Pulling Back the Curtain

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  In Their Own Words

fter William J. Hammer visited the Wright brothers in Dayton, Ohio early in 1906, he reported back to the Aero Club of America that the Wrights had done everything they claimed. They had indeed flown not once, but many times. The Aero Club then requested that the Wrights prepare an account of their experiments with powered flight, which the Club would endorse. The Wrights responded with this succinct report.  It was the first time that Wilbur and Orville announced their successful flights of 1904 and 1905 at Huffman Prairie to the general public.


Though America, through the labors of Prof. Langley, Mr. Chanute and others, had acquired not less than 10 years ago the recognized leadership in the branch of aeronautics which pertains to birdlike flight, it has not heretofore been possible for American workers to present a summary of each year’s experiments to a society of their own country devoted exclusively to the promotion of aeronautical studies and sports. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we now find ourselves to make a report to such a society.

Previous to the year 1905, we had experimented at Kitty Hawk, NC, with man carrying gliding machines in the years 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1903, and with a man carrying motor flyer, which on December 17, 1903, sustained itself in the air for 59 seconds, during which time it advanced against a 20-mile wind a distance of 852 feet.

Flights to the number of more than 100 had also been made at Dayton, Ohio in 1904 with a second motor flyer. Of these flights, a complete circle, made for the first time on September 20, and two flights of three miles each, made on November 9 and December 1 respectively were the most notable performances.

The object of the 1905 experiments was to determine and discover remedies for several obscure and somewhat rare difficulties which had been encountered in some of the 1904 flights, and which it was necessary to overcome before it would be safe to employ Flyers for practical purposes.

Date. Miles flown. Time. Cause of stopping.
Sept. 26 11 1/8 18.00 Exhaustion of fuel
Sept. 29 12 19.55  Exhaustion of fuel
Sept. 30   17.15 Hot bearing
Oct. 3 15  1/4 25.05 Hot bearing
Oct. 4 20 3/4 33.17 Hot bearing
Oct 5 25 1/5 38.03 Exhaustion of fuel

The experiments were made in a swampy meadow about eight miles east of Dayton and continued from June until the early days of October when the impossibility of longer maintaining privacy necessitated their discontinuance.

Owing to many experimental changes in the machine and the resulting differences in its management, the earlier flights were short, but toward the middle of September means of correcting troubles were found and the flyer was at last brought under satisfactory control. From this time forward almost every flight established a new record.

It will be seen that an average speed of a little more than 38 miles an hour was maintained in the last flight. All of the flights were made over a circular course of about three-fourths of a mile to the lap, which reduced the speed somewhat.

The machine increased its velocity on the straight parts of the course and slowed down on the curves. It is believed that in straight flight the normal speed is more than 40 miles an hour.

In the earlier of the flights named above less than six pounds of gasoline was carried. In the later ones a tank was fitted large enough to hold fuel for an hour, but by oversight it was not completely filled before the flight of October 5.

In the last three years, a total of 160 flights have been made with our motor-driven flyers, and a total distance of almost exactly 160 miles covered, an average of a mile to each flight. But until the machine had received its final improvements the flights were mostly short, as is evidenced by the fact that the flight of October 5 was longer than the 105 flights of the year 1904 together.

The lengths of the flights were measured by a Richard anemometer, which was attached to the machine. The records were found to agree closely, with distances measured over the ground when the flights were made in calm air over a straight course; but when the flights were made in circles a close comparison was impossible because it was not practicable to accurately trace the course over the ground.

In the flight of October 5 a total of 20.7 circuits of the field was made. The times were taken with stop watches.

In operating the machine it has been our custom for many years to alternate in making flights, and such care has been observed that neither of us has suffered any serious injury, though in the earlier flights our ignorance and the inadequacy of the means of control made the work exceedingly dangerous.

The 1905 flyer had a total weight of about 925 pounds, including the operator, and was of such substantial construction as to be able to make landings at high speed without being constrained or broken.

From the beginning the prime object was to device a machine of practical utility, rather than a useless and extravagant toy. For this reason extreme lightness of construction has always been resolutely rejected. On the other hand, every effort has been made to increase the scientific efficiency of the wings and screws, in order that even heavily built machines may be carried with a moderate expenditure of power.

The favorable results which have been obtained have been due to improvements in flying quality because of more scientific design and to improved methods of balancing and steering.

The motor and machinery poses no extraordinary qualities. The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.

In view of the fact that all of the flights which have been mentioned were made in private, it is proper that the names of persons who witnessed one or more of them should be given.

We therefore name E. W. Ellis, assistant auditor of the city of Dayton; Torrence Huffman, president of the Fourth National Bank; C. S. Billman, secretary of the West Side Building Association; Henry Webbert, W. H. Shank, William Fouts, Frank Hamburger, Charles Webbert, Howard M. Myers, Bernard H. Lambers, William Webbert, Reuben Schindler, William Weber, all of Dayton, Ohio; and O. F. Jamieson of East Germantown, Indiana, Theodore Waddell of the census department, Washington, D. C., David Beard of Osborn, Ohio, and Amos Stauffer of Osborn, Ohio.

Orville Wright
Wilbur Wright

Wilbur and Orville with members of the Aero Club of America in 1906. Left to right, seated: Orville Wright, Alan R. Hawley, and Wilbur Wright. Standing: Cortlandt Field Bishop and James C. McCoy.

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"Aviation is proof that – given the will – we can do the impossible."
 Eddie Rickenbacker



The Wright Story/Inventing the Airplane/Orville Wright's Diary and his story of the First Flight

Part of a biography of the Wright Brothers


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