Archive Section: Famous
Wright Airplane Flights
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A bird strike is what forced the US Airways Flight 1249 to crash land in the
icy Hudson River. Fortunately, a skillful pilot managed to land the plane
safely in the river and all 155 passengers survived.
Bird Strikes have been a known and common hazard since the Wright brothers
started flying. The first recorded bird strike occurred while Wilbur Wright was
flying over Huffman Prairie in Dayton in 1905.
In his diary, written on September 7, 1905, he recorded, "Twice
passed over fences into Bread’s cornfield. Chased flocks of birds on two
rounds and killed one which fell on top of upper surface and after a time fell
off when swinging a sharp curve."
The earliest known fatal airplane crash involving a bird took place in 1912.
The plane, a Wright Model EX, which was a single-seat exhibition model version
of a 1911 Wright Model B, flown by Wright trained Calbraith Perry Rodgers.
Rodgers was the first pilot to fly across country on a flight from Long
Island, NY, to Long Beach, Calif. He flew over 4,321 miles with 70 landings
Rodgers was killed shortly after his transcontinental flight while testing a
new engine. He ran into a flock of sea gulls, hit them and plunged into the
surf some 500 feet from the spot where he had landed in triumph five months
earlier. The engine, which had broken loose, and struck Rodgers in the back of
his head, breaking his neck.
Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, where the Huffman Prairie Flying Field is
located, reports that the base’s airplanes go through some 10 to 12
substantial bird strikes a year. However, not since 2005 has a collision
resulted in a failed engine.
Vin Fitz Smashes into Chicken Coop
You may have seen old movies of stunt aviators that end up crashing into a
It actually happened to Cal Rodgers, a 32-year-old-cigar smoking flamboyant
pilot taught to fly by the Wright brothers. He was flying the second leg of the
Randolph Hearst Transcontinental Race which offered a $50,000 prize to the
first man to fly across the country in thirty days or less.
Cal started the race taking off from Sheepshead Bay, NY on Sept. 17, 1911 at
6:20 a.m. on the 105-mile trip to Middletown NY. His airplane was the Wright
Model EX, which was a modification of the 1910 Wright Model B.
By 6 o’clock in the evening after an uneventful flight, he was in sight of
the Academy Avenue Pleasure Grounds on the outskirts of Middletown where he was
to land. But there was an unexpected problem. Some 9,000 spectators covered the
area of the field where he was supposed to land.
After several attempts to land, the police were finally able to clear about
200 feet in which he could land. Cal said he made a good landing: "It
didn’t even knock the ashes off my cigar."
The plan was to leave the next day for Callicoon, Binghamton, Elmira and
Hornell where fuel had been propositioned.
About 300 spectators had gathered early the next morning at the Pleasure
Grounds to see Cal off.
It was cold that morning (low 40s) and Cal dressed with knee-high leggings
and placed sheets of newspaper between his shirt and coat. He was still cold
and shivered and stomped his feet to improve circulation.
Frank Shaffer, one of the mechanics, tested the engine and pronounced it
ready to go. The crew then pushed the machine toward the lower end of the field
and faced it northward. Cal climbed into his seat; two aids pulled through the
propellers. Cal stuck a cigar into his mouth, lit it, and shouted, "Let
her go, boys."
The machine bounced along the ground for about 150 feet, lifted off, and
barely cleared a four-foot high wall surrounding the grounds. As the machine
rose in the air, it barely make it through two trees as the wing tips hit
leaves and twigs on both sides.
Cal frantically pulled on the elevator-control lever and rose to a height of
about forty feet, but looming before him next was telegraph wire. He tried to
dip the biplane and gain momentum upward, but it didn’t work. As he passed
over a hickory tree in the rear yard of a farmhouse, the machine caught its
rudder on the upper limb of the tree and was deflected off course. Cal’s
operation of the control levers had little effect.
The machine dove and smashed into a chicken coop, killing several chickens
and buried itself into the ground.
Cal was hurled from his seat and fell beneath the machine, its nose
crumbled, its shredded tail upright, hung on the limb of a Hickory tree. The
196-pound engine tore loose from its mountings and caromed to one side, barely
missing crushing Cal’s head.
Chickens feathers settled onto the ground for several seconds, while the
three surviving hens squawked their outrage at the intrusion.
Mrs. John Heddy, the owner of the smashed chicken coop, demanded payment to
cover her loss. She said that she had just left the spot for her porch a few
steps away when the flying machine slammed down on the chicken coop. Her heart,
she said, was still palpitating from the experience.
She was paid for all damages incurred.
Miraculously, Cal’s injuries were limited to a mild concussion and cuts
The Vin Fiz bottle, which had be tied to a forward brace, also survived
intact. Vin Fiz was a new grape flavored soft drink that provided Cal a
promotion fee of $3 to $5 for every mile flown. The Vin Fiz logo was displayed
on the wings and tail.
The bottle may have made it without breakage. The same cannot be said of the
airplane. The airplane had to practically be rebuilt from scratch.
A message was telegraphed to the Wright factory in Dayton for a list of
replacement parts expeditiously.
A request was also made for two experienced mechanics. Fortunately, Charles
Taylor, the Wright brothers’ long time chief mechanic was granted a leave of
absence to help out. Taylor was paid $10 per day to remain with the entourage
on their trip as their chief mechanician. He did stay for most of the trip only
leaving when his wife became seriously ill.
On September 21, all was ready for takeoff again. Taylor tested the engine
and pronounced that it was ready. Cal mounted his seat, and as customary, lit a
cigar. Fortunately, before taking any other action, he noticed that a portion
of the gasoline line was missing. A hurried search found the piece and it was
Then a new problem developed.
An official reviewing stand had been setup directly astride the takeoff line
for the use of three judges to certify the time of take-off.
The propellers were spun and the machine began to move forward. The skids of
the machine narrowly missed smashing into the reviewing stand. One judge dived
six feet onto the fairground turf. The two others flattened themselves on the
They did manage to record Cal’s departure as 2:20 p.m. without further
Cal circled the city and dropped handfuls of Vin Fiz leaflets on the
hundreds of spectators. Whistles from Middletown factories provided a farewell
salute as Cal disappeared in the distance.
The crash into the chicken coop was a precursor of more accidents to come.
By the time Cal reached Pasadena on November 5, he had crashed so often that
the only original parts of the airplane remaining were the vertical rudder and
two wing struts. Replacements included 18 wing panels, twenty skids and two
He survived an exploding engine, thunderstorms, souvenir hunters and a
run-in with an eagle. His plane was almost completely rebuilt twice. The
principle cause of so many accidents was that he had to land on primitive
He didn’t earn the 50,000 because he didn’t make the trip within 30
days, but he did earn $20,000 for his promotion of the Vin Fiz drink.
Reference: The Flight of the Vin Fiz by E. P. Stein.
The Wright Exhibition Team
The Wrights formed the Wright Company on November 22, 1909, with Wilbur as
president and Orville as a vice-president. The company manufactured airplanes,
engines and accessories, operated a flying school, and in 1910, formed and
managed an exhibition flying team.
Orville and Wilbur were not enthusiastic about setting up an exhibition
team. They deliberated about it for a long time. They were urged by others to
form a team, particularly by Roy Knabenshue, who argued that the Wrights should
be represented at the many air meets who were touring the country. Knabenshue
at the time was involved in demonstrating dirigibles at state fairs so he was
knowledgeable about the exhibition business.
