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article number 222
article date 04-02-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
We Learn How to Fly … We Control the Properties of Air
by Waldemar Kaempffert

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention. Original chapter title, “Man Conquers the Air.”

THE invention of a machine which would soar with outstretched wings, like a bird of prey, was a far more difficult mechanical problem than the construction of a balloon, which has only to be filled with heated air to float up into the sky. Yet the flying-machine engaged the attention of ambitious inventors long before the hot-air or the gas balloon was suggested as a means of travelling through the air. Even in ancient poems there are tales of men who tried to fly—of the Greek, Icarus, for example, who gave his name to the Icarian Sea because he is said to have fallen into it after an unbelievable attempt to fly with wax wings that melted in the sun.

Scattered through the books of philosophers and historians who wrote during the Middle Ages are unintelligible references to flying-machines built by daring adventurers and incredible reports of actual flights. But even the most imaginative storytellers and poets never thought of rising into the air with so simple a device as a balloon filled with hot air or a light gas, until Joseph Montgolfier, of Annonay, France, actually made such an ascent in 1783. The art of weaving had been known for thousands of years. Any one might easily have made a hot-air fabric balloon centuries before Columbus discovered America. Instead, we find men dreaming of machines that were imitations of birds, probably because the example of the hawk and the sparrow was constantly before their eyes and because Nature had not populated the air with living balloons.

It remained for the United States to realize this age-old dream of flying, and for Europe to perfect the balloon and the dirigible airship. Since this book deals primarily with American achievements, and since the United States had little, if anything, to do with the development of the airship, we shall tell only the story of the airplane and what America did to make it a practical success.

The first thinking man who saw a bird in the air probably asked himself: “Why can’t I fly, too ?“ To be sure, he was much heavier than the air, and he knew that he would fall like a stone if he leaped from a cliff. But the flying bird that he saw was also heavier than the air, and so far as he could see, and so far as men for thousands of years after him could see, it was necessary only to strap a pair of wings to the arms in order to fly.


It takes more than a pair of wings to make an eagle out of a man. Hundreds of daring men who wanted to fly, broke their necks before that truth was learned.. An Eskimo would not know what to do with a lawn-mower; so the first would-be fliers did not know what to do with their wings. We have learned much about what the Bible calls “the way of an eagle in the air,” and one of the things that we have learned is that we can never hope to fly by flapping or spreading wings strapped to the arms, simply because we have neither the muscles nor the physical endurance.

Look at the breast of a chicken, which is just about able to fly over a fence—at the big, bulging breast muscles. And then look at a man’s chest. It is evident that the bird has the breast-power to flap wings, and that the man has not. To one who knows anything at all about birds and how they fly, the winged angels that artists love to paint and carve are laughable; for all their beautiful wings, they never could fly with their weak breast muscles.

Moreover, men did not know much about the air in the beginning. They could feel the wind; but they could not see it as they could the billowing water of the sea. The air is very much like the sea—never quite still. It has its whirlpools, its upward currents and its downward currents, its countless swirls and eddies. If the air could be seen, it would appear much like the Whirlpool Rapids of Niagara. No man can hope to fly unless he can keep his machine on an even keel in this heaving, swirling, eddying ocean of air.

Plans for flying-machines were drawn up by some very able men of olden times; but few of them published actual drawings. One of those who did leave drawings which we can study and understand, was the great Italian painter, Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in the fifteenth century, about the time that Columbus was voyaging to America, and who was one of the most versatile men that the world has ever known. There is no need to describe Leonardo’s machine, simply because it could not have flown It was the best attempt that had been made up to his time.

Leonardo did invent the parachute, however—the umbrella-like device which performers at fairs use when they jump from balloons. His parachute was not an umbrella, but rather a framed, horizontal sail.


We know now that these plans of Leonardo’s, and all the plans that were drawn for generations after him, down to our time, were practically worthless, chiefly because no way was provided to balance the machine from side to side.


It was not until Sir George Cayley, a remarkable Englishman who flew little models about the time of the American war of 1812, laid down the few correct principles of flying that men really began to understand why birds, which are heavier than the air, are able to fly. It was thought that soaring birds, eagles, buzzards, and vultures stay up by flapping their wings, as a hawk does now and then; but Cayley was able to prove with his models that flapping in itself has nothing to do with support. The soaring birds flap their wings just to drive themselves along faster than they can fall, and they are held up chiefly by the air pressure beneath their wings.

A soaring bird is like a skater on very thin ice. So long as the skater skims along he is safe; but let him slow down or stop, and he breaks through the ice. It is evident why an airplane is different from a balloon or an airship—different not only in appearance, but different in the way that it stays in the air. The balloon is nothing but a bubble. It is lighter than the air, and, therefore, it floats. An airplane is heavier than air and is a constantly moving thing in flight; it must move or fall. All this Cayley worked out very carefully in his own mind, and wrote books about it, which are as good to-day as they were over a hundred years ago when they were published.

Since an airplane must be in motion before it can fly, it follows that a man in a machine cannot simply rise into the air from his back yard. The machine must run along the ground a few hundred feet, preferably in the teeth of the wind. Birds also find it hard to leave the ground. Who has not seen wild ducks flapping hard to lift themselves from the water? Sometimes a vulture is kept in a cage open at the top. Since he cannot get a running start he cannot escape. This, too, Cayley knew.

Sir George Cayley’s Dream.


If a bird has to struggle thus to leave the ground, how is a man to do it? Cayley was ingenious. After all, birds are lifted by the air as they move along in a running start. Cayley said to himself: “I will run along the ground, too, against the wind, and then when I have speed enough, the air will lift me.”

He made a pair of wings with 300 square feet of surface and built a tail upon them. Every bird has a tail. Why? To balance his body fore and aft. Apparently, Cayley was the first inventor who realized that a tail was necessary. From this simple fact it is obvious how all the inventors who preceded him floundered around without discovering the first principles of flight.

We would call Cayley’s machine a “glider,” because it had no motor. A man simply seized the wings and ran forward against the wind down a hill. Cayley said of this glider that it would bear a man up “so strongly as scarcely to allow him to touch the ground, and would frequently lift him up and carry him several yards together. It was beautiful to see this noble white bird sail majestically from a hill to any given point of the plain below it, with perfect steadiness and safety.” Cayley would set the tail or rudder so that the machine would ride down the wind for a few yards and then settle on the ground.

His was a fine attempt that did much to show others, who came after him, how to attack this hard problem; but he could never have flown in an engine-driven machine, simply because there was no light engine. James Watt had just invented the steam-engine, and Cayley, far-seeing as he was, actually thought of using it before he found that it was too heavy.

Cayley was the first man who knew that a man in a machine must balance himself in the air—balance himself in every direction.

He was followed in 1842 by another Englishman, Henson, who patented a twin-propeller, steam-driven machine—what we would call a monoplane, a machine with a single spread of wings. It had rudders, like our machines, and a tail. Indeed, Henson thought of everything, except a way to balance his flier. He knew that an airplane must be in motion before it can fly, and he conceived the idea of running down an inclined track to acquire this motion—an idea that the Wrights afterward carried out, as we shall see. A few experiments were made with small models, and these showed Henson how important is the matter of side-to-side balance. A puff of wind on one side was enough to upset his model, and it was perhaps for this reason that he never built the big machine that he patented.

