Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Kitty Hawk : A New Perspective. The Wrights' Famous Photo


           Were you the photographer in this picture — precariously perched on an assistant’s shoulders, standing on sand, in a blustery wind, varying 24 to 27 MPH? Had it been you, simultaneously snapping one of the most significant events of the 20th Century while performing this balancing act, could you then have forgotten the event?



         Bizarrely, that’s one of the less curious aspects surrounding the iconic “First Flight” picture of the Wright Brothers which is examined below. Despite an astounding conclusion, we are unable to offer much in the way of new facts while getting there: It’s all in the picture, and has been so since the image entered the public domain on September 1, 1908. It just needs looking at with a clear, critical, open mind, plus a basic knowledge of perspective.

Kitty Hawk — A New Perspective
            The Earth is flat and light travels in straight lines. On the Global and Cosmic scales, both these statements are incorrect, but for the purposes of everyday life they are not only good enough, but they also help us make sense of the world. Especially the painter; and particularly, the landscape artist.
    Here, we shed new light on the “perspective” of the Wright Brothers’ reported flights at Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, in December 1903. The validity of the assertion that those short flights constituted the first by an airplane rests on the claim that they took-off from level ground; traversed level ground; and landed on ground which was at the same level as that from which the take-off had been made. Level ground; the Brothers and their supporters have been keen to stress that there was no downhill gliding to assist, and thereby invalidate, the powered flights of December 17.
    For example: Orville Wright in How We Invented the Airplane: “These flights started from a point about 100 feet to the west of our camp. The ground was perfectly level for a mile or two in every direction, excepting those towards the big and the smaller Kill Devil Hills. The ground was level in the directions towards those hills for a distance of a quarter of a mile.”
    And again, in the supposed telegram to their father: “Started from Level with engine power alone.” This reiterated by Orville in a letter to Max Herzberg, as late as July 11, 1942: “All these [on December 17] were made from level ground….”
    Or American National Biography Online, “four powered flights made from a strip of level sand.” Or, indeed, just about any other biography of the Wright Brothers.
    Had those flights taken off downhill, Wilbur and Orville Wright would be branded frauds and liars. “Level ground” is, literally, the foundation of the Wright Brothers’ claim to have invented the airplane.
    Generations of aviation historians have looked at the iconic “First Flight” photograph and found nothing amiss. After all, the image is instantly recognized around the world, and even appears on US pilot’s licenses – surely, the hallmark of its authenticity. The Wrights’ reputation lives on, untarnished. But has anyone asked the opinion of an artist?

Art for a bit more than art’s sake


            It is hoped that the reader will not mind sitting through a short lesson in artistic perspective. Study material is no more complex than an illustration from a children’s encyclopaedia of the 1950s.
   The “laws” of perspective are governed by Nature and apply wherever the eye of the observer might happen to be. Imagine the viewpoint of the trolley wire maintenance man on his raised inspection platform. If his head is between the two wires (don’t try this at home!) those wires will seem to be short and horizontal, originating beside each ear and terminating in front of the nose. The roof of the trolley-car will be visible in this elevated view, and, in compensation, the road will seem to rise more steeply to meet its pre-ordained vanishing point. The maintenance man will see more road than his ground-level assistant, because he is looking down from higher level.
    North Carolina being part of the Universe, the same rules apply at Kitty Hawk. This is demonstrated by Wright-related pictures kindly made available by the US National Park Service (NPS). The Wright Brothers National Memorial includes a full-scale, three-dimensional diorama of the First Flight; and a paved pathway to show the claimed 852-foot flight of December 17, 1903, marked with placarded monoliths to show the shorter sorties of earlier that day.
    Nor are forgotten in the diorama the Life Savers who assisted with maneuvering the Wright Flyer on the ground, and who were named by the Wrights as witnesses able to verify their claim that great events took place that day. Specially depicted is John Daniels:

John Daniels, Life Saver, depicted as taking the "first flight picture."

