, in January 1908 Henri Farman won the Deutsch Archdeacon
Grand Prix for flying a one-kilometer circle over a field near Paris. Gabriel
Voisin and Louis Bleriot managed increasingly longer "jumps." They,
not the Wrights, were getting all the publicity. The Wright flights had only
been observed by a small number of eyewitnesses.
The Wrights’ attempts to sell their machine in Europe didn’t work out;
neither did their attempt to sell their machine to the U.S. Army. It was a bad
time to generate their interest in airplanes. The Army had been embarrassed by
the total failure of Samuel P. Langley to fly his plane funded by a $50,000
Army contract and $23,000 from Smithsonian
Representative Gilbert Hitchcock, Nebraska, sarcastically
commented, "If is to cost us $73,000 to construct a mud
duck that will not fly 50 feet, how much is it going to cost
to construct a real fly machine?"
They Wright’s didn't help matters
any by refusing to fly a demonstration flight without a contract.
At last, In 1908 the Wrights received two contracts on two continents. The
U.S. Army, concerned about the progress of the Europeans, accepted the Wrights’
bid to build one airplane, the Model A, at the price of $25,000 if the airplane
successfully passed prescribed qualification tests.
In France a contract was signed, not with the French Government, but with a
private syndicate headed by French capitalists. The syndicate would purchase
the rights to the Wrights’ French patents and the right to manufacture, sell,
and license Wright airplanes in France. After a series of demonstration
flights, the Wrights would receive 500,000 francs upon delivery of the first
machine, $20,000 a piece for each of four additional planes, and shares in the
With contracts in hand, the Wrights intended to fly only for their buyers.
They returned to Kitty Hawk for a month to prepare their Flyer for the
demonstration flights Wilbur would fly in France and to refresh their flying
skills. After that Wilbur took the airplane to France and Orville returned to
Dayton to prepare another plane for the Army trials at Ft. Myer.
The Wrights had gotten back in business in the nick of time. Wilbur and
Orville flew before enthusiastic crowds in France and America respectively.
Their success spurred a handful of North American aircraft builders to try
their hand at flying.
One such group was the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA), formed by
Alexander Graham Bell. One of its members was Glenn Curtiss who the Wrights
would fight with over patent rights for years.
In July 1908, Curtiss flew his fast "June Bug" biplane more than
one kilometer to win the $2,500 Scientific American Trophy and national
acclaim. Wilber had flown his Flyer farther in 1905, but he had refused to
compete with a man he believed was trying steal his ideas. Curtiss airplanes
would, in a few years, surpass the Wright models.
The Wrights were awarded a patent covering three-axis control of any
airplane in 1906 and warned that anyone who copied it for profit making
purposes would be sued unless they paid the Wrights royalties.
Curtiss developed a new design for performing the effect of wing-warping
without changing the shape of the entire wing. He called it ailerons, which
were separate, movable surfaces at the back of each wing, similar to what is
now used on modern airplanes.
Curtiss was confident that his new design would get around the Wrights’
patent. The Wrights maintained that any form of three-dimensional control
system would fall under their patent and threatened to sue.
Curtiss ignored them. He was not too concerned about the Wrights because
Bell had assured members of the AEA that ailerons used on the June bug would
circumvent the Wrights’ patent.
In August 1909 Curtiss won the Bennett Trophy, in a flying meet held at
Rheims, France, by setting a speed record of 47-mph. Some 23 different
airplanes participated in the meet. He also sold the first consumer airplane
for just $5,000.
The Wrights declined to participate in these flying competitions because
they said they didn’t compete against mere imitators.
They did turn to the courts with their threatened patent infringement
lawsuit. Judge R. Hazel of the Federal Court in Buffalo was assigned the case.
Until such time as Hazel issued a restraining order to Herring-Curtiss Co, the
company that Curtiss was now associated with, was free to continue flying.
Initially, the court actions went smoothly for the Wrights. On January 3,
1910, Judge Hazel granted an injunction against Herring-Curtiss that the
Wrights had sought. Curtiss appealed, but the company, already in poor
financial shape, was forced into bankruptcy.
For the first six months of 1910 the Wrights enjoyed an effective monopoly
in the airplane business in America. It didn’t last long.
The Wrights offered to drop their suit if Curtiss would agree to take out a
settle for the past infringement.
Curtiss decided he was better off with a strategy of delaying tactics.
Curtiss went in to bankruptcy but came out of it in better shape than
before. He got rid of Herring and purchased the assets of the company for a
song, forming the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.
Not only that, his appeal of the injunction was granted in June so he was
back in business producing airplanes.
The litigation stretched out for eight years of trials and appeals. The
effect was to slowly weaken the Wrights’ company, now known as the American
Wright Co., formed in November 1909.
As the courtroom battles dragged on, it was Wilbur that became the key
expert witness. He testified tirelessly about aeronautical design issues,
explaining them in a clearly understood manner. His skill on the witness stand
meant that his time at the company was limited.
Orville was busy with production and managing the company in Wilbur’s
absence. Orville didn’t like managing and did as little of it as possible. In
the meantime no one was doing much innovating.
Wilbur commented, "We have been compelled to spend our time on
business matters … during the past five years. When we think what we might
have accomplished if we had been able to devote this time to experiments, we
feel very sad, but it is always easier to deal with things than with men, and
no one can direct his life entirely as he would choose."
By the spring of 1914 the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. had surpassed the Wrights
and grown into the largest aircraft manufacturing company in America.
In April 1912 Wilbur became very ill while in Boston. He attributed his
illness to some fish he had eaten at a Boston hotel. Shortly after his return
to Dayton he developed a fever that persisted for several days and his overall
condition worsened. It turned out his illness was typhoid fever and he was gone
within a month on May 30 at the age of 45.
Twenty-five thousand mourners filed past his coffin before the simple
service began in the First Presbyterian Church in Dayton on June 1. There was
no music in the 20-minute service. The pastor read scriptural messages and an
overview of Wilbur’s career written by his older brother Reuchlin.
Interment was in a private burial at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. Church
bells tolled at 3:30 in the afternoon while all activity in the city came to a
halt for ninety minutes.
Bishop Wright eloquently paid tribute to his son: "A short life,
full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self
reliance and a great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it
steadfastly, he live and died."
After the death of Wilbur, Orville found himself at the helm of a
floundering company with the patent wars still in progress. He didn’t want
the leadership responsibility and he refused to actively improve the Wright
airplanes because it would require adopting features that were used by Curtiss,
the very man he accused of stealing.
He did invent a pendulum-driven automatic pilot for which he won the
prestigious Collier trophy. It was soon eclipsed by Lawrence Sperry’s
Then suddenly there was good news in 1914. The Circuit of Appeals upheld the
Wrights’ patent suit against Curtiss. This decision gave Orville a monopoly
in which any company building and selling airplanes would have to pay the
Wright Company 20% of its receipts. Orville could have closed down Curtiss. But
he chose not to.
Many people are puzzled as to why he didn’t. The reason he didn’t is
because the patent fight was over and now at last the Wright brothers’ claim
to the invention of the airplane was recognized and protected. Orville felt
With that accomplished he decided to sell the Wright Company. Orville
recognized his limitations as a manager. He had no desire to oversee a team of
research-and-development engineers such as Curtiss had developed.
On October 15, 1915 Orville sold the company, including the patents, to a
group of eastern investors for $150 million. The new Wright Co. was still
dogged by Curtiss as he continued to drag out negotiations with repeated
proposals for settlement that were never finalized.
World War I brought an end to the fiasco. The U.S. stepped in and commanded
a truce to resolve the dispute when America entered the war in 1917. A
consortium of aviation companies banded together and brokered an agreement by
which all members could pay a fee to license the patented technology. In
return, Curtiss and the Wright-Martin Co., which in the interim had merged with
the old Wright Co., each received $2 million in a one-time settlement and
agreed to lay the patent issue to rest.
Orville retired and enjoyed life receiving the honors of being the
co-inventor of the airplane, tinkering in his laboratory in downtown Dayton and
doing some consulting work.
Reference: Invention & Technology, Fall 2003.
Orville Flies in
Just as Wilbur had wowed the French with his flying exploits, Orville did
the same thing in Germany. During the summer and fall of 1909, Orville made 19
flights, set world records for altitude and duration of flight, including
flight with a passenger, in front of crowds of 200,000 people.
In May of 1909 the Flugmachine Wright Gesellshaft was founded to manufacture
Wright Flyers in Germany.
Initially Germany wasn’t interested in inviting the Wrights to demonstrate
their airplane. Wilbur thought it was because officials were afraid of the
possible consequences of a blunder. It seemed that every official near the
emperor was in constant fear of losing his standing.
Another reason was that the Germans were preoccupied with Count Ferdinand
Zeppelin and his dirigibles.
There were some German army officers that began to think that flying
machines might prove more effective for war than dirigibles. Captain Richard
von Kehler was one of these officers. He proposed the formation of a company to
manufacture Wright Flyers when the Wrights were in Rome in April. The result
was the formation of the "Flugmachine" Wright Company in Germany on
May 13, 1909.
Captain Alfred Hildebrandt was another one of the officers who were
supporting airplanes. He had witnessed Wilbur fly at Pau and was greatly
impressed. He wanted to get Wilbur to Germany to demonstrate what his machine
Hildebrandt, on behalf of the German newspaper, Lokal-Anzeiger,
offered the Wrights a substantial fee to fly in Germany. The Wrights accepted.
The family decided that Orville would fly in Germany because Wilbur had flown
in France. Katharine would accompany Orville on the trip.
Orville and Katharine left Dayton for Europe on August 8, 1909. Katharine
took a leave of absence from Steele High School where she was a teacher. It
turned out that she never returned to teaching.
They sailed from New York on August 10 aboard the Kronprinzessin Cecilie
and arrived in London on August 16 and in Berlin on August 19.
While in Britain, Orville and Katharine, accompanied by Charles S. Rolls,
founder of the British Rolls-Royce automobile company, visited Sheppey Island
to inspect Wright airplanes under construction under license by the Short
Brothers. Earlier in the year a contract had been signed with the Short
Brothers to construct a dozen Wright Flyers.
In Berlin the emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, ordered Count Zeppelin to fly his
newest dirigible to Berlin and on Sunday, August 29, the big silver dirigible
sailed over the city while all the church bells in the city provided a loud
greeting. A crowd of some 100,000 people was at Tegel parade ground to see the
Also there were Orville and Katharine on the viewing platform with the royal
family. Count Zeppelin dipped the nose of the ship in a salute to the emperor.
After landing and paying respects to the emperor, Count Zeppelin was introduced
to Orville and Katharine. That night, the Orville and his sister dined with the
emperor in his castle.
The following week on August 30, Orville showed what an airplane could do
that a dirigible could not. He started his program by making preliminary
flights of 52 minutes before a gathering of military officials at Tempelhof
parade ground near Berlin.
On September 4, Orville made his first public exhibition flights under the
sponsorship of Lokal-Anzeiger. He flew for 19 minutes, 2 seconds for a
distance of about 20 kilometers. The crowd’s cheers were like those Wilbur
received in France.
During the week of September 6-11 Orville flew before crowds as large as
200,000. Crown Prince Wilhelm, Crown Princess Ceclie were among the spectators.
Mrs. Alfred Hildebrandt was a passenger on one of the flights. She flew for
8 minutes, 38 seconds and became the first woman to fly as a passenger of an
airplane in Germany.
On September 15, Orville took a few days off and traveled to Frankfurt for a
ride in Count Zeppelin’s new dirigible, Zeppelin LZ 6 on a 50-mile trip from
Frankfort to Mannheim. Travelling with him were Captain Hildebrandt and three
members of the royal family. Hildebrandt acted as an interpreter. Katharine
accompanied the group in the dirigible, Parseval
The press of the crowd was so great on arrival in Mannheim that Orville got
separated from the rest of the group. He couldn’t remember the name of the
hotel where they were to have lunch and without Hildebrandt he couldn’t ask
anyone for directions. Fortunately, a member of the reception committee found
him and brought him to the hotel.
On September 17, Orville set a new flying record for a flight that lasted
54-minutes, 34-seconds and at a height of 565 feet.
The next day he set another record. According to a Berlin newspaper on
September 18: "Orville Wright made a new record at the Tempelof field
for sustained aeroplane flight with a passenger. He remained in the air for one
hour and 35 minutes carrying Capt. Englehardt. He broke his own record, made
July 27, when he stayed up with a passenger for one hour and 12 minutes".
Captain Paul Englehard was a retired German naval officer who was being
trained to be a pilot by Orville. He completed three solo flights on October 13
and earned pilot’s license No. 3 in Germany.
The Empress of Germany, along with Prince Adalbert, Prince August Wilhelm
and Princess Viktoria witnessed Orville’s achievement.
That afternoon Orville flew again. This time alone. This time a broken water
pump terminated his flight after flying for 1 hour, 45 minutes.
This day’s flights completed Orville’s obligation to fly under the
contract with Lokal-Anzeiger.
Orville than moved his operations to Bornstedt drill grounds at Potsdam
about 17 miles south of Berlin. His flights there weren’t private but members
of the royal family were in attendance most of the time.
Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, 20, was particularly interested in flying.
He convinced Orville to take him up. On October 2, the Crown Prince donned an
overcoat to protect himself from oil splatters from the engine and was given a
fifteen-minute flight. It was the first member of a royal family to ride in an
He kept urging Orville to fly higher. Orville kept the machine at an
altitude of near 60 feet. Under different circumstances he was willing to
oblige the Prince, but he was not about to take any chances that would get him
in trouble with Prince’s father, the Kaiser.
The Crown Prince, nevertheless was overjoyed with the 15 minute ride and
expressed his gratitude by presenting Orville with a fancy jeweled stickpin
consisting of a crown set in rubies surrounding the initial "W" in
diamonds. The diamond encrusted "W" stood for Wilhelm but the Prince
told Orville it could just as well stand for Wright.
Later that day, Orville set an unofficial altitude record by soaring to
1,600 feet during a twenty-minute flight.
On October 15, Orville made his last appearance in Germany by topping off
his stay with a spectacular flight of 25-30 minutes before Emperor Wilhelm, the
Empress, Princess Viktoria Luise and General von Plessen. The Kaiser had been
away on business and had not seen Orville fly as yet.
By the time the Kaiser arrived, it was getting dark. Orville took off and
flew to 300-feet, circled, dove, flew out-of sight and returned for a total
flight of 30 minutes. Most of the flight was flown after sunset with only the
illumination being the moon and stars. Three royal cars lined up and turned on
their headlights so Orville could see to land.
The Kaiser was ecstatic about the flight and bombarded Orville with
questions. In appreciation, the Emperor presented a signed photograph of
himself to Orville.
The next day Orville and Katharine left for Paris and London on their way
home to Dayton.
One other thing that Orville did before he left Germany was to visit the
home of Otto Lilienthal. Orville and Wilbur thought highly of Lilienthal and
gave him credit for helping shape their ideas about designing a flying machine.
Pau Amazed at
Following Wilbur’s success at Les Hunaudiere and Camp d’Auvours near Le
Mans, he moved his flying activities to the elite resort town of Pau on January
14, 1909. The weather was warmer and the flying field was much better. His
major task was to train three Frenchmen to fly the airplane now that he had
satisfied the airplane’s performance requirements for the French syndicate
who planned to build Wright airplanes in France. He was not in Pau to set any
flying records although he wowed everybody who saw him fly in Pau.
He was provided a level unfenced field almost a mile square known as Pont
Long located eight miles south of Pau with a fine view of the Pyrenees
Mountains. The virtual absence of trees allowed Wilbur the luxury to fly large
circuits of three to four miles and not stray too far from his hangar-shed.
The shed at Pont Long was much better that the two he had at Le Mans. It was
large enough that he didn’t have to dissemble the Flyer’s tail frame and
front rudder every time it entered or left the shed. His living quarters were
much nicer and he had his meals provided by a French chef selected by the
mayor. He also had a special telephone line to Pau where Orville and Katharine
were staying in a fancy hotel.
Wilbur for the first time wore a good-looking black leather motorcyclist’s
jacket for flying in cold weather. It was the first leather aviation jacket.
His three student pilots were balloonist Paul Tissandier, Captain Paul
Lucas-Girardville and Count Charles de Lambert. Tissandier would later be the
first to fly around the Eiffel Tower.
