Chicago’s Contributions to the Development of Heavier-Than-Air Flight
INTRO Chicago The World’s Flying Capital
PART ONE Octave Chanute
PART TWO The Aero Club of Illinois
PART THREE First Aeroplane Flights Over Chicago
PART FOUR Chicago to Springfield
PART FIVE 1911 Aviation Meet
PART SIX Dirigibles
PART SEVEN 1912 Gordon Bennett Race
PART EIGHT Municipal Airport (Midway)
PART NINE 1930 National Air Races and Aeronautical Exposition
PART TEN 1933 American Air Race
PART ELEVEN 1937 Amelia Earhart
PART TWELVE Northerly Island Airport (Meigs Field)
Journal of the Western Society of Engineers
Died November 23, 1910.
This memoir records the professional career of an Engineer closely identified for the last sixty years with the development of transportation on land and in the air.
Octave Chanute was born in Paris, France,February 18th, 1832. His father was Professor of History in the Royal College of France, in Paris, and in the year 1838 accepted the appointment of Vice-President of Jefferson College in the State of Louisiana; he was a resident of Louisiana until 1844, when he removed to New York City and engaged in literary pursuits. His son, Octave, who was six years old when the family came to this country, completed his education in New York, and became, to use his own expression, thoroughly Americanized.
Mr. Chanute began work at the age of seventeen in 1849, on the Hudson River Railroad. This beginning was made, as was usual at that day, at the very foot of the ladder. Young Chanute introduced himself to the Resident Engineer at Sing-Sing and asked for employment. When told that there was no vacancy, he asked for permission to serve without pay as a volunteer chainman. This was somewhat reluctantly granted, with the result that within two months the young man was put on the pay-roll at $1.12½ per day, and thought his fortune made. Nor was he far wrong, for Mr. Chanute has often said that this was the only position he ever applied for and that he had been continuouslv engaged since that time without having to solicit employment.
He remained with the Hudson River Railroad for four years, until the completion of construction, when he became Division Engineer at Albany, in charge of terminal facilities and of maintenance of way.
In 1853 immigrants were pouring into Illinois to buy government lands at $1.25 an acre which are now selling at more than $50.00 an acre, and railroad construction was proceeding rapidly. Mr Chanute came west with Mr. H. A. Gardner, his former Chief Engineer on the Hudson River Railroad, and was engaged on the surveys and construction of what is now a portion of the Chicago & Alton Railroad, between Joliet and Bloomington. Before this was quite completed he became Chief Engineer of the eastern portion of what is now the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railroad, and built that Road from Peoria to the Indiana State Line, a distance of 112 miles. Upon its completion in 1857 he remained in charge of maintenance of way until 1861, when, the Road having gone into the hands of a Receiver, he accepted the position of Division Engineer of Maintenance of Way of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad between Chicago and Fort Wayne. This appointment was given him by his old friend and Chief, Mr. Gardner, who one year later recommended him for the position of Chief Engineer of the reconstruction and maintenance of the Western Division of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, from St. Louis to Vincennes. This he accepted, but six months later the Road changed hands, by one of those sudden vicissitudes not uncommon in those days, and Mr. Chanute, having by that time attained a reputation for industry, efficiency, and fidelity, received simultaneously several offers of employment. He accepted that of the Railroad which he had first served in the west and became the Chief Engineer of the Chicago & Alton Railroad in 1863, and as such took charge of the reconstruction which, by that time, had been found necessary, for these early American railroads were cheaply built. His duties included the maintenance of way and the building of an extension of the line from Alton to St. Louis.
During this connection, which lasted until 1867, Mr. Chanute submitted a competitive design for the Union Stock Yards of Chicago, and this having been selected in preference to a score of other designs, he was made Chief Engineer of the Yards, and supervised their construction in addition to his railroad duties.
The Union Stock Yards
These various engagements brought him in contact with prominent railroad men, and he was next offered the design and construction of the pioneer bridge over the Missouri River at Kansas City. This offer was accepted, and he tendered his resignation as Chief Engineer of the Chicago & Alton Railroad. The Board of Directors of that Railroad, accepting his resigna-
tion, passed a resolution of regret at the severence of his connection with that company. The construction of the Kansas City bridge, across a stream so rapid, shifting, and ill-reputed as the Missouri River, involved what were, at that time, a number of novel engineering problems. It was successfully completed in July, 1869, and attracted general interest as the first bridge built over the Missouri River. A book, giving an account of the construction of the Kansas City bridge, was written by Mr. Chanute and Mr. George S. Morison, his principal assistant Engineer, and published in 1870.
While engaged in completing the Kansas City bridge, Mr. Chanute was placed in charge of the building of several railroad lines, extending into Kansas, planned to secure a portion of the cattle trade coming overland from Texas: first that of the Kansas City, Ft. Scott & Memphis Railroad, from Kansas City to the line of the Indian Territory, then of a parallel line, now known as the Southern Kansas division of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, then of a connecting line between these two, and lastly of a line from Atchison northward, the whole comprising the construction of about 400i miles of railroad, and incidentally thereto the design and construction of the Union Stock Yards of Kansas City. These various works were completed in 1871, and Mr. Chanute then became the General Superintendent of the Southern Kansas Railroad.
In 1873, when the Erie Railroad was reorganized, Mr. Chanute was made Chief Engineer of that Railroad. It was then proposed to double-track this road, to standardize its 6-foot gauge, to extend the line to New England and to Chicago, and generally expend about $50,000,000 in improvements. This promised well for the Engineer, but the financial panic of 1873 upset the arrangements made in England for funds. Less than $5,000,000 was expended on the Road, which served, however, to double-track the main line, change the gauge to standard and to improve the gradients so that during the ten years which Mr. Chanute spent on the Erie the average freight train could be increased from 18 cars to 35 cars. For a time he was in charge of the motive power of the Railroad so as to readjust the distribution of locomotives.
The Hannibal Bridge
Upon his return to New York in 1873 he observed that “Rapid Transit” in that city had been under discussion for nearly twenty years without any definite results. The necessity for more rapid communication was evident; many projects for superceding horse cars had been proposed but none was recognized as solving the problem and the public seemed to be completely at sea. After some unsatisfactory inquiries as to the reasons for this condition of affairs, Mr. Chanute concluded that the question would be best settled by investigation through a committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and having been made Chairman of such a committee, consisting of W. N. Forney. Ashbel Welch, Chas. K. Graham, and Francis Collingwood, they undertook to collect all the data and facts. These were chiefly contained in pamphlets aggregating about 4,000 pages octavo, and after this literature had been digested communications were invited by circular. Five public meetings were held to give hearings to all who chose to appear, interviews were had with organized bodies and with citizens who were likely to possess information, and a canvass was made of property owners and tenants upon the proposed routes.
The resulting report was made public in 1875. It recommended substantially the plan subsequently carried out. i e., the building of four lines of Elevated Railroads along the Avenues, to be operated by steam locomotives, and stated that such lines would be profitable, which was not generally believed by moneyed men at that time. The report was, at first, vigorously assailed by men interested in other projects, but the public accepted it and it was almost immediately followed by the requisite legislation and the building of the Roads. In this investigation, the laboring oars were wielded by Mr. Chanute and Mr. Forney, then Editor of the Railroad Gazette, and they wrote the reports and appendices. The former, indeed, had done all of his work at night, so as not to interfere with his Railroad duties, and he found himself so prostrated upon its completion that he had to take a vacation, and he went to Europe for four months to recruit.
In 1880, Mr. Chanute was appointed Chairman of a committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers to report upon wood preservation. The investigation occupied five years, and resulted in the publication of a report of great value, which was the authority on the subject for many years. In 1885, a number of American Railroads called on the Chairman to build plants for wood preservation, and he after that became interested in
wood preservation as a business.