Orville Wright later (unaccountably, only some two decades later) made it known that it was Daniels who took the world-famous First Flight picture. When interviewed for a magazine article, following his naming, Daniels “could not remember” having operated shutter on the Wrights’ Korona V plate-camera, but also recalled that his job had been to hold the wingtip, on, presumably, the opposite side to the camera. That curious episode has been debated previously on this blog and, anyway, for present purposes, it matters not who squeezed the bulb to take the picture. Suffice it to say that Daniels is immortalized standing beside a standard 4-foot camera tripod, which means that the lens of the apparatus that took the renowned photograph was about 4 feet 3 inches above ground level.


Recent photo of visitors in perspective at Kill Devil Hills event.
An appealing picture taken at a recent commemorative event by the NPS photographer shows a child standing about half-way along the replica of the 60-foot launch rail used by the Flyer. For compositional reasons, the picture is taken at slightly below the height at which Daniels’ tripod picture would have been taken. Even so, this (about 3½ feet, maximum) is slightly greater in height than the child (3 feet, or under), so her head appears to be below the horizon.
More of interest, is an enlargement of the figures in the middle distance.

Enlargement from picture above, illustrating horizon (or eye level).
The horizon — that is the edge of the flat plain of land, ignoring any trees or hills in the distance — is level with the navel of the nearest man (in a black jacket) on the path. In other words: lens height (3½ feet). The man to the right, is only 40% of the apparent height of the first man because he is farther away, but the horizon is level with his navel, too.
    Back on the path, a third man, farther away still, is only 20% the height of the first gentleman and, yes, the horizon and his navel are level. A couple of figures can be discerned even more distant; again the horizon is in the same place on their, yet smaller, bodies.
    It seems to be a rule of perspective that anything the same height as the camera appears to be level with the horizon when all is on a flat surface. To double-check that, the NPS offers another picture of the Wright Brothers’ “Runway” from an interesting perspective.


To record the scene, the photographer is standing behind the crowd, with the camera held high above their head (about 7 feet above ground level). From this elevated vantage point (recall the trolley wire maintenance man), everybody’s head is below the distant horizon.


That goes for the same, tall man in that black jacket. He needs to stand on a foot-high box if his cap is to touch the horizon — making his new “height” 7 feet: the same as the held-aloft camera. To reiterate: Anything at camera lens height looks level with the horizon.

Inventing an airplane: simple! Bending light is the clever bit.
            Let’s now check this new-found knowledge against the original photograph of the Wright Brothers’ “runway." The shifting sands have moved the Kill Devil Hills some 450 feet since 1903, so they are not at precisely the same co-ordinates, but around them is still flat ground, and that’s all that matters.
    The best-quality version of the iconic First Flight picture can be downloaded from the Library of Congress website. For authenticity, image 00626 is preferred because, even though it has a corner of the glass plate missing, it shows the near-end of the launch rail, and the sand-anchor for restraining the "Flier" before launch.  
Other versions of this picture one normally sees have been photo-shopped by way of repair but, although this has not been undertaken with any ulterior motive, the original, yet damaged, copy serves its purpose adequately. However, that high quality version is necessary reference for some of the analysis which follows. The reader is enjoined to download it, because it includes some very interesting things on the far left which are trimmed off most printed reproductions of this picture.

Iconic picture claimed to be of the first fight in history.

    One of the world’s best-known images (above) needs no further introduction. Therefore, attention can be directed immediately to Wilbur Wright (below), as this enlargement shows.

Enlargement of figure of Wilbur in the "first flight" picture.