The Wrights’ were hesitant about what they termed the carnival-like
atmosphere at the air meets and the "fancy flying - daredevil" flying
aspect of it.
They were eventually swayed by the opportunity to showcase their technology
and the opportunity to make some money and keep the company profitable.
On January 17, 1910 Wilbur sent a telegram to Knabenshue inviting him to
manage the new Wright Exhibition Team. The first goal was to attend the air
show at the new Indianapolis speedway to be held on June 13-19.
Mabel Beck was hired as secretary to Knabenshue. She later became secretary
to Wilbur, and after his death, became secretary to Orville, staying with him
until his death in 1948.
To meet the June date in Indianapolis, The Wrights’ decided to move the
training of their pilots down south where the weather was warmer. They chose a
site near Montgomery, Alabama, (Now Maxwell Air Force Base.)
Three of the original team members were from Dayton, Ohio. One of them was
Walter Brookins, who the Wright brothers had known since he was four years old.
The Wrights’ sister, Katharine, had taught him in high school. The Wrights’
had a nickname for him of "Brooky."
The other members of the team were Spencer Crane from Dayton, Clifford
Turpin from Dayton, Arch Hoxsey from California, Ralph Johnstone from Kansas
City, Frank Coffyn from New York, Philip Parmelee from Michigan, and Al Welsh
from Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
In March, Orville and five novice pilots arrived in Montgomery. Orville
trained Brookins first and he thereby became the first civilian pilot trained
by the Wright brothers. Brookins completed his training on May 3rd and did so
well that Orville assigned him to instruct the remaining men.
Orville returned to Dayton with Welsh on April 9. Crane followed later after
deciding that becoming a pilot was not for him.
In May it was warm enough in Dayton to move the entire training camp back to
Dayton as they continued to prepare for the Air Show in Indianapolis.
The night before their first performance at the Indianapolis Speedway, the
new pilots were handed contracts that specified they would receive $20 per week
and $50 per day of flying. The pilots were not happy with the amount, but after
some bickering, accepted the terms.
They were also told that there would be no drinking, gambling, and no flying
Brookins was the star of the show in Indianapolis. On the first day he broke
the world’s altitude record, rising to 4,939 feet. He became famous for
making short turns and flying circles close to the ground with wings at angles
of up to 80 degrees.
Before long the team was performing across the U.S. and the money was good,
earning a profit of over $100,000 in 1910.
Another important Air Show to the Wright brothers was the International
Aviation Tournament at Long Island’s Belmont Park. The specific event that
attracted the Wrights' was the Gordon Bennett speed competition. Their archival
Glenn Curtiss had won the speed prize the year before. The Wrights’ wanted to
win this year to demonstrate to the world the superiority of the Wright
The Wrights’ decided to design a new airplane for the race that was built
for speed. They named it the "Baby Grand." Orville flew it in a test
before the big race and attained a speed of 78-mph.
Orville chose Brookins to fly the airplane for the actual race. On Brookins’s
first pass before the grandstand with Wilbur, Orville and the entire racing
team intently watching, the engine started making a strange sound. The airplane
began coming down too fast and although Brookins was able to level the machine,
it hit the ground hard. The Baby Grand was destroyed. It turned out that the
cause of the accident was that the engine had lost four of its eight cylinders.
Brookins was badly bruised, but not serious injured. The winner of the race,
it turns out, flew 10-mph slower than the Wrights’ machine had flown before
The Wright team also experiences an unusual event at Belmont Park. Johnstone
and Hoxsey were competing with each other to establish a new altitude record.
The winds were fierce that day and when the two pilots turned into the wind
they were blown backwards. Hoxsey landed 25-miles from the airport. Johnstone
was blown even farther backwards and landed 55-miles away. Johnstone did
achieve a new altitude record.
The Wright airplanes were attracting a lot of publicity with their daredevil
stunts, but Wilbur and Orville were becoming concerned about the dangerous
Wilbur pulled Hoxsey and Johnson aside and warned them: "I am very
much in earnest when I say that I want no stunts and spectacular frills put on
the flights --- Anything beyond plain flying will be chalked up as a fault and
not a credit."
The warning had little effect. On New Years Eve in Los Angles, Hoxsey had
started to descend at a steep angle of about 80 degrees from the 100-foot level
and never pulled up before hitting the ground. Hoxsey was killed.
Hoxsey will be remembered for taking President Theodore Roosevelt for his
first airplane ride in October 1910.
The Wrights’ began to question whether they should continue the exhibition
business. Even Katharine was upset. She commented, "New Year’s day
was a night-mare for all. I am so sick of this exhibition business. It is so
By mid year Orville reviewed the exhibition business and concluded that the
profits were down. Wilbur responded that, "If it appears the exhibition
business is not really profitable, my idea would be to get out of it as soon as
In November 1911 they closed the exhibition business.
Crashes of Wright Replica Aircraft.
Pilots are having trouble flying replicas/reproductions of Wright brothers’
airplanes. There have been three such recent accidents subject to FAA crash
Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience in Warrenton, Va. flew his 1911
reproduction Model B into a tree on May 2003 and sustained some injuries, but
none life threatening.
Later that year in November one of his pilots crashed a 1903 Flyer.
During the 102nd anniversary in 2007 of the first successful
flight of a practical airplane, the 1905 Flyer crashed at Huffman Prairie in
Dayton. Mark Dusenberry hit the ground with a wing while making his first turn
and crashed his replica.
The modern pilots shouldn’t be surprised. The Wright brothers had many
accidents. Orville had the most with eight major crashes.
His first was with a glider at Kitty Hawk on Sept. 23, 1902.
His second crash was with the 1904 Flyer at Huffman Prairie on August 24,
His third crash was also at Huffman Prairie on Nov. 1, 1904.
His fourth was again at Huffman Prairie flying the 1905 Flyer on July 14,
His fifth accident almost filled him; it did kill his passenger, Lt. Tom
Selfridge. It occurred during the Army trials at Fort Myer on July 2, 1908.
His sixth accident was also at Fort Myer a year later on July 2, 1909.
His seventh accident was years later in the fall of 1911. He was back at
Kitty Hawk with a new larger glider. He flew it into the side of a sand hill.
Just six days later he crashed again at Kitty Hawk with his new glider when
it flipped over on its back just after release. That was his eighth accident.
The Story of the Vin
California or Bust
first transcontinental airplane flight across the U.S. is one of the most
significant flights in aviation history. The flight, achieved in 1911, was
eight years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the 32-year-old cigar smoking flamboyant pilot, was
one of those single-minded people who does not give up until success is
achieved. Rodgers had to make 70 landings and crashed at least 16 times. He
survived an exploding engine, thunderstorms, souvenir hunters and an in-flight
run-in with an eagle. His plane was almost completely rebuilt twice.
Rodgers is the grandson of Commodore Calbraith
Perry, whose "gunboat diplomacy" opened Japan to the West in 1854. He
became interested in making the flight after publisher William Randolph Hearst
offered a prize of $50,000 to the first man to make a transcontinental flight
in thirty days or less.