HENSON’S “AERIAL EQUIPAGE” OF 1842. This is the first airplane planned for commerce. A small model of this machine (the full size was never built) is preserved in the South Kensington Museum. Except for ailerons, or means of warping the wings, this machine hardly differs in its essentials from modern airplanes of the monoplane type.


Henson had a friend named Stringfellow. For a time they experimented together. Later, Stringfellow built models on his own account. In 1846 he made a little model and mounted a steam-engine within it. To launch the model he used a stretched wire. One day he got up steam, placed the model on the wire, and started the propellers. The model ran down the wire, leaped into the air, and flew forty yards. We may imagine Stringfellow almost dancing with excitement, and his unbounded joy. This was the first time, after hundreds and hundreds of trials, made in the lapse of centuries, that a power-machine, a man-made engine-driven bird had actually flown for even a short distance. There was nobody in the little machine—nothing but the little engine. But it flew! It flew!

STRINGFELLOW’S AIRPLANE OF 1868. Stringfellow made model after model in more than two decades. In 1868 he constructed this steam-driven model, now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. It has three superposed surfaces (an old idea of Wenham’s), and was driven by a small, high-pressure steam-engine. This was the first airplane having superposed surfaces trussed and tied together in the modern manner. This model was able to fly about forty yards.

If one surface could lift a given weight, then it would seem that two surfaces ought to lift twice as much. This is not strictly true; but two surfaces certainly can lift more than one surface. Another Englishman, F. H. Wenham, carried this principle far, and patented, in 1866, machines in which surfaces were piled on one another. This is one reason why Wenham is remembered in the history of man’s conquest of the air. His was the first biplane.

He even realized how great is the resistance of the air—the resistance that we feel when we run on foot or ride fast on a bicycle. This resistance increases rapidly with the speed. For instance, if a bicycle-rider doubles his speed, the resistance is not twice as great, but four times as great. Knowing all this, Wenham built his gliding machine so that the pilot could lie flat on his stomach in order to cut down the resistance—an idea that the Wright brothers afterward applied in their first, motorless, gliding experiments.

But Wenham had not solved the problem of balance. One evening, when the wind had died down, he took his glider out and climbed inside. A gust caught him, carried him along for a few yards, upset him and broke his wings.


We have all seen boys sending into the air model airplanes which are driven by twisted rubber bands. Pénaud, a Frenchman, built the first of these in 1871 and gave it a certain degree of automatic control. He put most of the weight in front, so that the model would naturally tend to dive down. But when it began to dive, its rudder would lift up its head; for the rudder was fixed at just the right angle to do this. Langley, as we shall see, afterward adopted this rudder idea. Pénaud intended to build a large man-carrying machine; but he died before he could carry out his intention.

Then came Tatin, another Frenchman, who was much concerned lest his model should fly off into space, fall, and wreck itself. To restrain his model, he actually hitched it to a stake by means of a cord. Just as a stone whirls at the end of a string, so this model would whirl; only it did its own whirling. He had a little compressed-air engine in his twin-propeller monoplane, for such it was. After he started the motor, the model would run around and around, gracefully rise into the air and circle until all the compressed air was spent. This was in 1879.

Lawrence Hargrave, an Australian, also built air-driven models in 1891. He made many trials with different kinds of surfaces, and out of these trials came the box kite which almost every boy has flown.

HARGRAVE FLYING-MACHINE. In 1891, Lawrence Hargrave, of Sidney, Australia, experimented with a compressed-air model, driven by a compressed-air motor. It had no wheels for launching or alighting. The model had a supporting surface of twenty square feet, weighed about three pounds, and flew 128 feet in eight seconds.

This was the state of flying when Americans began to invent airplanes. They had all the ideas of Cayley, Stringfellow, Wenham, Pénaud, and Tatin to guide them, and it was but natural that they should first make use of them before inventing devices of their own. It must not be forgotten that despite all Cayley’s teaching, despite all the experiments of Henson, Stringfellow, and the rest, as yet no one knew the secret of air-flying—how to balance a machine so that it will not be upset in the wind or slip down sideways if a gust catches it under one wing.


Doctor Samuel Pierpont Langley, secretary of our Smithsonian Institution in Washington, had long been fascinated by the possibility of flying. Even as a boy he watched hawks on the wing and wondered why they could fly. Late in life he determined to make experiments. At first he built little models like the older Englishmen and Frenchmen—frail little models, driven by rubber bands, compressed air, and steam, which taught him what the problem really was.

Langley was an astronomer, one of the great astronomers of his time. Trained scientist, as he was, and not simply a clever mechanic, like many of the men who had invented flying-machines before him, he saw that we must know much about the air and about wings before a carrying-machine could be built. Consequently, he studied the wind and whirled plates of different sizes and shapes in the air to discover how they sailed. Here was a man who wanted important facts and not simply guesses or opinions.

He worked month after month teaching himself about the wind and about surfaces, and how much may be carried in the air for each square foot of wing. Finally, he built a wonderful, steam-driven model, which was somewhat larger than a condor, and which was the first heavier-than-air machine that flew in America. On May 6, 1896, the machine flew 3,000 feet at Quantico, Virginia. The model might have flown for a greater distance, but Langley had purposely limited its fuel supply, lest he should never recover it. This was the longest flight that had ever been made up to that time.

Langley Model Airplane.

Langley thought: “At last I have succeeded. My work is done. Let others take my facts and build a machine that will carry a man.” But who could rest after such a success? Langley knew exactly how a big machine ought to be built. He had only to make a man-carrier like the model, only much larger, of course. He simply could not rest. He had caught the flying fever.

Even after he had flown his model, not once, but time and time again, the world found it hard to believe that a man who invented a flying-machine was not a little mad. A famous man of science in Washington (his name was Simon Newcomb, and he was one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers of his time) proved on paper, as he thought, that it was simply foolish to make any attempt at flying. He argued that a weight, such as a sack of oats, has length, breadth, and thickness. Add just a few inches to the length, the breadth or the thickness, and you can put much more oats, more weight into the sack. Assume that this sack is carried through the air by wing surfaces, with very little thickness. To carry a slightly heavier sack, the surface must be greatly increased. The professor reasoned that to carry a heavy load, wings of such size would be needed that it would be impossible to build them. And yet, all this time Langley was experimenting, and brave, patient men in Europe were spending all the money on which they could lay their hands, to learn the secret of the eagle.

Our government became interested in Langley’s invention, and Congress set aside $50,000, which Langley was to spend in building a man-carrying machine. As may be supposed, the army was in back of this appropriation of money. The generals knew that if they could send scouts up into the air, they could watch the enemy and see where he was preparing to strike. Both the Union and the Confederate armies had used balloons in the Civil War, and military officers had not forgotten the fact.