In 1883, he resigned from the Erie Railroad and removed to Kansas City, opening an office as Consulting Engineer. In this capacity he had charge of the design and construction of the iron bridges of the Chicago, Burlington & Northern Railroad, between Chicago and St. Paul, and later he performed similar work for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad on the extension of its line from Kansas City to Chicago, involving, besides a number of minor streams, the bridging of the Missouri River at Sibley and of the Mississippi River at Fort Madison.
As long ago as 1874, Mr. Chanute had become interested in Aviation, but it was not until 1889, when he moved to Chicago and thenceforth made that city his home, that he could find the time to devote himself seriously to the solution of this “Problem of the Ages.” With characteristic industry and thoroughness he engaged in an extensive correspondence with men all over the world interested in this subject and gathered and systematized all information of importance which he could find, investigating the records of experiments of the past two or three hundred years. The fruit of these labors appeared in a series of articles entitled “Progress in Flying Machines.” first published in the American Engineer and Railroad Journal, New York (October 1. 1891, and following issues), and republished in book form in 1894. This publication was of the greatest importance to the advancement of the art. for not only were all experiments of any importance described in detail and the principles elucidated, but the opinion of the author on the causes of the failure and the probable direction in which improvement might be expected, were stated.
About this time Otto Lilienthal had been making successful gliding experiments near Rerlin, and these induced Mr. Chanute to build a Lilienthal glider and attempt experiments with man- carrying models in continuation of his previous experiments with small models. The site chosen was Dune Park, near the present town of Gary, on the sand dunes of Indiana. His purpose was mainly to attain equilibrium in the air, and he hoped to accomplish this by adjustments that should be largely automatic. Un- like unfortunate Lilienthal, who met his death in August, 1896, while making one of his gliding experiments, Mr. Chanute’s many experiments—upwards of 200 flights—were free from any misadventure to life or limb. The Lilienthal glider was an unwieldy monoplane requiring great skill in management. It was soon abandoned and a multiplane glider substituted, and this in turn was replaced by the much simpler and more efficient biplane, the prototype of the present Wright aeroplane. These experiments were described by Mr. Chanute in a paper read October 20th, 1897, before the Western Society of Engineers and published in its Journal.
All these experiments and investigations were made in a genuinely scientific spirit and at his own expense, free to all who were interested, and conducted without any thought of pecuniary or other benefit to himself. He had at an earlier time described his efforts with characteristic modesty as “Giving much of his leisure to the investigation of the chances of success in the possible solution of the problem of Aerial Navigation, not with the expectancy of solving it himself, for he held this would be the work of many men by a gradual process of evolution, but with the hope of advancing the question a little, and making the process easier for those who came after him, by eliminating some of the causes of past failures and laying down the principles which will have to be observed.”
On October 20th, 1909, just twelve years after the reading of his first paper on Aviation to the Western Society of Engineers, he read his last paper, entitled “Recent Progress in Aviation,” in which he described the bewildering record of successful flights that had been achieved, giving a complete chronology of Aviation from December 17th, 1903, when the Wrights made the first successful man-flight in history, to October, 1909.
After Mr. Chanute’s death, the Aero Club of Washington said of him:
Lilienthal, Chanute, Langley, and Maxim are the four names that will ever be inseparably linked with the early stages of flying-machine development, the stages that preceded the successful invention of the first man-carrying machine by the Wright Brothers. These four men elevated an inquiry, which for years had been classed with such absurdities as the finding of perpetual motion and the squaring of the circle, to the dignity of a legitimate engineering pursuit.
Mr. Wilbur Wright in “Aeronautics” paid him the following tribute:
If he had not lived, the entire history of progress in flying would have been other than it has been, for he encouraged not only the Wright Brothers to persevere in their experiments, but it was due to his missionary trip to France in 1903, that the Voisins, Bleriot, Farman, De Lagrange, and Archdeacon were led to undertake a revival of aviation studies in that country, after the failure of the efforts of Ader and the French government in 1897 had left everyone in idle despair. Although his experiments in automatic stability did not yield results which the world has yet been able to utilize, his labors had vast influence in bringing about the era of human flight. His ‘double-deck’ modification of the old Wenham and Stringfellow machines will influence flying machine design as long as flying machines are made. His writings were so lucid as to provide an intelligent understanding of the nature of the problems of flight to a vast number of persons who would probably never have given the matter study otherwise, and not only by published articles, but by personal correspondence and visitation, he inspired and encouraged to the limits of his ability all who were devoted to the work. His private correspondence with experimenters in all parts of the world was of great volume. No one was too humble tu receive a share of his time. In patience and goodness of heart he has rarely been surpassed. Few men were more universally respected and loved.
Mr. Chanutc became a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers on February 19th, 1868; served as a Director for four years, Vice-President for two years, was President in 1891, and for the five succeeding years was ex-officio a member of the Board of Directors.
He was elected an Active Member of the Western Society of Engineers July 12th, 1869; was President in 1901, and was elected an Honorary Member January 5th, 1909. Some years ago he presented to that Society a fund of $1,000.00, the interest of which was to provide bronze medals to be awarded annually for the best papers on Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineering subjects. It is noteworthy that the committee to award prizes for papers read to the Society in 1909 reported, after Mr. Chanute’s death, that his paper of October 20th, 1909, on “Recent Progress in Aviation,” was the first in merit of all the papers submitted during that year and the Society presented the medal to his family.
He was elected an Honorary Member of the British Institution of Civil Engineers May 2.1st, 1895.
He was an Honorary Member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, a Corresponding Member of the French Society of Civil Engineers and also of the Chilean Society of Engineers.
He was a Member of the American Railway Engineering Association, the American Institute of Mining Engineers, the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
He was a Fellow of the American Aeronautical Society, an Honorary Member of the Aero Club of America, and was President of the Illinois Aero Club. He was also honored by foreign Aero Clubs. The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain awarded him a gold medal in recognition of his distinguished services in promoting the art of aviation.
Mr. Chanute held the degree of Doctor of Engineering from the University of Illinois.
Mr. Chanute was Chairman of the Executive Committee of Engineering Societies which had charge of the International Engineering Congress at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.
He was a frequent contributor to the publications of Scientific Societies and to the various technical journals.
A list of the various contributions to Engineering literature, prepared by the deceased, begins with a paper on “Pneumatic Bridge Foundation,” published in the Journal of the Franklin Institute in 1868, and ends with a paper on “The Present Status of Aerial Navigation.” This last paper was published in “Science,” on December 29th, 1910. This list contains 60 titles, the two principal ones being his books on “The Kansas City Bridge” and “Progress in Flying Machines,” which have been referred to. In his relations to his fellow men it is sufficient to record that he was unselfish, just, and kind. The present generation needs no eulogy of him, and for posterity it may be simply stated that he possessed the qualities of mind and heart which endeared him to his friends, caused those with whom he came in contact to respect and admire him, and which, ripened and chastened by the hard school of experience, produced in him one of our foremost Engineers, whose busy life was rich in works and achievement, and kindly and generous acts, commanding our admiration and prompting our love.
Mr. Chanute was traveling with his daughters in Europe in the Summer of 1910, when he was taken ill with pneumonia. For a time his illness was of so serious a nature that a fatal termination was expected, but he recovered sufficiently to return to America, and, after a lingering illness, died at his home in Chicago, November 23rd, 1910. His remains were interred at his old home in Peoria, Illinois.
Mr. Chanute was married in 1857 to Miss Anne Riddell James of Peoria, Illinois, who died in 1902. He is survived by a son and three daughters.