Wilbur Wright was 5 feet 10 inches tall (for example, the US Federal Aviation Agency teachers’ guide
www.faa.gov/education/educators/curriculum/k12/media/K12_Wright_Brothers_Curriculum_Guide.pdf  page 21: “Wilbur Wright was 5 feet and 10 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. Orville Wright was shorter by an inch and a half and was 5 pounds heavier”). John Daniels’ camera lens was 4 feet 3 inches above ground level.
    Discounting the distant hills, the horizon of the “Level in all directions” plain reportedly surrounding the launch site intersects Wilbur’s body at his upper lip, which is 5 feet 5 inches above the ground, and not at his solar plexus (the 4 feet 3 inches camera lens height) where the law of perspective says it should. The alignment depicted is impossible if all is on level ground.
    Setting aside any notion of darkroom manipulation, two possible explanations present themselves. Pick one.
1. Wilbur’s impressively large and hyper-active brain is distorting the space-time continuum around his body, making it appear to be where it is not.
2. Wilbur is standing on ground that is at least 1 foot 2 inches below the ground on which the camera tripod is resting. That is to say: The launch rail is pointing downhill and the hill continues downwards some way beyond the far end of the rail.
    Readers choosing "2" may consider the drop of little significance, but this is a minimum figure. The movement of the apparent horizon is difficult to calculate without knowing accurately how far up the slope the rail is positioned, so 1¼ feet is the smallest figure that is absolutely provable. Thus, the actual rate of drop is likely to be 2 to 2½ degrees. That’s not steep in driving or walking terms, but it should be commented that, in aviation, 3 degrees is the standard descent path for landing.


Interestingly, the National Park Service life-size diorama at Kitty Hawk attempts to overcome the tricky problem of perspective by depicting Wilbur in a semi-crouching position and raising the whole scene slightly above the general level of the memorial park, so the horizon is “wrong.” That is of no account, because reference to the old picture of Wilbur and the Flyer demonstrates that the apparent size of his body exactly fits between the upper and lower wings, which gap is 6 feet 2 inches. So, he is a few feet behind the aircraft and standing at his full height.

I don’t believe in physics. Please provide more proof.
            Despite the clear and compelling evidence for a downward launch angle, it must be conceded that there are many who prefer to believe the unsupported statements of the Wrights, even when they are in conflict with the laws of physics, with witness statements, and what they see with their own eyes. In that case, corroborating evidence might be helpful to dispel lingering doubts. And it is not difficult to find.

A. John Daniels (the “photographer” and airplane ground-handler), letter to a friend June 30, 1933 [spelling errors as per the original]:
“it was on Dec the 17, — 1903 about 10 o’clock. They carried the machine up on the Hill and Put her on the track, and started the engine, and they through a coin to see who should take the first go, so it fell on Mr. Orval, and he went about 100 feet or more, and then Mr. Wilbur taken the machine up on the Hill and Put her on the track and he went off across the Beach about a half a mile or more before he came Down.”

B. John Daniels, 1927 interview with W.O. Saunders for Collier’s Weekly, quoted in The Published Writings of Wilbur and Orville Wright: [regarding second flight]
“We got it back up on the hill again and this time Wilbur got in.”

C. Adam Etheridge, Daniels’ colleague, interviewed simultaneously, added, “I saw the same as Daniels”.

D. The left side of the First Flight photograph shows a land feature indicative of downward-sloping ground. This is on that section of the photograph which is cut off most printed versions of the picture.


The launch rail is in the foreground and a descending ridge is marked with three arrows. The camera lens is higher than the ridge (because the ridge is below the horizon line); the ridge is some 100 feet away and, therefore a substantial feature, rather than a quirky scrape in the ground at the photographer’s feet; and that ridge leads down to even lower, flatter ground.

E. The right side of the photograph shows an abrupt change of surface shade/value, (indicated by an arrow).


The Kitty Hawk Park land has been stabilized with planted vegetation since 1928, but its original condition is reflected a couple of miles south, at Nags Head. There, it can be seen that vegetation (darker shade) can gain a foothold on the level ground, but the constantly shifting sand of the dunes is a lighter shade. In other words, a lighter color often indicates higher ground — and it is on that lighter ground that Wilbur is standing. That said, there are slight variations in sand color according to light/shade and the moisture it contains, so only the more distant color variations should be considered indicative of vegetation.


Sand Dune at Nag’s Head

The higher you are, the more you see.


