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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 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.
Alfred F. Zahm built the first scientific wind tunnel in
America in 1901 at Catholic University, where he was a professor of
mathematics and engineering. It was 40 feet (12.2 meters) long and 6
feet (1.8 meters) square, and probably predated the Wright's 6-foot
(1.8 meters) wind tunnel by several months. With this tunnel he made
several significant discoveries concerning air friction that led to
the standard cigar-shaped fuselage still employed by aircraft
designers. In 1907 and 1908, Zahm served briefly as the chief
engineer for the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, then helped to create a
national laboratory for aeronautical research. The National Advisory
Council on Aeronautics (NACA, later NASA) was partly due to his
efforts. He managed the U.S. Navy's aerodynamics lab from 1914 to
1915, then ran the Library of Congress aeronautical division from
1916 to 1946. His position at the LOC was formalized in 1929 as the
"Guggenheim Chair." Although his contributions to pioneer aviation
were many and notable, unfortunately he is best remembered for his
antagonistic relationship with the Wright brothers. He served as an
expert witness for Curtiss in the Wright vs. Curtiss patent
wars and wrote the 1914 Smithsonian report declaring the 1903
Langely Aerodrome to be the first airplane "capable" of
Alfred Francis Zahm.
Zahm's 1901 wind tunnel at Catholic University was capable of
generating an airstream up to 25 mph (40 kph).
Zahm in a "headless" Curtiss Model D. Note that the head (front
elevator) has only recently been removed. The supports for it are
still in place.
Some of the shapes tested by Zahm in his tunnel during his studies
on skin friction.