SAMUEL PIERPONT LANGLEY. Dr. Samuel Pierpont Langley, a distinguished astronomer, was secretary of the Smithsonian Institution when he began his aerodynamic studies, which resulted in the building of a small, successful, steam-driven model, tandem monoplane. With the aid of a congressional appropriation, he built a man-carrying machine, which fell into the Potomac River because it was improperly launched. The newspaper derision that followed and the failure of Congress to give further encouragement, literally broke his heart. Years later, Glenn H. Curtiss modified and flew his machine successfully at Hammondsport, New York.


Langley now proceeded very cautiously. Before building a big machine he made more experiments with models—models about one-quarter as large as the man-carrying machine that he had in mind. As a scientist, he felt that it would be unwise to construct a large machine at once. He had to find out how much a flat surface would lift when it was moving in the air and whether it would lift more when it was moving fast and how much more. Then he had to determine how big a propeller must be in order to drive an airplane of a given size, and how fast it must turn. Unless he knew these facts he could not tell how powerful an engine would be needed to drive a man through the air at forty, fifty, or ninety miles an hour.

Such investigations seem uninteresting and unexciting, yet, unless he had conducted them, Langley would have been working in the dark. He never popularly received the credit that belongs to him for his patient, necessary fact-gathering. When he had his facts and he knew exactly how big an engine he needed to drive the airplane that he was going to build with the money that Congress had set aside for him, no one could supply a motor that was strong and light enough. “It can’t be done,” they said—all but one. And that one delivered an engine which was light enough, but which did not have the required power.

To find an engine—a gasoline-engine—was harder than building the machine itself. Langley scoured the world for a light, powerful engine. Finally his assistant and pilot, C. H. Manly, built an engine that is still a marvel of strength and lightness.

At last, Langley’s big machine was finished. Like his smaller models, it was what we call nowadays a “tandem monoplane,” which means that it had two sets of wings, one set mounted behind the other, each set a monoplane in itself. In the middle, between the two sets of wings, were the pilot’s seat and the engine.

On September 7, 1903, the machine, mounted on top of a house-boat, was towed into the Potomac River at Tidewater, Virginia. It was to be launched against the wind from the top of the house-boat on a track. All of Langley’s smaller models had been thus launched from house-boats. Manly took his seat in the machine. The engine was started. The machine was released and shot down the track. The men on the house-boat and on the tugboats in the river held their breath. So did the newspaper men who had camped on the banks of the river for days. At the end of the track, a post that held up the forward wings struck something, and the machine plunged into the water instead of rising into the air. It bobbed up, however, practically unharmed, and Manly bobbed up with it.

Langley made another attempt with the same machine on December 8, 1903. This time the rear post caught, and once more the machine dived into the water. Another experiment should have been made, but the money of Congress was all spent, and the newspapers were all saying, “We told you so.” The truth is that Langley’s machine never had a chance to fly, because it was never launched. It would be foolish to say that a ship would not sail because something went wrong with the launching ways, which is exactly Langley’s case. Years afterward, Glenn H. Curtiss took the Langley machine and flew it at Hammondsport, New York, and thus showed how very much wronged Langley had been.


Three years after his “failure” Langley died, a bitterly disappointed man, knowing that he had built a machine, a man-carrying machine, that could fly. Fame and glory had slipped from him. Even at this late day, the world in general is hardly aware of what it owes to Samuel Pierpont Langley, of how much he did to teach men how to fly.

Although Langley unquestionably built a machine in which a man could fly, his method of maintaining balance has not been followed. If the machine pitched or if it rocked from side to side, the pilot could shift his weight to right it. Langley also adopted Pénaud’s rudder in order to obtain a certain degree of automatic stability. In other words, the horizontal rudder was mounted in back and was arranged so that it would automatically lift the nose of the machine if it dived, or drop it if it lifted. Something better than this was needed. We shall presently see how the Wright brothers met the need and made flying practical.


The idea of learning how to fly by first using a pair of wings and running with them along the ground, Cayley’s idea, seemed so safe that many inventors clung to it rather than risk their necks in engine-driven machines. They reasoned that we must first learn how to fly and get the “feel” of the air before attempting anything more.

Mouillard, a Frenchman, was one of these. He studied birds for thirty years in far-off Algeria where he had a farm. Eagles, vultures, owls, birds of all kinds he watched as they flew. He took dead birds, spread out their wings and traced their outlines on paper. For years he studied birds on the wing. He wrote one of the most interesting books about them. After many years of patient watching and thinking, he, too, built a glider—a pair of wings provided with a rudder and with a handle-bar; this he would clutch, and would then run along until he was lifted from his feet by the pressure of the air beneath the wings.

It takes much money to carry out experiments. Mouillard, being a farmer, and not a millionaire, had to give up his experiments for lack of money.

Otto Lilienthal, a German, also thought that it was best to learn how to fly with gliders. He had dreamed of flying even as a boy. When he was still at school he built gliders with his brother. All through early manhood the hope of flying in a machine of his own was ever with him. He became an engineer and a business man, simply to earn enough money with which to experiment. He worked very hard and finally became what we would call “well-to-do.” Because he was a trained engineer, he had valuable mechanical knowledge that others lacked. He built wings, which were arched like those of a bird and which had a rudder; for by this time (1891) every flying-machine inventor realized that he must have something to steer with and something with which to steady the machine.


Lilienthal coasted down the air hundreds of times by running down a sand-hill. Like everybody else, he found balancing hard. If his machine tilted down on one side he would throw his weight toward the other side to right it, so that as he glided along he was constantly squirming and throwing his body about. If the birds knew that he was trying to fly, they would have screamed with laughter. It was an acrobatic performance—this quick shifting of his weight. But one day, in 1896, when he was about ready to build a motor-driven machine, when he thought that he knew how to fly, and he took his latest glider out for one last trial, he was not quick enough. The wind caught him and upset him, and Lilienthal was killed. The same fate overtook Percy S. Pilcher, an Englishman, who had been fired by Lilienthal’s example.

In America, gliding experiments were also made on the shores of Lake Michigan by Octave Chanute and his assistant A. M. Herring in 1896. Both Chanute and Herring were engineers. Neither liked Lilienthal’s way of throwing himself about when his glider seesawed. First they copied Lilienthal’s machine, and then they built gliders according to their own ideas.

Toward the last, Lilienthal had glided with two surfaces—a biplane. Chanute and Herring made gliders that had as many as five surfaces, one on top of the other, and they found these gliders steadier than Lilienthal’s, and, therefore, safer. In the end, they adopted two surfaces, braced and tied together just as they are in a modern biplane. The man who glided in a Chanute biplane had to shift his weight, just as Lilienthal did, but not nearly so much. Chanute knew that it would never do to rely on weight-shifting to keep a man-carrying machine on an even keel, but, like Lilienthal, he felt that a better way of balancing would be found after men had learned to fly.

