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.

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, 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 at the time, said much later that the first flight was only "about fifty feet..." The last two 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.)

Referring to this one event 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 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. See other posts in this blog. 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, 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.
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. An example: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 use his rudder to achieve a complete turn. Moreover, ailerons were a vast improvement over the Wrights' wing warping. The 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.

 *  Curtiss's grandmother's 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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bombshell:The Facts About the Wrights Brothers' Key Witness, Amos I. Root

                                                                  An Introduction
Unmasking Root

In 1942, the Smithsonian Institution endorsed the Wrights as first to fly--and the first even capable of flying. Thirty four years later, Freedom of Information Laws revealed that a secret contract in 1948 had become part of the deal. In it, the Wright family dictated the wording of pertinent museum labels and forbade the Smithsonian from ever investigating the issue, however compelling the evidence might be to the contrary..

The bombshells kept coming.

In 1978, highly respected Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena analyzed the Wrights’ 1903 airplane, casting scientific doubts on many of the brothers’ claims. And in 2003, a meticulously researched "replica" of their 1903 plane failed to fly on all four attempts.

Historical doubts arose, too, when the family members of a star witness, Amos I. Root, released his correspondence with the Wrights to the Library of Congress. Key elements of the Wrights’ story started falling apart.

Who was Amos I. Root?

A. I. Root, publisher of "Gleanings in Bee Culture."

Amos Ives Root is often cited as the first neutral news-journalist to witness the
Wrights fly in a full circle and to publish an eyewitness report.

The documents released by family members John A. Root and Brad I. Root to the Library of Congress show: Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Root was
- neither neutral,
- nor a news-journalist,
- nor a witness of the Wrights flying in a full circle,
- nor a publisher of an eyewitness report.

Root was
- a close friend of the Wrights,
- a beekeeper and Sunday school teacher,
- the witness of an uncontrolled landing in a cornfield, which the Wrights never admitted to,
- and the willing publisher under his own name of an article, every word of which the Wrights
   themselves wrote or insisted on vetting.

Recently, Root has been accused by some of not even having seen the brothers fly at all in 1904. The analysis to follow in "Truth in Aviation  History" gives him the benefit of as much doubt as possible, but still reaches the inescapable conclusion that his published account was blatantly untrue. 

Here are the facts, penned  by one of "Truth's" superb historians:

Amos Ives Root (1839-1923)

Amos I Root and the Wright Brothers

Most accounts of the Wright’s claimed first flight which returned to its starting point in a single sortie are vague when addressing the sequence of events which brought the only “witness,” Amos Root, to exactly the right place at precisely the correct time (September 20, 1904). For example, from the National Air & Space Museum (Smithsonian):

Amos I. Root, a beekeeping enthusiast from Medina, Ohio, traveled 175 miles to see the Wright brothers fly and witnessed their first circular flight. He published an account of that historic event in his journal, Gleanings in Bee Culture. It was the first eyewitness account of a Wright brothers airplane flight to appear in print.
But compare Cornell University’s account, which remarks correctly on the friendship with the Wrights but confuses the issue with an erroneous reference to another magazine:
This issue [January 1905] of the Medina, Ohio based beekeeping magazine has the distinction of publishing the first eyewitness account of the Wright Brothers' historic manned flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A. I. Root, the publisher of Gleanings in Bee Culture and a longtime friend of the flight pioneers, was permitted to write this first account and sent it off to "Scientific American." After nearly a year of silence on the part of the magazine, Root wrote its editor, who responded that it was difficult to believe that the event had actually occurred and that even if it had, the airplane would never have any practical application. When Root showed this response to the Wright Brothers, they suggested that he go ahead and publish it in his beekeeping magazine.
And from the website:
Root, age 64, didn’t waste any time traveling the 200 miles from his home in Medina, Ohio near Cleveland to Dayton. He boarded with the Dave Beard family whose farm house was the closest to Huffman Prairie. On the morning of September 20, he walked over to the flying field and introduced himself to the Wright brothers and asked for permission to observe their experiments. Surprisingly, the Wrights readily agreed and invited him to be their guest. A long time friendship began soon after.
Yet again, a purely chance encounter. But in fact, Root had provably been corresponding for seven months and had met a month before the alleged circular flight. There began a long  association with the Wright family, almost certainly born of a shared religious outlook and involvement in associated “good works” in the Sunday School Movement and anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco campaigns. Witness

