Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Wrights' 1903 Launch: It's All Downhill from Here

Further implications of the impossible perspective visible in the famous “First Flight” photograph.
Ed.note: In this essay, a "Truth" valued editor knocks the ball out of the park.

“The machine was launched from a monorail track. . . This track was laid in a slight depression, which a few days before had been covered by water. We chose this spot because the action of the water had leveled it so nearly flat that little preparation of the ground was necessary in order to lay the track. The starting end of the track lay a few inches below the end from which the machine lifted into the air." 1

Generations of Wright historians have read the above description of the experiments of December 17, 1903 and, unhesitatingly moved on to the next paragraph, which describes the launch trolley. A more appropriate next action might be to exclaim, “What — in the name of sanity — did they think they were playing at?”


Most certainly, as the iconic First Flight photograph (above) undeniably shows, the launch rail appears to be “in a slight depression,” for the center is lower than both ends; in other words, it is concave, as the red line indicates.

Green and yellow dotted lines project the line of the rail towards the horizon. Green assumes near and far ends of the rail are at the same height; yellow corresponds to Orville’s statement that the far end is slightly raised. In fact, the difference between the two is negligible.

However, as an earlier blog has demonstrated, there is strong evidence that the launch is being made from the side of a hill, and not on the level, as the Wrights always stated (so that they could claim the first such airplane flight for themselves). To recap: the perspective (of Wilbur’s body against the horizon) is wrong; ground features show the surface falling away beyond the far end of the rail; and two Life Saver helpers, although named as witnesses by the Wrights, agree that they carried the Flyer up a hill for its launches that day.

Consider, further, this picture ( below), used before to illustrate perspective from the Wright Brothers National Memorial, ( US National Park Service).

This time, the reader’s attention is drawn to the replica launch rail set in the ground. Note how a forward projection (red line) hugs the flat ground until it meets the horizon. Now compare that with the First Flight picture, in which projections of the 1903 rail accentuate the falling away of the ground. As all the other photographic evidence shows, the launch rail is part-way up a hill — so a line of theoretical projection travels through the air, and not along the ground.

But that is not all. If it is believed that the rail is on level ground, then its concave shape serves no useful purpose — quite the contrary. Granted, there is a little free “assistance” in the form of a downward roll at the start of the take-off run, but beyond half way the rail angle is up hill, and so it begins to retard the airplane and take back its initial speed advantage. Then, another disadvantage makes itself obvious: In favorable conditions (a wind exceeding 20 MPH) the Flyer will leave the rail at the three-quarter mark, at which point the rail is still rising, thereby reducing the actual altitude of the airplane at precisely the time it is trying to rid itself of Earth’s surly bonds.

 Level, or slightly up hill, the concave launch rail makes no sense at all.

What, however, if it is on the side of a hill? It has already been shown in the previous blog, by reference to the “laws” of perspective, that the rail is pointing downhill. According the Orville’s diary, the natural slope of Kill Devil Hill is a fraction short of 9 degrees. A concave launch rail (in a dip) further increases the gravitational bonus by a degree or so for the first half of the take-off run, then reduces (but by no means eliminates) the downward benefit during the second half.

  What it does do, during this second part of the run, is to sling the airplane away from the hill in the same manner — but by no means on the same scale — as the “ski jump” fitted to some modern aircraft carriers as a catapult substitute.

Concave runway, Chinese style. A J-15 fighter takes off from CNS Liaoning, employing an upturned end to its run

  The altered angle of the second half of the Wrights’ rail does something else beneficial: It suddenly increases the wings’ angle of attack (relative to the oncoming headwind) boosting the upward force they generate. Here, a degree or two makes a big difference, but it is applied only after the airplane has gathered some speed. (Building that increased angle into the frame of the airplane would slow it down during the early stages of the take-off run.) And further, the continuation of the down slope beyond the far end of the rail gives an under-powered airplane some extra grace in which to establish flying speed.