OCTAVE CHANUTE. Octave Chanute’s gliding experiments were conducted on the shore of Lake Michigan and began in June, 1896. Chanute experimented with many types of gliders, and finally evolved a method of maintaining equilibrium which was not dependent entirely on the shifting of the pilot’s weight.
CHANUTE’S FIVE-DECKER OF 1896. Chanute built many different types of gliders. Among them was this five-decker. Experiments were made with this machine in 1896. The glider is notable because the wings could swerve fore and aft, so as to bring the centre of lift always below the centre of gravity, thus preventing pitching. The machine proved highly successful, and eventually led to the invention of a trussed biplane glider.
TIE TRUSS AS CHANUTE APPLIED IT TO THE GLIDER. This glider, with which Chanute experimented in the later nineties, was a distinct improvement over Lilienthal’s. The pilot hung below the surfaces, which were trussed and held together after the manner now generally adopted. Chanute saw that the maintenance of equilibrium was all-important. Hence he saw to it that, although the pilot was still required to shift his weight in maintaining his balance, the air pressure itself should right the machine; to this end he provided elastic wing margins, so that the centre of pressure could be varied. Many successful glides were made in this machine.


Some inventors thought that it was simply a waste to experiment with gliders. Why not build a big, machine at once, leap into the air with it, and thus learn flying? Clement Ader, a rich Frenchman, reasoned thus. Like Lilienthal, he had made a fortune for the very purpose of becoming a flying-machine inventor. Mouillard’s description of birds fascinated him. He must see them in Africa. Doctor Zahm, in his ‘Aerial Navigation,’ says:

“Going to Algeria, he disguised himself as an Arab, and, with two Arab guides, journeyed to the interior where he watched the great soaring vultures, which he enticed with bits of meat to perform before him their marvelous maneuvers, wheeling in wide circles, and without wing beat, from earth to sky.

Home again in France, at the age of forty-two, Ader boldly began the building of a man-carrying, engine-driven monoplane, which he called the Eole and with which, according to his own account, he flew 150 feet on October 9, 1890. Then he built another which he smashed after he had flown, as he said, 300 feet. The French War Department became interested in his work and helped him build a third machine which he called the Avion, a name still applied to airplanes by some French writers. It took five years to build the Avion, and when it was finished, it looked very much like a gigantic bat. It is hard to say whether this Avion really flew; for the trial flights were privately made in the presence of French officers in October, 1897. Ader says that it flew, though, from his own account, it could not have made more than a hop or two. At all events, the Avion was smashed, and the French army lost all interest in it.


Ader had slaved forty years in getting enough money for his experiment and in building one machine after another. After spending $400,000, he retired from the field, bitterly disappointed. His Avion was repaired, and is now to be seen in a museum in Paris. Frenchmen point to it as the first man-carrying machine that ever flew. Perhaps it did fly. But it is certain that it was too unmanageable to be practical.


Hiram Maxim, a Maine Yankee who lived in England most of his life, and who was one of the most ingenious mechanics that ever lived (he invented the first machine-gun, among other things), thought just as Ader did, why bother with gliders? “Let’s build a big machine at once,” he said. And build one he did. Even at this late day, Maxim’s machine takes one’s breath away. Compared with Ader’s machine, Maxim’s was a giant. Not until Curtiss built the America in 1914, to fly across the Atlantic, did anything larger appear. It could lift more than a ton, not counting a crew of three and about 600 pounds of boiler-water; for this was a steam-driven machine.

Maxim was no impatient, reckless inventor, even though he thought gliding a waste of time. He finished his machine in 1893, but for years previously he had been studying propellers and surfaces, and devising engines. All these pioneers were worried by the difficulty of obtaining engines, and all had to build their own. Maxim’s steam-engine is still such a masterpiece of lightness and power that had he done nothing but plan the engine we would have to regard him as a great inventor.

Maxim Airplane.

Of course, Maxim, engineer as he was, knew that he must have a running start to fly. Therefore, he built a track half a mile long and placed his machine upon it. He provided guard-rails to prevent the machine from rising, because he first wanted to run the machine along the track and test it out before actually trying to fly. Time and time again, the machine would leave the track and strike the upper guard-rails, proving clearly enough that it could rise into the air if Maxim would only let it do so.

He had spent $100,000 in building the machine, and, bold though he was, he did not want to wreck $100,000 worth of machinery in foolishly trying to fly before he was ready. One windy day, he ran the machine out on the track to make a test. He climbed in with one of his helpers and started the engine. The propellers roared, and the machine rose from the track, as it had often done before. But this time the great bird tore the guard-rails and mounted into the air. Then it crashed to the ground and was wrecked.


Two young men in Dayton, Ohio, who kept a bicycle-shop, reading all they could lay their hands on about flying-machines, had learned with eagerness what Langley, Maxim, Lilienthal, Chanute, and Herring were doing. They were Orville and Wilbur Wright, sober-minded, cautious, level-headed sons of a minister, who was himself of a mechanical turn. They were not engineers or scientists, like Langley, Lilienthal, and Chanute, but just practical mechanics.

“Let’s build a glider,” said one to the other one day. They knew that they were attacking perhaps the hardest mechanical problem in the world. Chanute had shown in his experiments on the shores of Lake Michigan that gliding was safe in his type of machine. Hence, a Chanute glider they made up their minds to build.

They used to write to Chanute now and then, and the old man would tell them all that he knew; for Chanute was one of those rare, fine, unselfish men who try to do something for mankind instead of making fortunes for themselves. Soon the Wrights improved on Chanute. It will be recalled that even in Chanute’s glider the pilot had to shift his weight a little so as to keep his balance, although not nearly so much as in Liiienthal’s machine.

The Wrights saw that this was all wrong. Some better way must be found of balancing the machine. Years before, Doctor Alfred Zahm, one of the first men who studied flying machines scientifically in this country, had pointed out that some device must be invented to make the air itself bring the machine back on an even keel as it tilted from side to side, a device which would increase the air-pressure beneath the falling side of a wing and thus lift it back. But how could the air be made to act thus? The Wright brothers found out.

To make the air lift the falling side of the machine, the Wrights made their wings so that they could be warped a little at the rear. When a wing dropped, the pilot moved a lever to bend the rear edge of the falling side down a little. This caused the falling side to offer more resistance to the air. More resistance means more pressure. Hence, the falling side encountered more air-pressure, and was forced up. At the same time, the wing on the rising side was slightly bent up so that the air had a little less surface to press against, with the result that the rising side would drop. Simple as the trick is, it made the flying-machine practical.

There are several ways of maintaining side-to-side balance on this principle. Instead of slightly warping the wing, flaps are used, called ‘ailorons,’ a word which we have taken from the French and which means “little wings.” These flaps are now always found on the wings of an airplane. They are hinged and they move in opposite directions. As one flap is pulled down the other is pulled up. When a pilot finds himself slipping down on one side, he works a handle or lever, so that the flap on the falling side drops and the flap on the rising side lifts. The falling flap is acted on by the air, just as it would act on a rudder, and lifts that side up, and, at the same time, the other side drops because the air has a little less surface to press against.

Nearly all the inventors of the past knew that two rudders were necessary—one, a vertical rudder, like a ship’s, to steer the machine from side to side; the other, a horizontal rudder to guide it up or down. What the Wright brothers did was practically to give the machine a third rudder, which controlled the side-to-side seesawing. That was a very great step—the last step needed.