Robert W. Hunt,
Charles F. Loweth,
Charles L. Strobel,
Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1893
A conference on aerial navigation was held in the afternoon at which O. Chanute presided. In his opening address he said the conference was not looking for new schemes but had met to consider facts demonstrated by experiments. While the commercial success of the flying machine is not yet to be discerned the elements of eventual success have accumulated in the last half century. The conditions as to resistance, lifting power, propellers, and motors are pretty well known. A number of papers were read and illustrated by diagrams.
Progress in Flying Machines
Purpose of the conference as excerpted from The Railroad and Engineering Journal, October 1891
1. To satisfy himself whether, with our present mechanical knowledge and appliances, more particularly the light motors recently developed, men might reasonably hope eventually to fly through the air.” Chanute wrote that he “now thinks that this question can be answered in the affirmative
2. To save the waste of effort on the part of experimenters, involved in trying again devices which have already failed.” – and to point out the reasons for such failures
3. To furnish an account of those recent achievements which render it less chimerical than it was a few years ago to experiment with a flying machine…” – and to suggest how a promising design might be distinguished from a poor design
Chicago Tribune, June 24, 1896
If a lake steamer had passed by the beach opposite Miller’s, Ind., yesterday, the passengers would have had a good opportunity to see a man flying through the air, borne not exclusively on the wings of the wind, but apparently sustained by twelve gigantic white swans. Octave Chanute, No. 412 Huron street, ex-President of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and three companies were practising aerial navigation with a Lilienthal aeroplane.
Mr. Chanute, who is regarded as an authority on aerodynamics, has closely followed the experiments of Otto Lilienthal of Berlin, Germany, and he recently determined to duplicate them and go ahead on the same lines in the hope of evolving a machine which be able to sustain a man safely in the air and which would be under perfect control. Temporarily the question of the automotive power is left out of consideration.
Monday morning Mr. Chanute, A. M. Herring, William Paul, and William Avery all of Chicago took an early Lake Shore train for Miller’s, thirty miles south of the city. The natives had their curiosity highly excited by the enormous amount and queer shape of the luggage of the party. Mr. Chanute and his friends went to a little hotel and left their personal belongings, but had the other things conveyed over to the beach, about a mile east of the station.
Curiosity of Natives.
Some of the natives could not resist the temptation to follow and saw a tent erected under the protection of the highest of the hills near the lake shore. Soon the other bundles were unwrapped and what looked like a three-mast schooner’s rigging was erected with sails set, on the sand. The natives walked patiently for the boat to be brought out, thinking a sail on the lake was in prospect. A panic struck them when they saw Mr. Herring mount the odd-shaped affair and sail through the air.
“Jess watch,” tittered one of the natives. “I’ll be bound it won’t be long afore he’ll come down that ‘ar high hoss.”
Mr. Herring disappointed this prophet, and fulfilled every expectation of himself and Mr. Chanute. He succeeded in floating quite a distance in the air. The wind was not favorable, and the experiments were resumed yesterday. This time a number of comparatively long rides were made by all the younger members of the party. Mr. Herring sailed over eighty feet, measured horizontally, while falling only twenty feet. This was in the face of the wind, as none of the experimenters are yet willing to turn themselves loose before a breeze as stiff as that blowing yesterday in the neighborhood of the lake.
Two Devices Are Used.
Mr. Chanute has two machines, one very nearly like the Lilienthal machine (right) and another designed on different lines by himself. The Lilienthal machine is in appearance like six pairs of birds superposed. It consists of twelve wings of oiled nainsook silk stretched tightly over a spruce and willow frame. Each upper pair of wings is connected with a lower pair by a fin of the same material about three feet long and a foot wide. The wings are a little less than seven feet long and are in a measure diamond-shaped. The machine is about 15 feet long and 14 feet wide, and weighs 32 pounds and has a spread of 180 square feet. It is curved about as much as a birch canoe.
Mr. Chanute’s own machine, which has not yet been fully tested, is formed of two large wings stretched on curved spruce sticks eight feet each way, with a fin nine feet long and four feet high in the rear, and a kite shaped tail hinged on. Its weight is also thirty-two pounds. It has a spread of 167 square feet, and is spoon shaped, being nineteen feet from tip to tip. It will be tried today if the wind is not too unfavorable.
Lilienthal Machine’s Test.
The Lilienthal machine is apparently easy to operate. It was carried yesterday to the brow of the smooth, sandy hill, and Mr. Herring, who had the most experience of any of Mr. Chanute’s assistants in work of this kind, placed his arms over the two parallel bars made for the purpose, and while the others balanced it in the air started on a run down the sleep slope. Within ten yards Mr. Herring’s feet were lifted off the ground and he went sailing over the valley.
With every gust of the wind he would have to shift his weight to keep the machine going straight. The greatest difficulty is right there. The wind shifts so suddenly at times that no one can move fast enough to keep up with it.
On this account both Mr. Herring and the others who essayed the wings of Pegasus came to grief. However, they met with no harm, as the machine falls right side up and descends quite gradually.
Chanute-Herring Bi-Plane Glider
On the Plan of a Kite.
A small model with a spread of 7.2 square feet was also operated. It was sailed as a kite without a tail. There isn’t a small boy in the country that would not be proud to own a kite like this, for it can be made to rise from a valley while the operator stands on a hill.
Mr. Chanute was desirous of making the experiments without the knowledge of the press and sought Miller’s on that account.
“The trouble with most men that have experimented on this subject is that they have bitten off to much at once,” he said. “This is only one phase of the subject. After a man is able to guid and control a machine in the air, it may, perhaps, be found less difficult than has been feared to secure a motor that will not consume too much fuel for its lifting power.”
Lilienthal’s experiments began in 1888 and have been continued ever since. Some of his machines have found their way to almost every country in Europe and to the United States, but few except the inventor have been able to master the problems of their manipulation.
The following is a result of Mr. Chanute’s speech on April 3, 1903 to the Aero-Club de France (a group of balloonists). For some reason, the French publication, L’Aerophile, wrote an article that insinuated, either deliberately, or accidentally, that Mr. Chanute subsidized the Wright brothers’ work. The fact that Mr. Chanute was born in Paris is perhaps another reason more credit was given to Mr. Chanute.
Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright
Paris, April 4, 1903
Your experiments are attracting a good deal of attention in Paris. I have had to give several talks, and to promise to write something for publication. L’Aerophile wants your picture and that of your brother Orville to publish with the article I have agreed to prepare. You are therefore upon the receipt of this to go to the photographer and be “took,” and to send me two copies of each at Chicago, where I expect to be on May 8th to 10th; sailing on the Kronprinz Wilhelm from Southampton on the 29th of April.
I know you to be so modest that you will demur, but the thing is not to be avoided, as the editor was very particular. I wish to please him, because he has now apologized for having allowed a correspondent (some years ago) to call me a thief in his columns, and, as a token that I bear no ill will, I have agreed to have my own picture taken, and to “look pleasant.”
You might as well get the photographer to print at my expense a lot of pictures from your negatives. There is a run on them; I have given out most of those I had with me.
It seems very queer that after having ignored all this series of gliding experiments for several years, the French should now be over enthusiastic about them. The Germans and the English have taken more notice, and it does not come as a surprise to them that men actually take toboggan rides on the air. Our friend Mr. Patrick Alexander came over from London to hear me spout, and sends his best respects to you. He says that when I get to London (which I expect to do on the 10th) I may effect considerable good for the attendance on the St. Louis Exposition, which is the chief subject of my talks, and the main object of my present stop in the French capital.
I have just ordered an anemometer Richard which I will bring back with me, and send to you with my compliments.
With best respects to you & Orville, [&c.]
Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright
London, April 11, 1903
I have yours of March 29th upon my arrival in London.
I read between the lines that you contemplate some further improvement upon your 1902 machine, and do not wish to dispose of it to Capt. Ferber until you are certain of the result. If my imagining is correct, I think that you are right.
In any event he would not decide to take the trip until he thinks it over more carefully. I have advised him of what you say, and we will talk it over when I see you.
I was very kindly received in Paris, and am just getting in touch with the English aeronauts.
With best regards to Orville, [&c.]
Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright
London, April 18, 1903
Just before I left Paris Capt. Ferber advised me that he had rebuilt his apparatus and was about to use it from a higher mountain and to attempt longer glides. I at once wrote and telegraphed to dissuade him, and now have a letter which I translate as follows:
April 16, ’03 Dear Sir.
I have heeded you and have made no glides on the mountain. Today I receive your letter of 11th and I note that Mr. Wright cannot build me a machine until next winter. This does not matter, for I care for only one thing: it is to receive lessons from him and to make a few glides upon his favorable ground. Ask him whether he is to go this year to Kitty Hawk, and whether he sees any objection to my coming to see him and to take lessons from him. If he consents we can discuss on the ground the purchase of a new machine.
I believe that it will be reasonably easy to obtain leave of absence to go to America; but we must always reckon upon the possible caprices of the military authorities.
Yours very truly,
17th Batterie Alpine
If you think it best, you can write to him direct, for he reads English, although with some difficulty, or we may talk it over when I see you, and I will then write to him.
I have engaged passage on the North German Lloyd Kronprinz Wilhelm which sails from Southampton on the 29th.
I am getting in touch with British aeronauts, and finding out what is going on. Having already done so in Italy, Austria, Germany, and France, I shall have a good survey of the whole field. I do not now believe that any nation is ahead of our own.
Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute
Dayton, May 11, 1903
Since my last letter to you, your letters of April 4th, Paris, April 11th and 18th, London, have been received. Also several periodicals and the work of von Lossl on air pressures and Lecornu, Aerial Navigation, for all of which you have our sincere thanks. The German work is rather beyond our linguistic attainments, but Orville is getting so he can make a stab at the French. The latter is of course not to be compared with your Progress in Flying Machines in technical value but it is certainly a very entertaining and interesting book, and seems to possess the usual French characteristics, vivacity, wit, and provincialism. The last is perhaps the most humorous feature of the book.
Your promise of our portraits for the L’Aerophile is causing us a great deal of mental distress. We do not know just how to refuse when you have put the matter so nicely, and on the other hand we have not had courage to face the machine. While we were waiting to get our courage screwed up to the sticking point Orville managed one day to get a grain of emery in his eye, which has been giving him a great deal of trouble for more than a week past. It caused quite a severe inflammation, and compelled him to remain in a darkened room one day, but it is getting better now.
Our darkroom froze up last winter soon after our plates were developed, and we have not had any real prints from them except the few poor ones we sent you, and a few little proofs of the central parts of the plates. I mended some of the leaks in the plumbing a few days ago and have started on some prints which I will send you shortly.
We note what you say in regard to Capt. Ferber and will discuss the matter when you visit us after your return home. I had almost fallen into a way of looking elsewhere than in the army for men of real courage, but Capt. Ferber has taught me better. The Captain’s nerve certainly cannot be discounted.
Orville and I are, of course, awaiting your promised visit with many pleasant anticipations.
Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright
Chicago, January 14, 1904
Your letter dated Jan. 8th, addressed simply to Chicago, only reached me last night, after having apparently passed through the hands of several mail carriers. I enclose the envelope.
I am amazed at the impudence of Mr. Herring in asking for 1/3 of your invention. While I could wish that you had applied for patents when first I urged you to do so, I think that your interests are quite safe. The fact that Mr. Herring visited your camp, in consequence of circumstances which I subsequently regretted, will certainly upset any claims which he may bring forth. I suppose that you can do nothing until an interference is declared. If it is, please call on me, and in the meantime try to find out who is his patent attorney.
In the clipping which you sent me you say: “All the experiments have been conducted at our own expense, without assistance from any individual or institution.” Please write me just what you had in your mind concerning myself when you framed that sentence in that way.
Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute
Dayton, January 18, 1904
Your letter of 14th inst. is at hand. I regret that the oversight in addressing the envelope of my last should have made such trouble in the delivery of my letter.
You seem to regard the Herring letter with more seriousness than we do. We do not anticipate any trouble in the Patent Office from him, and do not think he has had any intention of interfering there.
The object of the statement, concerning which you have made inquiry, was to make it clear that we stood on quite different ground from Prof. Langley, and were entirely justified in refusing to make our discoveries public property at this time. We had paid the freight, and had a right to do as we pleased. The use of the word “any,” which you underscored, grew out of the fact that we found from articles in both foreign and American papers, and even in correspondence, that there was a somewhat general impression that our Kitty Hawk experiments had not been carried on at our own expense, &c. We thought it might save embarrassment to correct this promptly.1 We are at work building three machines with which we shall probably give exhibitions at several different places during the coming season. We may decide to enter one at St. Louis, and have written for copy of the revised rules & regulations. When these come we will give the matter serious consideration, and if we find that the objectionable features of the original rules have been eliminated we may decide to make a try for it. Otherwise we will see what we can do elsewhere than inside the Fair Grounds, if we go to St. Louis at all.
Orville and I may go to Springfield for a few hours some day this week, but otherwise shall probably be at home steadily for some time.
1 This paragraph foreshadows the rift between the Wrights and Chanute, which was to be the subject of the last five letters to pass between them (January May 1910). Examples of the “general impressions” referred to by Wilbur Wright will be found in Ernest Archdeacon’s article in La Locomotion, Apr. 11, 1903 (see Appendix IV, B, for text), in which, in alluding to the Kitty Hawk experiments of 1902, Chanute is made to appear as the master and Wilbur Wright as one of his young, intelligent, and daring pupils.” While the Wrights never took themselves so seriously that they could not chuckle with Chanute and agree that Archdeacon was “such an ass,” they nevertheless realized that, without correction (which Chanute made no attempt to make), misstatements like Archdeacon’s could lead to permanent misconceptions that might eventually deprive them of the credit and the profit of their discoveries. No fair minded reader of the Wright Chanute letters can doubt that the Wrights preferred not to have Chanute’s gliders tested in their camp or entrusted to their custody afterward; yet Chanute insisted, against their friendly protest and better judgment, in forcing on them both his machines and such dubious ” experts” as Huffaker and Herring. The genuineness of their friendship for Chanute and their awareness of the real debt they owed him for his encouragement and for the stimulation of the contact with his active, seasoned mind is plainly evidenced by the fact that they kept their reproaches to themselves until Chanute, in 1909 and 1910, betrayed the sympathies he felt for their opponents in their patent suits.
Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute
Dayton, January 20, 1910
The New York World has published several articles in the past few months in which you are represented as saying that our claim to have been the first to maintain lateral balance by adjusting the wing tips to different angles of incidence cannot be maintained, as this idea was well known in the art when we began our experiments. As this opinion is quite different from that which you expressed in 1901 when you became acquainted with our methods, I do not know whether it is mere newspaper talk or whether it really represents your present views. So far as we are aware the originality of this system of control with us was universally conceded when our machine was first made known, and the questioning of it is a matter of recent growth springing from a desire to escape the legal consequences of awarding it to us. In our affidavits we said that when we invented this system we were not aware that such an idea had ever suggested itself to any other person, and that we were the first to make a machine embodying it, and also that we were the first to demonstrate its value to the world, and that the world owed the invention to us and to no one else. The patent of Mouillard was cited as an anticipation by the German and the English patent offices, and also by the defendants’ attorneys in the recent trial at Buffalo, and in each case it was decided that it did not constitute an anticipation. I have also seen Le Bris and d’Esterno mentioned as having anticipated us, but the accounts in your book regarding the works and writings of these men do not contain any explanation of such a system of lateral control. Do the French documents from which you derived your information contain it, and if so can you give information as to where such documents may be obtained? It is our view that morally the world owes its almost universal use of our system of lateral control entirely to us. It is also our opinion that legally it owes it to us. If however there is anything in print which might invalidate our legal rights, it will be to our advantage to know it before spending too much on lawyers, and any assistance you may be able to give us in this respect will be much appreciated, even though it may show that legally our labors of many years to provide a system of lateral control were of no benefit to the world and a mere waste of time, as the world already possessed the system without us.