In preparation for the flight, Rodgers attended
the Wrights’ flying school held at Huffman Prairie in Dayton, Ohio. The
Wrights’ charged $60 an hour for a minimum of four hours of training. Rodgers
was a fast learner and soloed after only 90 minutes of training.
The airplane he would fly was assembled by hand at
the Wrights’ factory in Dayton. The spruce and wire biplane didn’t look too
much different than the original Wright Flyer that first flew at Kitty Hawk in
1903. It was powered by a Wright 35 horsepower single-speed four-cylinder
engine and had a fifteen gallon gas tank that could provide for a 3 ½ hour
The airplane was given the designation Model EX
which meant it was a single-seat exhibition model version of a 1911 Wright B.
The Wrights sold the airplane to Rodgers for $5,000. The price included some
Rodgers secured the Armour Company of Chicago as
sponsor for the trip in return for promotion of their new grape flavored soft
drink called "Vin Fiz." The airplane was christened with a bottle of
the drink and the letters Vin Fiz were prominently displayed on its wings and
tail. A bottle of the drink was strapped to the frame of the plane. As the
plane flew over major cities, people would look up and see the Vin Fiz logo,
which may have been the birth of aerial advertising. Rodgers would earn $3 to
$5 for every mile flown.
Rodgers took off from Sheepshead Bay, Long Island
on September 17, 1911. Since there were no navigational aids for the flight at
the time, his plan was to follow railroad tracks as much as possible. Using
Railroad tracks for navigation had its problems. At one switching point he
followed the wrong tracks and ended up in Scranton, Pa., rather than Elmira,
There were no landing fields along the way. The
primitive fields he had to land on were the principle cause of his accidents.
A three-car special train was outfitted with spare
parts, engines and mechanics. Rodger’s wife and mother were aboard following
him along his trip that would take him to Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Tucson
and Phoenix on the way to heir final destination, Pasadena, California.
Charlie Taylor, the Wrights’ chief mechanic, was
given a leave of absence by the Wrights to care for the plane and make repairs
after every mishap. It would turn out to be a prescience decision.
The first leg of the flight to Middletown, N.Y.
went well. The next morning, however, on takeoff, the rudder caught on a tree.
Rodgers crashed into a chicken coup. He emerged with a cut on his head, but
otherwise was unhurt.
That crash was a precursor of more to come. By the
time Rodgers reached Pasadena on November 5, he had crashed so often that the
only original parts of the airplane remaining were the vertical rudder and two
wing struts. Replacements included 18 wing panels, twenty skids and two
At Pasadena, 15,000 people awaited him at
Tournament Park. Rodgers spiraled in to a soft landing on the polo field and
was mobbed by the crowd.
He had flown 4,321 miles in 82 hours and 2 minutes
of flying time. His average speed was 52 mph. Unfortunately, he failed to win
the $50,000 Hearst prize because he took longer than 30 days to make the
crossing. However, he did earn $20,000 from the Armour Company for the miles
Persistence is Rewarded
Rodgers was not discouraged. In fact he was
determined to go on to the ocean. On November 12 he took off from Pasadena but
ran into trouble when he banked to avoid high-tension wires, lost altitude and
crashed into marshy ground a dozen miles from Long Beach. He suffered two
sprained ankles, a twisted back and a concussion.
Undeterred, a month later, with the plane repaired
and himself on crutches, Rodgers flew to the beach and taxied the wheels of the
Vin Fiz into the Pacific Ocean. It had been 84 days since he started his famous
Rodgers was killed in an accident less than a year
later on April 3, 1912. He was testing the engine that was giving him trouble
when he swerved to miss a flock of sea gulls, hit one and plunged into the surf
some 500 feet from the spot where he had landed in triumph five months earlier.
The engine broke lose in the impact and struck Rodgers, breaking his neck.
A bronze plaque memorializing Rodger’s feat can
be seen in the small remnant of Tournament Park off South Wilson Ave. in
Pasadena. A reconstructed Vin Fiz now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space
Museum in Washington, D.C.
Vin Fiz soft Drink to be Resurrected
A New Hampshire firm, Imagination Counts, owned by
David Hallmark, plans to introduce the soft drink. The new soda is being
manufactured by the Conner Bottling Co. in Newfields, NH and is targeted for
niche mom-and-pop stores at $1.50 a bottle. The recipe calls for pure cane
sugar instead of the original high fructose for the mild grape soda.
David Hallmark got the idea to reintroduce the
soda when he planned to introduce a new educational board game involving Cal
Rodgers. David feels that the story of the airplane and the soft drink are
During his research for the game he discovered
that the Vin Fiz trademark was available. That led to Hallmark contacting E.P.
Stein who had written a book about the Vin Fiz in 1948, which in turn led to an
agreement for Hallmark to use exclusive excerpts from Stein’s book in his
Even New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has gotten
involved in the project by declaring January 12, Vin Fiz Day, in honor of
Rodgers who was born January 12, 1879.
expects his soft drink will receive more exposure during the 100th anniversary
of the flight of the Vin Fiz in 2011, when a documentary film recreate the
flight - "with a bottle strapped to it
One of my prized possessions is a 2-inch square
swatch of original Vin Fiz wing fabric.
The Hobble Skirt
In the fall of
1908 Wilbur was making demonstration flights and setting new records before
crowds of spectators at Camp d’Auvours in France. One of those records did
not involve prizes. Rather it was the occasion of the flight of the first woman
On October 7,
he granted Mrs. Hart Berg the distinction of being the first woman to fly in a
heavier-than-air machine. Mrs. Berg was the wife of Hart Berg who was the wife
of Wilbur’s European agent.
The short ride
was quite notable and brought her considerable fame as a style leader of the
distinction was achieved accidentally. Just before the flight her husband,
concerned about her modesty, tied a short piece of rope around the hem of her
skirt to hold her dress securely in place in the wind.
excitement after the flight she forgot to untie the rope and hobbled around for
awhile with the rope still tied to the hem of her dress. It just so happened
that a leading French dressmaker was one of the spectators that day. She rushed
back to Paris and sewed a new skirt design that quickly found favor with the
In this way the
"hobble skirt" was born. It became the vogue the world over.
Excerpts from Bishop
Wright’s Diary for 1910
The year 1910 was a big flying year for the Wright brothers. Their father,
Bishop Milton Wright recorded much of it in his daily diary. I have selected a
number of excerpts from his diary that talk about flying and other activities
that they engaged in.
Bishop made notations in his diary on a number of interesting topics including:
the dispute over the Wright patent and Wilbur’s many trips to defend their
patent, Huffman Prairie, Wright Exhibition team, President Theodore Roosevelt’s
first airplane flight, Wright Model R airplane, first flight carrying freight,
Orville flying over Dayton, Katharine flying with Orville, family affairs, and
Milton’s thoughts on politics, Darwinism and religion.
Saturday, January 1: I am in
my 82nd year in fair health, except lumbago.
Monday, January 3: News that the Wright brothers were granted an injunction
against Herring & Curtis.
Saturday, January 8: Wilbur had word of the suspension of Judge Hazel’s
Tuesday, February 8: At 10:00 p.m., Wilbur and Orville start to Washington
City, to receive, Friday, medals from the Smithsonian Institute.
Friday, February 11: Chief justice Fuller presented Wilbur and Orville, each, a
gold medal, in behalf of the Smithsonian Institute. Taft, Senator Lodge and
other dignitaries were there. Lodge spoke.