WRIGHT GLIDER FLOWN AS A KITE. “We began our experiments,” the Wrights have written, “in October, I900, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Our machine was designed to be flown as a kite with a man on board, in winds from fifteen to twenty miles an hour. But, upon trial, it was found that much stronger winds were required to lift it. Suitable winds not being plentiful, we found it necessary, in order to test the new balancing system, to fly the machine as a kite without a man on board, operating the levers through cords from the ground. This did not give the practice anticipated, but it inspired confidence in the new system of balance.”
THE FIRST WRIGHT GLIDER. The first successful experiments of the Wright Brothers were made with motorless gliding machines. They began in 1901. The pilot lay prone in order to reduce the resistance of the air. The horizoiital rudder, or elevator, was placed in front. In September and October, 1902, nearly 1,000 glides were made, several as long as 600 feet. The next step was the installation of an engine.
THE PREDECESSOR OF THE MODERN FLYING MACHINE. “With this machine, in the autumn of 1903, we made a number of flights in which we remained in the air for over a minute, often soaring for a considerable time in one spot, without any descent at all,” the Wrights state in their ‘Early History of the Airplane.’ “Little wonder that our unscientific assistant should think the only thing needed to keep it indefinitely in the air would be a coat of feathers to make it light!“


Chanute used to watch the Wrights as they glided in this machine of theirs, and he must have realized that these young men knew what they were about. They kept on experimenting with gliders for nearly three years (1900—03) and coasted down the air hundreds of times. At last, they felt that they were ready to make a trial with an engine. In 1903 they took one of their best gliders—a biplane—and mounted a very crude home-made gasoline engine on the lower wing. The machine was not to start from the ground on wheels of its own—the modern practice. It had no wheels. In order to launch it, a car was used which was to run down a single inclined track. After sufficient speed was acquired, the pilot was to tilt his horizontal rudder so that the machine would rise from the car into the air.

Many unsuccessful trials were made at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Then came December 17, 1903, a day of historic importance in aviation. Wilbur Wright took his seat on the lower wing of the biplane. The car and the machine upon it shot down the track. Before the end of the track was reached, Wilbur tilted the horizontal rudder. The machine soared off into the air. The first flight lasted only twelve seconds; but it was a real flight. Again and again the machine was launched on that memorable day. Each time it stayed in the air a little longer. The fourth time a distance of 852 feet was covered in a little less than a minute.

The Wrights were not the kind of men to throw up their hats and cheer, but we may imagine the joy that must have been theirs. For hundreds of years the best brains in the world had been racked to discover the secret of the eagle, and here were two American mechanics, two bicycle-makers, who had at last proved that a man can fly.

They kept on flying in improved machines from time to time—sometimes at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, sometimes near their home town of Dayton, Ohio. A few people saw them fly near Dayton, but the Wrights did their best to keep their success secret. Theirs was a great invention, and they knew it. It was so simple that anybody could copy it who saw it and who knew of the work that Chanute had done, and Chanute had printed and published all that he knew. They cast about for a chance to sell their invention, first offering it to our government. But the United States Government had had enough of flying-machines. After their offer had been rejected, they turned to Europe. The Wrights next tried to sell their invention to Great Britain, but were again turned away.

THE WRIGHT LAUNCHING-TOWER (1909). A flying-machine must be in motion before it can fly. To acquire this preliminary motion the Wright Brothers used an inclined rail. The machine rested on a little car, which was connected by a rope with a weight that could fall in a tower. When the weight fell the car was jerked down the track, and when sufficient momentum had been acquired, the elevator was tilted and the machine rose from the car. The machine after its flight landed on skids attached to the underbody.


Just at this time a few Frenchmen were doing their best to fly, and some succeeded. The automobile-makers had perfected the gasoline-engine. It was still heavy, to be sure, but lighter than any steam-engine and boiler. So the Frenchmen ordered light gasoline-engines and put them in their crude machines.

One of these men was Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian who had lived for a long time in France. He had made some remarkable voyages in balloons and airships of his own. He was a daredevil—this Santos-Dumont, firmly convinced that every man dies at some time that is fixed and that cannot be foreseen, no matter what he did. He was no believer in “safety first.” No careful gliding experiments for him. Besides, what was the good of them? Had not Lilienthal and Pilcher been killed in gliders?

Santos-Dumont ordered a machine which looked like a big box kite. It had a rudder in front (not a new idea), and this rudder was a somewhat smaller box kite. He could move this rudder in any direction that he wished, so that he could steer himself up and down or from side to side. But he had no way of balancing himself, although he could move his weight a little from side to side. The wings were inclined at an angle to each other, and this, too, helped a little to keep the machine on an even keel.

Santos-Dumont ran over the ground in this machine, with its wheels like those of a bicycle. On August 22, 1906, he hopped into the air. A crowd watched him. It was the first time that anybody had seen a public flight. The next day (October 23) he flew 200 feet. There was tremendous excitement. Newspapers all over the world published articles about Santos-Dumont. The Wright brothers must have been worried. But when they realized that he had invented nothing that was not well known, and that, above all, he knew nothing about balancing, the true secret of flight, they must have been relieved.

SANTOS-DUMONT’S MACHINE OF 1903. Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian, astonished the world with this crude biplane in 1906. The machine ran tail foremost. Santos-Dumont sat in front of the wings. The “tail” could be moved to act as a rudder. To maintain his balance, Santos-Dumont shifted his body. On August 22, 1906, he made the first public flight on record in a power-driven machine. He covered a distance of 200 feet at a speed of twenty-five miles an hour, and thus won a prize of 3,000 francs offered in 1903 by Ernest Archdeacon, at a time when not even the Wright brothers had flown successfully with an engine.

A dozen Frenchmen now caught the flying fever. There was Henry Farman, a bicycle racer, Delagrange, an artist, Blériot, a manufacturer of automobile-lamps. All these men went to Voisin, the manufacturer who had made Santos-Dumont’s machine, and commissioned him to build biplanes for them. Blériot soon struck out for himself and made monoplane after monoplane. He must have smashed twenty machines before he ever flew. But even he had to learn the secret of balancing from the Wrights. Levavasseur, who made a wonderfully light motor, also tried his hand at building monoplanes that could fly when the air was still—beautiful machines to look at. He, too, had to learn the principle of balancing from the Wrights later on.

Most of the men who ordered biplanes from Voisin did fly, but only in very quiet air. The writer of these lines remembers seeing Farman in one of the old Voisin machines—a big box kite on wheels. Farman trundled out his machine one afternoon just before sunset. A slight breeze was blowing, scarcely stronger than a zephyr. After critically studying the flags lazily flapping against their poles, Farman decided that he would not fly that day. The wind was too strong! During the World War, aviators over the battle front flew in howling gales, which shows how quickly the trick of flying was learned, once the way was pointed out, and how stanch and powerful are the machines of to-day.

These men, particularly Farman and Delagrange (it is useless to mention the rest), flew for miles at a time. They flew across country and from town to town when the air was quiet. They won prizes—cups and money. The world saw that at last men could fly.

