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ver the years, friendly folks have sent us faded photographs of Wright airplanes they discovered in old family albums, the hidden recesses of filing cabinets, and the darkest corners of attics . We call these photos the "Lost Flights of the Wright Brothers," and we have collected them here to share them with you. To our knowledge, none of these has ever been published.



Huffman Prairie near Dayton, Ohio
Spring 1910

Winter and spring of 1910 was a flurry of activity for the Wright brothers. They had just incorporated the Wright Company and were beginning to manufacture airplanes in Dayton, Ohio. They were gearing up to make exhibition flights, and they were interviewing prospective pilots for their exhibition team, the Wright Fliers. Once they had selected a team, they opened a flight school to train these pilots -- first in Montgomery, Alabama, then at Huffman Prairie when the weather turned warmer.

On top of all that, they were contemplating a major change in their aircraft design. After the first international air meet in 1909 at Rheims, France, European aviators criticized Wright aircraft with their distinctive forward elevator or canard as unstable. Compared to other aircraft, the Wright planes seemed to "gallop" through the air as the pilot struggled to maintain altitude. Orville was in Germany at the time, helping to set up a new company to manufacture Wright aircraft. Responding to this criticism, he mounted a single fixed horizontal surface (it was not movable) to the outriggers just behind the rudder and found that it did indeed make the airplane more manageable. Arriving back in Dayton as winter set in, he convinced Wilbur to test the new configuration.

They added a rear elevator to work in concert with the forward canard and began to fly with dual elevators in early 1910, first at Montgomery and then at Huffman Prairie. These photos show flights in late spring at Huffman Prairie of what the late aviation historian Wilkinson Wright called the "Wright Model AB." This was a transitional design between the Wrights’ first commercial aircraft, the Model A (with the elevator in front), and the Model B (with the elevator in back). The aircraft retained all the distinctive features of their earlier models, including the launching rail and landing skids. But many of these were about to change, too.









Missouri State Fair at Sedalia
October 1 through 7, 1910

By the fall of 1910, the Wright Fliers were seasoned exhibition pilots, some with over twenty hours of flight time. Wright aircraft design was still in transition, and the pilots were testing new features in the field. The Wright brothers added wheels to the landing skids and disposed of the launching rail. They also made the rear elevator a permanent fixture, but had not yet completely disposed of the canard.

These photos show a previously unknown Wright aircraft that seems to have been adapted from an older Model A so that it can be flown with or without a canard. Over the space of several days while the Wright Fliers are flying at the Missouri State Fair, the airplane is photographed in the air in both configurations. Note the canard braces that jut forward at an angle from the skids. Even when this airplane is put together without a forward elevator the braces remain, sticking out in front. The semicircular "blinkers" that were once mounted between the canard surfaces are now attached to the skid braces. In later Wright aircraft, these will become triangular in shape.

Although we can’t know for sure, the most likely reason that this airplane was flown in different configurations is that it was an experimental aircraft. The Wrights were undecided as to the best aeronautical design, so they had a pilot fly the same airplane with and without a canard and report the results. The designated test pilot was Archibald Hoxsey, one of the most trusted of the Wright Fliers. From the state fair, Hoxsey took the aircraft to an air meet in St. Louis where he flew President Theodore Roosevelt on October 11, 1910 -- the airplane had no canard for this flight. Hoxsey apparently reported that he preferred the aircraft without the canard. When we next see this distinctive airplane, Hoxsey is racing it at Belmont, New York between October 22 and 31. The canard is gone, never to reappear, but the braces remain.

These test flights led to the development of the Wrights’ most popular design, the Wright Model B, which the Wright brothers introduced in Belmont. This was the aircraft which first introduced much of America to the wonders of flight.






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