Note: They were awarded the first Langley Medals on Feb. 10. Orville returns to
Dayton, Wilbur continues on a trip to the South in search of a site for
training aviators during the winter months, returning to Dayton on February 25.
Thursday, February 17: News that Judge Hand had decided the suit against
Paulhan in favor of the Wright brothers. An injunction temporary granted. A
telegram from Wilbur from Augusta, Georgia says he finds a good place at
Note: Louis Paulhan was a French aviator. He was charged with using several
flying machines that infringed the Wright patent.
Thursday, February 25: Wilbur came home at 12:00 from N. York. Got out an
injunction against Paulhan, security $25,000 for a month.
Monday, March 7: Wilbur left at 2:00 for the East to get affidavits to support
those filed by himself and Orville in the retrial at Buffalo.
March 20: Wilbur arrived home from Buffalo. The parties did not insist on a
retrial, but they agreed to a future trial of the Appeal.
Note: The injunction restrained Herring-Curtiss Co. from manufacturing, selling
or using the Curtiss airplane for exhibition purposes.
Wednesday, March 23: At 2:40, Orville starts to Montgomery, Alabama, to train
men to fly.
Note: Orville conducted flying school training for five students who were to
engage in exhibition flying for the Wright Company. Walter Brookins, first
civilian student, made his first flight with Orville on March 28.
Friday, March 25: Nice weather. Katharine went shopping with Mrs. F. H.
Russell. Dinner late. She employed Carrie Brumbach to get supper and went
with Agnes Osborn on a walk.
Note: Frank Russell was the first factory manager of the Wright factory in
Friday, April 1: The girls Ivonette and Leontine stay at night with us.
Note: The girls are the daughters of Lorin Wright
Friday, April 29: Evening paper tells of Orville’s flights at Montgomery,
Tuesday, May 3: Wilbur returned home about 2:00 p.m. from New York City. Had
done little by going.
Monday, May 9: Orville at Simm’s, made several flights. Wilbur is in
Note: Simms refers to Huffman Prairie.
Tuesday, May 10: Orville appeared at about 3:00, at Pennsylvania depot on his
way to New York to attend in the Court of Appeals in defense of the decision in
favor of their temporary injunction against Herring Company & Curtiss.
Saturday, May 14: Orville is flying. We went out to see him. He flew
Wednesday, May 18 Orville flew in the forenoon 700 feet high. I saw him
fly in the afternoon 1,520 feet.
Thursday, May 19: Orville mad a number of flights at Simm’s Station,
one alone 1760 feet.
Saturday, May 21: We went to Simm’s and saw Orville fly about 2,000 feet.
He prepared a new machine once. He flew with A.L. Welsh, LaChapelle, and Lorin.
The wind was pretty still. We came home in an automobile with Mr. Thresher.
May 25: We went to Simm’s Station. Orville rose 1600 feet and 2600 feet in
flights. Orville and Wilbur took their first flight together. Orville took
me up 350 feet and 6.55 minutes (picture).
Thursday, May 26: Katharine and Wilbur go to Simm’s in the afternoon.
Orville makes some eight flights. In one he rose about 2100 feet high. In
one he shut off the motor and descended some six hundred feet, safely.
Saturday, May 28: Went to Simm’s, Orville and others took many flights.
We went on a special car. Returned on 7:30 car.
Note: "Car" refers to the interurban railroad that stops at Simm’s
Friday, June 3: The boys flew nearly twenty times with both machines
today. Brookins rose nearly 1,000 feet, twice.
Sunday, June 5: Orville announced that applicants must be mechanics,
expert, able to run a machine.
Wednesday, June 8: The "birds" flew much at Simm’s, all low
Friday, June 10: The aeroplanes are removed to Indianapolis.
Friday, June 17: The International Aero Club has an excursion to
Indianapolis --- about 300. Walter Brookins rises about 4,503 feet, gets
lost, lights in a field, three miles from the Speedway at Indianapolis.
Sunday, June 19: Wilbur and Orville came home about 11:00 from Indianapolis.
Wilbur started at 4:00 for New York. He went to apply for a modification of
the decision of the Appellate U.S. Court, asking that Herring Co. and
Paulhan be required to give bond.
Note: On June 14, Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of Judge John
Hazel on Jan. 3 and directs that the injunction granted the Wright Co. be
dismissed and the requirement for bond be canceled.
Tuesday, June 21: Orville and Katharine start to Oberlin in afternoon.
Ivonette and Leontine stay with me.
Note: On June 22 the Wrights received honorary doctor of laws degrees from
Oberlin College where their sister Katharine had graduated.
Saturday, July 9: At home. Have an electric fan and electric light put onto
Thursday, July 21: The boys move a flying machine to Simm’s Station, and make
some experiments with wheels.
Thursday, July 28: I was at home all day. Knabenshue called in forenoon. Mr.
Barnes dined with us. Katharine and Mrs. Knabenshue and Mr. Brewer and Mr. Plew
of Chicago went to Simm’s Station, in automobile. Several flights were
make, in all two hours flight, by pupils. Barnes is a secretary and
director of the Wright Company.
Saturday, July 30: I went to Simms with Wilbur, Katharine and Mr. Griffith
Brewer. Orville & Mr. Brewer flew 23 minutes. Mr. Coffyn flew alone
twice, the last time 13 minutes
Wednesday, August 3: Wilbur got home at noon. Had no business of importance at
Friday, August 19: Edward Harris came in the afternoon. The boys flew at
Simm’s which Harris saw.
Sunday, August 21: At home all day. Mr. Parmalee called to see the boys
Monday afternoon. Alexander Ochilvie (Ogilvie) and Coffyn and Brookins
Note: Philip Parmalee made the first aerial freight delivery when he flew from
Dayton to Columbus, Ohio with several bolts of silk strapped to the passenger
seat of his Wright Model B. Alexander Ogilvie is an Englishman who first met
Wilbur in France in 1908. He traveled to Dayton to take flying lessons. Walter
Brookins was a Dayton boy and Orville’s first aviation student. Frank Coffyn
was trained to fly by the Wright brothers and a member of the Wright Exhibition
Saturday, September 3: Mr. Alexander Ogilvie of England came to Dayton.
Friday, September 9: Mr. Russell and Ogilvie supped with us.
Saturday, September 10: Katharine went to Simms to witness flights.
Monday, September 12: Katharine went to Simms but there was no flying.
Wednesday, September 14: Ogilvie and Russell supped with Orville and Katharine.
Sunday, September 18: Alex. Ogilvie dined and supped with us. Mr. Coffyn and
Brookins called in the afternoon.
Monday, September 19: Mr. P.O. Parmalee spent afternoon and evening with us.
Wilbur started to Chicago at 10:00 p.m.
Wednesday, September 21: Orville is at the Inter-Aero banquet.
Note: Wilbur and Orville are honored at a banquet at Dayton Club given by
Dayton Aeroplane Club and Dayton Aero Club.
Thursday, September 22: Wilbur comes back home from Chicago, before breakfast. Orville
flew to Dayton, and back to Simms, 2,000 feet high coming, and 4,000 feet
going. 100,000 people saw him fly. At 5:00 Orville comes on his flyer, about
2,000 feet high, turns at Williams Street, goes near our Home, flies
along Third Street to the limits of the City, and rising to about 4,000 feet,
goes up Mad River to their grounds. Came nine miles in ten minutes, returned
slower. Many Thousands saw him.