I am expecting to begin next week a search for a southern experimenting grounds where we can work to advantage during the winter season.
Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright
Chicago, January 23, 1910
Being misdirected, your letter of 20th was somewhat late in reaching me. I return the envelope1
The clipping which you enclose (returned herewith) is the first which I have seen from the New York World, referring to myself. I shall be glad to see the others.
This interview, which was entirely unsought by me, is about as accurate as such things usually are.2 Instead of discussing it I prefer to take up the main principles at issue.
I did tell you in 1901 that the mechanism by which your surfaces were warped was original with yourselves. This I adhere to, but it does not follow that it covers the general principle of warping or twisting wings, the proposals for doing this being ancient. You know, of course, what Pettigrew and Marey said about it. Please see my book, page 97, for what d’Esterno said of the laws of flight; the 3d being torsion of the wings and the 6th being torsion of the tail. Also, page 106, Le Bris, rotary motion of the front edge of the wings. The original sources of information are indicated in footnotes. I did not explain the mechanism because I had not the data.
When I gave you a copy of the Mouillard patent in 1901, think I called your attention to his method of twisting the rear of the wings. If the courts will decide that the purpose and results were entirely different and that you were the first to conceive the twisting of the wings, so much the better for you, but my judgment is that you will be restricted to the particular method by which you do it. Therefore it was that I told you in New York that you were making a mistake by abstaining from prize winning contests while public curiosity is yet so keen, and by bringing suits to prevent others from doing so. This is still my opinion and I am afraid, my friend, that your usually sound judgment has been warped by the desire for great wealth.
If, as I infer from your letter, my opinions form a grievance in your mind, I am sorry, but this brings me to say that I also have a little grievance against you.
In your speech at the Boston dinner, January 12th, you began by saying that I “turned up” at your shop in Dayton in 1901 and that you then invited me to your camp. This conveyed the impression that I thrust myself upon you at that time and it omitted to state that you were the first to write to me, in 1900, asking for information which was gladly furnished, that many letters passed between us, and that both in 1900 and 1901 you had written me to invite me to visit you, before I “turned up” in 1901. This, coming subsequently to some somewhat disparaging remarks concerning the helpfulness I may have been to you, attributed to you by a number of French papers, which I, of course, disregarded as newspaper talk, has grated upon me ever since that dinner, and I hope, that, in future, you will not give out the impression that I was the first to seek your acquaintance, or pay me left handed compliments, such as saying that “sometimes an experienced person’s advice was of great value to younger men.35
P.S. The statement that warping in connection with the turning of the rudder was patented in 1901 was not from me. The reporter must have gotten this elsewhere.
1 The City of Chicago had changed the number of Chanute’s house from 400 to 1138 Dearborn Avenue a fact unknown to Wilbur Wright.
2 The fact that this interview touched off a quarrel that was to mar the long friendship between Chanute and Wilbur Wright has seemed to justify its inclusion here in full. Chanute was reported as saying:
I admire the Wrights. I feel friendly toward them for the marvels they have achieved; but you can easily gauge how I feel concerning their attitude at present by the remark I made to Wilbur Wright recently. I told him I was sorry to see they were suing other experimenters and abstaining from entering the contests and competitions in which other men are brilliantly winning laurels. I told him that in my opinion they are wasting valuable time over lawsuits which they ought to concentrate in their work. Personally, I do not think that the courts will hold that the principle underlying the warping tips can be patented. They may win on the application of their particular mechanism.
The fundamental principle underlying the warping of the tips for the purposes of balance was understood even before the suggestion contained in d’Esterno’s Pamphlet fifty years ago. In modern times the warping tips were actually used in flight by Pierre Mouillard, a French engineer. He flew with a glider containing the flexible tips near Cairo, Egypt, in 1885. The idea is protected in a patent granted him by the United States Government in 1901.
The Wrights, I am told, are making their strongest attack upon the point that they warp the tips in connection with the turning of their rudder. Even this is covered by a patent granted to an American in 1901.
There is no question that the fundamental principle underlying was well known before the Wrights incorporated it in their machine.
Chanute was certainly misquoted with regard to the date of the Mouillard patent, actually issued May 18, 1897. Also, no “flight” was made by Mouillard in 1885. Twenty years earlier, however, Mouillard and his crude second glider (the first was built in 1856) were lifted a short distance off the ground by an unexpected puff of wind. A crash and a wrenched shoulder for Mouillard were the result. There is no evidence that Mouillard had even attempted at that time to operate the movable marginal portions at the wing tips.
Mouillard’s third and last attempt to fly was made on January 3, 1896, with a glider built with funds provided by Chanute (see Plate 113). In this experiment, described by Mouillard in a letter to Chanute, Jan. 5, 1896, the machine, with Mouillard aboard and a rope attached to the front end, “to guide it and maintain its proper course against the wind,” was pushed over the edge of a hill and, after rolling downward a short distance, rose “8 or 10 meters,” and sank gently to earth. The glider had never been free. Mouillard admitted the trial proved little or nothing, the total forward movement through the air being about 28 meters and the duration “Plus d’une minute.” Of the steering, Mouillard said: “Among other things, I was not satisfied with the steering action of my movable planes . . . at the wing tips. I must greatly increase their importance. This organ is indispensable. Their absence is what has prevented Lilienthal from going further; it is they which permit one to go to the left or the right. . . .
Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute
Dayton, January 29, 1910
Your letter of January 23rd is received. Until confirmed by you, the interview in the New York World of January 17 seemed incredible. We had never had the slightest ground for suspecting that when you repeatedly spoke to us in 1901 of the originality of our methods, you referred only to our methods of driving tacks, fastening wires, etc., and not to the novelty of our general systems. Neither in 1901, nor in the five years following, did you in any way intimate to us that our general system of lateral control had long been a part of the art, and, strangely enough, neither your books, addresses or articles, nor the writings of Lilienthal, Langley, Maxim, Hargrave, etc., made any mention whatever of the existence of such a system. Therefore it came to us with somewhat of a shock when you calmly announced that this system was already a feature of the art well known, and that you meant only the mechanical details when you referred to its novelty. If the idea was really old in the art, it is somewhat remarkable that a system so important that individual ownership of it is considered to threaten strangulation of the art was not considered worth mentioning then, nor embodied in any machine built prior to ours.
The patent of Mouillard, to which you refer, does not even mention the control of the lateral balance, nor disclose a system by which it is possible to attain it. I have read several of the books of Marey and Pettigrew, as well as what your book says on d’Esterno, Le Bris, etc., but I do not find in any of them any mention whatever of controlling lateral balance by adjustments of wings to respectively different angles of incidence on the right and left sides. Have you ever found such mention? It is not disputed that every person who is using this system today owes it to us and to us alone. The French aviators freely admit it. No legal disclosure of the system prior to us has yet been produced. Unless something as yet unknown to anybody is brought to light to prove the invention technically known to everybody prior to 1900, our warped judgment will probably continue to be confirmed by the other judges as it was by Judge Hazel at Buffalo.