Gleanings in Bee Culture
Vol XXXII, No 5.
March 1, 1904
Feature: Our Homes, by A.I. Root
Extract from Page 241

During the past few months, these boys have made a machine that actually flew through the air for more than half a mile, carrying one of the boys with it. This young man is not only a credit to our State, but to the whole country and to the world.
     Their experiments were made just before winter set in on the Atlantic coast, at Kitty Hawk, N.C., at a place where there are several miles of soft sand blown up by the wind. They chose that sandy waste to the, in case of an accident, they would not be apt to be severely hurt by falling. For the same reason they managed it so as to keep the machine within five or ten feet of the ground. As soon as we have warm weather they are going on with their experiments. The machine was made something after the fashion of a box kite. A gasoline engine moved propeller wheels that pulled it against the wind. When they make their next trial I am going to try to be on hand and see the experiment.

Above, alleged to be the second Flyer outside its hangar at Huffman Prairie in May, 1904. The picture is curious because it is taken on a 4×5 glass plate, whereas all other Wright pictures from the 1902 season onward were taken with their new, 5×7 camera.

Thus, two months after the return from Kitty Hawk and before the replacement aircraft is completed, Root plans to be on hand at the next trial. This is inconsistent with the description of his turning up out of the blue six months after writing of his plans. Evidence of prior arrangement is clear, thanks to the Library of Congress which holds over 60 letters from Root to the Wrights during two years, 1904-05 (in files freely available for download from the Library of Congress by anyone)

The letters were donated by the Root Family and, thus, have not been subject to “weeding” by Smithsonian historians bound by the 1948 legal contract with the Wright Family preventing them from publishing anything contradicting the Wright Brothers’ claims. The letters’ content directs light into areas where traditional Wright histories fear to go, as will be related later.

Further, Root’s item of January, 1905, is patently, not “the first eyewitness account of a Wright brothers airplane flight to appear in print,” as claimed by the Smithsonian. The original, garbled, newspaper reports of December 18, 1903, were based on an eyewitness account (from the Life Savers assisting the Wrights) which reached the Virginia Pilot reporter, Harry Moore. Granted, the report was exaggerated and partly made up by the Virginia Pilot journalists, but as confirmed by later testimony from those concerned, it was based on what was related on the day by someone who was there.

That said, it is proper that this is not regarded as an eyewitness account, for it is repeated at second hand without the informant being quoted verbatim, or even named. It is pure hearsay.

Indisputable, however, are the eyewitness, first-hand accounts that appeared in newspapers throughout the land in May 1904, when the second Flyer was given a “press day” in front of a pack of invited journalists who had, first, been relieved of their cameras, but not their notebooks. The reporters’ published dispatches described the aircraft rearing about 15 feet into the air and then plunging into the ground after some 25 feet, sustaining damage which curtailed further exhibitions.

Among the newspapers carrying an eyewitness report (some syndicated, of course) were: Chicago Daily Tribune, Daily Saratogan, Deseret Evening News, Evening Star (Washington), Fort Wayne Daily, Fort Wayne News, Huntington Daily News-Democrat, Indianapolis News, Indianapolis Sun, Kansas City Star, Newark Advocate, NY Times, Spokane Evening Chronicle, Syracuse Journal, Utica Herald Dispatch, Utica Observer all May 27th; Alton Evening Telegraph, Charlotte News, Connersville Evening News, Daily Kennebec Journal, Galveston Daily News, Lowell Sun, Albany Evening Tribune, Ogdensburg News, Raleigh Morning Post, Rochester Democrat, Titusville Herald, Waterloo Daily Reporter, Wichita Daily Eagle, Wilmington Messenger, Wilmington Morning Star all 28th May; Jeffersonville Evening News 30th; Greensboro Patriot, Swayzee Press 2nd June; and Idaville Observer, Jeffersonville National Democrat, Mooresville Guide, Russiaville Observer, Waveland Independent all 3rd.