Note: This is the first flight of the Wrights over the city. Flight is part of
an Aviation Day program held during Exposition Week in Dayton.
Saturday, September 24: I was at home. Katharine went to Simms and flew a
thousand feet high with Orville.
Tuesday, September 27: Wilbur went to Chicago tonight.
Wednesday, September 28: Wilbur is at Chicago to witness Mr. Brookins
preparation for a flight, thence to Springfield for $10,000 prize offered
by the Chicago Record-Herald.
Thursday, September 29: Today Walter Brookins flew from Chicago to
Springfield, Ill. He stopped at Gilman, 75 miles at 11:30 and at Mt
Pulaski, 136 miles. It was 192 ½ miles with two stops. He reached the state
fairgrounds at 4:27 p.m. Wilbur followed in a rail.
Note: Wilbur followed the flight in a special car attached to an Illinois
Friday, September 30: Katharine went with Mrs. Sines to Simm’s Aviation
grounds. Wilbur came home from Springfield, Ill.
Note: Orville began his first business venture in printing with his childhood
friend Edward Sines. Sines remained with the Wrights until the printing
business was discontinued.
Sunday, October 2, Wilbur goes at 10:00 p.m. to Washington, Penn., to inspect
grounds of flight agreed upon by Knabenshue.
Note: Roy Knabenshue was hired by the Wrights to oversee and manage the Wright
Saturday, October 8: Mr. Hoxsey flies from Springfield, Ill. to St. Louis,
Missouri. Today, the Women’s League edition of the Daily News was issued.
Katharine reported the flying exploits and wrote an article for the paper.
Note: Arch Hoxsey was an auto mechanic hired by Knabenshue for the Wright
Exhibition Team. He took President Theodore Roosevelt for his first airplane
Wednesday, October 12: John Feight took us out at 8:00 a.m. to Simm’s Station
and we saw the new machine, 28 x 3 ½ feet.
Note: The machine was the Model R, "Baby Grand."
Thursday, October 13: Mr. Ogilvie called at 1:30, he being back from St. Louis.
Katharine and Mrs. Russell & Wallace went at 4:00 to Wright Company’s
ground at Simms Station. Frank Russell’s and Russell Alger called at
Thursday October 30: Wilbur started to New York.
Saturday, October 22: Orville tried his eight-cylinder engine and it worked
well. We sup at Frank Russell’s. 77 to 78 miles an hour. The
machine is 22 feet long; 3 ½ feet broad. His eight-cylinder engine weighs
itself 100 pounds more than the four-cylinder one. It gives over 50
Note: The new engine is for use on the Model R.
Sunday, October 23: Orville, Katharine and Mr. Ogilvie started at 4:00 for
New York. I supped at Lorin’s. Ivonette and Leontine came home with me
and staid the night.
Note: October 22-30 the Wright airplanes participate in an International
Aviation Tournament at Belmont Park, N.Y. The Wrights took the "Baby
Grand" with them.
Tuesday, October 25: Letter from Katharine came from New York. Orville makes
nearly seventy miles an hour with our racer.
Thursday, October 27: Card from Katharine. Johnstone & Hoxsey were
floated off by winds, to Middle Island and Brentwood, L.I. Johnson 55
miles, Hoxsey, 25 miles.
Friday, October 28, Hoxsey and Johnson returned. Drexel, Hamilton and Brookins
are chosen for America’s contestants. Ogilvie for Great Britain.
Sunday, October 29: Netta brought telegram to Lorin from F. H. Russell saying
that Brookins's Racer fell with him, but no bones are broken in the race.
Note: The "Baby Grand," piloted by Brookins is wrecked in a
preliminary test in preparation for the International Aviation cup.
Monday, October 31: Johnstone climbs at New York (Belmont) 9,714 feet;
is higher than world’s record.
Monday, November 7: Orville and Katharine went to Simms to see Mr. Phil. O. Parmalee
start to Columbus with several bolts of silk in an aeroplane. He flew there
in 61 minutes and delivered the goods.
Tuesday, November 8: It is a pleasant morning for Election Day. I voted the
Republican ticket, except for one man. Wilbur started to New York at 4:00
afternoon. New carpet laid in two rooms. Election news unfavorable.
Sunday, November 13: Orville started for Germany, Berlin, to instruct
them how to build better machines.
Thursday, November 17: This is the eighty-second anniversary of my birthday.
I am as spry as most men at half my age. Probably I do not appear older than
most men at seventy. I got a picture card from my nephew Edward M. Harris,
Lincoln, Kansas. Ralph Johnstone dashed to death in Denver.
Note: Wright Exhibition Company flier Ralph Johnstone was killed in a crash at
Overland Park, Denver. Wilbur, in New York, accompanied the widow to her home
in Kansas City, Mo., and attended Johnstone’s funeral there.
Friday, November 18: Mr. F. Russell & Lorin met Wilbur at the train with
Mrs. Johnstone, on way to Kansas City, from New York.
Saturday, November 19: Mrs. Russell, Mrs. Guthrie, and Mrs. Stevens came in for
gambling with Katharine.
Wednesday, November 23: Chanute, Octave died in Chicago, aged 79 years,
nearly. We see that Orville arrived in Berlin, Germany, today. Octave Chanute
was born in Paris, Feb. 18, 1832. His parents came to America in 1838.
Thursday, November 24: Wilbur started at 9:00 for Chicago to attend Octave
Note: Wilbur’s tribute to Chanute, written shortly after his death,
was published in Aeronautics.
Wednesday, November 30: Women came in this afternoon to play cards. Wilbur
started to New York about 4:00.
Friday, December 2: Katharine took Mrs. Melba King to Simms, where they
watched three short flights.
Monday, December 5: Katharine and I met at Miss Reece’s Photograph Gallery
for me to have my Photograph taken. A letter from Orville, written
Thanksgiving Day, came today. He writes from Berlin, Germany. He is well.
Thursday, December 8: Wilbur came home at 1:00 from New York.
Friday, December 9: Wilbur was giving testimony in the suit against them at
Cincinnati, and is not at home for dinner.
Sunday, December 18: I went to Grace M.E. Church and heard Dr. Fuller. Spoke of
His Looking for the Kingdom of God. There were different ideas of the Km., 1.
Abraham’s, 2. David’s, 3. Daniel’s, etc. He said something I could not
hear that seemed to smack of Darwinism. I slept most of the afternoon. Darwinism
Friday, December 23: Ivonette, my granddaughter, spent the day with us, helping
dress Leontine’s doll.
Sunday, December 25: Lorin’s dined with us. It was quite a day of
Tuesday, December 27: Miss Mayer, Miss Observe and several others were in for a
game of cards.
Thursday, December 29: Orville came home from Europe at 9:00 (10:00).
Saturday, December 31: Arch Hoxsey, fell to his death this afternoon, at
Los Angeles, California.
Reference: Diaries, 1857-1917, Bishop Milton
Wright, Wright State University.
Gleanings in Bee
The first accurate eyewitness article describing the Wright airplane in
flight was published in an unlikely publication called "Gleanings in Bee
Culture" in January 1905. Amos Ives Root, the magazine’s creator,
publisher and editor, wrote it. Stranger yet, Root had the approval of the
publicity-shy Wrights to write the article.