This is how the New York Herald described his first flight at Pau on
February 3, 1909:
"A constant stream of automobiles bound for the flying field was
reported everywhere after one o’clock this afternoon,.. as Mr. Wilbur Wright’s
preparations came to an end today and it was believed that he would make his
Early comers, however, saw nothing to indicate that a flight was being
prepared, the only change being a derrick for weights in position and a long
metal rail over which Mr. Wright was continually walking, testing and examining
the joints. A wind from the west began to blow, a strange event in Pau, and
clouds began to gather.
Several people had left when, without notice, the doors of the aeroplane
shed opened slowly and a weird structure, the Wright aeroplane, came out. Its
motor is a new one, made in Paris on Mr. Wright’s design. Mr. Wilbur Wright
examined it with loving care, Mr. Orville Wright assisting. Miss Wright was in
the crowd, looking hardly at all nervous.
Suddenly the propellers began to whirl round at a great rate. After another
careful examination the Wrights announced that the motor was working well. The
engine was stopped and the structure was wheeled out in front of the spectators
to the starting rail. It took some time to get the machine properly balanced
and to hoist the counterweight, which is about three hundred pounds heavier
than that used in America.
Again the curious propeller whizzed round, and Mr. Wilbur Wright took his
seat, but descended to oil another bearing. It had been thought that Mr. Paul
Tissandier would go up with the aviator, but he stayed on the ground directing
the men. Dr. Speakman, official timekeeper of the Aero Club took his stand by
the derrick, a stopwatch in hand.
Are you ready?
Up to this there had been quite a loud hum of conversation from the people
assembled, but now a hush fell on the assembly, a pause almost of dread.
The weights fell, and with whirling propellers the fairylike machine tore
along the rail to the end by the turn of one lever, and at twelve minutes past
four it soared into the air, turning and wheeling up and down as graceful as an
albatross, showing the perfect command which the aviator had over every
movement and every part of the machine. It had an undulating movement of its
Activated by these wonderful levers, the aeroplane glided down to the
ground, skimmed over it, then went up forty meters, down again, and so on. As
it turned and the movement of the wings prevented the sound of the motor from
being heard. All thought the machine had stopped, and an "Oh!" was
heard from the whole crowd, which was fascinated by the maneuver, but there was
no pause, as the aviator, wheeling on a frightfully acute angle, again circled.
And in this way he seemed to describe a couple of circles and something like
a figure eight, and for a second or two the machine seemed to rest motorless
against the white line of the Pyrenees. The scene was very beautiful.
Then Mr. Wright came to the ground just beside the starting point, having
been in the air just under six minutes.
Mr. Wright traveled at an estimated speed of sixty-five kilometers an hour.
He received a great ovation on coming down, and at twelve minutes to five again
left the ground. This time he attained a far higher elevation, but there was no
height balloons and no measures of length, it is difficult to give an accurate
He went away to the northwest, turned with consummate ease and came over the
heads of the crowd, soaring away to the east over the crowd of automobilists,
then back again toward the Aero Park and over it at a tremendous elevation, the
machine looking like a thing of life.
Then, to show his power, Mr. Wright made several circles with an extremely
small radius, the aeroplane heeling over to an angle of forty-five degrees,
after which it descended, coming down as gently as any bird. He spent more than
five minutes in the air.
The Mayor congratulated Miss Wright gracefully on the marvelous skill of her
brother, and the universal expression was one of wonder at the immense reserve
of power Mr. Wright possesses. He never seemed to exert himself. It was the
most marvelous performance ever seen at Pau."
New students who were being trained to fly first flew as a passenger. The
student first learned to manipulate the horizontal front rudder (elevator) in
straight-line flight. Then he was allowed to manipulate the warping and rudder
control stick located between the two seats. Wilbur would sit with his hands on
his knees ready to react to any mistakes.
Wilbur explained the operation of the lever located between the seats to a
"You see by moving this lever forward, you warp the right wing downward
into a greater angle of incidence and lessen the angle of the opposite wing.
That throws a greater resistance on this side, and he pointed to the end of the
right wing. It tends to turn the machine, but when I move this lever forward,
see, the rear rudder (vertical tail) moves to the left and counters any turning
effect. The wings are warped with a fore and aft movement, and with the same
hand the top of this lever can be bent to the right or left and the rear rudder
turned to steer in a corresponding direction. When desired, by bending over
this lever to the right or left, the rudder can be worked independently of the
Student pilots were designed either right-handed or left-handed pilots. The
pilots trained by Wilbur (or Orville) sat on the right and learned to
manipulate the wing warping rudder lever, located between the two seats, with
their left hand. These were called left-handed pilots.
When a left-handed pilot trained another pilot, the student sat in the seat
at the left and learned to manipulate the lever with his right hand and was
therefore known as a right-handed pilot.
Orville once attempted to fly a Wright machine as a left-handed pilot, that
is sitting in the seat at the right and manipulating the wing warping-rudder
stick with his left hand. He said, "that was the wildest flight of my
life. I never again attempted to pilot using the let-hand controls."
Wilbur missed his family and convinced Orville and Katharine to visit him in
France. They joined Wilbur in Pau after first spending two days in Paris. They
almost didn’t make it to Pau because they were involved in a serious train
wreck thirty miles outside of Pau. The express train they were on collided with
a slow local train. Two passengers were killed and many injured. Fortunately
Orville and Katharine both escaped with no injuries.
Many famous people came to watch Wilbur fly at Pau. One of these was King
Alfonso XIII of Spain. He was greatly interested in the Flyer and asked all
kinds of questions of Wilbur. He didn’t fly, although he greatly wanted to,
because his wife and senior advisors told him not to.
Katharine later heard about it and commented that King Alfonso was a
"good husband" for keeping his promise to his wife that he would not
That didn’t stop Katharine from flying. Just as night was beginning to
fall on February 15, she flew with Wilbur for seven minutes and four seconds.
That was the first flight she had ever been on. On March 17 she flew again for
12 minutes 22 seconds. This time it was in front of King Edward VII on one of
the two flights that he observed. He vigorously waved his hat and cheered as
they flew by the stands. He proclaimed that she was the "ideal
Katharine made a big impression on everyone and some of what they wrote
about her was exaggerated. Such as, she helped her brothers financially and
solved difficult mathematical problems for them. She exclaimed, "I did
no pioneer work in connection with the invention of the airplane."
Wilbur was also subjected to false statements. He was named co-respondent in
a divorce suit filed by a lieutenant in the French Army. It turned out that a
newspaper reporter substituted Wilbur’s name for the real person in order to
The day before Wilbur made his final flight at Pont-Long, Tissandier and de
Lambert each made solo flights of more than 20 minutes each. These flights
served to silence the skeptics who claimed that you had to have acrobatic
ability to fly the Wright machine.
Wilbur made his last flight at Pont-Long on March 20 and then headed for
Rome where he had accepted an offer of $10,000 from the Aeronautical Society of
Rome for a Flyer and the training of a pilot to fly it.
He made sixty-four flights during his stay at Pau. Some of his flights were
recorded on movie film; the first films ever made of Wilbur flying.
The airfield site at Pont Long is still used today as the airport for Pau.
Wilbur gave the four-year old Flyer he flew at Pau to Lazare Weiller and
members of the French syndicate. He had a new machine shipped from Dayton that
he forwarded on to his next stop in Rome.
Boyhood of the Wrights
Newspaper articles written when the Wrights were flying can often provide
insights into their activities that are not available in modern literature.
Here is an article about the Wrights from the Macon Daily Telegraph of May 30,
1909. The paper printed a story from American Magazine titled "Boyhood of
the Wrights." The following is that story.
Take the Wright brothers. I doubt if they would ever have made a flying
machine if it had not been for the sympathy and good sense of both their father
Mrs. Wright was one of those rare women who can do things with her hands.
She used to make bob-sleds and playthings for the boys and of course assisted
them with what they were trying to make. Every sign of mechanical talent which
they showed pleased her.
Orville Wright as a little boy was always trying to work out some kind of a
contrivance and his mother encouraged him. She seems to have had great belief
in the latent power of Wilbur.
"That boy has powder under his heels," she used to say to her
friend; a good expression, whether original with her or not, and worth reviving
and passing on to other troubled mothers of geniuses.
For instance, one of the earliest activities of Orville Wright was printing.
When he was only fifteen years old, he and a friend got out a little four-page
paper called " The Midget."
The father, Bishop Wright as he was known in Dayton (Mr. Wright, Sr., was
for many years an active bishop in the United Brethren Church), took a cordial
interest in the boys’ undertaking, but when in their first issue they ran out
of news and he left the third page blank, he suppressed the whole edition
because it was imperfect work!
Wilbur Wright had no connection with the Midget, except an insatiable
curiosity about the printing plant which the other two boys had set up.
A little later, in 1889, the Wright brothers, together with Orville’s
early partner, started a three-column four page weekly which they called
"The West Side News."
They were the editors, typesetters and pressman on this paper. On Saturday
nights, at 10 o’clock they themselves delivered the papers to their 400
The press on which "The West Side News" was printed was made by
the boys themselves, and it did such good work that it attracted the attention
of more ambitious newspaper men, and even was examined once by a salesman of
the great printing press houses.
In this newspaper undertaking the father was an interested spectator and
counselor. He kept his eye on the boys, too, when a little later they were
carried away by the bicycle craze, and gave up their printing business, and set
up a shop for repairing and making wheels.
It must have given the good gentlemen a great deal of satisfaction to have
watched these boys working out their own tools, even the larger and complicated
ones like the lathes.
As a matter of fact, I find that the Wrights now prefer to make their own
tools. They seem to have a faith in that which their own hands have fashioned.
This is true, I am told, of the delicate parts of their machines.
There is no doubt that they made good wheels in those early days. A man in
Dayton once showed me a bicycle he bought from the Wrights which had given him
six years’ service. "It was one of the last bicycles they ever
made," he said. "And when they made it their heads were full of
You would expect boys so encouraged to go in for all the fun there was to be
had out of their business, and they did so. Both were good bicycle riders.
Wilbur was not a raver, but he was a "terrific" road rider --- long
lean, and full of endurance.
Orville was a husky amateur racer. He won an occasional prize. He was very
daring when it came to "getting out of a pocket" in a hot race, and
very plucky when he took a "a tumble," according to one who used to
race against him.
One of the most amusing pictures of the Wright brothers which one picks up
in Dayton today is the story of a huge tandem bicycle which they built and upon
which they rode all over West Dayton. It was made out of two high wheels which
were connected by a gas-pipe fifteen feet long. "It was a better sight to
see than a circus," the proud townsman tells you.
How the Wrights Got Started
It seems to me the most natural thing in the world that they should become
interested in flying. It happened in this way: Wilbur, always a great rider,
and Orville, always an enthusiast, got interested in the summertime of 1896, in
the experiments of Lilienthal, a German forerunner of successful aviation who
died that year. They read everything they could lay their hands on.
It is possible that the memory of the flying toy which their father brought
to them from New York in childhood, and the recollection of the great kites
which they built and flew although boyhood, may have had a share in attracting
them to the subject.
It is much more probable, however, that their eager minds were simply
seizing upon a new idea, as the case has been so often before.
They took hold of the thing together. They had done everything together ---
from the days of their children, when Wilbur, the older by four years used to
"make up" stories and pour them out in a stream for the entertainment
of Orville, each separate story ending, "And then the boiler burst."
For five years they studied the theory of flying machines at odd times, but
still for fun. And still no machine of any kind. In the meantime they kept up
the bicycle business, earning a fair income, and living regular, everyday,
Watching the Birds and the Whirlwinds
Although the most useful information they gained was obtained from books and
from practical work on the problem carried on in their shop; they also observed
the birds and the winds. For hours and hours of a Sunday afternoon they would
lie on their backs on a hill outside Dayton and watch the buzzards soar on
rising currents of the air.
Indeed, it was their first idea that man would never do more in the air than
soar in some sort of a gliding machine, just for fun, and as long as he could
keep up. They also watched many other birds, both large and small, and were
continually arguing about what they had seen.
A man who has often been in their shop told me that more than once he has
seen them rush to the window to have a look at a passing flock of birds.
All this, together with their innumerable observations of small whirlwinds
making their way through a cornfield, or across a dusty road, did not help
materially toward the solution to the problem. But, according to Orville Wright
himself, it was never-ending stimulation. It helped to keep their enthusiasm
undimmed in the face of discouragement.
It was not long after they took up the study before every moment of their
leisure was given to it. In 1900 they decided they must have an experiment
station. So they decided to go down to Kill Devil Hill in North Carolina and
establish an "experimentation camp."
So far they had given about the same amount of time and money to flying as
other boys do to a trip "up the lakes" or "to the world’s
fair;" but now the matter assumed more serious proportions. One can
imagine how many a father would have discouraged these strenuous absorbing
efforts given to a mere amusement, would have advised "sticking to
something that paid." But I cannot help believing that Bishop Wright
watched his boys’ efforts to fly with as much interest as they felt
themselves, and they need his interest for often they were discouraged.
In 1901, the year after they had begun to experiment in North Carolina with
a gliding machine, they returned pretty well played out.
On that trip they discovered that the tables of calculation previously made
by all authorities upon whom they have depended were wrong and that, if they
were to succeed, they must work out the whole theory from the bottom up.
At that time Wilbur Wright expressed his solemn conviction that man would
not fly for a thousand years. But that belief did not detain him and his
brother from tackling the job.
This is the point in their career where they best showed the stuff they are
made of. They not only worked out a scheme for balancing and controlling the
machine, but they developed propellers for the machine on information which
they had discovered for themselves.
Further than this, and more important, they had to work out new tables
showing the pressure of the air against various angles.
Without all this technical information, the collection of which was a task
scarcely conceivable, they could never have solved the problem.
Probably their method of work saved them from failure at this stage of the
undertaking. It was this. When one made a suggestion the other attacked it ---
but not without reasons, of course. The outcome was that frequently a whole day’s
discussion --- and they often talked at home until the women folks felt like
sweeping them out with a broom --- would result in each one accepting the
position of the other. Then the next day the whole thing would be gone over
again, until they had got the truth and both were persuaded.
In this manner they undoubtedly avoided "going off on a tangent"
and also stimulated each other’s determination. And for this reason in the
family, and everybody in Dayton, is satisfied that neither brother could have
mastered the thing alone.
Historic Wright Factory in Jeopardy
The historic Wright brothers’ factory buildings in Dayton are in jeopardy.
The buildings are the first American facility specifically designed and built
for the manufacture of airplanes from 1910-1916. In these buildings, The
Wrights helped to transform the airplane from a curious wonder into a serious
method of transportation.
The Delphi Corp. now owns the buildings and has continuously used them for
the manufacture of airplane and automotive parts. Delphi entered bankruptcy
reorganization on Oct. 8, 2005. There are five Delphi plants in Dayton
employing 4,200 employees.
The Delphi plant where the Wright buildings are located is the former
General Motors Inland complex located on West Third Street several miles
further west of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park site on West Third
Delphi desires to reject its union contracts and terminate post-retirement
health-care plans and life insurance for hourly employees.
The Delphi complex covers 67.3 acres. The original Wright Company factory
buildings occupy approximately one acre.
The first Wright factory building, building no. 1, was completed in November
1910. It was equipped with the most modern machinery available and capable of
producing two airplanes a month. Building no. 2 was built a few months later
raising the production capability to four airplanes a month, a capacity greater
than any other airplane factory in the world in that time period.
The Model B was the first airplane built at the Wright factories and the
first to be mass-produced. Many aviation advancements and improvements were
introduced. The Model B was followed by the Models R, EX, C, D, E, F, CH, G, H
two factory buildings are single-story rectangular commercial brick. They
retain much of their original architectural integrity, including gabled roofs
with eyebrow parapets. During the Wrights tenure, building no. 1 contained a
double-door entry. There was an office located in front of building no. 1. I
have been told that the office is still used.
In 1915, Orville Wright sold The Wright Co. to a group of eastern investors
and accepted payment for services as a consulting engineer during the new
owners first year of operation. In 1916 The Wright Co. merged with the Glenn
Martin Co. to form the Wright-Martin Aircraft Co. and the factory buildings
were sold. The General Motors Corporation-Inland Div. owned the buildings
during much of that time.
One good thing that Delphi and the previous owners have done is to maintain
the factory buildings in good condition. This has not always been the case with
other historic Wright buildings. Orville’s laboratory on West Third St. was
torn down to make room for a gasoline station.