On a down slope, a concave launch rail makes a great deal of sense — albeit at the expense of negating any claim to an unassisted take-off from the flat. The cross-sectional drawing (above), which can only be to approximate scale, shows an intelligent use of a concave launch rail.

       Library of Congress (LOC) photograph 00613 (below) depicts the concave hillside launch being employed for the December 14, 1903 “false start,” so confirming that the Wrights appreciated its inherent advantages.  

A view of the  hillside slope of the Wrights' alleged December 14 launch attempt.
Of course, traditional historians will deny there was any such thing as a downward roll for the first part of the launch and then a leveling-out of the track to increase the wings’ lift for take-off.  If they will not accept the present blogger’s word for it, then might the testimony of a respected professional man be more convincing? A man of The Cloth? A bishop, even? Bishop Wright, for example?

In a letter to the Brothers’ friend, Carl Dienstbach, written on December 22, 1903 the Bishop describes the airplane running downhill towards a level section of track and then launching from that. “To get under headway they laid a single-rail track straight down the hill, but began flight from the level.”2

[A] All available topographic, photographic evidence; all relevant witness statements; the testimony of a bishop who happens to be the experimenters’ father; and the application of logic and the principle of incremental experimentation, declare unequivocally that the same “downhill run” technique as on the 14th was employed for the December 17 “flights”.

 [B] The Wrights assert they transitioned straight to totally flat (even slightly uphill) take-offs on the 17th, and immediately achieved complete success.

One of the above two sentences is untrue. Which is it?


1. Orville Wright, How We Invented the Airplane, ed. Fred C. Kelly (1953) 21

2. Marvin Wilks MacFarland, Papers of Wilbur & Orville Wright, page 399 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Truth in Aviation History: A Work in Progress

Our blog, "Truth in Aviation History," has been a work in progress. And it continues to be. When we began our research a number of years ago, we never realized how many errors we would discover. It was like opening a Pandora's Box, chock full of aviation misinformation--provable "mis-history." I first cracked the lid when I began looking for answers to why a person as amazing as Glenn Hammond Curtiss, one of the most important aviation pioneers in history, would have so little mention in the many books I found. I might never have questioned this if he wasn't a cousin. The printed history smacked of a kind of mysterious bias or even collusion. There were shelves full of children's stories focused on the Wright Brothers, making certain that our youth believed the Wrights were the greatest pioneers, mainly because they were "the first to fly." That was accepted by all: writers, historians, pilots, even most engineers. It seemed like a religious orthodoxy planted when people are young and malleable. But like everyone else, I, too, accepted that the Wrights were "the first to fly," or at least, the first able to fly. The adult books and the internet, as well, have promoted and continue to promote the Wright doctrine. But in the vast amounts of material, I have since found myriad claims, spins, explanations, contradictions, and outright lies. Now, armed with facts, as we discover them, we are exposing them on this blog.

Moreover, by studying primary documents and many materials published before the 1940's, I found it was Curtiss who was clearly the greater contributor to the establishment and development of aviation in the United States.

Our great pioneer aviator, Glenn Curtiss at his controls
He was the first to make a pre-announced public flight in America in 1908. By 1909, he had won the first ever international aviation competition. He sold the first plane commercially in the U. S. He built the first practical hydroplane, the first amphibian, the first flying boat, and introduced the first dual controls. His was the first plane to land and to take off from a ship--major first steps in establishing naval aviation. His plants manufactured more planes during WWI than probably any other, and his beloved "Jennies" trained the world's pilots. After WWI, his NC-4 (Navy Curtiss-4) was the first to fly across the Atlantic. (Lindbergh's was the first solo non-stop)  Curtiss's accomplishments simply go on and on