And Root was not just a casual observer, rather he was invited by the
Wrights to witness, keep detailed notes and write about an important event in
the history of aviation taking place at Huffman Prairie. The Wrights planned to
attempt the first flight in a complete circle. Doing so would validate the
Wrights’ mastery of three-axis control. Here is Root’s description of the
event as he wrote it in "Gleanings:"
"It was my privilege, on the 20th day of September, 1904 to
see the first successful trip of an airship, without a balloon to sustain it,
that the worlds has ever made, that is, to turn the corners and come back to
"During all of these experiments they kept so near the soft marshy
ground that a fall would be no serious accident, either to the machine or its
occupant. In fact, so carefully have they managed, that, during these years of
experimenting, nothing has happened to do any serious damage to the machine nor
to give the boys more than what might be called a severe scratch."
"I think great praise is due along this very line. I told you there was
not another machine equal to such a task as I mentioned, on the face of the
earth; and, furthermore, just now as I dictate there is probably not another
man besides these two who has learned the trick of controlling it."
"In making this last trip of rounding the circle, the machine was kept
near the ground, except in making the turns. If you watch a large bird when it
swings around in a circle you will see its wings are tipped up at an incline.
The machine must follow the same rule; and to clear the tip of the inside wing
it was found necessary to rise to a height of perhaps 20 or 25 feet."
"When the engine shut off, the apparatus glides to the ground very
quietly, and alights on something much like a pair of light sled-runners,
sliding over the grassy surface perhaps a rod or more. Whenever it is necessary
to slow up the speed before alighting, you turn the nose up hill. It will then
climb right up on the air until the momentum is exhausted, when, by skillful
management, it can be dropped as lightly as a feather."
"Since the above was written they have twice succeeded in making four
complete circles without alighting, each circle passing the starting point.
These circles are nearly a mile in circumference each; and the last flight made
Dec. 12 could have been prolonged indefinitely had it not been that the rudder
was in such position it cramped the hand of the operator so he was obliged to
alight. The longest flight took only five minutes and four seconds by the
watch. Over one hundred flights have been made during the past summer. Some of
them are 50 or 60 feet above the ground."
Root, age 64, didn’t
waste any time traveling the 200 miles from his home in Medina, Ohio near
Cleveland to Dayton. He boarded with the Dave Beard family whose farm house was
the closest to Huffman Prairie. On the morning of September 20, he walked over
to the flying field and introduced himself to the Wright brothers and asked for
permission to observe their experiments. Surprisingly, the Wrights readily
agreed and invited him to be their guest. A long time friendship
began soon after.
How is it that Root was readily accepted while many others writers were
rebuffed? It turns out that Root and the Wrights had many things in common.
Root grew up on a farm, was a good reader and read a lot at an early age. He
had an intense interest in the natural world, particularly in science. He loved
machines and was interested in chemistry and electricity. He owned the first
bicycle in Northern Ohio.
The bicycle was the kind with a large front wheel in front. It was difficult
to ride, but Root was determined to learn how even though people laughed at his
He left home at an early age and with a partner, toured the Midwest giving
demonstrations on electricity and magnetism. That enterprise ended in tragedy
when his partner and their horse drowned while crossing a swollen stream. His
story on the tragedy, his first venture in writing, appeared in the Medina
He then became interested in jewelry, read up on the subject, built a
factory making jewelry and became wealthy. In the process he married a local
girl and subsequently had five children.
He became interested in bees when one day a swarm of bees hovered over his
workplace. As a hobby he read every thing he could find on bees and became the
leading authority in the world on bees. He founded the A. I. Root company in
1869 and manufactured a new beehive that for the first time made it possible
for beekeepers to harvest their honey without destroying the colony of bees.
He decided to share what he had learned with others so he founded and
published a trade journal about bees and named it "Gleanings in Bee
Culture." By 1904, it had been in publication for 30 years.
"Gleanings" became more than a publication on bees, it included
the other things that Root was interested in such as gardening, science and
technology and religion and had an international circulation of some 150,000.
Religion was important facet of Root’s life. His employees were expected
to attend daily prayer meetings on company time. He didn’t believe in
drinking alcohol, smoking or working on Sunday. He believed that technological
progress was a gift from God and would result in social betterment.
Many farmers at the time considered automobiles to be a menace. Local
citizens considered Root eccentric.
The beginning of Root’s article in "Gleanings" reflects his
"What has God wrought? – Num. 23:23.
"Dear friends, I have a wonderful story to tell you – a story that,
in some respects, out rivals the Arabian Night fables – a story, too, with a
moral that I think many of the younger ones need, and perhaps some of the older
ones too if they will heed it."
"God in his great mercy has permitted me to be, at least somewhat,
instrumental in ushering in and introducing to the great wide world an
invention that may outrank the electric cars, the automobiles, and all other
methods of travel, and one which may fairly take a place beside the telephone
and wireless telegraphy. Am I claiming a good deal? Well, I will tell my story,
and you shall be the judge. In order to make the story a helpful one I may stop
and turn aside a good many times to point a moral."
"--- These two, perhaps by accident, or maybe as a matter of taste,
began studying the flights of birds and insects. From this they turned their
attention to what has been done in the way of enabling men to fly. They not
only studied nature, but they procured the best books, and I think I may say
all the papers, the world contains on this subject."
"When I first became acquainted with them, and expressed a wish to read
up all there was on the subject, they showed me a library that astonished me;
and I soon found they were thoroughly versed, not only in regard to our present
knowledge, but every thing that had been done in the past."
"These boys (they are men now), instead of spending their summer
vacation with crowds, and with such crowds as are often questionable, as so
many do, went away by themselves to a desert place by the seacoast. You and I
have in years past found enjoyment and health in sliding down hill on the snow;
but these boys went off to the sandy waste on the Atlantic coast to slide down
hill too: but instead of sliding on snow and ice they slid on air."
"With a gliding machine made of sticks and cloth they learned to glide
and soar from the top of a hill to the bottom; and by making not only hundreds
but more than a thousand experiments, they became so proficient in guiding
these gliding machines that they could sail like a bird, and control its
movements up and down as well as sidewise. Now, this was not altogether for fun
or boys’ play. They had purpose in view."
The Wrights and Root shared the same moral principles and demonstrated the
same passion, desire and commitment for what they believed in. They also shared
the characteristics of a contrarian. Root was someone who could appreciate what
the Wrights had accomplished.
Root stood next to Orville near the catapult directly in the flight path
during one flight and described the exciting experience as follows:
"The engine is started and got up to speed. The machine is held until
ready to start by a sort of trap to be sprung when all is ready; then with a
tremendous flapping and snapping of the four-cylinder engine, the huge machine
springs aloft. "
"When it first turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I
was right in front of it; and I said then, and believe still, it was one of the
grandest sights, if not the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive
that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you – a
locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we
will further say – a locomotive made of aluminum."
"Well, now imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20
feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its
propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother
bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you
friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to
Root asked plenty of questions. One had to do with lift.
"I confess it is not clear to me, even yet, how that little aluminum
engine, with four paddles, does the work. I asked the question,
"Boys, would that engine and these two propellers raise the machine
from the ground if placed horizontally above it?"