THE “ANTOINETFE” OF 1909, MADE FAMOUS BY HUBERT LATHAM. Levavasseur was a French engineer who became famous for his light aeronautic engines, many of which were ordered by the pioneer French aviators. Later he turned to designing and building monoplanes. Hubert Latham was the pilot of these “Antoinettes”—beautiful birdlike machines that aroused the admiration of all who saw them in the early days (1909). The Antoinettes were historically noteworthy for their boat-like bodies—the first indication of modern stream-lining.


Still the Wright brothers were hugging their great secret to themselves. They must have been just a little alarmed.
Glenn H. Curtiss, a builder of motors and a champion motorcycle rider, had been engaged by Doctor Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, to help him build a flying-machine, and they felt that Curtiss might hit upon their own great secret.

The United States Government now began to wake up. The army was ready to buy a flying-machine if its conditions could be met. The Wrights offered to supply one for $25,000. It was clear that now was the time to show the world what they had been doing. In 1908, Wilbur Wright decided to go to France and show the Frenchmen some real flying, while Orville was to stay at home and fly another machine before the officers of the American army.

France gasped in amazement when it watched Wilbur’s performance in 1908. Farman, Blériot, and the rest soon saw that this machine of Wilbur’s was better than anything they had devised. Wilbur performed feats in the air and climbed to heights that were beyond them. They promptly copied his way of making the air lift the wings when they tilted over too far. Some of them warped their wings just as he did; but most of them adopted flaps or ailerons.

Our army was no less astonished at Orville’s flying. Everybody thought that the army’s conditions were too hard. The speed was to be forty miles an hour with a bonus of $2,500 for every mile an hour above that. Orville wanted the bonus. If the wind was so strong that it would slow up the machine, he simply refused to fly, even though thousands had gathered to see him in the air and officers were waiting with watches in their hands to time him. He won his $25,000 for the machine and also his bonus. The machine had more than met the army’s conditions.

(Left) Wilbur and Orville Wright were the sons of a minister and engaged in bicycle making when they attacked the problem of mechanical flight. They were directly inspired by Chanute and received helpful guidance from him as well as from Langley. After successfully experimenting with gliders, they built the first successful man-carrying, power-driven airplane in history (Right) THE FIRST PUBLIC FLIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES. This was the spectacle that greeted the army officers and the distinguished sightseers who had gathered at Fort Myer, near Washington, in 1908, to witness the first public flight of the Wright machine. The pilot sat on the lower wing, fully exposed. In front of him stretched the horizontal rudder, or elevator. Behind him roared the engine, driving twin propellers. It was a machine built with no regard for what we now conceive to be engineering niceties, but it flew, and its flying marked the dawn of a new period in transportation, and the realization of a dream as old as mankind.

Now that the Wrights had come into the open, what was it that men saw? Nothing so very different from the machines with which they were already familiar, so far as mere looks were concerned. There were two wings—one above the other. That was old. The horizontal rudder or elevator, by which the machine was steered up or down in the air, thrust itself out in. front; but front rudders were old. There was a vertical rudder in the rear, like a ship’s rudder. That, too, was old. There was a gasoline-engine between the wings to drive the machine, but there was nothing new in that. There were two propellers; but twin propellers had been thought of by Henson more than sixty years before.

The only new idea was the method of balancing the machine from side to side, and even of that there had been glimmerings. So, there was really nothing startlingly new about the Wright airplane after all. Yet it was the first practical man-carrying flying-machine that had ever been made and flown—one of the world’s greatest inventions. We must not think that the Wrights simply copied the ideas of other men. It takes genius to know what is right, to find out why everybody before failed; and the Wrights had that genius.

Man had at last grown wings. He was eager to try them. Races were held. In 1909, Blériot crossed the English Channel and won a $5,000 prize offered by the London Daily Mail. Hubert Latham, in his Antoinette, built by Levayasseur, had made the attempt shortly before, but had failed. He used to be the attraction at all the French flying meetings; for his Antoinette was a beautiful, bird-like thing to look at. James Gordon Bennett, of the New York Herald, offered the now famous Gordon Bennett cup and $5,000 cash for the fastest flight. Prizes for long-distance flying and high flying were awarded. It is safe to say that in a few years after the Wrights flew publicly, every prize was won, except that offered by the London Daily Mail for a flight across the Atlantic Ocean, and that was won in 1919.

FARMAN FLYING ACROSS COUNTRY IN 1908. Henry Farman was a champion bicycle-rider when he took up aviation in 1907. His first machines, built by the Voisin Brothers, were simply boxlike or cellular structures on wheels, without any mechanical means of maintaining side-to-side balance. The machine would fly only in very light winds. This picture shows Farman flying in a somewhat improved machine of the boxlike type between Chalons and Rheims on September 30, 1908. The distance was twenty-seven kilometres, and the time twenty minutes. It was the first town-to-town flight on record.
CURTISS FLYING OVER LAKE KEUKA, NEW YORK, IN 1909. Glenn H. Curtiss had his own ideas about flying-machines. The Wrights had shown how lateral stability could be maintained by warping the wings. Since wing-warping was a patented invention, he used what have since become known as ailerons. They are little hinged planes, nowadays forming part of the main wings, but in this early machine (1909) they are mounted between the planes.
LOUIS BLERIOT. GLENN H. CURTISS. Louis Blériot (left) was a successful manufacturer of automobile-lamps when he became interested in flying. Beginning in 1900, he tried one type of machine after another, and thrilled the world with his many hair-breadth escapes. On July 25, 1909, he made the first flight across the English Channel. Glenn H. Curtiss (right) was a crack motor-cycle rider and builder of light gasoline-engines when Dr. Alexander Graham Bell invited him, in 1907, to provide the engines for light, strong machines built on the tetrahedral—kite principle. It was thus that Curtiss became interested in aeronautics.


Most of the early airplanes had been built by carpenters and blacksmiths. As we look back at the old Wright machine and those with which Farman, Blériot, and Latham astonished the world, we wonder at the dreadful chances that were taken. Frightful accidents occurred because no one knew how strong a machine ought to be to stand the blows of the wind. Whenever a machine swoops down the wings are strained. Poor, Delagrange was killed when his wings broke, and so were many others.

The engineer and the scientist stepped in. They made tests in what are called “wind tunnels,” to find out just how strong machines ought to be; also to measure the resistance offered by the air in flying and to discover the best way to cut it down. A little model of a wing or strut or a body is built and held in the tunnel. Then a stream of air is blown against it. The pressure of the air against the model is carefully measured. One shape is compared with another, and that shape is finally selected which offers the least resistance.

Wind-tunnel experiments with little models have shown that not only is the wing lifted by the air-pressure beneath it, but also that it is sucked up at the top. Indeed, the suction counts for more than the lifting effect. It must not be assumed, however, that all the old theories about the effect of air-pressure beneath the wings were wrong. They were right, but not complete. Thus, the wind tunnel tells much that can never be learned in the air itself by a pilot.

THE WIND TUNNEL OF THE UNITED STATES NAVY. in order to design airplanes which will offer the least possible resistance to the air, small models of machines or parts of machines are suspended in a wind tunnel, and air at measured velocities is blown against them. The effects are accurately determined by instruments which measure the pressures sustained. Thus a shape is arrived at which can be driven through the air with the least expenditure of energy.

