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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. Their Flyer was but one of many historically important aircraft. Below are brief descriptions and photos of some of the most important people and planes, and where available resources and links where you can find more information. In some cases, contributors have supplied expanded histories and biographies. Those are listed at the right and linked below.



Lawrence Hargrave of Australia began to build models of flying machines in 1885, powered by tiny motors of Hargrave's own design. In 1889, he built the world's first radial aircraft engine, although it ran on compressed air and not gasoline. He invented the box kite in 1893, a remarkably stable kite with a great deal of lifting power. In 1894, he chained four kites together and lifted himself 16 feet off the ground in a 21-mph wind. He also built his first full-size glider in 1894 -- a monoplane based on Lilienthal's design, but it was smashed by a gust of wind before he could fly it. In 1895 and 1896, he designed powered flying machines based on box kite form, but he did not have the same luck building large motors as he did small ones. He could not fashion a motor that provided the necessary power within acceptable weight limits, so he had to put his pursuit of power flight on hold. In 1899, he traveled to England and gave a paper on his aeronautical work before the Aeronautical Society in London. Hargrave built his third and last powered machine in 1902, but once again he could not make an engine to provide sufficient power. He abandoned his research in 1906.

Lawrence Hargraves with a selection of his box kites in 1894.

One of Hargraves' flying models. This one was built in 1888 and is powered by a compressed air engine driving two flappers.

Hargraves sketched this man-carrying glider in 1893.

In 1894, Hargraves launched a "train" of box kites that lifted him into the air.

Hargraves with a model of a box-kite airplane in 1902.
William Samuel Henson proposed the Aerial Steam Carriage in 1843, the first airplane design to use propellers for thrust.  It was also the first with an engine in the fuselage, double-cambered wings, and tricycle landing gear. It was a huge airplane with 150-foot (46-meter) wingspan and 4,500 square feet (1372 square meters) of wing surface. Henson, who was in the lace trade in Chard, England, proposed to raise the money to build it by selling shares in the Aerial Transit Company. He was was aided in this venture by a superb illustrator and PR agent, Roger Marriot. Marriot's romantic visions of the Aerial Steam Carriage were published worldwide and influenced generations of aeronautical scientists to come. Unfortunately, that's all it did.  Henson and his partner John Stringfellow built a model with a 20-foot (6 meter) wingspan and made improvements to it between 1844 and 1847. When tested,  it made graceful descending glides but was unable to sustain itself in the air.  Henson quit aeronautics and emigrated to America.

See also: The First Airplanes.

William Samuel Henson.

Artists' conception of the Ariel -- Henson's name for his Aerial Steam Carriage -- first published in 1843.

The promotional pamphlet for perspective investors in the Aerial Transit Company.