This combination picture of ancient and modern shows, on the left, Wilbur at the end of the launch rail, pictured from a camera just past the rail’s back end. A distance between the two of some 65-70 feet. On the right is a modern visitor to the memorial park, standing some 20 feet farther from the rail’s far end, but with the camera about the same distance along that rail. So, again, about 60-65 feet between the two.
    The images have been adjusted to make both figures the same height. As noted already, the background landscape extends from Wilbur’s feet to the level of his upper lip. However, the horizon comes only to the waist of the modern, black-jacketed gentleman.
    Why is there half-as-much-again landscape behind Wilbur? Simple: In that photograph, we are looking down on the landscape from a greater height than the “sub-tripod” vantage point of the color picture.
    And in this comparison, the changes in camera lens technology over a century are of no consequence. Wide angle or telephoto, it is the elevation above ground level which is the determiner of how much is seen, not the quality or magnification of the lens. On the African plain, the man may view more of the land than the slithering snake; but the giraffe sees more than the man. It is all down to (up to?) elevation.


Where on Earth...?
          The next, logical question concerns the location of this raised ground. One site offers itself with all the effusion of a young “teacher’s pet” with heart thumping and arm raised high. Three days earlier (December 14), the Flyer had been taken to the greater Kill Devil Hill, where Wilbur made an attempt at flight which ended in slight damage after 105 feet because of (as the telegram home reported) a “Miss judgement.”

Orville’s diary records, “We took machine 150 ft uphill and laid track on 8º 50´ slope.” In other words, as deduced from simple geometry, the launch was made from an elevation of 25 feet above the level ground which surrounded the hill. That’s a generous helping of free height to assist an airplane take-off and flight, but it seemed not to concern the Wrights at that point in their experiments.


The assisting Life Savers, their children and a dog posed for a couple of group photographs just before the flight attempt was made on the 14th. It is scarcely necessary to draw attention to the slope of the hill, or to ask whether, from their 25-foot vantage point, the assembled party was enjoying the same, enhanced view of the land as was allegedly captured by the camera, standing where they were, three days later.
Why was not the downward view of December 17 as obvious as the uphill one of December 14th? In part, the answer lies in the fact that one stretch of black-and-white ground looks pretty much the same as another, unless looked at critically and most discerningly. Told it is flat, most people will take that as fact, without checking.
And cameras can be persuaded to play other tricks, too. Take this photo of the 1905 Flyer at Kitty Hawk in May 1908, after it had been modified to carry a passenger.


          And, especially, take pity on this poor man, suffering severe curvature of the spine.


             However, a miracle cure is effected when Orville’s diary entry is recollected. Give the horizon a 8º 50´ slope and not only is all in better proportion and posture, it can also be seen that even in 1908, a hill start (or a falling weight) was needed to get a Wright airplane off the ground under normal circumstances. By accident, or design, the photograph, as originally composed, does not make this clear.



If you can’t persuade the camera to lie....

           This blog has previously published its findings on three other pictures also taken by the Wrights in December 1903. All were found to be tainted by anomalies which strongly imply that they do not show what they claim: Wilbur’s “misjudgement” photo of December 14 is a crudely-faked re-enactment that fails to convince; the “sidle” incident on the third flight of December 17, contradicts the same-day entry in Orville’s diary; and the puzzling “852-foot” fourth-flight picture shows less than 300 feet from the launch rail, as well as what appears to be an entirely different airplane. Now, we add a fourth Wright picture to this catalog of dubiousness.
    The First Flight picture has been questioned before, but over details which can be argued back and forth ad infinitum. Photography experts have pointed out that certain shadows are not as dark or light as they ought to be; the focus in certain areas is not as sharp or fuzzy as expected; or that the picture could be a superimposition of two photographs (which was perfectly possible with the technology of the day).
    Some have reasoned that it would have been impossible to take a sharp photograph of a moving object with a bulky plate-camera (even on a tripod) in a wind of between 24 and 27 MPH. Yes; but can those allegations be easily, yet convincingly, proved to the satisfaction of a layman of average intelligence? Perhaps not.
    Therefore, the above analysis has been conducted, simply and directly, by reading-off numbers from a ruler laid on photographic prints. The basis of the proof is understandable to any child who can crayon a believable picture of trolley-car wires disappearing into the distance. There is no latitude for quibble that the sun “might have been shining over there, but not over here,” to produce the effects which cause the experts doubt; or that the wind might have suddenly dropped sufficiently to stop the tripod — standing on sand, remember — from shaking.
    Bottom line: It is impossible for the iconic First Flight picture to have been taken from a 4-foot tripod on level ground, as has been claimed over the last century. The rules of perspective (a.k.a. the laws of physics) prove it could not be so. Period.
    Perspective shows the flight taking off from a hill; named witnesses who, puffing and panting, carried the airplane up there, also say it flew from a hill; features in the land show the launch rail and adjacent camera standing on a hill that is higher than the ground in the middle distance. Which part of the word “hill” didn’t the Wrights understand? Below is a simple contour map, showing how all these three self-reinforcing sources infer the scene should be interpreted. 