The downside of the GM/Delphi ownership is that they have had insufficient
appreciation of the historic significance of the Wright buildings. Visitors are
not permitted. Even during the Centennial Celebration in 1903 Delphi would not
allow a picture to be taken of the exterior of the buildings.
I, a former General Motors employee, experienced this myself during the
Centennial celebration in 1903. The Wright buildings are located just inside
the Third street entrance to the complex. I pulled up the gate and asked the
guard if I could take a picture. He said no. I asked him to check with his
boss. The answer from his boss was still no. I returned on Sunday when no one
was there and took pictures through the closed chain link gate.
The National Park Service has conducted a thorough Assessment of the issues
and alternatives involved incorporating The Wright Company factory as a unit of
Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio. As I am
writing this, the draft NPS Assessment is being widely circulated for public
review and comment.
Here is an excerpt: "If The Wright Company factory buildings (site)
were to be added to the park, rehabilitating factory buildings 1 and 2 to their
1910-1911 exterior and interior appearance would offer a unique opportunity to
discuss the techniques and practices that the Wright brothers employed for the
construction of the nation’s first mass-produced airplanes in surroundings
that appear much as they did during the period of significance."
"The park’s interpretive focus would be on how The Wright Company
factory played a role in the birth of the American industry through the early
development of the age of flight. Possible exhibits include replica Wright
brothers’ aircraft, machinery, and interpretation of the social and economic
impacts of the world’s first airplane factory. After rehabilitation, the
buildings could accommodate the display of up to six aircraft."
The are two major obstacles confronting the National Park Service. The first
is finding a willing owner to either sell or cooperate in developing the Wright
brothers’ factory site as a historic park.
The second is finances. The assessment estimates that it would require $8.8
– 13.2 million in development cost if the National Park Service were to
develop and manage the site. This figure includes the cost of interpretive
exhibits and media, including machinery, replica aircraft, and aircraft
components, estimated at $3.1 – 4.0 million.
The obstacles are great but may be overcome. There is no question that it
would be a tragedy not to save this historic gem for the American people.
The National Park Service, if requested by the owner, is willing to provide
technical assistance for nomination of the site as a National Historic
Landmark. Maybe that is where to start.
Update, 2008: Wright
Factories Buildings Closer to Joining National Park. A House committee
recently approved a bill that would add The Wright Company Factory buildings to
the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner
and Amanda Wright-Lane, great-grandniece of the Wright brothers, testified in
support of S 3286 and HR 4199 bills. The buildings are currently owned by Delphi Corp.
Reference: The Wright Co. Factory Boundary Assessment and Environmental
Assessment. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Dayton, Ohio.
The National Park Service. January 2006.
Wrights Return to Kitty Hawk in 1908
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
They flew for the first time on May 6 averaging 41-mph over a distance of
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
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.
Wilbur at Camp d’Auvours
September 2, 1908 newspapers announced that Wilbur Wright, near Le Mans
France, had made an endurance test of two hours the day before. However, he had
to descend when "his motor gets hot." ‘Consequently he devoted
himself to making examinations of the Bollee motor."
The reference to a Bollee motor was an error. Wilbur made examinations
of the Wright motor. Bollee made motors in his automobile factory in Le
Mans where Wilbur assembled the Flyer, but Wilbur used an old Wright engine
that he had brought from home for his airplane.
Two other topics of interest with regard to flying were printed in the same
paper. The first is as follows:
"Interest in aeronautics created by exhibitions now being conducted by
Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio, show no signs of subsiding."
"Although the French aeroplanists acknowledge generously the
superiority of the performances of Wright’s machine over the existing foreign
models in the matter of equilibrium, flying qualities, flying in a wind and
general control, a majority of experts still insist that the attendance of a
tail and the method of launching the Wright machine constitute vital
The comment about a tail demonstrates their lack of knowledge about
how to fly with control.
The comment about the effectiveness of launching refers to the Wright
use of dropping a weight from a pylon to catapult the Flyer off the launching
rail into the air.
the French must have reconsidered Wilbur’s use of the catapult launching and
decided it gave him an advantage. The Aero-Club de France announced an altitude
competition that contained a restriction on the use of a catapult in a
disguised attempt to handicap Wilbur. He won the prize anyway on November 23 by
employing an extra long launching rail that enabled him to dispense with the
The other item in the newspaper was about a proposed channel crossing.
"The morning papers declare that a Russian named Prince Botoloff
has decided to attempt to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane. He has
commissioned the brothers Voisin, aeroplane builders, to construct a large
machine in the form known as the triplane. Prince Bototoff has never made a
In October, The London Daily Mail offered a prize of $5,000 for anyone who
flew across the English Channel. The paper, by private communication, offered
Wilbur an additional $5,000 if he won the prize. Wilbur gave it serious
consideration and wrote Orville that he was tempted if he felt sure of decent
Orville, who was recovering from a serious accident at Ft. Myer in the U.S.,
advised against it.
"I do not like the idea of your attempting a channel flight when I am
not present." He wrote. "I haven’t much faith in your motor
running. You seem to have more trouble than I do."
Wilbur sent a cablegram to the Chicago Daily on September 1 denying reports
that he planned to fly across the English Channel. He said his primary goal was
to complete the demonstration flights necessary to win the contract with a
private syndicate to form a French Wright Company headed by M. Lazare Weiller,
a wealthy businessman in France. It was capitalized at $140,000 with the
Wrights to receive the largest share of the stock, royalties on all machines
constructed, and a substantial sum of cash.
The contract required Wilbur to twice fly a distance of at least 50
kilometers with a passenger. Once this requirement was satisfied, he would
train three Frenchman in the operation of the Flyer.
A report in the newspaper of October 6 reports that Wilbur fulfilled the
conditions of the contract.
"Wilbur Wright, who on Saturday last established a world’s record for
aeroplane flights, carrying a passenger, made a new record this afternoon when
under similar conditions he remained in the air for an hour, 4 minutes and 26
seconds. His best previous record with a passenger was 55 minutes 37
"Mr. Wright thus fulfills the conditions of the contract by him and
Lazarre Weiller, regarding a syndicate. The contract calls for the payment to
Mr. Wright of $100,000 by the syndicate, in return for which the syndicate
secures rights of the machine in France and the colonies. M. Weiller has
already given an order to a French manufacturer for 50 aeroplanes on the Wright
Wilbur also wanted to win the Coupe Michelin prize offered by Andre
Michlin for the longest flight of the year.
Wilbur did win the prize on the last day of the year, December 31. He made
the attempt thirteen days earlier but was forced down by a clogged oil line.
The last day of the year was a cold day with freezing mist and light snow on
the ground. He had to make two attempts that day. A broken fuel line halted the
first attempt. The second attempt won the prize with a time in the air of 2
hours 18 minutes.
It was a remarkable achievement considering Wilbur had no protection from
In addition to the prize money of 20,000 franks, the French awarded the
Wright brothers the Legion of Honor. The achievement wasn’t as sensational as
flying the channel but it accomplished his goal of demonstrating his absolute
superiority in the air.
The following year Louis Bleriot made the first flight over the English
Channel on July 26, 1909. His airplane incorporated the use of the Wright’s
wing warping method for control of bank and roll. Bleriot learned about it
directly from Wilbur who explained to him how it worked after witnessing Wilbur’s
first public flight on August 8, 1908.
All the while Wilbur continued to live in his shed on the flying field. It
had no floor or indoor toilet facilities. As his flying achievements mounted
along with his status as a celebrity, crowds numbering in the thousands came to
see him fly. When he was inside his shed they tried to look in his windows to
get a glimpse of him. Wilbur complained that he could hardly take a shower
without someone trying to see inside. One woman even bored a peephole to look
into his shed.
He still managed to dress-up in a tuxedo for the many testimonial dinners he
Bishop Wright wrote to Wilbur advised him to be "sympathetic to the
crowds, remembering how Christ had been sympathetic to the people."
The engine that sometimes was temperamental performed well in early October
when Wilbur flew with Leon Bollee as his passenger. Bollee weighed 224 pounds and
the fact that the 30-40 hp motor had gotten him off the ground created much
astonishment among the spectators.
Winter had set in, so on January 2, 1909, Wilbur sent the Flyer to the
French resort town of Pau in the south of France where the weather was warmer
for flying. Wilbur arrived on January 14 to continue another round of
During the 5 months Wilbur spent flying near Le Mans, he completed 129
flights, many of those with passengers, and set 9 world records.
Wilbur Damages Wing Landing at Hunaudieres
Wilbur Wright damaged a wing on landing at Hunaudieres Race Course near Le
Mans after his second flight of the day on August 13, 1908. The hard landing
also broke some spars, ribs, and one skid runner was damaged.
Orville Wright was quoted in the newspaper the next day by the AP saying
that the wreck was caused by a wrong move of a lever that controls the plane. "I
have a cablegram from my brother explaining the affair. It resulted from a
wrong move of the lever controlling the lateral rudders that govern the
equilibrium, just as the aeroplane reached the level of the ground, causing it
to list and bring the end of the structure in violent collision with the
"In the upper air," Orville continued, "the mistake
would have resulted in no harm. The aeroplane can be put in order in a few
Orville at this time was preparing to perform test flights for the U.S. Army
at Ft Myer, Virginia. Wilbur on August 15 warned his brother that he should
prepare to have some difficulty mastering the handles that they had newly
installed on their airplanes. "I have not yet learned to operate the
handles without blunders."
recent occurrence wasn’t the first time that Wilbur became confused with the
new controls. At Kitty Hawk before Wilbur went to France, Wilbur and Orville
spent time practicing with the controls. On his last flight before traveling to
France, Wilbur became confused while operating the elevator control and dived
the plane into the sand at 41 mph. He wrecked the plane but fortunately
survived with only a few bruises.
The recent accident was the eleventh and last flight flown at Hunaudieres.
Wilbur didn’t like the field because of its small tree-lined size. He had to
continuously make turns to say within the confines of the field.
The French military, now impressed with his flying exploits, offered him a
larger more suitable field almost devoid of trees that formerly had been a
military camp and artillery testing ground. It was his first choice originally,
but the French didn’t want to let him use it then because of their lack of
confidence that he would be able to fly.
On August 18, Wilbur completed repairs to the damaged plane and transported
it to Camp d’Auvours, located close to the small town of Champegne and seven
miles east of Le Mans. The high school in the town is named after Wilbur.
There he built a shed in the middle of the field where he would live. Inside
the shed he rigged a canvas cot so that he could lift it up to the roof during
the day. He placed packing crates so that they formed a crude wall between his
"kitchen" and his "dining room."
Wilbur lived in his shed for four months and enjoyed his stay except for
when crowds of people were around. His companion was a stray dog named Flyer.
Flyer was a good companion but not much of a "watch dog." He would
hide in the corner of the shed when visitors were around.
The use of sheds in France continued a practice initiated at Kitty Hawk
where he and Orville lived in one to be close to their airplane.
Wilbur made some 120 successful flights at this location, many with a
passenger accompanying him. He set records in flight time, distance and
Wilbur Not a Bluffer
Wilbur Wright had been assembling his airplane in Bollee’s factory near Le
Mans since June. The French were getting impatient waiting for Wilbur to
demonstrate his airplane.
The Paris newspaper sarcastically announces, "Le bluff continues.
Everyone has talked about the Wright brothers but they have not made
good." Bets were being made on whether Wilbur would get off the
Wilbur was behind schedule because his crated disassembled airplane had been
severely damaged by custom’s agents in Le Havre and would require
considerable rework before it was air worthy again. Leon Bollee offered Wilbur
space in his automobile factory in Le Mans to assemble the plane
and was a great help to Wilbur in
radiator house came off during a test run of the engine seriously burning
Wilbur’s left side further delaying work.
Bollee arranged for Wilbur to use a local Hunaudieres racetrack as a flying
field. It was a small field surrounded by trees with a grandstand located five
miles south of Le Mans. The field was a difficult and dangerous field for
Wilbur to negotiate. He would have to make a sharp turn turn immediately after
lift-off and continue to make two to three deep turns every minute he was in
Wilbur lived in a hanger on the field
consisting of a wooden shed. He cooked for himself and used a
hosepipe for a shower. Water
and milk were available from a nearby farmhouse as was a small restaurant.
A stray dog, Flyer, joined him and became a constant companion. The dog
looked like "skin and bones" at first, but soon looked more like a
Wilbur's first flight was on August 8,
Wilbur wrote to Orville about his first flight, "Last Saturday I
took the machine out for the first time and made a couple of circles. --- I
wound up with a complete ¾ of a circle with a diameter of only 31 yards, by
measurement, and landed with wing level. I had to turn suddenly as I was
running into trees and was too high to land and too low to go over them."
The following is the newspaper report of the events of that day.
"Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio made a flight variously computed at 2 ½
to 3 ½ kilometers with his aeroplane here this afternoon, in one minute and 46
seconds. Throughout the flight Mr. Wright had perfect control of the machine.
No attempt was made for a record, the object of the flight being to try out the
While flying through the air Wright demonstrated, or so it appeared to the
spectators, that he was absolutely master of the airship, first soaring, then
shooting gracefully downward and then mounting again at will, until finally,
after completing two circles, he came down to earth.
The performance was greeted with a burst of cheers from a small number of
people invited (about 30) to view the experiment. Wright was warmly
congratulated by all the spectators, including a few French aeronauts, two
Russian officers and a number of other experts.
The successful flight made by Wilbur Wright with his aeroplane today puts an
end to the long anxious waiting in America and Europe to see what the Wright
brothers were capable of accomplishing.
The long postponement of a public exhibition of what the Americans had to
show the world aroused the liveliest comment and from some quarters a touch of
skepticism. A Paris newspaper only last night referring to the bluff Wright
Brothers, of whom everybody had been talking for many years, but who as yet
have not made good.
Weather conditions for the test were splendid. The sky was blue and without
a cloud and a gentle Northwest breeze was blowing.
It was shortly before 3 o’clock this afternoon when the aeroplane, which
is the same as that used in the United States, was brought out of its shed and
mounted on a small single-wheeled chariot, which in turn was on a single rail.
After a preliminary test of the apparatus, Mr. Wright took a position beside
By means of a falling weight rigged on a beam erected in the ground and
connecting with cords running over the rail, and the aeroplane, thus having
been given a forward motion, suddenly left the chariot and ascended like a bird
to a height of about 40 feet. Then it swerved and turned in its course and
sailed up the field. It dipped gracefully up and down, attaining a height of 60
feet and then descended to between 30 and 40 feet.
Mr. Wright thus twice circled the field and, then, stopping the motor,
brought the aeroplane directly in front of the improved grandstand, which was
filled with wildly cheering spectators.
The descent was sure and easy, and was carried out with great nicety,
without causing shock to either the machine or the operator.
Estimates vary as to the distance covered by the aeroplane, but the average
was three kilometres. Hart O. Berg, European representative of the Wright
brothers gave the official time as 1 minute 45 seconds.
The populace is enthusiastic over the experiment." (End of
Wilbur wrote to Orville several days later, "The newspapers and the
French aviators nearly went wild with excitement. Bleriot and Delagrange were
so excited they could hardly speak, and Kapferer could only gasp and could not
talk at all. You would have died of laughter if you could have seen them….
You never saw anything like the complete reversal of position that took place
after two or three little flights of less than two minutes each."
For The Fun of It
Famous aviation inventors from the Wilbur and Orville Wright to space
entrepreneur Burt Rutan are driven by the joy of invention.
In September 1900 Wilbur wrote to his father, "It is my belief that
flight is possible and, while I am taking up the investigation for pleasure
rather than profit. I think there is a slight possibility of achieving fame and
fortune from it."
They treated their first visit to Kitty Hawk as a vacation trip, Orville
wrote to his sister in October 1900, "This is a great country for
fishing and hunting. The fish are so thick you see dozens of them whenever you
look down into the water. The woods are filled with wild game."
On another occasion, Orville wrote to his sister, "It has been with
considerable effort that I have succeeded in keeping him (Wilbur) in the flying
business. He likes to chase buzzards, thinking they are eagles and chicken
hawks, much better."
