Today’s installment concludes The First Airplanes,
the name of our combined selection from Charles F. Horne, Samuel Langley, and Alexander Graham Bell. The concluding installment by Charles F. Horne from Great Events by Famous Historians, was published in 1914. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed selections from the great works of eight thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The First Airplanes.
The principles which were thus established by Dr. Langley, both as to the construction of flying machines and the laws of flight, have since been practically applied by other men. Dr. Langley himself attempted afterward to construct a machine built on the plan of his successful aerodromes, but large enough to carry a man aloft. The United States government gave him an appropriation of money to be employed for this purpose. Every step of the construction presented, however, minor difficulties. The first finished machine was destroyed by an accident, and Dr. Langley, worn with strain and disappointment, died, leaving his task incomplete.
Meanwhile his success, and that of that other martyr, Lilienthal, had drawn the attention of the world. Everywhere men turned their inventive genius to completing the work. Soon their efforts became a race as to which man, which nation, should win the glory of being the first actually to fly at will. In France M. Ader, assisted by a governmental grant, and in Vienna M. Kress, began building along Langley’s lines. In America Octave Chanute experimented with gliding machines and obtained considerable success. Then in 1900 the Wright brothers commenced their remarkable work.
Selecting a secluded spot among the sand dunes of the North Carolina coast, Wilbur and Orville Wright practiced for three years with various forms of gliding machines. At first they used no engines, soaring as Lilienthal and Chanute had done by running into the wind from a downhill slope. Having learned thus to balance themselves aloft, to alight without destroying the machine, and having secured what they believed to be the most effective form for wings and rudders, the inventors after three years of experience installed an engine in their glider, making it an airship.
This, the first successful, man-carrying airship, as opposed to the “lighter than air” balloons, made its first flight December 17, 1903. In its first ascent it stayed aloft only a dozen seconds, whereas the unaided gliders of the Wrights had often soared for a minute or more. In other words, the gliding wings upheld the engine, rather than the engine them. In a few days, however, the inventors learned to keep their airship afloat a longer time and to drive it in any direction, whereas the gliders had been only able to rise by rushing into the face of a strong wind. With practice in maneuvering and patience in improving both wings and engine, the Wrights steadily advanced. They finally constructed a machine which would keep permanently aloft, so long as its engine worked. They learned how to turn the aeroplane when in flight, and at length to make it describe a complete circle without losing balance in the wind. In October, 1905, the perfected machine made a flight of twenty-four miles, covering the distance in thirty-eight minutes.
The world was slow to believe that the marvelous victory had been accomplished. The United States government refused to aid the work of the Wright brothers. The French government refused even to examine their machines. But French inventors began eagerly upon the construction of similar apparatus, though guided rather by Langley than by the Wrights. Toward the close of 1906, Santos-Dumont, already noted as a daring experimenter with dirigible balloons, soared seven hundred feet in an aeroplane driven by an engine of aluminum. As this flight was made with spectacular display, instead of quietly like those of the Wrights, it was heralded through Europe as marking the beginning of the “age of actual flight.”
The machine of Santos-Dumont was what is called a mono-plane; that is, it had but one pair of wings, its outspread supporting surface was on a single plane. The Wright machine was a biplane; that is, it had two supporting surfaces, one above the other. The earliest French machines were all monoplanes, but the biplane proved more rapidly successful. In October, 1907, Farman soared half a mile in a biplane. Early in 1908 he succeeded in doing what the Wrights had done four years before, making his machine turn in a complete circle. Progress was rapid in 1908. Delagrange, Farman’ s chief French rival, established something like permanent flight, keeping afloat for sixteen minutes and going over ten miles. Then, in the summer, the elder Wright brother, Wilbur, went to France, and in repeated trials against the best French machines outmatched them all. He flew forty-two miles, staying up over an hour and a half, and later he remained aloft for even longer periods, once covering seventy-seven miles. He also took a passenger with him, and flew forty-six miles, covering the entire distance at the remarkable speed of forty miles an hour. This, however, was not the first time an aeroplane had carried double, the two French champions having risen together in a brief flight the preceding March.
Rapid progress has since been made, but not with out occasional disaster. , Orville Wright, the younger of the brothers, was engaged in 1908 in training some United States officials in his art. His machine broke and fell from a height of a hundred feet. He was severely injured, and the officer who was aloft with him, Lieutenant Selfridge, was killed. Two Frenchmen and an Italian were killed in 1909, and others were severely hurt, by their machines losing balance and falling. It is thus evident that safety is still dependent not only on the strength of the machine, but on the art of the aviator in maintaining his balance against puffs of wind. The aeroplane is still, like the bicycle, kept up by the skill of the rider, not like a broad-bottomed boat or cart which maintains an equilibrium of its own. At first the machines were unable to rise far above the earth, but, with in creasing skill and knowledge, the aviators soared higher and higher until early in 1910, Paulhan, at an exhibition in California, rose four thousand, one hundred and sixty-five feet. Thus even the power to mount, the dirigible balloon’s last claim to superiority, seems rapidly being acquired by the heavier than air machines. The wind is over-ridden, the storm is defied, the air harnessed into service. At last the atmosphere belongs to man.
This ends our selections on The First Airplanes by three of the most important authorities of this topic:
- Great Events by Famous Historians by Charles F. Horne published in 1914.
- Annual Report of Smithsonian Institution by Samuel Langley published in 1897.
- a note by Alexander Graham Bell.
This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history