"Certainly not, Mr. Root. They would not lift a quarter of its
"Then how is it possible that it sustains it in the air as it is?"
"The answer involves a strange point in the wonderful discovery of air
navigation. When some large bird or butterfly is soaring with motionless wings,
a very little power from behind will keep it moving."
"Well if this motion is kept up, a very little incline of the wings
will keep it from falling. A little more incline, and a little more push from
behind, and the bird or the butterfly, or the machine created by human hands,
will gradually rise in the air. I was surprised at the speed, and I was
astonished at the wonderful power of this comparatively small apparatus."
Root again emphasizes that God welcomes technological change in a follow-up
article in the next issue of "Gleanings" published on January 15th.
"It has often been remarked that one of the most beautiful sights in
the world is a ship under full sail, especially a new sailing vessel with clean
There is something especially exhilarating about the way in which the canvas
catches the wind and sends the ship scudding through the waves. But to me the
sight of a machine like the one I have pictured, with its white canvas planes
and rudders subject to human control, is one of the grandest and most inspiring
sights I have ever seen on earth; and when you see one of these graceful crafts
sailing over your head, and possibly over your home, as I expect you will in
the near future, see if you don’t agree with me that the flying machine is
one is one of God’s most gracious and precious gifts."
Root was concerned about others stealing the Wrights’ secrets.
"I may add, however, that the apparatus is secured by patents, both in
this and in foreign countries; and as nobody else has as yet succeeded in doing
any thing like what they have done I hope no millionaire or syndicate will try
to rob them of the invention or laurels they have so fairly and honestly
Root was prescient in his observation. It wasn’t long before Glen Curtiss
and the Smithsonian Institution in this country and others in Europe would
steal their secrets and try to claim credit for their invention.
Even today some people credit Glen Curtiss with making the first public
flight of an airplane in the U.S. on July 4, 1908. For this feat the Aero Club
of America awarded him American pilot license No. 1.
Roots also had thoughts about the future of the airplane.
"When Columbus discovered America he did not know what the outcome
would be, and no one at the time knew; and I doubt if the wildest enthusiast
caught a glimpse of what really did come from his discovery. In a like manner
these brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery
is going to bring to the children of men. No one living can give a guess of
what is coming along this line, much better than any one living could
conjecture the final outcome of Columbus’ experiment when he pushed off
through the trackless waters. Possibly we may be able to fly over the North
Pole, even if we should not succeed in tacking the "stars and
stripes" to its uppermost end."
Why did the Wrights choose Root to publish a detailed account of their
exploits? They were obviously comfortable with Root, but I think there was more
to it than that. I think they relished having a nontraditional publication out
scoop the establishment press. Such an event would appear to the Wrights’
sense of humor
They gave Root the permission just before Christmas to go to press with his
article. The Wrights wanted to wait until they were not with their experiments
for 1904 before the article was published.
Root also sent his article to the Scientific American magazine for
publication, but the Scientific American didn’t believe the story was worthy
of publication and therefore rejected it.
Note: The Root Company is still in business in Medina, Ohio, and today
manufactures high quality candles. (www.rootcandles.com/)
Wright Circles the Statue of Liberty
was the fall of 1909 and New York City planned a huge Hudson-Fulton Celebration
to commemorate two great episodes in the history of the Hudson River. One was
the 300th anniversary of Captain Henry Hudson’s upstream cruise to
the future site of Albany. The other was the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s
gathering of some 40 naval vessels, both American and foreign, were going to
American aviators, Wilbur Wright and Glen Curtiss also agreed to participate
and perform air demonstrations.
The year 1909
had been a spectacular year for the Wright Brothers. Their flights were the
talk of two continents. President William Howard Taft had given them medals.
Wilbur’s flight over New York would be the piece de resistance.
was also doing well. He had just won the Gordon Bennett Trophy for setting a
new world speed record in Rheims France. The newspapers proclaimed Curtiss the
"Champion Aviator of the World."
were in the news for another reason. The Wrights had just filed suit against
Curtiss and others for violating their 1906 patent covering airplane control
systems. Their exhibitions in New York would pit the two against each other in
the air preceding their upcoming battle in court. One New York newspaper
observed: "It is a matter of
pride and supremacy with each of them."
Just prior to
the planned flights, the Aero Club of America sponsored a luncheon and
reception in New York City to honor Curtiss’s victory at Rheims, France. The
introductory speaker introduced Curtiss as the American who won the "greatest
victory in the history of aerial effort." Curtiss received a gold
Wilbur, who was
a club member, was invited but declined to attend saying that he was too busy
preparing his airplane for the demonstration flights.
One of his
unusual preparations was to add an ordinary red canoe to his airplane. The
canoe would be a precaution in case he would have to land in the water. The
canoe was tied to the bottom wing pointing fore and aft and covered with a
meanwhile was dismayed to find that his partner in the Herring-Curtiss Company,
Augustus Herring, without conferring with him, had contracted for $5,000 to
display his Rheim’s airplane in Wanamaker department stores for two months.
He would have to use an untried alternative airplane in the celebration.
would emanate from Governors Island. The island was located in the harbor a
half mile off Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan. At the time the
headquarters of the U.S. First army was located there. Two hangars, one for
Wilbur and one for Curtiss were erected on the sand flats.
were scheduled to begin on September 27, but rain cancelled any attempt to fly.
On Wednesday morning, September 29, Curtiss was the first to take off. He had
trouble getting into to the air because his wheels didn’t roll easily in the
sand. It was a short flight witnessed by an Army officer and a friend.
later, Wilbur took off with the aid of a starting rail. After a short
seven-minute flight, he announced he was ready for his first official public
a million people were massed along the docks, parks, streets and rooftops. Some
forty warships from many nations filled the harbor.
He started at
8:57 a.m. Before getting into his seat Wilbur thoroughly tested his engine. He
faced the west, and the wind was not as strong as when Curtiss flew.
Wilbur’s mechanic ran along with the airplane until it lifted off the ground.
Orville wasn’t with Wilbur because he was in Germany near Potsdam engaged in
training Captain Paul Engelhard on how to fly the Wright airplane. The German
empress witnessed several flights and congratulated Orville on his success.
Turning to the
left Wilbur made a wide sweep of the field and headed toward Brooklyn. He
circled the Island becoming lost from view of the spectators behind a clump of
on the outer side of Fort Castle William and made a complete circle over the
southern half of the airfield before coming around a second time very close to
the ground. When he was about to land the left wing tip scraped the sand and
whirled the machine around so that it landed sideways on its skids.
A New York
newspaper reported that an upset Wilbur said, "That’s
the worst landing I’ve made in a long time, and I’m not going to try
anything like that again."
surely the machine would be smashed to pieces. It is the only machine in the
world that would stand such a bad landing."
inspected his airplane to see if it had suffered any damage, Curtiss who had
reached the field as Wilbur landed, greeted his rival familiarly and asked him,
"How’s it going this
good," responded Wilbur,
"but I made a very bad landing."
flying improved as the day progressed and a large crowd gathered at the Battery
and boats surrounded Governor’s island in expectation of further exhibitions.
tightening the wires and screws of his airplane and shifting the starting rail
so that it faced directly against the wind, Wilbur took-off again using the
entire 165-feet of the monorail.
