The absolute weight of the aerodrome, including that of the engine and all appurtenances, was, as I was told, about twenty-five pounds, and the distance from tip to tip of the supporting surfaces was, as I observed, about twelve or four teen feet.
Continuing The First Airplanes,
with a selection from Annual Report of Smithsonian Institution by Samuel Langley published in 1897 and a note by Alexander Graham Bell. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Bell invented the telephone.
Previously in The First Airplanes.
So little had even now been learned about the system of balancing in the open air, that at this late day recourse was again had to rubber models, of a different character, however, from those previously used; for in the latter the rubber was strained, not twisted. These experiments took up an inordinate time, though the flight obtained from the models thus made was somewhat Longer and much steadier than that obtained with the Penaud form, and from them a good deal of valuable information was gained as to the number and position of the wings and as to the effectiveness of different forms and dispositions of them. By the middle of the year a launch took place with a brief flight, where the aerodrome shot down into the water after a little over fifty yards. It was immediately followed by one in which the same aerodrome rose at a considerable incline and fell backward with scarcely any advance after sustaining itself rather less than ten seconds, and these and subsequent attempts showed that the problem of disposing of the wings so that they would not yield and of obtaining a proper “balance” was not yet solved.
Briefly it may be said that the year 1895 gave small results for the labor with which it was filled, and that at its close the outlook for further substantial improvement seemed to be almost hopeless, but it was at this time that final success was drawing near. Shortly after its close I became convinced that substantial rigidity had been secured for the wings; that the frame had been made stronger without prohibitive weight, and that a degree of accuracy in the balance had been obtained which had not been hoped for. Still there had been such a long succession of disasters and accidents in the launching that hope was low when success finally came. . . . The successful flights of the aerodrome were witnessed by Dr. Bell, and described by him as follows:
and now Alexander Graham Bell
I had the pleasure of witnessing the successful flight of some of these aerodromes more than a year ago, but Dr. Langley’ s reluctance to make the results public at that time prevented me from asking him, as I have done since, to let me give an account of what I saw.
On the date named two ascensions were made by the aerodrome, or so-called “flying machine,” which I will not describe here further than to say that it appeared to me to be built almost entirely of metal, and driven by a steam engine which I have understood was carrying fuel and a water supply for a very brief period, and which was of an extraordinary lightness.
The absolute weight of the aerodrome, including that of the engine and all appurtenances, was, as I was told, about twenty-five pounds, and the distance from tip to tip of the supporting surfaces was, as I observed, about twelve or four teen feet. The method of propulsion was by aerial screw propellers, and there was no gas or other aid for lifting it in the air except its own internal energy.
On the occasion referred to, the aerodrome, at a given signal, started from a platform about twenty feet above the water, and rose at first directly in the face of the wind, moving at all times with remarkable steadiness, and subsequently swinging around in large curves of, perhaps, a hundred yards in diameter, and continually ascending until its steam was exhausted, when, at a lapse of about a minute and a half, and at a height which I judged to be between eighty and one hundred feet in the air, the wheels ceased turning, and the machine, deprived of the aid of its propellers, to my surprise did not fall, but settled down so softly and gently, that it touched the water without the least shock, and was, in fact immediately ready for another trial.
In the second trial, which followed directly, it repeated in nearly every respect the actions of the first, except that the direction of its course was different. It ascended again in the face of the wind, afterward moving steadily and continuously in large curves accompanied with a rising motion and a lateral advance. Its motion was, in fact, so steady that I think a glass of water on its surface would have remained unspilled. When the steam gave out again, it repeated for a second time the experience of the first trial when the steam had ceased, and settled gently and easily down. What height it reached at this trial I cannot say, as I was not so favorably placed as in the first; but I had occasion to notice that this time its course took it over a wooded promontory, and I was relieved of some apprehension in seeing that it was already so high as to pass the tree tops by twenty or thirty feet. It reached the water one minute and thirty-one seconds from the time it started, at a measured distance of over 900 feet from the point at which it rose.
This, however, was by no means the length of its flight. I estimated from the diameter of the curve described, from the number of turns of the propellers as given by the automatic counter, after due allowance for slip, and from other measures, that the actual length of flight on each occasion was slightly over three thousand feet. It is at least safe to say that each exceeded half an English mile.
From the time and distance it will be noted that the velocity was between twenty and twenty-five miles an hour, in a course which was taking it constantly “up hill.” I may add that on a previous occasion I have seen l far higher velocity attained by the same aerodrome when its course was horizontal.
I have no desire to enter into detail farther than I have done, but I cannot but add that it seems to me that no one who was present on this interesting occasion could have failed to recognize that the practicability of mechanical flight had been demonstrated.
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