The Decade After: Dec 1903 to Oct 1905
Landing Without Crashing
 

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he pioneer aviation era literally flew by, lasting just a little more than a decade from the first wavering flights at Kitty Hawk to the beginning of World War I. By this time "second generation" aircraft had begun to emerge, combining both maneuverability and stability. This rapid development is all the more remarkable when you consider that for the first few years, the Wright brothers were the only successful pioneers. A few visionaries in America and Europe made brief hops in a handful of airplanes, but nothing approaching the performance of the Wright Flyer in its final 1905 form. This despite the fact that these builders had access to the Wrights' published patents. It wasn't until the Wrights began demonstrating their airplane in 1908 that the rest of the world fully understood the necessity of three-axis control and how to use it.

From that moment, aviation accelerated at an unprecedented rate – and for good reason. Across the globe, politicians were struggling mightily to maintain the "balance of power." Diplomacy had become a tangled web of treaties promising mutual aid in the event of attack. Germany was locked in an arms race with France and England. World war was imminent and the airplane looked to be a versatile and deadly weapon.

  • Landing Without Crashing, 1903 to 1905 The Wright Brothers develop their temperamental Kitty Hawk Flyer into a practical flying machine.
  • Wake Up Call, 1905 to 1909 The Wright brothers accomplishments alert aeronautical scientists and engineers in America and Europe to the possibilities of fixed wing aviation.
  • Faster, Higher, Farther, 1909 to 1912   Pilots and engineers begin to explore the capabilities and push the possibilities of aircraft.
  • Girding for Battle, 1912 to 1914 As the First World War approaches, nations develop the airplane into a weapon.


 

Time

Event

1903 December — On the train ride from Kitty Hawk to Dayton, the Wright brothers decide to continue their aeronautical work until they have developed their Flyer into a "practical" flying machine. Wilbur later defines a practical flying machine as one that can take off in a wide range of weather conditions, navigate to a predetermined location, and "land without crashing."
 
Although the Wrights made four successful flights on December 17, 1903, the same cannot be said of their landings. None of them were planned and the fourth and last landing damaged the elevator.
1904

January 5 — Hoping to quash all the fantastic rumors about their airplane, the Wrights issue a statement to the Associated Press describing their first powered flights at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.

January 22 — The Wrights engage attorney Harry A. Toulmin of Springfield, Ohio to handle their patent applications.

March Ernest Archdeacon, France puts up a purse of 25,000 francs for the first officially recorded circular flight of one kilometer, called the Grand Prix d’Aviation, to be awarded by the Aéro-Club de France. French oil magnate Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe matches Archdeacon, raising the prize to 50,000 francs, or about $10,000.

March 22-24 Harry A. Toulmin applies for the French and German patents on the Wright airplane.

March-May The Wrights build a second airplane, the Flyer II. It is a copy of their first Flyer, but it has a more powerful motor (18 hp).

Spring Alberto Santos-Dumont, France, a pilot famous for his pioneering work in dirigibles, begins to experiment with gliders.

April 1-15 Ernest Archdeacon tests a "type du Wright" glider near Berck-sur-Mer, France, piloted by Ferdinand Ferber and Gabriel Voison. Although the glider is based on the 1902 Wright design, the wings are shorter, the camber deeper, and there is no roll control. Archdeacon considers its performance unsatisfactory.

May Robert Esnault-Pelterie, France, tests a type du Wright glider, but he has trouble with the wing warping and determines to improve it.

May 23-26 — The Wrights attempt to fly at Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, Ohio before the press on two occasions with their new machine, the Flyer II. But even with a more powerful motor, it can only manage brief hops. The press is kind, but unimpressed.

July 1 — The first of the Wright’s patents (French) is granted.

August 13 — Wilbur makes a flight of 1340 feet (408 meters) in the Flyer II, beating his performance in Kitty Hawk for the first time. But the brothers are still have trouble getting into the air and staying there.

September 7 — The Wrights develop a catapult launching system to get their aircraft up to flying speed. It works well, and they begin to make progress again.

September 20Wilbur Wright flies the first complete circle in an airplane. The flight is witnessed by Amos Root, inventor of the modern bee hive and publisher of Gleanings in Bee Culture.

October Robert Esnault-Pelterie tests a rebuilt version of his glider with primitive elevons mounted forward of the wings.

