"Celebrate The Success Of The Wright Brothers"  

Archive Section: Wright Activities Before and After 1903

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Please Select The Archive Story Of Your Choice:

- World's First Flying Field
- Wright Aircraft Company
- Flying the Wright Flyer
- Whistle While You Work
- The Boyhood Nurturing of the Wright Brothers.
- Wright and Wright Printers
- Milton Wright, Living a Principled Life
- Wright Model C: End of the Line
- Wrights Develop Automatic Stabilizer
- Riding in the 1908 Wright Machine
- Wrights Sell Flyer to France
- Wright Airplane Returns to Kitty Hawk
- Engine Problems at Le Mans
- For The Fun of It
- Wilbur Not a Bluffer
- Wilbur Damages Wing Landing at Hunaudieres
- Wilbur at Camp d’Auvours
- Orville Flies in Germany
- Wrights Return to Kitty Hawk in 1908
- Pau Amazed at Wilbur's Flights
- Historic Wright Factory in Jeopardy
- Boyhood of the Wrights
- Marketing Was Not the Wrights’ Forte
- Learning to Fly the 1911 Wright Type B Airplane


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 became instinctive.

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 students.

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 wires.

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 wrist-twisting movement.

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 altitude.

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 propellers.

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 the air.

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 brother Lorin.

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 funds. 

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 company.

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 license and

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 gyroscope-driven system.

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 vindicated.

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 Germany

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 could do.

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 ship land.

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 airplane.

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 Wilbur's Flights

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 first flight.

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.

Let’s go!

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 own.

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 estimate.

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 journalist:

"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 wing warping."

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 fly.

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 American."

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 get publicity.

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 and mother.

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 subscribers.

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 flying machines."

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, reasonable lives.

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 street.

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 and HS.

The 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 design change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 weaknesses."

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.

Later, 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 catapult.

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 flight."

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 weather.

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 seconds."

"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 model."

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 the elements.

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 attended.

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 spectacular flights.

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 earth."

"In the upper air," Orville continued, "the mistake would have resulted in no harm. The aeroplane can be put in order in a few days."

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."

The 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 altitude.


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 ground.

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 many ways. 

A hot 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 the air.

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 barrel.

Wilbur's first flight was on August 8, 1908

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 aeroplane.

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 the motor.

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 newspaper article)

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 glider.

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 160 miles.

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 with them."

"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

The news 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 Bollee motor."

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 Bollee factory.

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 article:

The Wright Aeroplane Test in North Carolina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 Wright.

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 flat turn.

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 life."

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 Wrights."

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 them."

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 fame.

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.


Riding 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 individual."


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 feature.

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 prize with.

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 the prize.

He invited the Aero Club’s judges to Huffman Prairie to see a demonstration of his new device on a cold snowy day, December 31st.

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’ device.

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 footsteps.

References: The Bishops Boys by Tom Crouch; Wilbur and Orville by Fred Howard


Wright Model C: End of the Line

The 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 Diego, California.

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 steep.

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 new indicator.

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 for flying."

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 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 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 person.

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 every heart." 

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 Christianity."

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 Dayton.

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 and editorials.

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 (Old Constitution).

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 to order.

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.


Wright and Wright Printers

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 week.

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 four.

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 as publisher.

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 accident.

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.

In 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 might fly.

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 Brothers.

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.

Milton 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 hands.

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 citizens.

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 philosophy.

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 graduate.

Orville didn't attend his senior year of high school to devote full time to his printing business.

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."


Whistle While You Work

The following 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:

They put 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 means "Dreaming."

"Charlie (Taylor), where’s the sled hinges?" asks Wilbur in the little shed at Fort Myer.

"There they are," says Charley, the Wright mechanic.

"Not 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.

He drills and whistles the dreaming song.

Orville 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."

Pretty soon 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:

"When evening comes we look and wonder what our toil has done." They are all three whistling it.

Then Lieutenant 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.

The Wrights shake hands with him and then go on about their work and their whistling.

Pretty soon Lahm begins to whistle the same air. He stops only when he writes in his mysterious book.

"Charles where’s the center punch?"

"Well, I brought one. It’s somewhere," says Charles.

"Oh, all right. Here it is. Never mind." Says Wilbur.

Punch. Punch. Punch. He is marking three holes in the hinge that will fit on the rudder.

Suddenly 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."

"And in our sleeping, dream the sweeter for the vic’tries we have won," he whistles as he re-enters the shed.

"Oh, good," exclaims Orville.

He buries 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.

Its Charlie’s turn.

Orville wheels about to his job and his tune. He’s tinkering with the engine now. Charlie drinks.

Wilbur stands by.

Charlie hands him the pail and goes back to his bench.

And Wilbur’s gleaming dome rises above the shining tin pail, as he pours into his charmed person not less than a pint of water.

Then he 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.

"Sure that works easy enough?" Wilbur asks Orville. "Better try that lever to see."

"No it doesn’t," says Orville, as the planes, in warping fairly squeak.

The rest of the forenoon Orville, who is scheduled to make the flights, works at the warping apparatus.

You see, 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.

Noon Arrives.

"For goodness sake, when do we eat?" asks Orville.

Wilbur, who is puttering contemplatively with a hinge, stops whistling and says:

"Well, 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.

The man 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.

Yes, that machine will be perfect when they make the real fly before Uncle Sam’s scrutinizing eyes.

Flying 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 American.

"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) 

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 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 clearer. 

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?


Wright Aircraft Company

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.

Wright Company

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.

The 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 Christmas.

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 quickly.

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 flying time.

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 patent.

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 as airtight

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 bicycle shop.

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 patent.

One of 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 fuselage.

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 Orville.

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 Field.

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 trainers.

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 guns.

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 cooling system.

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 Detroit, Michigan.)

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 trouble.

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.


The 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 practical reality.

Huffman Prairie

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 park boundaries.

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.

The 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 maintain privacy.

1904 Flights

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 Flights

In 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 gas.

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

In 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 tuition."

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 in 1910:

  • 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 Wright-Patterson AFB

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 landing."

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 Dayton-Wright Company, 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 1948.

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.

The 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 park.

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 government.

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.

National Recognition

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.



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