             To encompass the extra land area visible behind Wilbur in the 1903 picture would require a vantage point significantly higher than 4 feet 3 inches above mean ground level. But there is no way that John Daniels manufactured a giant tripod to create a false position for the horizon, because the perspective in any image is either all correct, or it is all wrong. As is now obvious, other things in the First Flight picture are inconsistent with each other.
    Forgive the tripod-related triple leg-pull, good reader, for it is made with a serious purpose. The “super-size tripod” is a joke — and so is the claim that the Flyer “Started from Level”.

 How the picture would have looked if taken on level ground with a tripod camera. Note that the horizon (discounting the dunes protruding above it) is lower on Wilbur’s body, and level with the Flyer’s bottom wing.

In this picture, the horizon is shown level in relation to the picture plane, demonstrating that in the published original (below) the camera was tilted to the left



The original picture again for quick comparisons to the adjustments shown above.Note again where the horizon is in relation to Wilbur's head

----------------------------------------------------------------------
   

Note: "Kitty Hawk: A New Perspective" is a contribution to our blog by one of our most valued editors. He is an expert on aviation history. Comments are always welcome.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Glenn H. Curtiss: The Genesis of Greatness



When Glenn Hammond Curtiss died in 1930 at the age of 52, his old friend, C. G. Gray, second editor of "Jane's All the World's Aircraft," stated as part of his eulogy:

"Nobody has done more for the progress of flying than G. H. Curtis
 and few have done as much. He was a good man and a kindly man,  
and the world is very much poorer for his loss."

 And Gray included the following:
 
"...he had...withal," Gray said, "that simplicity that only great men have."


Our Forgotten American Eagle 


Click Glenn Curtiss link below for the available DVD about Curtiss.

Given his history, it's strange that Glenn Curtiss has been nearly forgotten. How could our young people not know.of this "great," gutsy American giant? In fact, in the first half of the twentieth century, Curtiss was revered as one of our most important aviation pioneers. Some say he was second only to the Wright brothers. It might be legitimately argued that he outshone them in nearly every respect.

Glenn Curtiss's contributions to our world didn't end when his life ended on July 23, 1930,  Many of his discoveries, inventions, and gifts, not just in aviation, continued to be developed and used long after his death, and many are still in use today. Moreover, the people who knew him well cherished their memories:

James Bright, who worked with Curtiss in Florida, developing the Miami Springs area, said, "No man could have asked for a better partner or a better friend." 1

Frank FitzGerald Bush stated, "My father said of [Curtiss] 'I never knew a more honorable man than Glenn, or a more moral man. If he had any religious convictions, he never spoke of them to me...despite his reticence on the matter--I think it must have been just a firm faith in honesty, decency and goodness.'"2

Nature or Nurture?

Who knows for sure why any person is--or becomes what we call great? I am suggesting a greatness that includes character, as well as important social advances, such as inventions and discoveries, literature, art.or education. Character is likely a combination of any number of qualities, such as a genuine concern for one's fellow man, a free flowing generosity, and a certain kind of humility..
 
Does greatness develop from nature, the gift of DNA, or is it nurture, that accumulation of life experiences? Without a doubt, it must be a combination of both. And Glenn had an abundance of both.