As to inordinate desire for wealth, you are the only person acquainted with us who has ever made such an accusation. We believed that the physical and financial risks which we took, and the value of the service to the world, justified sufficient compensation to enable us to live modestly with enough surplus income to permit the devotion of our future time to scientific experimenting instead of business. We spent several years of valuable time trying to work out plans which would have made us independent without hampering the invention by the commercial exploitation of the patents. These efforts would have succeeded but for jealousy and envy. It was only when we found that the sale of the patents offered the only way to obtain compensation for our labors of 1900 1906 that we finally permitted the chance of making the invention free to the world to pass from our hands. You apparently concede to us no right to compensation for the solution of a problem ages old except such as is granted to persons who had no part in producing the invention. That is to say, we may compete with mountebanks for a chance to earn money in the mountebank business, but are entitled to nothing whatever for past work as inventors. If holding a different view constitutes us almost criminals, as some seem to think, we are not ashamed. We honestly think that our work of 1900 1906 has been and will be of value to the world, and that the world owes us something as inventors, regardless of whether we personally make Roman holidays for accident loving crowds.
You mention as a grievance that French papers some time ago attributed to me some disparaging remarks concerning your helpfulness to us. Without having seen the report I cannot affirm or deny its correctness. But we also have had grievances extending back as far as 1902, and on one occasion several years ago we complained to you that an impression was being spread broadcast by newspapers that we were mere pupils and dependants, of yours. You indignantly denied that you were responsible for it. When I went to France I found everywhere an impression that we had taken up aeronautical studies at your special instigation; that we obtained our first experience on one of your machines; that we were pupils of yours and put into material form a knowledge furnished by you; that you provided the funds; in short, that you furnished the science and money while we contributed a little mechanical skill, and that when success had been achieved you magnanimously stepped aside and permitted us to enjoy the rewards. I cannot remember that I ever spoke for publication regarding the matter. The difficulty of correcting the errors without seeming to disparage you and hurting your feelings kept me silent, though I sometimes restrained myself with difficulty. However, I several times said privately that we had taken up the study of aeronautics long before we had any acquaintance with you; that our ideas of control were radically different from yours both before and throughout our acquaintance; that the systems of control which we carried to success were absolutely our own, and had been embodied in a machine and tested before you knew anything about them and before our first meeting with you; that in 1900 and 1901 we used the tables and formulas found in books, but finding the results did not agree with the calculations, we made extensive laboratory experiments and prepared tables of our own which we used exclusively in all of our subsequent work; that the solution of the screw propeller problem was ours; that we designed all of our machines from first to last, originated and worked out the principles of control, constructed the machines, and made all the tests at our own cost; that you built several machines embodying your ideas in 1901 and 1902 which were tested at our camp by Mr. Herring, but that we had never made a flight on any of your machines, nor your men on any of ours, and that in the sense in which the expression was used in France we had never been pupils of yours, though we had been very close friends, had carried on very voluminous correspondence, and discussed our work very freely with you.
If the remarks you complain of exceeded mere corrections of such errors as I have enumerated above, and the mention of features peculiarly our own such as I have cited, I can safely say that the reported remarks are not correct. We have had too much appreciation of your real helpfulness to us to wish to deny it, and have suffered much rather than risk hurting your feelings by attempting to publicly correct gross errors which did us great injustice. I cannot understand your objection to what I said at the Boston dinner about your visit to Dayton in 1901. 1 certainly never had a thought of intimating either that you had or had not been the first to seek an acquaintance between us. You also object to my expressing an appreciation of the influence which your friendship had on our work and lives. One of the World articles said that you had felt hurt because we had been silent regarding our indebtedness to you. I confess that I have found it most difficult to formulate a precise statement of what you contributed to our success. General statements do not seem to be very satisfactory to you or to us. We on our part have been much hurt by your apparent backwardness in correcting mistaken impressions, but we have assumed that you too have found it difficult to substitute for the erroneous reports a really satisfactory precise statement of the truth. If such a statement could be prepared it would relieve a situation very painful both to you and to us.
I have written with great frankness because I feel that such frankness is really more healthful to friendship than the secretly nursed bitterness which has been allowed to grow for so long a time. I expect that we will always continue to disagree in many of our opinions just as we have done ever since our first acquaintance began and even before, but such differences need not disturb a friendship which has existed so long. We do not insist that friends shall always agree with us.
As for the real source of bitterness, I may say that we endured it many years in silence, before you had occasion to experience any pain on account of it. We restrained ourselves from requesting you to make a public correction of the erroneous impressions so widespread both in America and in Europe, because we appreciated how difficult and embarrassing it would be for you to modify all the things credited to you, without appearing to disclaim some things really your due. If we should ourselves attempt to make such corrections and modifications, the general effect would be the same, with the added drawback of making us appear to disparage you. We have never desired to give you less credit than you have deserved for your helpfulness to us and to other experimenters, and we have no such desire now. We do object to some erroneous impressions which have gradually grown up with regard to our relations to each other. If anything can be done to straighten matters out to the satisfaction of both you and us, we are not only willing, but anxious to do our part. There is no pleasure to us in the situation which has existed for several years past, and a solution of the difficulties would be most welcome. We have no wish to quarrel with a man toward whom we ought to preserve a feeling of gratitude.
P.S. I enclose a sample of the class of misrepresentations connected with your name. It just came in today. We had nothing whatever to do with ordering a machine from Lamson. Our sole connection with the matter consisted in providing you camp facillties for testing it. It was a Chanute machine. The story ought to be corrected.1
1 The story, clipped from the Los Angeles Express, was datelined Pasadena, January 19, and stated that Lamson, who asserted that he was the first to patent the “airship feature” in dispute in the suit between the Wrights and Curtiss, had interviewed Curtiss, and that Curtiss would avail himself of the Lamson patent which would probably render the Wrights’ claims ineffectual. It further stated that Lamson, in 1901 , through the agency of Chanute, had built a glider for the Wrights and shipped it to them at Kitty Hawk.
Something of Chanute’s reactions to Wilbur Wright’s letters of January 10 and 20, 1910, may be judged from two of his letters to George A. Spratt: Jan. 25: “. . . I have made no statement at all to the Phila. Ledger. That which you saw may have been a reproduction of an interview in the N.Y. World of Jan. 17th, concerning which Wilbur Wright took me to task, thus giving me an opportunity to partly free my mind concerning the mistakes which I believe he is making. He has greatly changed his attitude within the last three years.
“If you still have the Phila. Ledger article, please send it to me to be read and returned.”
Feb. 2: I return the Ledger clipping of Jan. 19, but that of 17th I retain until I get a duplicate from Philadelphia which I have sent for, as I propose to send it to Wilbur Wright.
“He wrote me an angry letter, taking exceptions to what I said about the warping of the wings in an interview published in the N.Y. World of Jan. 17th, which I enclose and which I beg you to return. I answered reiterating the opinion and giving the basis on pages 97 and 106 of my book, as well as the Mouillard patent, and now have a violent letter from him in which he disputes my opinion, brings up various grievances and quite loses his temper. I will answer him in a few days, but the prospects are that we will have a row. I am reluctant to engage in this, but I think I am entitled to some consideration for such aid as I may have furnished.”
First page of the first letter letter from the Wright Brothers to Mr. Chanute, May 13, 1900.
Mr. Chanute responded , “I have your very interesting letter of 13th, and am quite in sympathy with your proposal to experiment; especially as I believe like yourself that no financial profit is to be expected from such investigations for a long time to come.”
On December 17, 1903 the Wright Brothers made their historic flight. Immediately, the Wright brother’s sister wired Octave Chaunte in his Chicago home saying, “The boys did it.”
