Pilots, Planes and Pioneers

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hile the Wright brothers may have been the first to make a sustained, controlled flight, they were just two among hundreds of brave men and women who helped to give the world its wings during the earliest days of aviation. Below are brief biographies and photos of some of the most important figures and, where available, resources and links where you can find more information. In some cases, contributors have supplied expanded biographies. Those are listed at the right and linked below.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M
N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

 

 
 
Clement Ader of France was a distinguished electrical engineer who helped pioneer the telephone. He also studied birds and bats, and in 1873 built a bird-shaped glider with feathered wings. He made a few tethered accents, then began thinking about powered flight. In 1882, he began work on an airplane and a lightweight steam engine to power it. He called his craft the Eole. It had a 20-horsepower engine, bat-like wings, no rudder, and no elevator. When tested  in 1890,  the 653-pound (296-kilogram) craft flew about 165 feet (50 meters) at a height of 8 inches (20 centimeters) off the ground. It was the first aircraft to take off from level ground under its own power.  In 1892, Ader convinced the French Ministry of War to fund further research. He built a twin-engine craft called the Avion III, and attempted to fly it before official observers in 1897.  It failed to impress those observers, and they cut off funding. Later, after Alberto Santos-Dumont had made a short flight in France, Ader began to claim that his craft had flown almost 1000 feet (304 meters) in 1897. The official report, released many years after the test, says nothing of the kind. It records that the Avion III never completely left the ground, although one or two of its three wheels may have come off.

See also: Airmen & Chauffeurs.


Clement Ader

An artist's conception of the Eole in flight. The actual "flight" was just inches above the ground.

Plans for the Eole.

The Avion III, on display in Paris, France.

An uncovered model of the Eole, showing the bat-like frame of the aircraft.
Ernest Archdeacon of France was wealthy lawyer, sportsman, and aviation enthusiast. He built several experimental gliders, mostly based on Wright designs. More important, he offered several lucrative prizes to encourage the development of aviation, especially in France. In May 1903, he and Ferdinand Ferber created the Aviation Committee in the Aero Club du France to kindle French interest in heavier-than-air flight. His hope was to encourage young French aviators to more daring deeds and beat the Americans -- in particular, the Wright brothers -- into the air.

Ernest Archdeacon

The 1905 Archdeacon floatplane-glider was designed by Archdeacon, but built and flown by Gabriel Voison.
William Avery of Chicago, Illinois was a carpenter in Octave Chanute's neighborhood. He built a multi-wing glider, the Katydid for Chanute in 1896 and joined Chanute's band of aviation enthusiasts at the Indiana Dunes to test the craft. Later, he flew the Chanute-Herring glider in exhibition flight at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.
 

Avery's Katydid at the Indiana Dunes in the summer of 1896.

Avery about to launch a Chanute-Herring glider in St. Louis in 1904.

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Biographies of Aviation Pioneers

 

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