Wind-tunnel experiments on models proved how great’ is the resistance of the wind. To fly fast, it had to be reduced. The early machines were masses of wires and struts that raked the air. The pilot simply sat on the lower wing of a biplane and watched the earth swim past between his legs. He offered enormous resistance. The wind tunnels showed that it is easier to move a correctly designed bulk through the air than to rake it with vibrating wires and with dozens of projections.

Builders were quick to learn the lesson. They built a hull for the machine, what we now call a “fuselage,” and gave it the right lines so that it could part the air easily. It is a curious fact that the hull should be rounded in front and not pointed; yet the breasts of fast-flying birds are also rounded. The pilot now sits in the carefully modeled hull with just his head showing. The struts are carefully shaped to reduce resistance. In this way it had become possible to fly at speeds of over a hundred miles an hour even before the war. Now 250 miles an hour are possible.

COCKPIT OF A MODERN MILITARY AIRPLANE. In the early Wright machines the pilot and his passenger sat on the lower wing with no protection whatever; they were not even suitably clad. They saw the earth swim past between their legs. In modern machines, the pilot and his passenger sit in a boatlike cockpit with only their heads protruding. They are protected not only by the cockpit but also by helmets, goggles, and leather coats lined with sheep’s wool.

The old machines had wings covered with fabric that was none too tightly stretched. When next you are in Washington, look at the old Wright machine which is to be seen there in the National Museum. The wings are covered with canvas, which is not very taut. A man can stand on a modern wing—its fabric is stretched so tightly. Nowadays we use the strongest linen and treat it with what is called “dope” and then varnish it. The dope makes the fabric as stiff as a board and waterproofs it too, and the varnish protects it from the weather.

A hurricane will tear a roof off and toss it several hundred yards. An airplane travels at hurricane speed; it must, therefore, stand hard air blows. Before scientific experiments with models in wind tunnels were made, no one really knew how this thing of wires, light wood, and fabric could be made to stand the strain. The machine of to-day is as safe as a bridge, simply because builders know how hard it will be struck by the air and how lightness and strength can be combined.

An airplane burns about as easily as a match once it catches fire. After all, it is all wood, for the most part, except the engine. Dope catches fire as easily as oil. Why not make the whole machine of metal—body, wings, and all? Builders thought of that long ago. But metal is heavy—much heavier than wood. Some new metals have been discovered, chiefly aluminum alloys, which will make it possible to do away with wood and linen. A German engineer named Junkers actually built a good machine of these new metals. When we fly about in the air, some day in the future, just as we now roll along in automobiles, it will probably be in an all-metal machine.

CURTISS HYDRO AIRPLANE OF 1911. To Glenn H. Curtiss belongs the credit of having invented the flying-boat, here shown, the prototype of all modern seaplanes.


When the World War came, every European army had its airplanes. Yet in a few weeks all these machines, which were considered to be the last word in airplanes, had to be thrown on the scrap-heap. Every few months, the Germans or the French or the English would build a machine that was a little faster than anything that had been flown before. Sometimes the Germans had the fastest machines and sometimes the Allies.

This competition did more to develop the airplane in four years than could have been expected in ten years of peace. Air-fighters like Guynemer, Fonck, Ball, and Lufberry wanted swift scouts in which they could loop-the-loop, do the “barrel roll” or the “dead-leaf” drop, dive tail first or spin around on their beam ends. That meant stronger machines and better machines in every way. It also meant more powerful engines, and when you use a more powerful engine you cannot mount it in an airplane that has weak wings without making it unsafe for the pilot.

The men who were sent out to drop bombs wanted machines that would carry heavier loads. Curtiss had built the big America in 1914, a machine with a span of 133 feet, in which Porte, an Englishman, hoped to cross the Atlantic and win the London Daily Mail prize. When the war came, the British Government bought the machine.

One or two giant machines had been built in Europe, among them the Sikorsky, which could carry as many as eighteen passengers. On the whole, there was not much experience in building giant weight-carriers before the war. The Allies started in as soon as they could to construct big machines which would carry heavy loads of bombs—good, practical machines that would travel several hundred miles into the enemy’s country, if need be. Caproni, the Italian, made his reputation during the war with such big bomb-droppers. So did Handley-Page in England and Caudron in France. The Germans had their Gothas.

BRISTOL PASSENGER—CARRYING AIRPLANE. After the Great War ended, the leading manufacturers of airplanes saw that the immense amount of research that they had conducted in order that they might be able to build bombers of enormous size and carrying capacity might be turned to commercial account. They immediately began the building of passenger-carrying machines, of which this huge Bristol “Pullman” is a type. The interior of this machine is reproduced in another picture.
INTERIOR OF A LARGE PASSENGER-CARRYING AIRPLANE. The passengers sit comfortably in an attractively designed body (fuselage), which is electrically illuminated, and on which there is even a small washroom. The carrying capacity is about twenty.

All this work did much to make regular passenger-carrying in peace-time possible, so that when the war came to an end companies were started to carry business men and tourists between London and Paris and other European cities. In Europe, thousands of people now use the airplane instead of the railway when they can. Instead of travelling a whole day by rail and steamer from London to Paris or Amsterdam, an Englishman in a hurry takes an airplane and covers the distance in about four hours.

The supreme feat, the feat that proves what may be expected of the airplane, was the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1919. The Americans made the first crossing, but not in a single flight. On the other hand, the English flew in a single stage from Newfoundland to Ireland.

American naval officers first crossed the ocean, not with any hope of winning the prize of $50,000 offered by the Daily Mail, but chiefly to collect facts that would help others to cross the Atlantic. Indeed, there was no chance of winning the prize. The conditions of the Daily Mail required that a non-stop flight be made, whereas the navy planned to fly from New York to Newfoundland, then to the Azores, then to Portugal, and finally to England. Our naval officers made long and careful preparations. They took every precaution conceivable to insure safety. All the way across, warships and destroyers were stationed to send wireless weather reports to the men in the air and to help them as much as possible.

Every care was taken to make the voyage of the three great navy seaplanes NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4 a success. Commanders John H. Towers, captain of the NC-3, headed the little air fleet; Lieutenant-Commander Albert C. Read was in charge of the NC-4 and Lieutenant-Commander Patrick N. L. Bellinger commanded the NC-1. The planes could hardly carry enough fuel to make one long flight to England, which is one reason why it was decided to cross in several stages.

On the morning of May 8, 1919, the three great sea-birds took the air at Rockaway, near New York City. Later, the three seaplanes met at Trepassey and made the final preparations for the great flight. The real trip across the Atlantic therefore began at Trepassey, Newfoundland.

THE NC-4 ON HER TRANS-ATLANTIC VOYAGE. The NC-4, American seaplane, at Ponta Delgada in the Azores, on the famous trans-Atlantic flight of 1919.

On the evening of May 16, the three seaplanes leaped into the air for the long flight to the Azores. As they sailed along, a destroyer below would send up a column of smoke by day and flash search-lights or star-shells at night, so that the men in the air might know where they were. Thus the bold airmen flew over the station ships below, one by one. They were nearing the end of the jump to the Azores, 1,380 miles long, when they ran into a thick fog. The pilots could see nothing. All about them was this thick mist.