The brothers brought home with them a lot of pictures that year. But they
where mostly scenic tourist type pictures, only a few were of their 1900
Even two years later prior to their third trip to Kitty Hawk, Katharine
wrote to their father, "Will and Orv …. Really ought to get away for a
while. Will is thin and nervous and so is Orv. They well be all right when they
get down in the sand where the salt breezes blow, etc. They think that life and
Kitty Hawk cures all ills you know."
Burt Rutan talks about how private space policy should emphasize innovation,
safety and having a helluva good time.
Rutan has averaged more than one new aircraft design per year for over 30
years totaling some 36 different manned airplanes. Last year Rutan and his
team, Scaled Composites, became the first private company to send a man into
suborbital space twice with two weeks, using the same vehicle.
When SpaceShipOne landed after its second successful flight and won the
"X Prize," he proclaimed, "we are going to the stars."
Until the latter part of 1906 there were only two men in the world who could
fly. Between 1903 and 1906, Wilbur and Orville made 160 flights totaling almost
From the period 1908 to early 1912 only 10 people had flown. After that for
the next 3-½ half-year period, there was an explosion of flight. Thousands of
pilots flew hundreds of airplanes in 39 countries.
They were flying because it was fun. Commercial applications were still in
the future. People wanted to fly with barnstormers and attend air shows. It
would not be until the late 1920s before commercial transport carried
passengers, mail and merchandise.
Rutan is at the point with regard to development of space airplanes where
the airplane was before the common man could fly. His SpaceShipOne demonstrated
that "the little guy can fly above a hundred kilometers, without
government assistance, and government technology, and government funds."
"We strongly feel that the biggest problem is the safety problem, not
the affordability problem," claims Rutan.
"The real thing that we did here is to develop three new breakthroughs,
and each one of them is going to have enormous effects on safety. The
"care-free reentry" in which the craft realigns itself automatically
is just one of those, so we think this is the right way to go and we think that
we can get that level of early airplane safety if we adequately do our flight
tests ahead of time."
Rutan has an outstanding safety record over his 30 years of airplane
development. His airplanes have never injured a pilot or had a major accident.
He maintains that his success is based on a philosophy of never having to
defend their safety. Rutan requires all his people whether building, designing,
flying or testing, always to be in the mode of questioning safety.
"But to never, ever put themselves in a position where they defend the
safety. Once they do, you’re screwed."
He explains what he means by saying, "If you’re always questioning
it (safety) you can turn around and find something better and immediately
incorporate it. For example, if you had turned in last week a report to
government agency in which you’ve told the product, as it is, is safe, if you
discover something better next week, you have two choices."
"One, you can go and write an addendum to that report and essentially
tell the government, that, gee, I was wrong last week, it wasn’t the safest
that it can be, and now it is because I’ve discovered this new thing. And
then you’ll find yourself debating that with them and losing your credibility
"We make changes almost every day when we’re in a research mode. So
you can see you get into this big back and forth in which they see you making
changes after you defend the safety to them."
"Now the solution there is to never tell anybody it’s safe, but also
question it, which then allows you to immediately incorporate safety features
and go on. And, instead of firing somebody who designed something unsafe, you
reward whoever found a better way and congratulate them. The other choice that
people have is they’ll see something safer and they’ll realize they just
told the government that it was safe last week. And then they made the decision
that, well, you know, last week’s configuration --- it’s safe enough"
Rutan also points out that he runs a small company. He doesn’t have a big
safety department that works with government regulators. It would be
counterproductive to divert his workforce from designing, manufacturing and
testing to make the product as safe as possible in order to write reports and
provide data to government regulators who are often naïve and sometimes
inexperienced and won’t make a quick decision.
He maintains that he is not against government regulations but rather how
they are applied. He believes that the solution is to allow the developer to
define the testing that is needed for his system to show that it is safe. The
developer would negotiate his test plan with the FAA, who would approve the
fact that he did it. You can’t regulate too early in the development process
because you don’t know what new ideas are going appear in the future.
He provides the example of NASA. He claims that "what Alan Shepard flew
in was an expendable booster with a parachute recovery, and for 44 years of
NASA manned space flight, they have not made significant improvements in
concepts that will allow safe access to space."
An article in the New York Times of April 4, 2005 cites that the loss of the
Columbia and its crew two years ago was the outcome of a broken safety culture.
James D. Wetherbee, a former shuttle commander and recently a safety official
at The Johnson Space Center in Houston, is still concerned about safety at
NASA. He states that "NASA’s management did not see safety clearly,
and noted that the previous administrator, Sean O’keefe, had spoken about how
much risk was acceptable." Wetherbee says that is the wrong question
to ask. The right question is what risk is necessary, and how do we eliminate
the unnecessary risk.
What Rutan wants to do is follow the process the Wrights used. That was one
of continuous improvement through experimentation and flight testing until both
brothers believed their Flyer was safe enough to fly.
Rutan claims he will develop a space vehicle that is 100 times safer than
anything developed so far.
But, the Wrights didn’t have to contend with the FAA or NASA.
Reference: Reason, March 31, 2005.
Engine Problems at Le Mans
from Le Mans on September 1, 1908 was that "Wilbur Wright made an
endurance test with his motor today. At the end of two hours he found it heated
and consequently this afternoon devoted himself to making examinations of the
Comment: When Wilbur arrived in France in June of 1908, a complete airplane
in crates was waiting for him in the customs shed at Le Havre. He had also
hired a French company, Bariquand et Marre, to build at least one new engine as
well as rebuild one old Wright engine and have them ready for him.
When Wilbur opened the crtes he found almost everything inside was broken.
It was either caused by careless custom inspectors or maybe on purpose.
Wilbur’s first reaction was that improper packing by Orville caused the
damage, but Orville quickly put that notion to rest.
As if the broken pieces of the plane weren’t enough, Wilbur found that the
engines, including one old Wright engine were not ready.
Fortunately, Leon Bollee, a Le Mans car manufacturer, offered him space in
his factory to rebuild the plane. Wilbur estimated the job would take three
weeks to complete. It took almost seven.
The French-built engines still had not been completed but they did send him
the old rebuilt Wright engine. They did had done a shoddy job on it, so Wilbur
had to work on it himself. While doing so on July 4th, the radiator
hose came off the engine and sprayed Wilbur’s left side with scalding water.
Fortunately, Bollee was standing next to Wilbur watching him work and was able
to give him immediate first aid.
The scalding water left a large blister on his left side and another one on
his forearm. It was painful but Wilbur continued his work.
The newspaper account referred to the Bollee motor. There was no Bollee made
motor. It was most likely the old Wright motor that Wilbur had worked on in the
The French intend on celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wibur’s
first flight at Le Mans that occurred on August 8, 1908. A group from France,
including Gerard Bollee, the 80 year old grandnephew of Leon Bollee, recently
visited the Outer Banks, NC to discuss plans for the commemoration with members
of the Wright family and the First Flight Society.
Wright Airplane Returns to Kitty Hawk
The "Scientific American," May 30, 1908, carried the following
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
Wrights Sell Flyer to France
Harper’s Weekly of September 26, 1908 reprinted an interview that a London
newspaper reporter conducted with Lazare Weiller. Mr. Weiller is the head of a
French syndicate that had just signed a contract in New York with Wilbur
Under the terms of the contract, the syndicate would purchase the Wright
French patent rights to manufacture, sell and license Wright airplanes in
France as soon the conditions of the contract were fulfilled.
The article stated that "the conditions (roughly) are that the
machine shall make a flight of fifty kilometres (thirty-one miles), rising from
ground under its own power in a wind of at least eleven miles an hour.
Mr. Weiller said that if the trials at Le Mans succeeded he would build a
factory and make and sell the machines, to be used as instruments of sport.
He expressed great admiration for Mr. Wright, not for his dexterity, for he
thought him rather clumsy, but because he is a genius and a scientist and has a
perfect mechanical intelligence.
The French aviators he considered to be still in the stage of complications
which Mr. Wright had passed."
Weiller was a businessman involved in a variety of businesses, including a
lucrative Paris taxicab business. His interest in the aeroplane was more than
financial. He was interested in scientific and aeroplane speculation. The
syndicate he headed was called La Compagnie Generale de Navigation Aerienne.
The contract was the first contract that the Wrights had successfully
negotiated in France or anywhere else in Europe and even though terms were not
as good as they wanted, it seemed to have profit potential. Upon satisfactory
completion of the demonstration flights, the Wrights would receive (a) 500,000
francs upon delivery of the first machine, (b) 50% of the founders shares in
the company and (c) 20,000 francs apiece for each of four additional machines.
The year before, Wilbur had been unsuccessful in negotiating a contract with
the French Government. At that time he thought that contracting with the
government as the Wrights had done in the U.S., rather than with a commercial
firm, was the preferred approach.
That approach had resulted in a ten-month delay in getting started in
France. By that time several French aviators were making flights with machines
that imperfectly copied the Wright machine.
On January 1, 1908 Henri Farrman won the Archdeacon 50,000 francs cup for a
flight lasting one minute, 28 seconds. The flight was far from perfect and his
turn at the halfway point was awkward and the machine wobbled as it made a wide
The day after Wilbur’s arrival in France, Leon Delagrange flew for 8 miles
at Rome and Farrman flew the first flight with a passenger on board at Issy.
Although the French machines were technologically behind the Wright’s
machine, Weiller began to get cold feet about the contract and feared the
Wrights’ machine might be overtaken. When Wilbur arrived in France in June,
he had to shore up Weiller’s confidence.
Wilbur wrote to Orville, who had stayed behind in the U.S. to fulfill the
Army’s contract requirements: "The situation in France was similar to
how an old-time circuit rider had found religion in his district, in other
words flat on its back. --- Our position is improving rapidly as it
always does when one of us is here to meet people and infuse a little
confidence in them."
Wilbur was optimistic about the time it would take to build the machine that
was still stored in crates at Le Havre, having been sent to France the previous
year. He estimated that it would take a few weeks to build the machine and
complete the demonstration flights. The few weeks turned into six months.
When Wilbur opened the crates, he found the disassembled machine had been
severely damaged during the French custom inspection. Initially, he thought it
was Orville’s fault, so he sent him an angry letter.
He wrote: "I opened the boxes yesterday and have been puzzled ever
since to know how you could have wasted two whole days packing them. I am sure
that with a scoop shovel I could have put things in within two or three minutes
and make as good a job of it. I never saw such evidence of idiocy in my
Seven weeks were required to build the machine. It didn’t help that Wilbur
received a severe burn on his arm when a radiator hose broke during an engine
test. The burns left a blister as big as Wilbur’s hand on his left side and
another blister a foot long on his forearm.
Finally on August 8, Wilbur was ready for a demonstration flight of his
assembled Wright Model A Flyer at the Hunaudieres racetrack near Le Mans.
Wilbur was dressed in his usual suit, a visor cap set backwards and starched
collar. The engine started and quickly died when Wilbur’s back collar stud
caught on the control wires.
Soon after, the weight dropped from the launching derrick, propelling the
machine into the air.
French aviation reporter, Francois Peyrey, describes what happened: "We
beheld the great white bird soar above the racecourse and pass over and beyond
the trees. We were able to follow easily each movement of the pilot, note his
extraordinary proficiency in the flying business, perceive the curious warping
of the wings in the process of circling and the shifting and position of the
rudders. After one minute and 45 seconds of flight, Wright returned to the
ground, descending with extraordinary buoyancy and precision."
The crowd cheered loudly. "Well, we are beaten!" exclaimed
one spectator. Another said, "We are as children compared with the
Wilbur wrote Orville on August 15, "In the second flight, I made an
"eight" and landed at the starting point. The newspapers and the
French aviators went wild with excitement. Blenot and Delagrange were so
excited they could scarcely speak, and Kapferer could only gasp and could not
talk at all. You would have almost died of laughter if you could have seen
Wilbur, between August 1908 and January 1909, made more than one hundred
demonstration flights in France at Le Mans and Pau. He took up 60 passengers
including the first woman to fly (Mrs. Hart Berg, whose husband had put the
Weiller syndicate together), astounding spectators and bringing on instant
On the last day of 1908, Wilbur won the Michelin prize for circling above
snow covered Camp d’Auvours for 2 hours, 20 minutes. The distance covered was
about 90 miles. Wilbur was told that the French government was going to bestow
the Legion of Merit on both Wright brothers.
After his last flight in France near Pau in March, Wilbur gave the machine
he flew at Le Mans and Pau to Weiller and the members of the syndicate.
Weiller’s doubts had vanished and investors clamored to join the
syndicate. His syndicate did not intend to build the machine. They would
function as sales agents, contracting other firms such as Societe Astra and
Chantiers de France.
The syndicate eventually claimed that it had received 50 orders, but
probably one-half that was ever constructed. The trouble began when Societe
Astra, the company that had constructed most of the machines under contract for
the syndicate, was taken over. The legal complications of this take-over might
take years to straighten out. In the meantime, profits were falling and Weiller’s
syndicate was about out of business.
Orville sailed to France to investigate the situation, leaving New York on
November 15, 1910. He returned home discouraged. Their contract in Germany was
also in bad shape.
Orville returned to Europe in 1912. He found that Weiller’s syndicate was
virtually defunct. Societe Astra had taken over the entire operation. The
change was disastrous. Quality of the machines had deteriorated, particularly
the engines, and their business practices, according to Orville, were hopeless.
Neither the Wrights nor the investors would ever get rich on the profits
from the sale of the license-built machines in France.
in the 1908 Wright Machine
The Wright brothers can best tell the story of how the Wright machine takes off
and makes a flight. They wrote about the experience in a 1908 issue of Century
Magazine. It is quoted below.
"In order to show the general reader the way in which the machine
operates, let us fancy ourselves ready for a start.
The machine is placed upon a single rail track facing the wind, and is securely
fastened with a cable.
The engine is put in motion, and the propellers in the rear whirr. You take
your seat at the center of the machine by the operator. He slips the cable, and
you shoot forward.
An assistant who has been holding the machine in balance on the rail, starts
forward with you, but before you have gone fifty feet the speed is too great
for him, and he lets go. Before reaching the end of the track the operator
moves the front rudder (note: they called the elevator, the rudder at that
time) and the machine lifts from the rail like a kite supported by the pressure
of the air underneath it.
The ground under you is at first a perfect blur, but as you rise the objects
become clearer. At the height of one hundred feet you feel hardly any motion at
all, except for the wind which strikes your face.
If you did not take the precaution to fasten your hat before starting, you have
probably lost it by this time.
The operator moves a lever, the right wing rises, and the machine swings about
to the left, yet you do not feel the sensation of being thrown from your seat,
so often experienced in automobile and railway travel. You find yourself facing
the point from which you started.
The objects on the ground now seem to be moving at much higher speed, though
you perceive no change in the pressure of the wind on your face. You know then
that you are traveling with the wind.
When you near the staring point, the operator stops the motor while still high
in the sky. The machine coasts down at an oblique angle to the ground, and
after sliding fifty or a hundred feet comes to rest.
Although the machine often lands when traveling at a speed of a mile a minute,
you feel no shock whatever, and cannot, in fact, tell the exact moment at which
it first touched the ground.
The motor close beside you kept up an almost deafening roar during the whole
flight, yet in your excitement you did not notice it till it stopped."
The same article the Wrights discussed some of the difficulties met with by
experimenters in constructing a machine that will have good stability.
"The balancing of a flyer may seem, at first thought, to be a very simple
matter, yet almost every experimenter had found in just this the one point
which he could not satisfactorily master.
Many different methods were tried. Some experimenters placed the center of
gravity far below the wings, in the belief that the weight would naturally seek
to remain at the lowest point. It was true, that, like the pendulum, it tended
to seek the lowest point; but also, like the pendulum, it tended to oscillate
in a manner destructive of all stability.
A more satisfactory system, especially for lateral balance, was that of
arranging the wings in the shape of a V, to form a dihedral angle, with the
center low and the wing-tips elevated.
In theory this was an automatic system, but in practice it had two serious
defects: first, it tended to keep the machine oscillating; second, its
usefulness was restricted to calm air."
The Century Magazine in their comment on the above mistakenly maintains the
wrong paradigm popular at the time that a successful design of a machine will
incorporate automatic equilibrium.
The Magazine states the following: "The Wright
machine has demonstrated that it can fly in a wind as great as 20 miles an
hour, while none of the other aeroplanes have ever flown in a wind of half this
velocity. In this one point alone it is far superior to all other aeroplanes;
and doubtless, in time, the brothers will perfect it so that it will have
automatic equilibrium and thus be capable of use by almost any
Wrights Develop Automatic Stabilizer
By 1905 the Wrights had developed a
practical airplane that for the first time could be controlled by a pilot.