Family of Lua Andrews Curtiss,
 Glenn Curtiss's mother 


Above, at the home of Glenn Curtiss's grandfather, Henry Bradley Andrews, third from right. Glenn possibly took this picture, as he was a photographer. Fourth from left must be Fidelia, Glenn's proud grandmother, and fifth in the  spectacles is probably grandfather Henry Andrews' nephew Charles Smith, Glenn's mother's first cousin. He was one of this family of inventors, going way back. Smith is credited as the inventor of the Aladdin mantle lamp, Smith's son, Hazor Judson Smith, as the inventor of the first ice-less refrigerator. Photo copyright: family of Smith/Andrews

The priceless photo, above,  is a  look at an elegantly simple Andrews family dinner in Jasper, upper state New York. Curtiss's grandfather had acreage there and owned a general store. Histories of Glenn Curtiss intimate that he came from a somewhat impoverished family. As a matter of fact, Curtiss's great great grandfather on his mother's side,  Judge Jabez Bradley, owned thousands of acres in Cayuga County, New York, and was a benefactor of the area.

Jasper, New York, the lovely birthplace of Lua Andrews, Glenn Curtiss's mother.






Henry Bradley Andrews' great grandfather, Ephraim Andrews, left his youngest son, Ichabod, a legacy that eventually was translated into land in Jasper, New York, at  right.





The ancestors of the Andrews and the Bradleys trace back to the first planters of New Haven, Connecticut, who are sometimes touted as blue bloods of America.

Before my research, which I am now just beginning to share,  historians have known little about Glenn's mother's family, the Andrews. His supposed "rags to riches" story probably originates from Glenn's working from the time he was young. Both his father, Frank Curtiss, and pastor grandfather, Claudius Curtiss, weren't wealthy and died before Glenn reached five years of age. So it can be legitimately argued  that Glenn was, eventually, a self made man and a self made multi-millionaire. But the Andrews were far from poor, and they kept in contact with Lua's family. Later, according to a Jasper resident, when Glenn could fly, he made the trek from Hammondsport to Jasper by air to see his Andrews grandparents. There can be no doubt they had an influence on his life.

Hammondsport, New York, the birthplace of Glenn Hammond Curtiss and the "Cradle of Aviation." On these waters of Keuka Lake and in San Diego, California, Glenn developed a practical hydroplane and invented the flying boat.

Curtiss's first fame in aviation burst forth like the sudden emergence of the sun, late in the afternoon of July 4, 1908, after the rain delayed his proposed flight of the "June Bug" that day. It happened in Hammondsport.

 In 1907 the Scientific American had offered a trophy and prize for whoever could demonstrate a straight line powered flight of a kilometer in this country. Where were the Wrights, who had supposedly made controlled flights as early as 1903? They had also claimed that, by 1905, they had remained in the air for 24 miles straight (well, even better, in circles round Huffman Prairie in Dayton, Ohio).

The aviation groups, such as the Aero Club thought the Wrights would enter the competition..They had been told the Wrights had successfully flown, but strangely, only one among the contemporary aviation experts, Octave Chanute, had said he had seen them fly. The rest of the alleged witnesses Wrights named were some family, friends, and  Ohio locals. There was a friend, Amos Root, whose published testimony has often been put forth as proof of the Wright's accomplishments in 1904. That testimony is flatly contradicted by Root's own private correspondence, published since and available to the public. See  "Bombshell: The Wrights:Key Witness in this blog "Truth in Aviation History."

.Some of their fellows that the Wrights listed as witnesses wrote the Scientific American when queried that they had witnessed flights, but their claims were otherwise not verified by independent sources, nor were the Wrights' claims of distance and time of the flights, notably, the 24 mile claimed achievement. Significant it is that the Wrights never submitted as witnesses to the Scientific American the five who observed their attempts at flight December 17, 1903 at Kill Devil Hills in North Carolina.

Three of these 1903 witnesses were Life Savers. Might it be that they wouldn't corroborate the Wrights' claims? As a matter of fact, we have repeated many times in this blog that two of these men said the Wrights took off from the incline of the hill, not level ground, as the Wrights said. A third witness, Johnnie Moore, eighteen years old in 1903, according to the U. S. census, said much later that the first flight was only "about fifty feet..." The last two witnesses never testified, and one resident of the area said they weren't flights at all, they were glides.