This unsuccessful model of the Aerial Steam Carriage was built and tested between 1844 and 1847.
Augustus M. Herring of Georgia built several unsuccessful gliders in the early 1890s before turning to Lilienthal-type designs. With these, he was able to make glides of up to 150 feet (46 meters). This caught the attention of Octave Chanute and in 1895 Herring moved to Chicago and built a Lilienthal glider at Chanute's expense. He left Chanute's employ for a more lucrative job helping Samuel Langley build his aerodromes at the Smithsonian Institution. Herring left Langely after less than a year and joined the band of aviation enthusiasts that Chanute brought together in the sand dunes outside Miller, IN in June 1896 to test glider designs. During this expedition, Herring and Chanute collaborated on the design of a biplane glider, then refined it over dozens of test flights. By the time they left Miller in September, the Chanute-Herring glider  was the most capable gliding machine in the world. Later that same year, Herring came back to the dunes with a triplane version and tested it to see if it would carry the weight of a motor. He found it would and prevailed upon Chanute to finance a motorized version. Chanute turned him down, but they did file a joint patent on the idea.  Mathias Arnot, a banker from Elmira, NY, read about the success of the Chanute group and employed Herring to create a slightly-improved Chanute-Herring glider. Herring sub-contracted the construction to William Avery, and Avery also helped him test it at Miller, IN. The glider flew well, and Arnot agreed to finance a motorized version. Herring mounted a  compressed air motor on the aircraft and in 1898 managed several hop-flights of between 50 and 75 feet (15 to 23 meters). But within a short time, his shop burned and his patron died. Herring came back to work for Chanute to test an "oscillating wing" glider at the Wright camp in Kitty Hawk in 1902. The glider's performance was unspectacular,  but Herring witnessed the Wright's 1902 glider with roll, pitch, and yaw controls. When he left Kitty Hawk, he headed straight for Washington, DC and offered to share what he had gleaned from the Wrights with Langley. To Langley's credit, he refused Herring. In 1903, just 9 days after the Wrights made their first successful powered flight, Herring wrote them and offered a three-way partnership as the "true originator" of the Chanute-Herring glider on which he said their airplane was based. They ignored his "rascality." In 1908, Herring bid against the Wrights for the Army contract to build an airplane and the Army reluctantly gave him a contract, too, as his price was $5000 under the Wrights. Herring arrived at Fort Meyer, Virginia later that year with two suitcases and an "innovation trunk" that he claimed "technically fulfilled" his contract. The press had a field day. When Orville crashed and his contract was extended to give him time to recover, Herring withdrew, saying he had better offers. He went straight to Glenn Curtiss, who had begun to manufacture airplanes and was facing a potential patent suit from the Wright brothers. Herring offered a partnership, saying he had patents that predated the Wrights. The two formed the Herring-Curtiss Company in 1909 and the Wrights filed a suit, as expected. When Curtiss asked Herring to produce the patents, Herring excused himself from the meeting and left town. Later, Curtiss dissolved the company and freed himself of Herring by declaring bankruptcy. Herring attached himself to another aircraft manufacturer, Glenn Burgess, and designed a few aircraft. But that partnership also fizzled. After World War I when Curtiss was flush with money from Army contracts, Herring reappeared claiming the Herring-Curtiss Company was never legally dissolved. The suit dragged on even after Herring died in 1926. His wife eventually received about a half million dollars.

Augustus Moore Herring.

The Chanute-Herring glider at the Indiana Dunes in 1896.

In late 1896, Herring tested a triplane, weighting it with sandbags to simulate the weight of a motor.

In 1897, Octave Chanute and Augustus Herring jointly patented a powered triplane, but Chanute would not consent to financing its construction.

Herring tests the Chanute's "oscilating wing" glider at the Wright brothers camp in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1902.

The Golden Flier became the Rheims Flier after Curtiss took it to Europe and captured the Michelin Cup. Its image was used in advertisements such as this collector's card.

Herring about to launch a Lilienthal-type glider he built for Octave Chanute in 1894.

Herring flying the Chanute-Herring glider. In 1896 and 1897, he made more than 1200 glides.

The Herring-Arnot glider of 1897 was very similar to the Chanute-Herring glider, but Herring made subtle improvements in the tail and the air frame.

In 1898, with funding from Arnot, Herring built a small biplane powered in the same manner as his joint patent with Chanute.

The compressed air engine used by Herring in his 1898 airplane. The motor was not powerful enough to sustain flight, but Herring managed some brief hops.

Curtiss-Herring No. 1, better known as the "Golden Flier," was built in 1909.

The 1910 Burgess-Herring was nicknamed the "Flying Fish" for the distinctive fins that sprouted from the top wing. These were supposed to stabilize the aircraft in flight.
Edward Huffaker of Tennessee was trained as an engineer and surveyor who conducted experiments with model gliders in the early 1890s. In 1893, he was the first experimenter to suggest that the lift produced by curved wings might be the result of the Bernoulli Principle, an important observation that was ignored for twenty years. He briefly served as Samuel Langley's assistant at the Smithsonian Institution and at Octave Chanute's invitation, presented a scientific paper on his models to an aeronautical congress. In 1901, Chanute hired him to build a glider and sent him to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to test-fly it along side the Wright brothers. The Chanute-Huffaker glider was a failure.  Additionally, Huffaker's tendency to lecture on character development, his lack of personal hygiene, and his inconsideration for their tools and belongings thoroughly annoyed the Wrights.

Edward C. Huffaker.

Dan Tate (left) and Edward Huffaker (right) launching Wilbur on the 1901 Wright glider.

The Chanute-Huffaker glider, because it was built of cardboard tubes, did not fair well in the weather. It was destroyed during the first hard rain.

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