Having achieved that goal, they decided to develop an automatic stabilizer that
could fly the airplane straight without a pilot’s intervention.
They were successful in their effort and
were awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy by the Aero Club of America for
their device on January 5, 1914. The prize recognized the most significant
contribution to aeronautics made during the year of 1913.
Unfortunately for the Wrights, Lawrence
Sperry publicly unveiled a more technologically advanced device in France six
months later on June 18, 1914.
The Wrights began their work on the
device in secrecy sometime after 1905. Their concept was to develop an adaptive
system with feedback. A change in direction of heading, automatically applies
power to adjust the airplane controls in yaw, roll and pitch as appropriate,
and brings the airplane back to its original heading.
The 30-pound device consisted of a
pendulum and vertical vane that were connected to a power source which drove
servomotors. Whenever the pendulum swung out of vertical the wing warping
control was activated to restore yaw and roll balance.
Similarly the horizontal vane sensed
pitch stability and activated the elevator control.
The original power source was compressed
air, then it was replaced with a battery, and in the final version, a small
windmill set in motion by wind was used.
The pilot could adjust the vane at any
angle desired for use in climbing or descending. It could also be switched on
or off by the pilot as desired.
They applied for a patent on February 8,
1908 although the device was still in development and not been flight tested
yet because of desire to maintain secrecy.
The Wrights worked on the device
intermittently, as time would allow. In the fall of 1911 they had progressed to
the point where they decided to test it out on a new glider at Kitty Hawk.
However a number of reporters also showed up, so in order to maintain secrecy
on the new device, they flew the glider without using the automatic control
Their patent (#1,075,555) was granted
October 14, 1913 although they still had not flight-tested it.
The Wrights didn’t seem to be in any
hurry in using the device until Glenn Curtiss had won the Collier Trophy two
years in a row during 1911 and 1912. Curtiss had won the trophy for his
development of flying boats.
Orville decided Curtiss wasn’t going to
win again in 1913. He decided he would use the Automatic Stabilizer to win the
In the fall of 1913, Orville installed
the stabilizer on a special Wright Model E airplane that utilized a single
pusher propeller. He kept the details of the stabilizer secret even from the
Wright Company. He purposely waited until the last day of the year to fly for
He invited the Aero Club’s judges to
Huffman Prairie to see a demonstration of his new device on a cold snowy day,
He turned up his coat collar, put on a
pair of goggles and took off. He made a total of 17 flights.
His most spectacular flight consisted of
7 full circles of the field with both hands held in the air. The automatic
stabilizer kept the same angle of bank and almost the same altitude. He wowed
the judges and was awarded the prize on February 5, 1914.
The stabilizer was then offered as an
option for use with the sale of Wright 1910-1911 Model B flyers.
However, it saw little use, because on
June 18, 1914, a young Lawrence Sperry, as part of a great safety competition,
unveiled a totally new type of stabilizer to the world. The safety competition
was jointly sponsored by the Aero-Club de France and the French War Department.
In his demonstration flight, Sperry took
off from the Seine in a Curtiss C-2, climbed to altitude and flew back down the
river. At the appropriate moment, his mechanic, Emile Cachin, crawled 7 feet
out on the wing as Sperry lifted his hands from the controls and stood up in
the cockpit. The plane sped by the judges as the crowd went wild.
What Sperry had done was adapt a
balancing mechanism invented by his father, Elmer, for counteracting the
rolling of ships, to an airplane. The device employed two
gyroscopes that performed the function of the pendulum and vanes in the Wrights’
The invention was a new technology that
would create expanded opportunities for application in the future. It certainly
has done that and is used in today’s satellites and space flights.
The rapid obsolescence of the automatic
stabilizer was symbolic of what was also happening to the Wright airplanes. The
awarding of the Collier trophy to the Wrights signaled the end of an era in
which the Wrights had invented and nurtured the airplane to a reality. In so
doing they set a standard of excellence for others to follow in their
References: The Bishops Boys by Tom Crouch; Wilbur and Orville by
Wright Model C:
End of the Line
Model C was the standard production airplane for the Wright Co. in 1913. The
Army originally purchased six Wright Model Cs and five of these airplanes had
crashed killing six men. Major Samuel Reber, the officer in charge of Army
aviation called for an investigation and the resulting conclusions were that
the crashes were caused by design error, not pilot error.
The 1912 Model C was the successor to the popular Model B and was delivered
to the Army in 1912. It replaced the prominent triangular blinkers of the Model
B with vertical vanes attached to the forward end of the skids.
It employed a more powerful engine to meet the Army specifications; that the
machine climb at the rate of 200 feet per second, have a fuel supply sufficient
for a 4-hour flight and carry a weight of 450 pounds, including pilot and
passenger. It also had a simplified control system that was difficult to learn
for new pilots.
In order to help understand the problems with the Model C, I will digress a
bit to provide some background.
After Wilbur’s death, Orville took over as president of the company. It
was a job he didn’t want but he really didn’t have a choice. He was not a
good president. His vision for the company was clouded by an obsessive desire
to protect their patent rights that were under attack by Glen Curtiss. Orville
and the rest of the family blamed the stress that Wilbur was under while
defending the patent as a contributing factor in his death.
Even before Wilbur’s death, the Wright airplanes were technologically
beginning to fall behind the competition. The Model C was such a machine. The
standard model was slow and unstable and used a twin-lever control system that
was confusing to operate.
The problem with the Army began on June 11, 1912. U.S. Army Lt. Leighton
Hagelhurst and Wright co-pilot Arthur Welsh were killed in a Model C when they
crashed at College Park, Md. Then on September 4, 1913, Lt. Moss Love was
killed in a Model C at the Army’s new North Island training facility at San
Two months later, on November 14, Lt. Perry Rich crashed into Manila Bay,
Philippines, and died. Tens days later, student pilot Lt. Hugh Kelly and chief
instructor Eric Ellington were killed in a second crash at North Island.
The death of Ellington set off alarm bells in Dayton. Ellington had the
reputation as one of the best pilots in the Army. He had been corresponding
with Grover Loening, the Wright Company’s factory manager about problems with
the Model C machine. Ellington told Loening that the machine was tail heavy and
difficult to control.
Orville had hired Loening as factory manager after he had fired the former
factory manager, Frank Russell, when he took over as president. Loening was a
1910 engineering graduate of Columbia. Orville knew him because Wilbur had met
him the year before in New York City.
Loening was now convinced that there was a fundamental design defect in the
Model C Machine. Although Orville thought highly of Loening, he emphatically
disagreed with his conclusion.
Orville maintained that the problem was pilot error. The Model C had a
powerful new engine and the pilots were not accustomed to it. He suspected that
most of the crashes were a result of stalls caused by the pilots misjudging
their angle of attack.
Orville intended to solve the perceived problem in two ways. One, he
developed an angle-of-incidence indicator that detected small changes in the
angle of attack that allowed the pilot to know when his climb or dive was too
The more powerful engine was to be used for climbing only. If the engine was
flown at full power on level flight, the angle of attack becomes critical and
should be kept between 5 and 10 degrees in order to maintain the center of
pressure on the wing at the proper position. Orville predicted that 90% of the
accidents caused by stalling would be eliminated if they paid attention to the
Secondly, he developed an automatic pilot that he had been working on since
1905. He received a patent for this device in October 1913 and was awarded the
Collier Trophy for the device on February 5, 1914. In a performance at Huffman
Prairie in December he wowed members of the Aero Club of America, when he
took-off and flew seven circles of the field with his hands held over his head.
Unfortunately for Orville’s invention, Lawrence Sperry soon after adapted
a balancing device to airplanes that his father had invented for counteracting
the roll and pitch of a ship. The Sperry device performed the same function as
Orville’s mechanical device but with gyroscopes. The Sperry device became the
standard for future use.
Then it happened again. On February 9, 1914, another pilot, Lt. Henry Post
died in a crash at North Island. Six men had now been killed in crashes of the
Model C. The number constituted one half of all Army pilots killed in air
crashes. This is what instigated the Major Reder’s call for a board of
investigation. The board concluded after their investigation, that the machine’s
elevator was too weak and condemned the Model C as "dynamically unsuited
Orville disagreed with the conclusion but cooperated with the investigation.
He sent several of his employees, including Oscar Brindley his leading
instructor at Huffman Field, to conduct the investigation at North Field.
Brindley, in his initial report, found that aircraft maintenance was a major
problem. Major Reder thereupon advertised for an engineer to oversee the
airworthiness of airplanes in the Army inventory and to organize a small
research and development unit.
Loening applied for the job and was hired. His first action was to declare
all the Wright and Curtiss airplanes unsafe to fly. He blamed part of the
problem on the pusher type (propellers in back) design. He believed that the
pusher type airplanes were prone to stall and when they crashed the engine too
often fell and crushed the pilot. Curtiss Machines were having as many problems
if not more as the Wright machines.
Loening wrote to Orville several times, but Orville seldom answered his
letters. As a result, Loening believed that Orville never forgave him for
outlawing the Wright airplanes.
In the meantime Orville was fighting Glen Curtiss in the continuing patent
lawsuit and also working on a plan to sell the Wright Company. The latter task
he successfully accomplished on October 15, 1915.
The reorganized Wright Co. developed two new airplanes to replace the Wright
Model C, the Wright Models K and L. The Model K was built for the Navy and the
Model L was a light scout airplane. Both were of a completely new design,
placing the propellers in the front (tractor type) and used ailerons instead of
wingwarping for the first time.
The company was losing money and merged with the Glenn L. Martin Co. and the
Simplex Automobile Co. in 1916 to form the Wright-Martin Co. The new company
prospered as an aircraft engine builder.
Glenn Curtiss developed a tractor type machine of his own in 1944 designated
the Model J. A later version became the popular JN-4D (Jenny) of World War I.
The Wright-Curtiss patent dispute wasn’t settled until 1917 when the
federal government stepped in to settle it during World War II.
Milton Wright, Living a Principled Life
The Wright Brothers have been often criticized for their uncompromising
approach to many disagreements and business dealings after their first flight
in 1903. Their approach, the close bond between the brothers, their secrecy
with regard to their experiments and their mistrust of outsiders were
extensions of their father’s philosophy that a tightly unified family was the
best defense against the pressures of an essentially wicked world which was not
to be trusted.
Milton Wright, the father of Wilbur and Orville, was a bishop in the United
Brethren Church. He was a man of strong fundamental Christian values and an
iron will to follow them. Born in a log cabin in Rush County, Indiana in 1828
in a religious home, he knew from a young age that the church would be his
At the age of eighteen an itinerant preacher introduced him to the United
Brethren Church. He experienced a religious conversion and felt salvation. The
church doctrine emphasized the importance of a moral life, temperance and
abolition of slavery.
The grand vision of the church was to enable the reign of God in the New
World and for that to occur, Christian reformers must first sweep away the
works of Satan. God was on one side and evil was on the other. The salvation of
one’s self and of his fellows demands a struggle. The church was a protestant
sect that was popular in the rural areas of the Midwest in the 1890s with a
peak membership of some 200,000 members.
Milton preached his first sermon on his twenty-second birthday in 1850. He
was earning his living on the family farm and supplementing his income by
teaching in local schools. IN 1850 he entered Hartsville College, a small
Indiana school run by the United Brethren Church, and was ordained a minister
in 1856. He previously also became certified in 1852 to teach penmanship,
grammar, reading, writing, arithmetic and geography.
He never graduated from college but later in life he was awarded a honorary
degree of divinity by Western College another Brethren college.
He met his wife, Susan Koener, while at Hartsville and they were married in
1859. She believed in his religious calling and devoted her life to supporting
him and the family.
He inculcated in his children strength of character, firmness of purpose and
self-confidence in their pursuits. He taught them that with hard work they
could accomplish anything.
Church business required Milton to be a frequent traveler. Although often
not physically at home, he was a strong influence on his children. His
admonition to the children was that the world beyond Hawthorn St. was fraught
with dangers and temptations. Only family was safe, reliable and sustaining.
Within the family he was broadminded. He didn't seem to be concerned
that neither Wilbur nor Orville seldom attended church. He encouraged
curiosity. Orville later in life said Wilbur and he had been "lucky
enough to grow up in a home environment where there was always much
encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests and to investigate
whatever aroused curiosity."
In general outlook Milton was a reformer. As a youth he was antislavery and
later on a supporter of women's rights and suffrage. He was a principled
He was no stranger to controversy. The first major controversy Milton became
embroiled in resulted in the permanent splitting of the church into two
factions, the New Constitution (Liberals) and the Old Constitution (Radicals).
Milton was the leader of the latter.
Milton had a way with words. He gave this benediction at the award ceremony
during The Wright Brothers Celebration in 1909. "We have
met this day to celebrate an invention -- the dream of all ages -- hitherto
deemed impractical. It suddenly breaks on all human vision that man, cleaving
the air like a bird, can rise to immense heights and reach immeasurable
distances. We ask thy peace to rest on this occasion and thy benediction on
Here is another example; this time, the occasion is the death of Wilbur. "A
short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper,
great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it
steadfastly, he lived and died."
The church split over the issue of admitting freemasons to church
membership. Milton strongly supported the church policy that prohibited their
admission because he believed the freemasonry constituted a secret society that
was unchristian and anti democratic. They were "ominous rivals of
At the church conference in 1869 many younger members of the church,
referred to as "Liberals," wanted to increase church membership and
freemasons were a growing untapped potential for recruitment.
That same year the conservative majority, known as "Radicals" of
which Milton was a member, installed him as editor of the church newspaper, The
Religious Telescope. Milton was picked because the Radicals wanted to
exercise better control of the content of church publications. The printing
plant was in Dayton, so that necessitated the move of the Wright family to
As editor of church publications, Milton became one of the most influential
members of the church and a leading spokesman of the Radicals.
After eight years as editor, he was elected a bishop in 1877. Four years
later he lost his bid for reelection as bishop and editor because of the vote
of the growing number of the Liberal members and some alienated Radicals that
were tired of Milton’s uncompromising ways.
Milton moved the family to Richmond, Indiana and continued his crusade
against secret societies by publishing a series of articles known as Reform
Leaflets. Wilbur wrote and published his first article in support of his father
during this period. He followed-up his first article with many more articles
Milton returned to Dayton in 1884 with the family.
In 1885, the Liberals established a commission for the purpose of rewriting
the old constitution and creed as an attempt to settle the 20-year schism in
the church. As a peace offering to Milton, he was reelected bishop with the
help of the liberal vote. They then assigned him to the West Coast to get him
out of their hair.
When the commission voted on the changes in the constitution, Milton was the
only bishop to vote against the change. Outvoted, he walked out and took 10,000
to 15,000 members with him.
Milton reorganized his followers as the United Brethren Church in Christ
Six weeks later there was bad news; Susan Wright died after a long illness.
The two factions of the church soon began to fight over millions of dollars
of church assets. The largest asset was the printing establishment in Dayton.
The Liberal faction didn’t agree that the printing establishment should
belong with the Radicals and the dispute continued in courts in seven states
that lasted until 1900.
Wilbur, only 22, became the chief strategist in helping his father fight the
court battles that ensued, including preparing legal briefs.
Bishop Wright served as the publishing head of the Old Constitution church
until 1893. He then tried to get Wilbur appointed to the post, but was
unsuccessful. Millard Fillmore Keiter, a Brethren minister, was elected to
assume his duties.
In 1901 Keiter was up for reelection. This didn’t sit well with Milton
because he suspected that Keiter was misappropriating church funds and he
demanded an investigation. This began the second major dispute involving Milton
that would divide the church.
Keiter was removed from his publishing position prior to a planned hearing.
An audit found that he had left an unexplained deficiency of some $7,000.
Milton went to Huntington, Indiana, the site of the new church college, on
February 10 to attend a hearing on the matter. Keiter claimed that the
deficiency was just simple carelessness. The church board voted 4-3 in favor of
Keiter because they didn’t want to continue the controversy and risk public
disclosure after the disputes of the past. They did dismiss Keiter from office.
Milton was incensed at the decision because he was not permitted to question
Keiter. "It was a farcical investigation." He resolved that this wasn’t
the end of the matter.
He sent Wilbur and Lorin, who was a trained accountant, to review the
records. Wilbur reported back, "there is something rotten here."