October Ferdinand Ferber rebuilds his glider with an elevator in front and the fixed horizontal tailplane in back. He also mounted to triangular wingtip rudders. While testing this glider, he takes his mechanic, Marius Burdin, aloft for a short flight, making him the first passenger in a heavier-than-air machine.

October — The Aéro-Club de France adds to their list of prizes to encourage the development of aviation in France. The Coupe Ernest Archdeacon consists of a trophy and 1500 francs. The trophy goes to the first aviator to fly 25 meters (82 feet) and the cash to the first to fly 100 meters (328 feet). The Prix pour record de distance will award a silver medal and 100 francs to the first 10 pilots to fly 60 meters (197 feet) and 1500 francs for the first to fly 100 meters. As aviation progresses, the Aero-Club will offer additional prizes for flights of 150, 300, and 500 meters (492, 984, and 1640 feet).

October 15 Lt. Col. John E. Capper of the British Army visits to Wrights in Dayton to obtain information on their airplane and express an interest in buying it.

November 9 Wilbur flies for 5 minutes and 4 seconds, traveling 2-3/4 miles (4.4 kilometers) and completing 4 circles around Huffman Prairie. It is the best flight of the season.
 


The fantastically inaccurate story that was fabricated for the Virginia Pilot newspaper was picked up by many other papers nationwide. This appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Ernest Archdeacon.

Santos Dumont flying his No. 6 dirigible in Paris, France.

Esnault-Pelterie represented his first glider as an exact copy of the Wrights' 1902 design, but like so many of his French buddies, did not understand the purpose or the mechanics of wing warping.

The soft soil at the prairie was a wise choice. A number of the Wrights' flights ended  like this one on 16 August 1904.

The pages from Wilbur's notebook that record the first circular flight.

Ferber's 1904 glider design with an elevator in front and a horizontal tail in back would have enormous influence of later French designs.

Wilbur keeps the Flyer II aloft for just over 5 minutes on 9 November 1904.

Until they engaged Harry Toulmin in 1904, the Wrights had tried unsuccessfully to file their own patent, as this letter indicates.

The patent drawings that Toulmin prepared show the 1902 glider, not the 1903 Flyer. Toulmin focused the patent application on the Wrights' single most important accomplishment – their control system.

The Wrights realized that four flights in their first Flyer didn't provide enough experience, so the Flyer II was a copy of the first to allow them to thoroughly test the design.

Voisin flies Archdeacon's glider at the sand dunes on the French side of the English Channel.

Huffman Prairie had been a failed peat bog. The "frost heaves" every winter fluffed up the soil, making it very soft.

The Wright catapult consisted of a high derrick (right) that dropped a heavy weight, pulling the Flyer along the launch track.

Having tried and discarded wing-warping, Esnault-Pelterie reworked his glider with elevons or "little wings," as he called them. These were the forerunners of ailerons.

Lt. Col. John Capper (left), later Sir John Capper, was one of the driving forces behind Britain's pioneer aviation programs.
1905

January 1 — After trying and failing to interest Scientific American, Amos Root publishes an eyewitness account of the Wrights' 20 September 1904 flight (the first circle ever flown) in his own publication, Gleanings in Bee Culture.

January 3 Wilbur Wright meets with Ohio Congressman Robert M. Nevin to discuss selling their airplane to the United States military. Nevin suggests writing a letter which he will hand-carry to President Taft.

January 18 Wilbur writes the letter requested by Nevin. Owing to a miscommunication, the letter is forwarded to the US Department of War. Nevin has no chance to present the Wright's proposal in person to the President.

January 26 — Nevin's office forwards  a letter from Maj. General George L. Gillespie of the US Board of Ordinance and Fortification to the Wrights declining their offer, saying that "their machine had not yet been brought to a state of practical operation."

March-July John J. Mongomery lifts a tandem-wing glider and pilot Daniel Maloney aloft in a balloon over California to altitudes of up to 4000 feet (1219 meters), then releases them to glide down.

March 1 — The Wrights offer their airplane to the British War Office.

March 26 Ernest Archdeacon tests a second glider with a fixed horizontal tailplane similar to Ferber's 1904 design.

May 13 — The British War Office requests that their military attaché in Washington be allowed to observe the Wright airplane in flight.