They could not climb up out of it. Everything depended on cool heads and stout hearts. At last, the NC-4 managed to climb out of the fog and arrived at Horta in the Azores, fifteen hours and thirteen minutes after she had left Newfoundland. The NC-1 and NC-3 both had to alight on the water. Lieutenant-Commander Bellinger and his crew were taken off the NC-3 by a steamer and landed at Horta. The NC1 had been badly pounded by the waves, and her crew worked desperately to keep her afloat before they were taken off.

The men of the NC-3 had a terrible experience. Sitting in the water, all during the night a rain-storm beat upon her and all the next day she had to face a gale. She could not tell where she might be found; her wireless apparatus could be used only in the air because the current was generated by a little propeller driven by the wind as she sped along. As for seeing her—she was about as easy to see on the ocean as a speck of dust on a plate-glass window.

High seas began to break over her; the ribs of the lower wings cracked and the fabric that covered them split. Finally, the elevator was swept off. The hull leaked badly, so that the pumps had to be kept going to keep the ship afloat. With a shout the men greeted the sun, which all at once came out. Thirty-five miles away they saw a mountain. In a desperate attempt to reach land they let the wind blow the NC-3 along as it would a sailboat.

Night fell again. Still the heavy sea tossed the frail vessel about, and still the storm raged. By daylight nothing was left of the lower wings except a few of the heavier beams. Early in the morning San Miguel hove in sight. Seven miles off Ponta Delgada, the battered NC-3 was sighted. A destroyer steamed out at full speed to help her. But the men on the NC-3, for all the hardships that they had endured, would not give up the ship. They brought the NC--3 into the harbor under her own power, “taxiing” over the waves, a mere floating wreck. They had been in the water fifty-three hours, making desperate efforts to reach port, and had suffered hardships. Their sandwiches had become soaked with sea water and could not be eaten. They had only a few pieces of chocolate. Rusty water from the radiator was all they had to drink.

Only the NC-4, commanded by Read, was fit to keep on, and keep on she did. Early in the morning of May 26, 1919, she left Ponta Delgada, to which she had meanwhile flown from Horta, and started on the 891-mile flight to Lisbon. She made the run in nine hours and forty-three minutes. All Lisbon cheered, blew whistles and waved handkerchiefs and flags when she came down into the harbor.

After a rest of three days, Read started for England on the last leg of the flight. A leak in one of the engines made him come down at Figuera, but after making repairs he started again. On the afternoon of May 31, the NC-4 reached Plymouth. For the first time in history the Atlantic had been crossed by air. The long flight of 4,500 miles across the ocean and up the European coast ended at the very port from which the Mayflower had sailed three centuries before.


Three airplanes were sent over from England by as many companies to make a non-stop flight from Newfoundland to Great Britain in a Single stage, and thus win the prize of $50,000 that had been offered by Lord Northcliffe, owner of the London Daily Mail, to the man who would first cross the Atlantic in a non-stop flight. The money itself hardly tempted the English companies that sent machines and crews across; for the long preparations and the wear and tear on the machines cost far more than the $50,000 to be won.

Harry G. Hawker and Lieutenant-Commander H. Grieve were the first to take the air from St. Johns, Newfoundland, on May 19, 1919, in the great contest. Theirs was a Sopwith biplane driven by a Rolls-Royce engine. It was a mere trifle that prevented them from being the first men to cross the Atlantic by air. Their engine, like most automobile engines, was cooled by water. A strainer in one of the pipes leading from the radiator clogged, so that the water boiled away. Every one knows that when the cooling water gives out in an automobile, the engine is overheated and then stops. Realizing what had happened, Hawker changed the course back over the main steamship lane and zigzagged about. At last a ship was sighted and Hawker came down.

Nothing was heard of Hawker and Grieve for six days. Everyone thought that they had been drowned after losing their course, They had flown 1,100 miles in fourteen hours and thirty-one minutes when they met with their accident. In a few more hours they would have sighted land. The two brave air navigators arrived in London amid cheers. A consolation prize of $25,000 was given them.

One hour after Hawker and Grieve started, Captain F. P. Raynham (pilot) and Captain F. W. Morgan (navigator) rose into the air, also from St. Johns. They were not quite ready to leave, but Hawker and Grieve’s start spurred them on. Their Martinsyde airplane was so heavily loaded with gasoline for the long voyage that it was wrecked before it left the ground, and Raynham and Morgan were injured.

On June 15, 1919, the third machine took the air—a Vickers-Vimy biplane driven by a Rolls-Royce engine and manned by Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Brown (the latter an American).

THE AIRPLANE THAT MADE THE FIRST NON-STOP FLIGHT ACROSS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN. On June 15, 1919, this Vickers-Vimy-Rolls airplane landed at Clifden, Ireland, after having completed the first direct flight across the Atlantic from St. John’s, Newfoundland. The machine was piloted by Captain Sir John Alcock, and navigated by Lieutenant Sir Arthur W. Brown. The ocean was crossed in a single stage at the high average speed of nearly 118 miles an hour—a speed made possible by the favorable following winds.

Alcock and Brown’s trip across the Atlantic was short but terrible. Half an hour after they left Newfoundland, a part of the wireless set gave way. They could not let a world, which was literally holding its breath, know how they fared. Nearly all the way over they were either in fog or flying between banks of fog, so that they could not see the water most of the time.

A flying-machine always drifts from its course—how much, the pilot notes by watching the waves of the sea or the ground. But Alcock and Brown could not see the water, so that, for all they knew, they were drifting away from the right course and might never reach land again. Luckily, they caught a glimpse of the sun, the moon, and a star or two, so that they could calculate their position.

Most of the time they sped along at a height of 4,000 feet. Flying in a fog makes it hard for a man to know whether his machine is on an even keel or not. When Alcock once swooped down to within fifty feet of the sea to get what he called his “horizon,” which means his level, he found himself flying almost on his back. And he never knew it until he saw the water! To be sure, he did not fly very long in that position—only a few minutes probably. So thick was the fog that the two men never saw the sun rise. Once they climbed up to 11,000 feet and ran into hail and snow. Brown had to stand up and chop off the ice from the instruments. Think of that two miles in the air!

Alcock and Brown covered the distance of 1,960 miles between Newfoundland and Ireland in sixteen hours and twelve minutes—less than the time that it takes the Twentieth Century Limited to run from New York to Chicago, which is only half the distance. The speed of the airplane was about 120 miles an hour, which is due to the fact that a following wind helped the machine along by about 25 miles an hour.

MANY NEW RECORDS TO BE MADE: THE MACHINE IN WHICH MAJOR SCHROEDER BROKE THE TWO-MAN ALTITUDE RECORD. In the modern fast airplane, as this picture shows, careful attention is paid to what is called “stream-lining,” which means that fuselage, wings, struts are so designed that the whole parts the air easily. The old machines were a mass of projections that raked the air and thus made high speed impossible. In this machine (a Le Pare), Major Schroeder broke the two-man altitude record.
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