Milton responded with articles and petitions on the matter and ignoring
church policy, reported the fraud to civil authorities. Keiter was arrested but
charges were dismissed in April 1902 on the basis of technicalities.
The following month Keiter retaliated by filing disciplinary charges against
Milton accusing him of libel and breaching the church code of settling disputes
out of court. A special church commission was established to investigate Milton’s
conduct. A hearing was scheduled for the annual church conference in August.
In May, Milton and Wilbur visited Huntington. The bishop made a peace
proposal but it was voted down.
A war of words raged through the summer of 1902. Wilbur took over as his
father’s chief counselor and prepared his father’s defense. Like his
father, he enjoyed matching wits with the veteran lawyers. Orville did all the
typing and printing.
Wilbur traveled again to Huntington to review the charges in detail. Upon
his return he prepared a critical essay for publication in the church
newspaper. He wrote, "When my father and myself came to examine the
charges carefully, we at once saw that the whole thing was a mere sham. There
never was any real intention of bringing the case to trail. The real purpose
was to harass the accused."
In the meantime, Wilbur and Orville were working on their 1902 glider. They
were still trying to finish the critical calculations on their lift and drift
tables resulting from their wind tunnel experiments. Fortunately Octave Chanute
offered to help with some of the calculations. He visited the Wrights in Dayton
in July and received instructions on performing the calculations. Even with
his help there was doubt as to when Wilbur and Orville would be able to journey
to Kitty Hawk.
On July 21, Milton wrote in his diary, "the boys resumed the
preparation of my third pamphlet and completed it." The whole family spent
several days stuffing envelopes and stamping them.
Orville and Wilbur finally left for Kitty Hawk on August 25th.
While the brothers were at Kitty Hawk in August, the elders of the church in
absentia found Milton guilty of "insubordination to constituted
authority" and "going to the law" against a fellow Christian.
The board did not want Keiter’s irregularities to be made public. They
offered Milton sixty days to confess his errors or face expulsion from
leadership in the church.
They should have known that Milton would ignore them. He countered that the
bishops that made this decision had no constituted authority to make that judgment, thus their action was void.
Many clergy and layman supported Milton and he continued to perform his
duties as usual.
After returning from Kitty Hawk at the end of October, Wilbur still hadn’t
had time to review all of the lift and drag calculations performed by Chanute
because he had to leave again to attend to affairs for his father.
Milton celebrated his 74th birthday at home on November 17.
At the end of November, Wilbur still hadn’t finished reviewing Chanute’s
calculations and excused himself to Chanute writing, "Affairs at
Huntington have required much of my time and thought recently."
The showdown on expulsion came the following year in the first week of
August 1903, one month before the brothers left Dayton for Kitty Hawk on
September 25th with the Flyer for their attempt to be the first to
fly. The meeting was held in Messick, Indiana. Wilbur arrived at the meeting
just as his father and the presiding bishop were both gaveling the conference
The local sheriff was summoned to restore order and served Milton a
"cease and desist order." Three days later, the bishops voted 22 to 2
to expel Milton. However, the vote didn’t settle the issue and the
controversy dragged on.
In May 1905, a General Conference of the church (old constitution) was held
in Caledonia, Michigan to decide Milton’s fate once and for all. This time a
large majority of attendees voted in Milton’s favor to render the expulsion
null and void.
Milton retired shortly thereafter at the age of 77. He lived another eleven
years. At age 81 Orville took him up for a ride in a Wright Model B. The bishop
thinking that Orville was flying too conservatively yelled over the noise of
the engine, "Higher, Orville, Higher."
As for Keiter, he and some of his supporters broke away from the United
Brethren Church. But he got himself into trouble again. He embezzled $2,000
from a supporter and was arrested for land fraud.
The politics involved in these activities impacted Orville's
and Wilbur's attitude about attending church. They continued to
practice their father's conservative Christian values but
decided not to attend church.
One can now better understand the numerous battles the brothers were
involved in with their airplane from the perspective of their father’s church
struggles. Wilbur was intensely involved with the long time patent fight with
Glenn Curtiss over illegal
infringements of the Wright patent.
Orville was involved in the Smithsonian
controversy over Langley’s Great Aerodrome. The Smithsonian claimed that the
Aerodrome could have been the first airplane to fly if only their catapult had
worked properly on launch.
Like his father would do, Wilbur defended their patent in a number of time
consuming court battles at home and abroad. Orville, frustrated with the
fraudulent claims of the Smithsonian, sent the Flyer to the London Science
Museum in 1925. He didn’t authorize its return until 1948 after the
Smithsonian had publicly retracted their claims.
The Wright Brothers had two earlier businesses before their aircraft
business. Their first one was as writers, editors, publishers and printers.
Their second one was as bicycle manufacturers and sellers of bicycles. This
article is about their first business together --– the printing business.
During their printing days, Wilbur and Orville wrote, edited and published
52 issues of a weekly newspaper, "The West Side News," and 78
issues of a daily newspaper, "The Evening Item." In addition
they printed hundreds of job orders.
Orville started his printing career at the age of 15 in 1886. He and a
neighborhood friend, Ed Sines, who owned a small printing outfit, printed their
first newspaper, The Midget, for their school friends. They intended the
paper to be a weekly, but it only lasted for one issue because Orville’s
father Milton was upset at their effort.
The problem was that the young printers left the third page blank except for
their company name, Sines and Wright. They were tiring
because each page had to be printed separately and all type had to be set by
hand. Milton lectured them: "They had not done themselves justice in
slighting that third page." Readers would "get the impression
they were lazy and shiftless."
Sines and Wright continued in the printing business. They originally
started did their printing at Sines’ house, but business improved enough that
they obtained a larger press and moved to a shed in the back of the Wright home
on Hawthorne Street. On cold days they did their typesetting inside the house.
They had enough business to hire a neighbor boy to help out for 15 cents a
The "Sines and Wright" business arrangement changed after a
dispute over what to do with some popping corn they had been paid for a job.
Orville wanted to buy more type. Sines wanted to eat the popcorn. They settled
the dispute by Orville buying out Sines’ share and Sines agreed to continue
working as an employee of Orville. This arrangement lasted for the duration of
the Wrights’ printing business, which was sold in 1899.
Both brothers were exposed to the printing business at an early age. Their
father was a bishop in the United Brethren in Christ church and a religious
writer, editor and publisher.
In 1869 he was elected the editor of the church publication, "The
Religious Telescope." The position required him and the family to move
to Dayton, Ohio where the church owned a large printing building in the heart
of downtown Dayton.
Milton’s office was in the building and Orville and Wilbur visited him
often and had free reign of the building. Orville especially was thrilled with
the big steam powered printing presses.
Orville was interested in a bigger press to use. So in the spring of 1888
when he was 16, with the help of older brother Wilbur, he built a printing
press out of a folding top of sister Katharine’s old baby buggy, a discarded
tombstone for a press bed, firewood and other scrap parts from a junkyard. In a
few weeks the press was printing 1,000 sheets an hour.
An experienced printer from Denver took a look at the press and reportedly
said: "It works, but I don’t see how the heck it works."
Orville improved his knowledge and skills in printing by working during two
summers in a local printing establishment when he was 15 and 16 years of age.
He dropped out of high school before his senior year so that he could devote
full time to his printing business.
In March 1889, Orville, 17, began printing and publishing a weekly
newspaper, the "West Side News." It had three-columns on four
pages. The subscription price was 40 cents a year or 10 cents for 10 weeks.
The "News" did well enough that in April Orville moved to a
small office 1210 West Third Street. The paper expanded from three columns to
A significant event in the life of the business occurred at this time ---
Wilbur joined the business. The masthead showed Wilbur as editor and Orville
Wilbur had Yale and a teaching career in mind after high school until an
unfortunate accident changed his plans. While paying ice hockey during the
winter of 1885 he was hit in the mouth with a hockey stick. The blow knocked
out several teeth. The physical and mental impact on Wilbur overwhelmed him.
A number of serious side complications developed after the incident. He
experienced heart palpitations and digestive problems. There was concern that
permanent damage might result. The prescription was an extended period of rest.
By the close of 1886 his physical ailments seemed to have gone away, but he
was left with depression that lasted for an extended period. His mental state
wasn’t helped by the serious fatal illness of his mother who had developed
tuberculosis and became an invalid before she died July 4, 1989. During her
illness Wilbur devoted himself to nursing his mother.
The family continued to be concerned about Wilbur. Older brother Lorin, then
living in Kansas, wrote to Katharine: "What does Will do? He ought to
be doing something. Is he still cook and chambermaid?"
It is not clear what the conversation was between Wilbur and Orville, but
Orville must have convinced Wilbur to come to work in the print shop. This
event helped bring Wilbur out of his funk. It was some three years after Wilbur’s
One of the first publications printed under Wilbur’s authorship was a
short church tract entitled "Scenes in the Church Commission During the
Last Day of Its Session." It was printed in 1888 and was the earliest
record of the imprint of WRIGHT BROS., JOB PRINTERS.
In April of 1890 the Wrights started a new daily newspaper named "The
Evening Item." This paper had five columns with more than half of the
columns containing national and international news. It also carried the
baseball scores of the American Association and the National League.
The July 17th and 26th editions of the "Item"
carried articles about the activities of the famous German glider experimenter Otto
Lilienthal. Lilienthal would later be one those experimenters that the
Wrights would cite has having an influence on their own flying experiments. At
the time I don’t think the Wrights were aware of the influence flying would
have on their lives.
The publication of the "Item" ceased on July 30, 1890 after
only four months of publication. The brothers found that they could make more
money doing job printing. There were twelve newspapers in the Dayton and the
competition was fierce.
late 1890 they moved to the new Hoover Block at the corner of West Third and
Williams St. The sign read, "Wright and Wright Job Printers."
At this location they printed a black-oriented newspaper, "Dayton
Tattler," and other printing jobs for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the
famous black poet. Dunbar and Orville were high school classmates and friends.
Dunbar chalked on the wall of Wrights’ shop at this location:
"Orville Wright is out of sight
In the printing business.
No other mind is half so bright
As his’n is."
The United Brethren Church split into two churches and Milton became a
Bishop and publishing agent for the Church of the United Brethren in Christ
(Old Constitution). Milton’s church had no printing facility so as a result Wright
and Wright printed many of the church publications.
In 1892 the brothers were becoming increasingly interested in bicycles and
established their first bicycle shop at 1005 West Third St. The shop provided
sales and service.
They continued their printing business including several publications. One
was an advertising publication named "Tid-Bits" that was
printed for special occasions and holidays. Advertising from local merchants
supported the publication, which included light-hearted reading.
They printed a magazine-style publication in 1894 named "Snap-Shots
at Current Events." The sixteen-page document contained many articles
about bicycles, essays and jokes.
In February 1896 they shortened their publication to just "Snap-Shots"
and moved to 22 South Williams St. They listed Wright Cycle Co. as
publisher of the magazine. The printing business was on the second floor and
the bicycle business was on the first floor. This is the first time that both
businesses were co-located.
Several issues displayed large advertisements of the Wright Cycle Co.
In April they ceased publishing "Snap-Shots." It was at this
location that they first began to talk seriously about the possibility that man
In 1897 they moved both the bicycle and printing businesses to 1127 West
Third St. This is the building in which the gliders and Wright Flyer were
conceived and built.
The printing operation was on the second floor. The financial assets of both
businesses were co-mingled.
Much of the printing business by now had been delegated to Ed Sines as the
brothers shifted their attention to bicycles. In 1899 Sines reinjured a bad
knee and could no longer handle the printing job. It was a convenient time for
the Wrights to sell the business to "Stevens and Stevens" who ran a
printing business close by.
Orville never did lose interest in printing. In 1930 he designed and built a
printing press for the Miami Wood Specialty Co.
Reference: Wright and Wright Printers: The Other Career of Wilbur and
Orville by Charlotte K. and August E. Brunsman, 1988.
The Boyhood Nurturing of the Wright
The best scientists of the day tried to solve the riddle of
powered flight and failed. Yet, two brothers without formal high
school diplomas found the answer. Neil Armstrong, the first man
on the moon, referred to them as " doers with
dreams." An examination of their boyhood environment
provides some clues as to why they were successful.
Their father, Milton, was a bishop in the United Brethren
Church. He was a man of strong fundamental Christian values and
an iron will to follow them. Born in a log cabin in Rush County,
Indiana in 1828 in a religious household, he knew from a young
age that the church would be his career.
At the age of eighteen an itinerant preacher introduced him
to the United Brethren Church. He experienced a religious
conversion and felt salvation. The church doctrine emphasized
the importance of a moral life, temperance and abolition of
slavery. The church was a protestant sect that was popular in
the rural areas of the Midwest in the 1890s.
Milton preached his first sermon on his twenty-second
birthday in 1850. He was earning his living by working on the
farm and teaching in local schools to supplement his income.
In 1850 he entered Hartsville College, a small Indiana school
run by the United Brethren Church, and was ordained a minister
in 1856. He also became certified to teach penmanship, grammar,
reading , writing, arithmetic and geography.
Milton was a strong supporter of women’s rights. He gave
encouragement and support to daughter Katharine who attended and
graduated from America’s first coed college, Oberlin College
in Ohio. He had selected and recommended Oberlin to Katharine.
At the time only 2% of girls attended college. In later years Milton and Orville marched in a women’s
suffrage parade in downtown Dayton.
met his future wife, Susan Koener, at Hartsville College. She
trained as a teacher studying literature, mathematics, Latin and
Greek. Two years younger than Milton, she was scholarly and shy.
She was born in Hillsboro, a town located in the Blue Ridge
Mountains of Virginia. Her family later migrated to Indiana. Her
father was a wagon maker and wheelwright. Susan, growing up,
spent much time in her father’s shop where she became adept in
using tools. It would be Susan, not Milton that would help the
children in their early construction projects. Milton was an
intellectual and amateur scientist, but he was not good with his
Milton’s career grew in influence. He was elected and
reelected bishop and became editor of the church publications.
The latter assignment necessitated his move to Dayton.
After their marriage in 1859, Susan spent the next 25 years
moving the family, as Milton’s church duties required frequent
moves to new locations in Indiana, Iowa and Ohio.
Susan considered it was her fulltime duty to raise these
children into healthy, strong adults with moral fiber, and model
Milton inculcated in his children strength of character,
firmness of purpose and self-confidence in their pursuits. He
taught them that with hard work they could accomplish anything.
Orville and Wilbur lived a moral lifestyle. They never flew
on Sundays and abstained from the use of liquor, beer and
tobacco. They maintained a strict dress code even while working
in the barren sands of Kitty Hawk - wearing white shirts, stiff
collars, and vests along with suit and coat.
Milton placed a very high value on the concept of family and
maintained a loving environment among family members. He
believed that a tightly unified family was the best defense
against the pressures of an essentially wicked world which was
not to be trusted.
Bishop Milton became involved in serious controversies that
produced crisis within the church. The controversies involved
what Milton viewed as changes in traditional doctrines. The
schism continued for sixteen years and ultimately split the
church. Wilbur, while in high school helped his father in his
battles by writing and distributing position papers.
The brothers learned from their father’s devotion to
correct principles, justice and course of action regardless of
opposition and obstacles.
Their father’s philosophy would ring true in Orville and
Wilbur’s later battles with Glen Curtiss and other infringers
of their patent on their airplane and with the Smithsonian
Institution’s claim that Langley was the first to construct an
airplane that was capable of flying.
The close bond between the brothers, their self confidence
and their secrecy with regard to their experiments and their
mistrust of outsiders were also extensions of their father’s
Milton and Susan encouraged openness and curiosity and a
willingness to pursue scientific inquiry and speculation.
Both brothers, from an early age, were fascinated with
mechanical devices. Orville, particularly, enjoyed taking things
apart to see how they worked and then reassembling them. This
was mechanical aptitude was most likely inherited from their
mother who could make or repair almost anything.
Milton encouraged the boy’s scientific interests even while
traveling. His duties as a bishop in the church required him to
be absent from home much of the time.
One day he returned from one of his numerous trips with a toy
helicopter designed by Alphonse Penaud of France. It fascinated
the boys who were ages eleven and seven at the time. The
rotating twin propellers would fly as high as 25 feet in the air
when released from two tightened rubber bands.