Octave Chanute, their long time mentor, who was promoting the brothers, said he saw them fly in 1904, but he didn't emphasize that he had only seen them catapulted into the air, stay up for less than 25 seconds, then crash out of control (Remember that the Wrights had claimed a 59 second flight at Kill Devil Hills in 1903.) Chanute never saw the  Wrights make a significant flight until 1908.

Referring to this one event in 1904 plus his trust in the word of the Wrights, Chanute apparently told Alexander Graham Bell he had seen the Wrights fly--and Chanute's word was respected by Bell. Bell was respected by the aviation community, who, therefore, believed Bell. What the aviation community believed was, therefore, mostly hearsay.

  The Wrights didn't come forward to enter the Scientific American competition in 1907 or 1908. They said they were too busy. Note: We do believe that the Wrights' machine had stayed in the air, manned and with a motor, before 1908, but we also believe that the Wright plane was unreliable in power and control; and reports indicate that it couldn't take off without the assistance of the wind, an incline, or a catapult.  (The Wrights claimed in their diary a few take offs from level in Dayton in 1904 and, of course, in 1903. There is absolutely no proof, whatsoever, beyond the Wrights' statements and the diary.) Calculations of the weight of their plane and their engine power indicate that it could not take off without assistance. It also couldn't fly very far for a time because of the overheating of the engine. The Wrights' own calculations were only claims and unproven.

The proposed Scientific American competition required that the plane take off under its own power with wheels. This requirement eliminated the Wrights as competitors, anyway. The Wrights claimed they could put wheels on their plane in place of their skids but their system with a catapult was better. We surmise the Wrights weren't ready for public flights or take offs from level with wheels. Can you imagine what  would have happened if the Wrights had publicly demonstrated the unreliability of their plane? The much publicized Langley failure to successfully take off five years earlier weighed heavily at the time, because Langley was ridiculed by the press. The Wrights also wanted secrecy, they said. Their own explanation for their secrecy was that they wanted to protect their secrets.This is nonsense. The Wright's patent with drawings was made accessible when it was granted in 1906.  Despite what Wright historians say, most of the Wrights' techniques and "discoveries" had been developed prior to their entry into aviation. See "The Wrights Discovered What? Another Chapter" for example,

There were many pioneer aviators who were flying by 1908 in Europe, already breaking records. The Wrights claimed these aviators all copied them. How could this be then, if they were keeping their "secrets" secret? The original structure of the Wright's biplane was basically Chanute's, or claimed by Herring. I will have to be informed what their other earth shaking secrets were. The Wrights later tried to say it was their technique of wing warping hooked up to their rudder. That indeed was their technique and the basis of their 1906 patent; but actually, the Wrights had to unhook the linkage of their wing warping to their rudder even before they sued all the other pilots for infringement.. It was dangerous and untenable. Moreover, according to Chanute, the use of the wing warping together with a rudder had been patented prior to the Wrights.3



After tests of their plane, the "June Bug,"proved to them it could meet the requirements of the Scientific American Trophy in 1908, the Aeronautical Experiment Association (AEA) decided to enter the competition

The members of the AEA, coordinated by Alexander Graham Bell and assisted financially by Bell's wife, Mabel Hubbard Bell, had decided to tackle the flying problem in 1907. Within months, they were in the air. This isn't so surprising.  The AEA was made up of five super intelligent men working on the problem with some genius sprinkled in. According to Alfred Francis Zahm (note in "Aerial Navigation," page  234), the information needed was out there before the Wrights even began their experiments or came on the scene. Pioneers, such as Maxim, Stringfield, Henson, Mouillard, Langley, Chanute.and Lillienthal had done the research, although, later, the Wrights tried to claim much of it as their own.In fact, by 1948, the Smithsonian bowed to the Wright family demands and placed a plaque next to their claimed Wright Flyer on display there that the Wrights indeed discovered it all. See other posts in this blog. However, the AEA's Selfridge was excellent at digging up information, and Curtiss had developed an engine by then easily up to the task, America was ready for this moment.