Some Aeronautical Experiments
L’Aerophile, April, 1903
ORIGINAL ARTICLE IS IN FRENCH. ENGLISH TRANSLATION TO COME.
DINER-CONFÉRENCE DU 2 AVRIL 1903
M. Chanute à l’Aéro-Club
Le dîner-conférence, présidé par M. H. de La Vaulx, auquel avait été invité M. O. Chanute, l’éminent aviateur américain, a réuni une nombreuse assistance, dans laquelle nous avons reconnu:
MM. le colonel Ch. Renard, Deutsch de la Meurthe, de fonvielle, Leys, Léon Barthou, E. Janets, Archdeacon, Peccatte, Maurice Guffroy, M. Mallet, J. de Villethiou, de Gorostiago, Lahm, de Etchevarria, le comte de Castillon, le commandant Renard, V. Tatin, François Peyrey, Chanteaud, Ed. Surcouf, G. Besançon, V. Bacon, Haendel, Malfait, Nocquet, Balzon, Barbotte, Bordé, Contour, Tissandier, Saunière, Georges Blanchet, G. Le Brun, André Le Brun, de Littinière, Lachambre, Sénécal, André Legrand.
Le comte H. de La Vaulx, président de la réunion, a donné la parole à M.Chanute, qui a relaté ses mémorables travaux remontant, à 1896 et décrit avec humour les expériences de vol plané exécutées par lui ou par les frères Wright avec ses appareils modifiés.
M. Chanute raconte qu’il a été amené tout fortuitement à s’occuper d’aviation. Il avait écrit quelques articles dans lesquels il déclarait que les expériences d’Otto Lilienthal constituaient un grand progrès et conseillait de l’imiter, ,mais avec précaution. On lui fit observer le danger de ces expériences, en insinuant qu’il était plus facile d’engager à en faire l’essai que de les répéter.
M. Chanute se décida alors à faire taire toutes les objections en expérimentant luimême des appareils d’aviation.
Pour aller du connu à l’inconnu, il fit d’abord construire un appareil analogue à celui de Lilienthal, mais au bout de peu de temps, huit jours avant la fin tragique de l’aviateur allemand, il l’avait condamné comme trop dangereux et de résultats trop incertains.
M. Chanute essaya alors un deuxième appareil, celui-là de son invention, consistant en ailes articulées à l’épaule et munies d’un ressort de rappel, auxquelles on pouvait imprimer un mouvement horizontal. La pression de l’air repoussait en arrière l’aile qui était ramenée par le ressort à sa position initiale.
Malgré des résultats assez encourageants, M. Chanute ne futpas encore satisfait de ce dernier type et créa alors son modele d’aéroplane à deux surfaces horizontales. En sa qualité d’ingénieur spécialement adonné à la construction de ponts, M. Chanute utilisa, pour maintenir ces surfaces, une ferme analogue aux fermes de ponts, à la fois très légère (10 kilog.) et très solide, pouvant supporter le poids d’un homme. L’air exerce sur ces plans, animés déjà d’une certaine vitesse par une impulsion donnée à l’appareil, une pression dont la direction fait, avec les surfaces, un certain angle. Quand cet angle d’incidence varie, le centre de pression doit se déplacer aussi de manière que l’équilibre soit maintenu, nous dirons plus loin par quels moyens.
Publiés en 1897, les plans et les photographies des appareils et des expériences de M. Chanute furent reproduits par les journaux et les revues d’Angleterre et d’Allemagné et complètement passés sous silence en France.
Voici maintenant comment M. Chanute est entré en relation avec les frères Wright, ses dévoués collaborateurs actuels. En 1900, les frères Wright,constructeurs de bicyclettes, à Dayton (Ohio), écrivirent à M. Chanute pour lui demander des détails sur ses expériences. Ils voulaient les renouveler dans un but purement sportif. M. Chanute leur fournit bien volontiers les renseignements qu’ils désiraient et MM. Wright frères firent alors construire, sur ses données, des appareils semblables à ceux de M. Chanute qu’ils expérimentèrent aussitôt avec un réel succès.
En 1901, de nouvelles expériences de MM. Wright, auxquelles assistait M.Chanute, donnèrent un résultat meilleur qui fut consigné dans un mémoire transmis à la Société des Ingénieurs civils de Chicago, dont M. Chanute était, à cette époque, le président.
Enfin, en 1902, les frères Wright réussirentmieux encore.Leur appareil était beaucoup plus grand que l’appareil primitif de M. Chanute ; il mesurait 9 mètres d’envergure, 1 m. 50 de largeur et les deux surfaces étaient écartées de 1 m. 42. Les frères Wright avaient en outre apporté deux importantes modifications aux conditions des expériences antérieures. D’abord, ils avaient placé un gouvernail à l’avant, organe qui agissait beaucoup plus efficacement pour la direction en hauteur que l’ancien gouvernail d’arrière. Ce dernier gouvernail ou queue-pennon d’arrière était remplacé luimême par un gouvernail vertical. De plus, et c’est là le point essentiel, l’expérimentateur était placé couché au lieu d’être debout, ce qui réduit des 4/5 la résistance qu’il oppose à l’air. M. Chanute avait très bien vu l’avantage de cette position de l’avia-
eur, mais, par prudence, il n’avait pas osé la conseiller. L’appareil actuel de MM. Wright pèse environ 53 kilog. La surface portante totale est d’environ 28 m2, la flèche de la courbure de l’aile d’environ 1/20 de sa largeur, le point le plus haut de la courbe étant au 1/3 de la largeur à partir de l’avant.
Les plus récentes expériences des frères Wright ont eu lieu dans la Caroline du Nord, sur une langue de terre qui s’avance dans l’Atlantique et qui présente un mamelon sablonneux de 30 mètres de hauteur, dominant un vaste terrain entièrement nu et formé, comme la petite colline, de sable fin. L’appareil supportant l’expérimentateur est soulevé par deux hommes qui se mettent à courir contre le vent jusqu’à ce que la pression sur les surfaces devienne suffisante pour permettre à l’aéroplane de continuer librement et sans aide sa course. L’expérimentateur tâche, autant que possible, de ne pas trop s’écarter du plan incliné formé par la déclivité de la colline, pour diminuer la hauteur de chute en cas d’accident.
Dans ces conditions et avec les modifications signalées, MM. Wright ont pu faire des glissades aériennes à 6° ou 7° de chute, alors que M. Chanute n’avait pu glisser qu’à 7° à 8°. Plusieurs fois, en cours de route, l’appareil s’est élevé au-dessus du niveau du point de départ. Les plus longues glissades ont atteint 200 mètres environ.
MM. Wright vont renouveler bientôt leurs expériences et espèrent arriver à tenter le vol à voile. Le vol des oiseaux voiliers exige une ascendance du vent de 3° à 4°.
Si, comme il l’espère, ces expériences donnent un bon résultat, M. Chanute dit qu’il sera temps alors de charger l’appareil d’un moteur mécanique actionnant un propulseur qui renouvellera à chaque instant l’impulsion nécessaire au planement, au lieu d’utiliser l’impulsion unique et limitée donnée à bras d’homme simplement continuée et prolongée par l’action de la pesanteur sur le système. On aura alors un appareil vraiment digne de toute l’attention de ceux qui s’intéressent à la locomotion aérienne.