The brothers tried to build their own helicopter of a larger
design, but weren’t successful. It wouldn’t be until they
were older that they figured out why. (The size of a helicopter
of only twice as large would require eight times the power to
fly). Later in life they cited the toy helicopter as inspiring
their initial interest in flying.
Milton would carry on with other educational activities while
traveling. He would give his sons geography lessons by
describing in great detail the places he visited. He would
encourage the children to write him using good grammar and he
would critique their efforts.
Both parents believed in formal and informal education and
encouraged their children to pursue intellectual interests
outside of school. They believed that children needed time to
investigate whatever aroused their curiosity and encouraged the
boys to skip school on occasion for that purpose.
Their home was filled with books - history, novels,
encyclopedias, scientific papers and religious. There was even a
religious book by the agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, because Milton
believed in learning from studying a diversity of viewpoints.
The children were taught to read at an early age using
McGuffey readers. Both Wilbur and Orville acquired excellent
reading skills before they went to school. They both enjoyed
could read scientific articles in their father’s encyclopedia
at an early age.
Orville was home schooled prior to the second grade. When he
entered the second grade he told his second grade teacher he
wanted to move on to the 3rd reader. She told him to
read a particular passage out of the 2nd reader to
demonstrate his proficiency. Orville turned the book upside down
and read the passage. He passed the test.
Milton didn’t always agree with how reading was being
taught in the classroom. One day he went to school to complain
that the teacher should stop telling kids to guess at words.
Neither brother received a
high school diploma. In 1900 the average American adult had just
5 years of formal education.
Wilbur did not receive his
high school diploma in Richmond because his family move to
Dayton, Ohio, just before commencement.
The fact that Wilbur did not
graduate was discovered more than 80 years later when, in an
attempt to award Wilbur Wright the Outstanding Alumni award, a
requirement was to have graduated. In 1993, the Richmond
Community Schools rectified matters by approving an 1884-style
diploma for him, making him the high school's most famous
Orville didn't attend his
senior year of high school to devote full time to his printing
At the turn of the century a
high school diploma was not considered that important. Only 8%
of 14-17 year-olds attended high school as most formal education
ended with elementary school.
The influence of their parents had a powerful influence on
their later achievements. Wilbur, the reflective visionary, and
Orville, the impulsive mechanic/engineer, had different but
complementary talents that were critical to inventing powered
flight. Orville once told a friend, "In a different kind
of environment our curiosity might have been nipped long before
it could have borne fruit."
While You Work
article described a day of work in the life of the Wright Brothers
as they prepared for their Army test flights as it appeared
in the Philadelphia Evening Star in July 1909:
their aeroplane together at Fort Myer to the tune of the "Traumerie."
It’s a sad, sweet old tune by Robert Schumann, its name in English
(Taylor), where’s the sled hinges?" asks Wilbur in the
little shed at Fort Myer.
they are," says Charley, the Wright mechanic.
enough. Ought to have lots of those." For a minute he looks
tired with Charlie. Then he begins to whistle "Traumerie."
And then he becomes gentle again.
He is putting
one of those long sled runners on the plane. It is necessary
to bore some holes in it. He gets the drill and sits on the
floor, with the runner beneath him. It’s an awful hot day. The
suit he got in France is of heavy cloth; his funny, foreign
shoes squeak with the heat, when he bends.
and whistles the dreaming song.
is on the other side of the workshop, pulling at the lever that
twists the planes. At least they’re right. Then he, too, begins
to whistle: "Our life is like a busy day."
Charlie that has been filling a piece at the bench finishes
his job. He bends down to examine it carefully, and he takes
up the tune:
evening comes we look and wonder what our toil has done."
They are all three whistling it.
Lahm, the aeronaut of the United States army signal corps, enters
the shed. He has a book in which he writes in a very mysterious
fashion every now and then.
shake hands with him and then go on about their work and their
Lahm begins to whistle the same air. He stops only when he writes
in his mysterious book.
where’s the center punch?"
I brought one. It’s somewhere," says Charles.
all right. Here it is. Never mind." Says Wilbur.
Punch. He is marking three holes in the hinge that will fit
on the rudder.
he stops, goes over to a corner of the shed and gets a small
lard pail. He is going for water. There’s a little spring in
the rear of the shed. Lots of folks would have had spring water
with ice, sent out to them from the city, if they were in the
places of the Wright Brothers. But that’s not their way.
Out in the
hot sun he goes. Its rays fairly gleam on his bald head. You’d
hardly think there in the sunlight, that the laurels of the
civilized world are resting on the head of that man with the
lard pail – that man who wades through the weeds and whistles
as he goes, "The Traumerie."
in our sleeping, dream the sweeter for the vic’tries we have
won," he whistles as he re-enters the shed.
good," exclaims Orville.
his face in the pail. Charlie, wiping his hands on his trousers,
comes over and waits until Orville’s face emerges from the lard
pail – this face that is known to the whole civilized world.
wheels about to his job and his tune. He’s tinkering with the
engine now. Charlie drinks.
hands him the pail and goes back to his bench.
gleaming dome rises above the shining tin pail, as he pours
into his charmed person not less than a pint of water.
gets back to work.
And it isn’t
long until they’re all three whistling again. And working. And
dreaming, as all the rest of the world is dreaming, of the day
when mankind shall be at home in the air.
that works easy enough?" Wilbur asks Orville. "Better
try that lever to see."
it doesn’t," says Orville, as the planes, in warping fairly
of the forenoon Orville, who is scheduled to make the flights,
works at the warping apparatus.
when a man is going to risk his life in a machine he wants to
know how the machine is put together. He’s willing to get his
hands pretty horny and dirty in getting things just right.
goodness sake, when do we eat?" asks Orville.
who is puttering contemplatively with a hinge, stops whistling
we might as well go now."
So off they
go across the hot, weedy, clayey testing grounds. No automobiles
for them. They wait for the streetcar. It takes them two miles
across the Potomac River from Virginia to Georgetown, which
is part of Washington. And here, in a little outskirts restaurant
they have ham and eggs and buttermilk.
who gets to the cashier first pays the bill, and then they hustle
back to the shop, where all the afternoon they work the lever,
the drill and hammer.
machine will be perfect when they make the real fly before Uncle
Sam’s scrutinizing eyes.
the Wright Flyer
What would it be like to fly the Wright Airplane? The Wright
brothers tell us in the August 29, 1909 issue of Scientific
"In order to show the general reader the way in which the
machine operates, let us fancy ourselves ready for the start.
(Katharine and Wilbur fly together in the picture)
machine is placed upon a single rail track facing the wind,
and is securely fastened with a cable. The engine is put in
motion, and the propellers in the rear whirr.
You take your seat at the center of the machine beside he operator.
He slips the cable, and you shoot forward.
An assistant, who has been holding the machine in balance on
the rail, starts forward with you. But before you have gone
fifty feet the speed is too great for him, and he lets go.
Before reaching the end of the track the operator moves the
front rudder, and the machine lifts the rail like a kite supported
by the pressure of the air underneath it. The ground under you
is at first a perfect blur, but as you rise the objects become
At height of one hundred feet you feel hardly any motion at
all, except for the wind which strikes your face. If you did
take the precaution to fasten your hat before starting, you
have probably lost it by this time.
The operator moves a lever; the right wing rises, and the machine
swings about to the left. You make a very short turn, yet you
do not feel the sensation of being thrown from your seat, so
often experienced in automobile and railway travel. You find
yourself facing toward the point from which you started.
The objects on the ground now seem to be moving at much higher
speed, though you perceive no change in pressure on your face.
You know then that you are traveling with the wind.
When you near the starting point, the operator stops the motor
while still high in the air. The machine coasts down at an oblique
angle to the ground, and after sliding fifty or a hundred feet
comes to rest.
Although the machine lands when traveling at a speed of a mile
a minute, you feel no shock whatever, and cannot, in fact, tell
the exact moment at which it first touched the ground.
The motor close beside you kept up an almost deafening roar
during the whole flight, yet in your excitement you did not
notice it till it stopped."
Anybody want a ride?
Today, when people think of cities where airplanes are
produced, they think of Seattle, St. Louis and Ft. Worth. They
don’t think of Dayton where the Wright Brothers designed and
produced the first successful airplane.
At one time the Wright Brothers did produce airplanes in
Dayton. This is that story.
The Wrights established the Wright Company in 1909. Their
first factory was located about two miles from their bicycle shop. Wilbur in a letter to
Octave Chanute, announcing the formation of the company, said "that
we will devote most of our time to experimental work."
Unfortunately, it would not work out that way.
It was a small factory with some dozen employees. They
temporarily rented manufacturing space at the Speedwell
Motor Car plant until a new factory building was completed in
November 1910. The Speedwell site was located at Wisconsin and
Miami Chapel Streets in West Dayton. The building no longer
exists. The Model B airplane was first built in this building.
new manufacturing factory was built on West Third St. where it
is now part of the Delphi manufacturing complex. The original
Wright buildings are still there and can be viewed through the
entrance gate. The white buildings have a distinctive curved
roofline which at one time served as the logo of the Inland Manufacturing
Co. which owned them at the time.
The factory had the capacity to produce four airplanes per
month, a capacity greater than any other airplane factory in the
world. One of the employee incentives was
to provide each man with a pound box of chocolates for
The planes were not cheap at $7,500 for each fully equipped
machine. But, even at that price, demand exceeded supply.
Students at the Wrights’ flight school conducted at Huffman
Prairie bought many of the planes. Huffman Prairie was the
location of the Wrights early experimental flights in Dayton
after their successful first-flight at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903.
It is now located on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force
Base and is a national historical park.
The planes would be loaded onto an old horse drawn hay wagon
at the factory and transferred to Huffman Prairie at midnight to
avoid crowds and their jostling. In total, nine new types of
planes were tested at Huffman.
Most of the flight instruction was delegated to others and
cost $60 an hour. Orville, who was in charge of pilot training,
would visit at times to check up on how things were going. He
would sometimes ask students if they had done any "mushroom
hunting." Mushroom hunting referred to flying low to the
ground. Orville believed that low flying showed up mistakes
Their most famous flying student was Hap Arnold, who later
commanded the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He
reportedly soloed after only three hours, forty-eight minutes of
Although Wilbur was president of the company, Orville was the
brother who kept the closest surveillance over the factory
operations. Wilbur was busy fighting violations of their 1906
The Death of Wilbur Wright
Two significant events adversely impacted the future of the
Wright Company. The first was the death of Wilbur in 1912. He
contracted typhoid fever while on a business trip, possibly from
contaminated shellfish, and died. It didn’t help that he had
been under stress at the time from the pressure of business and
the legal fight defending their patent.
The second significant event was the 1914 decision by the
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the Wright’s patent
The death of Wilbur was significant because he was the
businessman and visionary of the two brothers. Orville, who
became president of the company after Wilbur’s death, was not
that interested in the business side of the company. He was more
concerned with "technical things."
For instance, papers needing his signature would pile up in
his office while he was out in the factory working on some
engineering problem. He didn’t even maintain an office at the
company headquarters, preferring to keep an office in the old
By the time of Wilbur’s death, Wright aircraft were no
longer the best airplanes flying. An estimated five year lead on
the competition that the Wrights had at one time had evaporated.
Much of their time had been spent in pursuing numerous lawsuits
against competitors, such as Glenn Curtiss, who violated their
patent and generally managed to circumvent injunctions and
continue flying while their suits were pending.
Also, the management of Wright Companies formed in Europe was
fraught with problems and took up valuable time. Quality of
manufacturing was often poor and unauthorized alterations to
designs were common.
Consequently, there was too little time to spend on research
and engineering activities and as a result they lost momentum.
Others were making important technical advances such as
replacing wingwarping with ailerons, enclosing fuselages and
utilizing single-wing design.
The Wrights did make improvements in their designs but lost
leadership to the Europeans who were supported by their
governments arming for the World War I. Another reason they fell behind is that the brothers may have
believed that changes to basic designs would invalidate their
the Wright improvements was the Model B. In 1911, the Wright
Model B used wheels and incorporated control services in the
tail. The Model B was the first Wright plane to be built in
quantity. Some 80-100 were believed to have been built.
One Model B was sold to Pancho-Villa in Mexico.
In 1912, the Model C incorporated an automatic stabilizer. In
1913, The Model F, built for the U.S. Army, was built with a
Between 1910 and 1915 the company produced ten distinct
designs. Only two of them - the model B and the Model C - were
manufactured in significant quantity.
Orville Sells Company
The court’s confirmation of the Wright patent in 1914 was a
significant event for Orville. He felt that he had accomplished
a main goal in his life by securing the recognition that the
Wrights were the inventors of manned flight. That, combined with
the death of Wilbur, caused Orville to lose whatever interest he
had in the competitive world of business.
On August 26, 1915, at 45 years of age, Orville sold the
six-year old Wright
Company to a group of New York investors for $250,000, just
one-quarter of its initial capitalization. Orville retired to his recently completed magnificent home, Hawthorn
Hill, in the city of Oakwood outside Dayton. (The Wright Family
Foundation currently owns the home.)
The following year, the original Wright Company merged with
the Glen L. Martin Company and became the Wright-Martin Aircraft
Corporation. In 1917, the company headquarters was moved to New
Jersey and evolved into the Wright Aeronautical Corporation.
In the 1920s the company merged with that of longtime rival,
Glenn Curtiss, to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. The
arrangement of names displeased Orville. Even though he had no
official connection with the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, he
believed the name should be Wright-Curtiss Corporation in
recognition of his and Wilbur's invention of flight. The
Curtiss-Wright Aviation Division was sold to North American
Aviation in 1946.
North American Aviation became North American Rockwell
Corporation that subsequently became Rockwell International
Corporation in 1973. Rockwell International Corporation merged
with the Boeing Company in 1996. Thus, Boeing is the current
legacy of the original Wright Company.
Orville Comes Out of Retirement
Meanwhile, as with many people that retire, Orville wasn’t
about to go fishing. In 1916 he built a laboratory for his
personal use at 15 North Broadway Street just a block away from
the bicycle shop. He called it
the Wright Aeronautical Laboratory. His only employee was his
long time secretary, Mabel Beck. He used the laboratory to
conduct fundamental scientific research and maintained the
laboratory until his death in 1948. The one-story building was
razed in 1976 to make room for a gas station.
The site is now a small park containing a facade of the front
of the lab and a marker explaining what Orville did at the site.
In 1917, Orville was back in the airplane business again in
Dayton. This time he didn’t own the company named
Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, but was a technical advisor. Six
Dayton businessmen formed the new company. The president of the
company was Edward Deeds, a vice-president
and later president of the NCR Company. The vice-president was
Charles Kettering, the noted inventor. Both were good friends of
A new factory was built at Moraine City, just south of
Dayton. In addition, a flying school was formed and land
procured just north of downtown Dayton and named North Field. In
1918, North field was leased to the Army and renamed McCook
The new investors hoped to make Dayton the manufacturing
center of the United States using modern automobile production
techniques to mass produce airplanes.
Fortuitously, the United States declared war on Germany five
days before the new company was incorporated. Subsequently, the
Dayton-Wright Company received a contract to deliver 4,000
modified British De Havilland DH-4 combat planes and 400 J-1
The DH-4 was a 2-bay airplane with a 42-½ foot wing span.
Its fuselage was about 30 feet long. It was armed with two Lewis
guns in the rear cockpit, and one or two Marlin forward firing
Experiencing engineering and production problems, the first
plane didn’t reach France until August 1918. Three months
later the war was over.
The cooling system is one example of the problems
experienced. The American version of the DH-4 replaced the
British engine with a 400-hp American Liberty engine. The
Liberty engine was half again as large as the British engine it
replaced. The mismatch required a complete redesign of the
The De Havilland plane indirectly still lives in Dayton
through the name of "Patterson" in the name
"Wright-Patterson" Air Force Base. Lt. Frank
Patterson was killed in an accident flying the De Havilland
plane in 1917 at the base. He was the nephew of John H.
Patterson, founder of the NCR.
Another milestone occurred during 1918. Orville piloted an
airplane for the last time. It was an old 1911 Wright biplane in
a demonstration flight along side one of the Wright Company’s
new De Havillands.
Below is a rare picture of the employees of the Dayton-Wright
airplane Company taken in 1918
The Original Buzz Bomb
One of the more interesting projects that Kettering and
Orville worked on was a pilotless gyroscopically controlled
airplane designed to deliver a 300-pound bomb. It was powered
with a 2-cycle, 4-cylinder V engine.