May-June — The Wrights build a third Flyer, scavenging the drive train and hardware from the second one. The new Flyer III incorporates many improvements.

Summer Samuel F. Cody, an American ex-patriot building "war kites" for the British, flies a "kite glider" at the Crystal Palace. He kites the glider and the pilot aloft, then glides down.

June 8 and 18 Gabriel Voison builds and flies a "float glider" for Ernest Archdeacon, towing it behind a motorboat on the Seine river. The design marries the Wright glider biplane wings and forward elevator with a box-kite tail.

June 23 — The Wrights begin to test the Flyer III. It still presents many control issues, particularly in pitch.

July 14 Orville crashes the Flyer III. It is a serious accident and plainly due to lack of control. The Wrights decide to rebuild the Flyer again, extending the elevator and the rudder further out from the wings to make them more effective.

July 18 — After the impressive tow-flights of the Voison-Archdeacon glider, Louis Blériot engages Gabriel Voison to build and test another float-glider. Like the first, they test it on the Seine River, towing it behind a motorboat. Voison quickly loses control and the glider crashes.

July 25 Carl Dienstbach, American correspondent of Illustrierte Aeronautische Mitteilungen (Illustrated Aeronautical Communications) in Germany, visits the Wrights in Dayton. He subsequently becomes a supporter and an important source of information about the Wrights for the Europeans.

August 24 The Wrights begin to test-fly the rebuilt Flyer III. In less than a week, they are flying multiple circuits around the Prairie and landing under control without damaging the Flyer.

September 26 — After flying for 18 minutes, Wilbur runs the Flyer III out of fuel and coasts to a gentle landing. This is the first in a series of extended flights.

October 4 and 5 — The Wrights fly publically before many witnesses, including journalists. Wilbur makes the best public flight on October 5, remaining in the air for 39 minutes, traveling 24 miles (39 kilometers), and landing only when the gas tank runs dry.

October 9 — The Wrights again offer their airplane to the US War Department. They also write to Ferdinand Ferber, describing the success of their 1905 flying season and offering to sell the airplane to the French.

October 12-14At a meeting in Paris, the Aero Clubs of eight countries – France, England, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and the United States – come together to form the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale "...to advance the science and sport of aeronautics." It becomes the governing body of aviation through the pioneer era.

October 16 — The War Department asks to see detailed plans of the Wright airplane to determine its practicality. The Wrights decline.
 


The 1 January 1905 of Gleanings in Bee Culture carried a story describing the Wrights' 20 September 1904 flight.

On 18 July 1905, the Montgomery glider was damaged on its ascent, it failed on the descent and Maloney was killed.

Archdeacon's second glider was never flown by a pilot. It was towed aloft unmanned and crashed a few moments later

Despite its improvements, the first version of the 1905 Wright Flyer III was still "close coupled" as the previous Flyers had been. The elevator and rudder were to close to the wings, creating control problems.

The camber on the Voison-Bleriot float glider was much deeper than the Voison-Archdeacon machine, making it much harder to control.

7 September 1905 – After a few mishaps as the Wrights get used to their new controls, they begin to make uneventful flights – and safe landings.

4 October 1905 – The Wrights fly before the media for the first time since May 1904.

A campaign button for Congressman Robert Nevin.

The United States War Department, Board of Ordinance. rejected the Wright aircraft because it must first be brought to a "stage of practical operation." This left future historians to wonder if the War Department ever read the Wright proposal since the brothers had clearly stated they had produced an aircraft of "practical use."

The Cody kite-glider was kited to altitudes of up to 350 feet (107 meters) and soared as far as 740 feet (226 meters) horizontally.

The 1905 Voison-Archdeacon biplane glider, with its forward elevator and box-kite tail, became a standard configuration for many European aircraft.

After Orville's crash of 14 July 1905, the Wrights rebuilt the Flyer III, extending the rudder and elevator out from the wings. This increased control effectiveness and allowed the pilot more time for attitude adjustments and  corrections.

29 September 1905 – After gaining more experience, the Wrights found they could keep the Flyer aloft till it ran out of gas.

A close-up of Orville Wright flying on 4 October 1905.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale disseminated information about aviation, kept official records, and set standards, such as the requirements for a pilot's license.

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