Leveling out at
200 feet, the Wright Flyer circled the island once and headed out to sea in the
direction of the Statue of Liberty. As Wilbur reached the Statue, he passed
over the outward-bound Lusitania, the pride of the oceans. Passengers crowded
the decks to watch him.
the Flyer directly at the Statue; then banked sharply and circled behind and
passed within 20 feet of the metal drapery that makes up the waist. Spectators
in New York thought he was going to crash as he passed out of their sight
behind the statue.
continued, banking the Flyer as he passed under the upraised arm. Then he
leveled the wings and turned toward Governor’s Island. As he passed over the
Lusitania again, people were waving hats, coats and anything else they could
find. There was a deafening blast in salute from the ship’s foghorn.
On the return
trip Wilbur was flying with the speed of an express train. When he reached the
airfield flying about 10 to 15 feet off the ground, he brought his machine head
up to the wind and made a perfect landing.
"I guess I
made 50-mph coming back,"
He started the
flight at 10:18 a.m. and landed back at Governor’s Island after a flight of 6
minutes and 30 seconds and was mobbed by reporters. Wilbur, as usual, showed
little emotion. Some thought they saw a slight smile.
prevented further flying for several days. Curtiss was anxious because he had
an another contract commitment to appear in St. Louis. He saw his chance on
Sunday. He knew that the Wrights never flew on Sundays because of their
Late in the day
the wind subsided and he made two attempts to fly. The first time he had some
trouble with the engine. The second time he made a swing around Governor’s
Island and landed. There were few witnesses and it didn’t count as an
He decided he
had enough and that it was more important to honor his commitment in St. Louis
so he left New York
finished yet. On Monday, October 4 he took off at 9:53 a.m. and proceeded up
the Hudson River. He had a life jacket tied to the lower wing at his feet. Two
American flags flew from the front elevator.
First he flew
past Manhattan over the wharves and warehouses. Crowds were cheering him on his
way. He continued up the river. Sometimes when there were no structures in his
way, he dropped low for people to see him better.
When he could
see Grants Tomb in upper Manhattan, he turned left and flew across the river
until he neared the Palisades. Then he turned left again and headed back south.
He flew over
many battleships anchored along the New Jersey shore. It was the first time an
airplane ever flew over battleships. Some of the officers on the ships may have
sensed that a new day in the nature of warfare was not far away.
It would take
General Billy Mitchell another fifteen years to convince the U.S. Military of
that fact when he bombed and sank a ship in a demonstration of air power.
reached the harbor again near Ellis Island, turned, and landed at Governor’s
Island after a 42-mile round trip to the blaring horns of thousands of ships
It was a
magical moment not soon to be forgotten by those who were there. It was also
Wilbur’s last public flight. "The
whistles of the passing tugs and ferry boats were tooting a
mighty chorus and the Battery sea wall was black with people.
The news was flashed over the city, and from windows of the
towering buildings thousands forgot all else and watched the
huge artificial bird sailing up the river."
It was also Wilbur's last public flight. He had planned to fly again in the afternoon. While the engine
was warning up, a cylinder head blew off breaking through the
motor casing. It ripped a two-foot hole in the upper wing and
shot 20-feet into the air, landing within a few feet of Wilbur.
Thus ended one of the most spectacular and dangerous over the
water flights that anyone had ever taken up to that time.
Two men from Dayton flew a
Wright "B" Flyer replica around the Statue of
Liberty on Memorial Day, 2003.
Trippe as a teenager witnessed Wilbur's flight around the Statue of
Liberty. Who is Trippe? Later in life he founded Pan American airways
in1927. After seeing Wilbur fly, he dreamed of becoming a pilot, which
he did as a military pilot in 1917.
hired Charles Lindbergh to help promote international travel by
airplane. In 1945, Pan Am became the first airplane to introduce tourist
class, cutting the New York to London fare by more than half and
effectively launched the modern age of air travel.
First Cargo Flight Creates New Paradigm of Transportation
On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers successfully
flew the first heavier-than-air powered airplane. Now the question
became what could they do with their invention. Many people
at the time thought airplanes had no practical value.
Originally, they pursued the problem of flight as a hobby. They
had heard of the unfortunate crash and death of the German glider
experimenter, Otto Lilienthal, in 1896 and speculated how man
could successfully fly. Their first glider experiments at Kitty
Hawk in 1900 convinced them that they were on the right track
and further motivated them to continue serious pursuit of the
Seven years of thought, work and money convinced them to seek
profit from their investment by going into business with their
invention. Initially, they pursued the only markets available
to them at the time - barnstorming and selling airplanes to
A unique new market opportunity arrived in the mail in 1910.
The Wright Brothers received an unsolicited letter from Max
Morehouse, a Columbus, Ohio department store owner inquiring
"how much will you charge to bring a roll of silk ribbon from
your city to our establishment?"
This inquiry led to a contact between Morehouse and the Wright
Exhibition Company to fly 200 pounds of silk worth $800 from
Dayton to Columbus.
The airplane to be used was the latest Wright airplane, the
Model B. It was the first Wright airplane to use wheels instead
of a sled design. Another significant design change was that
the vertical stabilizer was moved from the front of the airplane
to the rear behind the tail. The Model B had a thirty-nine foot
wing span and was powered with a forty horsepower gasoline engine.
Parmalee, a 24-year-old graduate of the Wright flying school,
was selected as the pilot. He was trained at the Wright's school
located in Montgomery Alabama.
There were few navigational aids to guide flight in those days,
so Orville gave Parmalee a map of a railroad track to follow
to Columbus, which he fastened to a wing strut for ease of viewing.
At 10:45 a.m. on November 7, 1910, Parmalee took off from Huffman
Prairie airfield outside of Dayton headed for Columbus. Huffman
Prairie was in reality a cow pasture that the Wrights used after
their experiments at Kitty Hawk. It is now a part of Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base.
Parmalee's destination in Columbus was a racetrack marked with
white flags to improve visibility from the air.
Parmalee flew at an elevation of 2,000-3,000 feet sitting on
the wing with no protection from the wind. The wind-chill factor
that day was below zero. He would sometimes turn the plane so
that he would be in the sun's rays and clap his hands to keep
Thousands of people lined the route and cheered as he flew over.
Three thousand people waited at the Columbus racetrack for his
arrival. Morehouse, always the businessman, charged them $1.00
for general admission and $1.25 for reserved seats. Parking
Sixty-six minutes after taking off from Dayton, Parmalee landed
at the racetrack. He had covered the 65 miles in 66 minutes,
setting a new world speed record for cross-country flight. The
news of the first cargo flight was covered in newspapers around
A new industry was launched, but it would be more than a decade
before air cargo became commonplace. It would lead eventually
to creating the present day global economy.
Morehouse, the department store owner, not only received worldwide
publicity, but also made a profit on his $5,000 investment.
In addition to selling tickets to the racetrack attendees, he
sold swatches of the silk on a post card for five cents a card
as well at lengths of silk for $1.35 a yard.
Philip Parmalee left the Wright Brother employment and flew
early U.S. Air Mail. In early 1911 in San Francisco, he was
the pilot of a Wright Model B that conducted the first Army
experiments with dropping live bombs from aircraft. Two
years after his celebrated cargo flight, he was killed in an
airplane crash at Yakima, Washington.