On one occasion the pilotless plane went out of control
setting off a chase by 100 men in automobiles. The plane came
down 21 miles from Dayton. When the chase party arrived, puzzled
people at the site were searching for the pilot.
In 1920, Deeds and Kettering sold the company to General
Motors (GM) for 100,000 shares of GM stock.
Dayton-Wright stayed in business for a while longer designing and
constructing experimental airplanes. One of planes they built
was a racing plane capable of attaining 200 mph known as the RB.
Built with some help from Orville, it was a monoplane with
several innovations. It had a variable camber wing and a
stowable landing gear.
The company entered the plane in the Gordon Bennett
International Aviation Cup race in Paris on September 28, 1920.
Unfortunately, during the race a control cable failed jamming
the leading edge flap that prevented the plane from completing
the race. (The RB today is on display at the Ford Museum near
Another airplane involving Orville, was the O.W. Aerial
Coupe. Built in 1918-19, The O.W. Aerial Coupe was an enclosed
passenger plane and the last original design by Orville Wright.
It carried three passengers and the pilot. The plane crashed and
was totally destroyed in Indiana in 1924 after it developed engine
GM didn’t see any future profitability in producing
airplanes after the war was over. They decided to close the
Dayton Wright Airplane Company in the early 1920s. Major
aircraft manufacturing never again returned to Dayton.
World's First Flying Field
After their successful first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC in
1903, the Wright Brothers wanted a place to fly closer to home
so that they could continue their experiments and perfect their
machine and at the same time be close to an engineering center.
In 1903 they were delayed twice when they had to return to
Dayton to fix their propeller shafts.
The 1903 Wright Flyer had demonstrated that flight was
possible, but it was an experimental machine. It was unstable in
flight and required further refinement to make flying a
In the spring of 1904 at the kindness of Torrence Huffman, a
vice-president of the Fourth National Bank and a family friend, they obtained the
use of an isolated cow pasture eight miles northeast of Dayton
that became known as Huffman Prairie. Orville was familiar with
the site because his ninth grade biology class under the
guidance of teacher, William Werthner, had visited the
site on a field trip for the purpose of sketching wildflowers.
An electric interurban traction line ran by the field. Simms Road
Station was conveniently located fifty yards away. It took less
than 30 minutes for the brothers to make the trip from their
home in West Dayton.
The Wrights actively used the field for eight years. The
first two years, 1904 -1905, were used for experimentation with
improved machines. Then, after a hiatus for several years, they
returned during the years of 1910 – 1916 to train pilots and
test new types of planes from their factory and provide the home
base for their exhibition business. Nine new types of
planes were tested at Huffman.
Wilbur provided a vivid description of Huffman Prairie in a
letter to Octave Chanute:
"We are in a large meadow of about 100 acres. It is
skirted on the west and north by trees. This not only shuts off
the wind somewhat, but gives a slight downward trend. However,
this is a matter we do not consider anything serious. The
greater troubles are the facts that in addition to the cattle
there have been a dozen or more horses in the pasture and as it
is surrounded by barbwire fencing we have been at much trouble
to get them safely away before making any trials. Also, the
ground is an old swamp and is filled with grassy hummocks some
six inches high, so that it resembles dog town"
A rededication ceremony during the "Inventing
Flight" celebration marked the culmination of a 10-year
effort to restore the prairie to its former state. A replica of
the 1905 wooden hanger has been built and there are plans to
build the catapult used to launch the airplanes and rebuild the
train platform at Simms Station.
A new historical marker was presented by the Ohio
Historical Society and the Ohio Bicentennial Commission for
placement at the front entrance. Two new plaques from the
National Park Service and the American Institute of Aeronautics
and Astronautics were placed at the cornerstones marking the
Huffman had permitted the use of the prairie on the condition
that the Wrights moved the cattle and horses out of the way
before doing any flying. It was used as a pasture because of
flooding from the nearby Mad River.
brothers felt obligated to stay within the boundaries of the
approximately 84 acres allocated to them so as not to disturb
the neighbors. Also, if they flew beyond the fence line, they
would have to lug the airplane back over it.
That meant flying an egg-shaped flight path
bounded by power lines to the north, 50-foot trees to the west,
and Hebble Creek to the south. Hebble Creek was named after my
great-great grandfather Henry E. Hebble who had built a house
near Huffman Prairie in 1841.
The house still exists on WPAFB. It is known as the Arnold
House now in honor of General Hap Arnold who once lived there as
the commanding officer of the base in 1929-31.
The small field was confining, they could fly less than 1,000
feet in a straight line. It did well serve one of their major
goals. That was to learn how to make controlled turns.
Their first hanger, the size of a garage, was built
near Hebble Creek on the opposite side of the Prairie as far
away as they could get from the traction line in order to
In 1904, the Wrights flew Flyer II 105 times for a total
flying time of 49 minutes. At first progress was slow. It was
not until their 49th attempt that they were able to
fly longer than their best attempt at Kitty Hawk.
The terrain was swampy dotted with grassy hummocks,
persistent insects, gusty winds and summer storms. When I was
there during the "Inventing Flight" celebration, I
walked the flight path and ended up with over 20 mosquito bits.
The lack of strong and consistent wind and
Dayton’s less dense air gave them great difficulty in getting
airborne even though they extended the launch rail four times as
long as the one used in Kitty Hawk. They solved the problem by
constructing a 20-foot high derrick from which a 1,600-pound
weight was dropped to catapult the Flyer to a speed near 25 mph
to achieve take-off.
On May 23rd, before the construction of the derrick, they
invited the press to observe their plane fly. About 12 reporters
showed up on a windless day. The Flyer ran down the rail and and
didn't rise a single inch. The Wrights invited them back the
next day and 3 showed-up. The Flyer did fly between 20 and 60
feet, depending on whose account you read. After that the
reporters left them alone.
On September 20, Wilbur flew the world’s first controlled
circle in an airplane. Ames I. Root who published an account of
the event in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture,
witnessed the event. Root wrote:
"When it turned that circle, and came near the
starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and
I believe still, it was… the grandest sight of my life.
Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing
right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels… but with
white wings instead… Well, now, imagine that locomotive with
wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with
the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something
like what I saw."
The total number of flights flown that year was 105 for a
combined flying time of 49 minutes. Two flights of 3 miles each
were flown on November 9 and December 1, respectively.
1905, Flyer III partially built with parts from Flyer II, made
50 flights. The longest was over 24 miles flown in 39 minutes 23
4/5 seconds on October 5. In making the extraordinary flight, Wilbur
circled the field 29 times and landed only because he ran out of
The machine could not only turn in circles, but also
performed figure eighths. The engine could produce nearly 21
horsepower or almost twice that of the 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer,
and had been modified with oiling and feeding devices to permit
longer run time.
The Wrights after six years of hard work, inventiveness and
perseverance had mastered controlled flight and had developed
the world’s first practical airplane.
They were now ready to find buyers for their airplane. While
negotiating with potential buyers, they stored their machine in
Nov. 1905 and didn’t fly again until April 1908. By that time
they had secured contracts with the U.S. Army and in Europe.
Wright Company Flying School
late 1909, they established the Wright Company to manufacture
their airplanes. In May 1910, the Wrights returned to Huffman
Prairie where they operated the Wright
Company School of Aviation and the Wright
Exhibition Company and also tested company manufactured
airplanes. They built a much larger hanger in the spring of
1910. The hanger remained standing on the prairie until WW II.
Their brochure for the flying school read:
"The Wright Company operates a permanent school of
aviation at the historic grounds at Simms Station near Dayton,
where the Wright Brothers carried on their experiments. The
field is admirably adapted to training purposes, the ground
being level and free from obstructions.
The course of instruction consists of four hours of actual
practice, given in a series of flights ranging in duration from
five to fifteen minutes, or perhaps longer, depending on the
weather and the desires of the instructor and the pupil. Every
pupil is given individual training, and with the excellent
facilities available, not only at the field, but at the factory
in Dayton, a course of training in this school is without
question superior to any in this country, if not in the world.
The machines that are used for school work and the method of
dual control adopted, give almost perfect results, and students
are often turned out as competent pilots eight or ten days later
after their first trip in an aeroplane.
Not more than four or five pupils are under the care of one
instructor, and the lessons are given in regular rotation. In
all of the training flights the pupil is accompanied by the
instructor on a machine equipped with duplicate control levers.
As the pupil begins to acquire the feel of the air, the
instructor gradually relinquishes the levers to the pupil, but
he is ever present and ready to resume control should the pupil
make any serious mistake. By this method the usual dangers are
eliminated but the presence of the instructor by no means
suggests that the pupil himself is not flying, as it is the
customary practice for the instructor to make sure that the
pupil knows that he is running the machine himself. Pupils
usually learn to fly in two to three hours of actual practice in
the air, but the work for one day is on the average restricted
to one-half hour.
The rate of tuition in the Wright School is fixed at $250.00
payable at time of enrollment. Contrary to the practice in many
aviation schools the pupil is not held responsible for any
breakage of the machine. The fee covers every expense for
The Wrights delegated most of the teaching to instructors,
but Orville would regularly check up on student progress. He
would sometimes ask the students if they had done any
"mushroom hunting" today. By "mushroom
hunting" he meant very low flying, something that Orville
often did. For the students it meant that they had to be very
alert not to drag the wings on the ground or make some other
serious error while flying.
Miriam Rosser who lived near Dayton described in a 1910
letter to her mother the sights she saw at Simms Station:
"We went out there about half past three or four and
lined up with scores of other autos and vehicles on the side of
the road stretching along the aviation field.
At five o’clock the sensation of the week took place in the
flight of Orville Wright over the city of Dayton and back. We
watched him start, try the air in a few circles and then fly
away up in the blue until he was finally a mere speck and we
could no longer hear the whir of the big paddles. He
disappeared, but in about 20 minutes the sharpest eyes
discovered him again and we watched him return. It was like a
giant beetle to hear it coming louder and louder. Then he neared
the field again and flew right over our heads, fairly scaring
one and circling, landed amid the cheers and clapping and honks
of the automobiles."
Several other interesting events occurred at Huffman Prairie
- On May 25, Wilbur and Orville flew together for the first
and last time. They had promised their father they would
never do that. Their father had relented for that one time.
They flew a Wright Model A/B and circled counterclockwise
for about six minutes.
- Their father watched his sons fly that day and then it was
his turn. Milton, 81 years old, had never flown before. He
enjoyed the ride, telling Orville to "fly higher and
higher" during the flight.
- The world’s first commercial flight was flown by Phil
Parmalee, a Wright exhibition team member. Orville and
sister Katharine were present when Parmalee took off in a
Wright Model B from Huffman Prairie on his way to Columbus,
Ohio on November 7. He was carrying a cargo of silk strapped
to the passenger seat.
- Charlie Taylor, the Wrights’ chief mechanic who
manufactured the engine that powered the 1903 Kitty Hawk
Flyer and latter was assigned to manage the Huffman flying
field, tells a story of his flight with Orville. Charlie
says that Orville tried to scare him one day in May. Orville
acted as if he was having trouble controlling the machine as it
pitched violently. After they landed, Orville asked Charlie
if he was scared. "No, if you weren’t, why should
I?" Orville thought it was very funny.
General "Hap" Arnold
Henry "Hap" Arnold, who commanded the U.S. Army Air
Forces in World War II and became a five-star general, was one
of the more famous pilots that learned to fly at Huffman
Prairie. Arnold soloed in 10 days after 28 flights totaling 3
hours and 48 minutes.
From 1929-1931, Major "Hap" Arnold lived in a house
on Wilbur Wright Field that was built by my great,
great-grandfather Henry E. Hebble. The house at that time was
used to house the base commander.
Henry Hebble built the house in 1841 after he migrated from
Pennsylvania. Residents of the house could see Huffman Prairie
and the flying activities associated with the flying school.
Major Arnold occasionally entertained Orville in the house.
The house is now known as the Arnold House and is preserved as
the oldest building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Flying School Closes
Wilbur Wright died in 1912 of typhoid fever. The loss greatly
affected Orville and he lost interest in running the Wright
Company. He sold it in 1915. In the fall of 1916, the flying
school also closed.
In 1919, Orville was asked by some officials to identify the
119 pioneer pilots including three women that were trained at
Huffman Prairie. An effort was made to exclude one pilot from
the list who was suspected of being a draft dodger. Orville would
have none of that. Orville wrote to Edward Deeds and demanded
that the name be included on the official list. Draft dodging
wasn’t the issue to Orville, accuracy was
Huffman Prairie Becomes Part of
In 1917 the government was interesting in establishing a
major military airfield near Dayton, the home of aviation.
Orville was asked to provide a recommendation of where it might
be built. Not surprisingly, he recommended the land around
Huffman Prairie now owned by the Miami Conservancy District. One of his technical reasons was that,
"the ground was soft and spongy and cushioned the shock of
The U. S. Army subsequently leased 2,074 acres of the land to
establish an aviation school. The new installation was given the
name of Wilbur Wright Field in
honor of one of the founding fathers of flight.
Soon after, the Army added another 40 acres adjacent to the
aviation field to house the Fairfield
Aviation General Supply Depot.
The Army also leased a third parcel of land just north of
downtown Dayton to serve as an engineering and research
facility. This land was formerly known as North Field and was
owned by the
headed by Dayton businessmen, Edward Deeds and Charles
Kettering. Both were friends of Orville’s and Orville was a
technical consultant to the company but not part of management.
The Army named this field, McCook Field.
McCook Field outgrew it
facilities in the 1920s. With no room to expand in their current
location, the Army was considering relocating the facility to
another location in the country. Dayton civic leaders headed by
NCR president John Patterson were not
going to let that happen.
On May 5, 1922, underscoring his interest in aviation,
Patterson arranged a gala reception for General Mitchell, at
which a campaign was activated to keep McCook Field in Dayton
open as a military base. Patterson also supported Mitchell's
proposal that aviation, which had proved itself in war, should
be made a separate military service directly responsible to a
civilian cabinet officer. On Saturday May 6, 1922 Patterson died
while on a trip.
One Dayton newspaper editor wrote that the "angle of
death has called." Stanley C. Allyn, later to become
CEO of NCR, said, "I don't suppose the angel had such
another reception in town until the decease of Orville Wright in
In 1924 the Dayton Air
Service Committee was organized under the
leadership of the NCR and raised enough money to
purchase the existing leased land for Wilbur
Wright Field and added 2,500 additional acres. They sold
the entire property to the government for a grand sum of $1.00.
The entire tract of new land, including Huffman
Prairie, and the newly relocated activities from McCook
Field was renamed Wright Field
in October 1927.
formal dedication ceremony was held on October 12, 1927. Orville
raised the flag on the new engineering center.
The buildings of McCook Field
were razed and a city recreation park was established. When I
was a kid I played many baseball games on diamonds built in this
The year 1931 brought another name change. The portion of the
base that previously had contained Huffman
Prairie Flying Field, The Wilbur
Wright Field and Fairfield Depot
was renamed Patterson Field.
Lt. Frank Stuart Patterson, 28, the nephew of NCR founder John H.
Patterson was killed during an experimental flight at Wilbur
Wright Field in 1918. He was also part of a military program at
McCook that tested aerial engines, weapons and photography for
The area constructed to house the transplanted McCook
Field, was renamed Wright Field.
In 1948 the newly created U. S. Air Force merged Wright
and Patterson Fields to form the Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base. And that is what it remains today.
The Huffman Prairie survives today in its original state. It
escaped the construction activity of the rapidly expanding air
force facilities. The site has the distinction of being the only
Wright Brothers’ site that still appears much as it did when
they used it. It is listed on the National Register of Historic
Places and is a National Historic Landmark.
The Prairie is also listed as a State Natural Landmark. The
prairie contains many rare species of native grasses and
flowering plants and is home to several rare or endangered
species of birds.
In 2000, a moth species new to science was discovered at the
prairie. Following verification by the Smithsonian Institution,
the moth was named Glyphidocera wrightorum in honor of
Wilbur and Orville Wright.
A partnership consisting of the Nature Conservancy, the
National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Defense today
manages Huffman Prairie. A new modern visitor center located at
the Wright Memorial on Wright-Patterson AFB greets visitors to
the Prairie. From the high hill on which the Wright Memorial is
located, the Huffman Prairie can be seen in the distance.