The great flight of the NC-4 (Navy Curtiss-4), first across the Atlantic
What did the Wrights do? They hindered the development of aviation in their quest to prove that the world and all its aviators owed them for inventing the first airplane to fly--or the first even able to fly. They claimed that everyone used their patent to control their planes and copied their devices. It's simply not true. It is true, as Wright defenders say, that governments of France, Germany, and others provided far more money for the development of aviation in the early 1900's. But the Wright lawsuits put a great chill on aviation in the United States. Curtiss was about the only aviator who was willing to stand up to them. Who would want to take a grant from the government, if any profit plus enormous developmental costs, would be scooped up by the Wrights' claims? What's more, you would be slandered as nothing more than a "patent infringer"

In truth, Wrights had the glory because they claimed they were the first to fly. They claimed they invented the airplane. Soon, because of fortuitous events in their history, including the application of useful political pressures, greed, an infusion of money, manipulation of the press, and support and proselytizing by their fans, the public began to believe them. In fact, much of  the public even today doesn't understand the mechanics of flight, (or the "secrets," as the Wrights called them) nor did their supporters, nor did the law in the form of patent judges. Convincing the public and the courts wasn't so difficult for the Wrights.

A scholar of the Curtiss history, the late Jack Carpenter, stated that Orville Wright was "loose with the truth." Carpenter devoted much of the latter part of his life wanting to re-establish Curtiss's proper place in history; and wrote the books "Pendulum I" and "Pendulum II." But Carpenter himself didn't see many of history's mis-steps. He believed the Wrights on issues that he shouldn't have accepted. He was also eventually rejected by the Smithsonian establishment, as are questioners today. Questioners' books, as a rule, are currently not promoted or accepted in favor of the Wrights.

My curiosity was piqued by Carpenter's remark about Orville's dishonesty. The observation was my take off point of research. I simply looked for competing statements by the Wrights, or provable facts that were contradicted. Then I started looking for unsupported claims that simply had nothing to back them up. Boy, what I found! Many results of the research are now published in "Truth in Aviation History," and the revelations are coming so fast, I  (we) can't keep up with them. Because it's no longer an "editorial we." I am not alone in this blog. There are other credible scholars, who found enough questions in the Wright history that they too were delving into the claims

The current Smithsonian, as it stands, presents history as a democratic process where people, with a degree in history from a biased university linked to their names, can set up a panel and essentially, vote what they believe happened. Thus, the historical narrative becomes, this is what we say happened. We are in agreement. Therefore, this is indeed what happened. Anything else is "conspiracy theory." Questioners are "outliers." But for fair minded people, interested in the truth (not "alternative facts"), history is going to have to be re-studied and re-written
There is no doubt that Orville was indeed "loose with the truth." And so was Wilbur. And much of their dissembling can be proven.

Please read, if you haven't already, the latest post about the perspective of the so called "first flight" photo by one of our most appreciated researchers: "Kitty Hawk, a New Perspective."  Following this post will be a study by the same researcher/historian about the Wrights' track used to launch their plane--with its mysterious concavity in the middle.

 Soon to come will be more studies by Joe Bullmer, an expert aeronautical engineer.
See his first article on this blog in his rebuttal to Tom Crouch about the "fourth flight picture."

Poster of the first international aviation meet, 1909

Look for an article soon coming about the first international aviation meet at Reims, France, poster depicted above..

We are also studying who really sent on the telegram claiming the Wrights had flown on December 17, 1903. Who was it really addressed to? We have proven the famous telegram to the Wright's father as portrayed in all the history books, etc., could not possibly have been sent. Read "The Wrights' Telegram to Father: Fact or Fiction?"

There will be more about Professor Samuel P. Langley, whose lengthy scientific research was trashed by the Wrights along with the reputation of Glenn Curtiss and nearly every other aviation pioneer. It appears we are just beginning. Enjoy!

Special note: One of my readers informed me that the contact email address to this blog wasn't working. Please try Also read the companion blogs about Glenn H. Curtiss plus the tragic true story of the Langley Aerodrome. Every blog is a work in progress. We have a ton of information to post.


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  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.