The pilot chosen for the flight was the tall, taciturn "G. H." (Glenn) because  the AEA's  third "drome" or plane, the "June Bug," was mostly his design, Even though the planes were basically joint endeavors, they were designated to individuals of the group. Most of the work had been done in Hammondsport, Glenn's home town.

And so, on July 4, 1908, the village of Hammondsport on Keuka Lake in New York waited, thrilling with excitement. It is said that the whole town  turned out to watch  their native son Glenn Hammond Curtiss fly. But people turned out from neighboring villages as well. The town folk mingled with important people, who had traveled there some three hundred miles, all the way from places like  New York City to observe and officially witness. In fact, I understand that the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) was there to make it all official.

The flight was advertised as the first pre-announced public flight in America.

It was a wait for the crowd. Glenn insisted on perfect conditions. There was a false start. After some adjustments, they brought the plane back to the starting line. Imagine then what it was like in the little town of Hammondsport on July 4, 1908, when their own Glenn rose into the air, the little motor loudly thrumming, and flew over the fences and fields for more than the required kilometer. Indeed, these people were among the first to see the dream of flight finally officially realized. Though others had claimed powered flight, this was in front of their own eyes by their town hero--and they were the participants. For a long time afterward, there were people who believed it was Glenn who was first to fly--ever.


This  moment in 1908  marked the beginning of Glenn's career as a pioneer aviator. And his aviation fame. After his public success in Hammondsport, he was  to become the prime force in building the nascent aviation industry in America


The clip above is a short biography of Glenn Curtiss. Watch for one error. Curtiss's first public flight was not with a seaplane from Lake Keuka. He hadn't developed one yet. Nevertheless, the film of his later plane taking off from the lake is marvelous.
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The summer of 1908, the Wright faction began their attacks on Curtiss that have continued for over a hundred years. Note that from the beginning, they singled out Curtiss from the AEA for their law suits. An example of history's injustices: Wright "historians" say the Wrights' claimed  "first flights" in 1903 were controlled because they were able to turn (they believe), and Curtiss's 1908 flight was only a straight line flight. In reality, the Wrights' in 1903 didn't actually even attempt any turns. And in truth, the June Bug was equipped with ailerons, and Glenn turned the June bug to avoid some trees at the end of his flight.

On July 10, 1908, less than a week after the June Bug's public flight, an elated Glenn telegraphed Alexander Graham Bell that he had flown a complete circle using the ailerons.4 The Wrights threatened Curtiss in a letter dated July 20, 1908, claiming ailerons were the same as their wing warping and that he was infringing on their 1906 patent for control. Only trouble is, the Wrights successful wing warping had to be used in conjunction with their rudder. Curtiss didn't need to link to his rudder or even need to use his rudder to achieve a complete turn. Moreover, ailerons were a vast improvement over the Wrights' wing warping. The many injustices of the Wright law suits are a story in themselves.

Below, a  page from Boys' Life, Aug 1961

"Boys; Life," "The Boy Who Fixed Things."

Today, few young people have even heard of Glenn Curtiss. Aviators and historians, who feel they are knowledgeable after reading Wright biased books, know the history only superficially and actually believe much of what we have proven in our research to be false propaganda, stemming from the self promotion and even self aggrandizement of the Wrights and their allies.

 Click here for more on Glenn Curtiss and the first pre-announced public flight in America, Hammondsport. July 4, 1908.


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 *  Curtiss's grandmother on the Andrews side, was Fidelia Morse Andrews. Her family, the Morses, averred that they were closely related to Samuel F. B. Morse, famous painter and inventor of the telegraph. 

 1. Jack Carpenter, Pendulum II (San Juan Capistrano, Arsdalen, Bosch & Co., 2003, 408

 2. Carpenter, Pendulum II, 436 

 3. Carpenter,   Pendulum II, 237  
  4.Carpenter, Pendulum II,  171