Il faut remarquer toutefois que, dans ces nouvelles conditions, les données du problème changent. En effet, d’après M. Chanute, la difficulté consiste surtout à maintenir l’équilibre. On s’imagine trop volontiers et à tort, par une sorte de duperie des mots, que les courants aériens sont semblables au courant régulier d’une rivière, alors qu’ils se composent, au contraire, d’un chaos d’ondulations, de vagues irrégulières, tumultueuses et de remous tourbillonnants qui compromettent à chaque instant l’équilibre de l’appareil d’aviation. Cet équilibre ne peut être maintenu que si le centre de pression et le centre de gravité restent constamment sur la même verticale. C’est là une condition absolument nécessaire.
Pour obtenir ce dernier résultat, Lilienthal faisait varier la position du centre de gravité en déplaçant son corps. Comme il était debout, cela exigeait des contorsions et une acrobatie continuelles, à la portée de peu d’expérimentateurs.
Au contraire, avec les appareils de M. Chanute, modifiés par MM. Wright, l’aviateur
règle la direction dans le plan horizontal en agissant sur deux cordelettes qui opèrent par gauchissement sur le côté droit ou gauche de l’aile et en même temps par le déplacement du gouvernail vertical d’arrière. La direction en hauteur est obtenue par la manœuvre du gouvernail horizontal d’avant.
De plus, l’homme, étant couché, doit aider l’action des organes de direction par de très minimes déplacements, que l’on tend même toujours à exagérer au début, et qui sont beaucoup plus faciles à exécuter que les tours de force et d’adresse véritables de Lilienthal. Il suffit d’une semaine d’essais pour permettre à un expérimentateur quelconque, pourvu qu’il soit doué de sang-froid, de faire à propos, et avec la très grande promptitude nécessaire, ces légers mouvements qui rétablissent constamment l’équilibre et qui sont tout instinctifs chez l’oiseau. L’homme, en effet, a à faire son apprentissage d’animal volant. Cette facilité plus grande dans la conduite de l’aéroplane n’en constitue pas moins un sérieux progrès.
Mais, lorsque l’appareil sera actionné par des propulseurs mécaniques qui seront fixes par définition, on ne pourra plus conserver l’équilibre par les moyens sus-indiqués. Ce seront les surfaces, et non l’opérateur, qui devront alors se déplacer et s’orienter de manière à maintenir la stabilité de l’ensemble, en ramenant le centre de gravité dans la verticale. On le voit, c’est un problème nouveau qui surgira.
Pour conclure, M. Chanute recommande à ceux qui seraient tentés de renouveler ces expériences, de s’entourer de toutes les précautions qu’il a détaillées plus haut. On ne court presque aucun risque, si l’on est prudent.
Tout en admirant les résultats des expériences de M. le capitaine Ferber, il trouve son terrain mal choisi à cause du sol rocheux qui le constitue et des précipices qui l’entourent. Il conseille un emplacement analogue àcelui qu’utilisent les frères Wright.
Quant à l’aérodrome du même expérimentateur, il est très bien conçu et fort commode, mais la corde fausse peut-être les résultats.
Bien avoir soin aussi de s’assurer de l’état de l’appareil entre chaque volée. C’est pour avoir négligé cette précaution si simple que Lilienthal est mort. Un jour qu’il répétait ses glissades aériennes devant M. Cleys, celui-ci lui fit remarquer qu’une de ses surfaces était mal attachée; Lilienthal répondit qu’il ne l’ignorait pas, mais qu’un autre appareil lui serait livré très prochainement et, qu’en attendant, il pensait pouvoir utiliser celui qu’il expérimentait. Quelque temps après, se servant encore du même appareil sans l’avoir réparé, la surface supérieure se détachait en partie en se retournant et. l’aéroplane chavirait, causant la mort du téméraire aviateur.
En somme, dit M. Chanute, je n’ai eu d’autre mérite que de prendre les expériences de Lilienthal là où la mort l’avait surpris et de les perfectionner de mon mieux, jusqu’à ce que d’autres, plus heureux, reprennent mes travaux à leur tour et les amènent peu à peu au résultat parfait. Le progrès dans les sciences, et surtout en aéronau-
tique, se fait, en effet, par étapes successives. Je serai trop heureux si j’ai pu contribuer, si peu que ce soit, à faire avancer la question, à hâter la solution de ce grand et difficile problème qui passionne toute notre époque (1).
A la suite de la communication de M. Chanute, une très intéressante discussion sur l’aviation en général s’est engagée entre MM. Chanute, Tatin, le colonel Renard et Guffroy. Malheureusement, le défaut de place nous oblige à en ajourner provisoirement le compte rendu.
Sur l’invitation de M. le comte Henry de La Vaulx, président de la réunion, M. Chanute donne ensuite des renseignements sur les concours d’aérostation qui auront lieu à l’Exposition de Saint-Louis, en 1904, et prie les membres de l’Aéro-Club de vouloir bien lui faire part de leurs observations à ce sujet.
Le commandant Renard donne lecture des règlements de ce concours (voir YAérophile, numéro d’août 1902). Il trouve que les droits d’inscription sont trop élevés. Les frais de voyage et de transport de matériel, trop considérables, pourront aussi, dit-il, écarter certains concurrents. A ces frais viendraient d’ailleurs s’ajouter ceux que nécessitera la construction de hangars pour dirigeables, etc.
M. Surcouf appelle ensuite l’attention de M. Chanute sur l’écart excessif et disproportionné qui existe entre.le montant des prix principaux et celui des prix secondaires.
Le colonel Renard insiste sur l’nstallation de l’aérodrome de Saint-Louis, qui devra fournir aux compétiteurs tous les appareils et toutes les commodités nécessaires,
tels que : conduites de gaz, personnel suffisant et expérimenté, etc.; il serait même utile, à son avis, d’essayer les appareils à gaz et les installations diverses avant l’ouverture du concours, de façon à être certain de leur parfait fonctionnement.
M. de La Vaulx fait remarquer que les organisateurs agiraient sagement en s’assurant le concours d’un constructeur d’une notoriété et d’une coin-
pétence indiscutables, chargé de réparer les avaries qui peuvent survenir aux ballons et de se tenir à la disposition des concurrents pour les divers travaux qu’ils voudraient faire exécuter.
M. de Fonvielle appuie cette motion et rappelle que, pendant la récente guerre contre l’Espagne, le gouvernement américain a eu recours à un constructeur français pour la création de son matériel aéronautique militaire.
Comme sanction de ces diverses observations, l’assemblée émet le vœu que les organisateurs du concours de ballons de Saint-Louis accordent aux concurrents une indemnité de déplacement ou, tout au moins, leur fassent obtenir d’importantes réductions sur les prix de voyage et de transport du matériel et, si c’est possible, fournissent gratuitement le gaz aux
(1) Nous avons la bonne fortune d’annoncer à nos lecteurs que M. Chanute a bien voulu nous promettre d’écrire pour l’Aérophile le compte rendu détaillé de ses expériences et de celles des frères Wright, illustré de dessins d’appareils et de photographies. Cet intéressant article paraîtra très probablement dans notre numéro de juin.
concurrents, comme cela s’est fait pendant l’Exposition de Paris, en 1900, au concours de Vincennes.
L’assemblée est aussi d’avis qu’il serait bon de supprimer le concours d’altitude, cause possible d’un danger qui n’est pas justifié par un réel intérêt scientifique.
M. Chanute se charge d’être auprès des organisateurs le fidèle interprète de l’AéroClub de France. Il demande, toutefois, qu’il soit procédé à la nomination d’une commission chargée d’exposer directement les desiderata de l’assemblée à M. Michel Lagrave, commissaire général de la section française, qui les transmettra au Comité général de l’Exposition de Saint-Louis.
Il est probable qu’il sera déféré au désir de M. Chanute et qu’une commission élue par l’Aéro-Club rédigera un projet de modifications aux règlements du concours de Saint-Louis. Ce projet sera soumis aux autorités américaines.