 Indiana newspaper account of the Wrights' attempt to fly in May, 1904.

At the very least, 40 newspapers carried eyewitness reports of a flight (of sorts) by a Wright Flyer in May, 1904. Above is the Fort Wayne Daily News (Indiana).  All the papers are available for perusal and download to anyone with an Internet connection, but they have entirely eluded the USA’s premier aviation museum.

With all the wonders of the Internet and associated search-engines at its disposal, plus generous funding by the US taxpayer, the nation’s premier aviation museum gives the appearance of being entirely oblivious to every single one of the above-mentioned newspaper reports. Root’s article seven months later is still described as “the first eyewitness account of a Wright brothers airplane flight to appear in print.”

Some of the papers even quoted the Wrights’ tongue-in-cheek assertion that crashing after 25 feet was “successful” — but the Smithsonian chooses to ignore even the Wrights’ own claim that this was a real “flight” and pass over anything that happened above Huffman’s Prairie in late May, 1904. Diligent aviation historians might query just what is going on here; but US taxpayers have double the right to ask questions about the quality of research they get for their $820 million annual Smithsonian subsidy.

Returning to 1905: To portray Root as a casual or disinterested reporter, who just happened to turn up at the right time, is deliberately to misrepresent his role in the story of aviation. His published account implies at least three separate visits (all which can be verified by “thank you for having me” letters dated August 23, September 22 and November 28) and is written in at least two parts, the second mostly of hearsay. 

Interjections have been added in red by the present blogger.


Root’s Gleanings were by no means strictly confined to the hive. Topics as diverse as religion and science were discussed in homely fashion.

Gleanings in Bee Culture, January 1, 1905


 "Dear friends, I have a wonderful story to tell you—a story that, in some respects, outrivals the Arabian Nights fables—a story, too, with a moral that I think many of the younger ones need, and perhaps some of the older ones too if they will heed it. God in his great mercy has permitted me to be, at least somewhat, instrumental in ushering in and introducing to the great wide world an invention that may outrank the electric cars, the automobiles, and all other methods of travel, and one which may fairly take a place beside the telephone and wireless telegraphy. Am I claiming a good deal? Well, I will tell my story, and you shall be the judge. . . .

... I am now going to tell you something of two . . . boys, a minister's boys, who love machinery, and who are interested in the modern developments of science and art. Their names are Orville and Wilbur Wright, of Dayton, Ohio. I made mention of them and their work on page 241 of our issue for March 1 last. You may remember it. These two, perhaps by accident, or maybe as a matter of taste, began studying the flights of birds and insects. From this they turned their attention to what has been done in the way of enabling men to fly. They not only studied nature, but they procured the best books, and I think I may say all the papers, the world contains on this subject. When I first became acquainted with them, and expressed a wish to read up all there was on the subject, they showed me a library that astonished me; and I soon found they were thoroughly versed, not only in regard to our present knowledge, but everything that had been done in the past. Thus, a long-term association, including a house visit.

These boys (they are men now), instead of spending their summer vacation with crowds, and with such crowds as are often questionable, as so many do, went away by themselves to a desert place by the seacoast. You and I have in years past found enjoyment and health in sliding down hill on the snow; but these boys went off to that sandy waste on the Atlantic coast to slide down hill too; but instead of sliding on snow and ice they slid on air. With a gliding machine made of sticks and cloth they learned to glide and soar from the top of a hill to the bottom; and by making not only hundreds but more than a thousand experiments, they became so proficient in guiding these gliding machines that they could sail like a bird, and control its movements up and down as well as sidewise.

Now, this was not altogether for fun or boys' play.* [Footnote: *When I suggested that, even though sliding down hill on the air was very nice, it must have been quite a task to carry the machine back to the top of the hill every time, the reply was something like this: "Oh! no, Mr. Root—no task at all. Just remember that we always sail against the wind; and by a little shifting of the position, the wind does the greater part of the work in carrying it back." It just blows it back (whenever the wind is strong enough) up hill to the starting-point.] They had a purpose in view.

"That wild  place." Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Well, these two men spent several summers in that wild place, secure from intrusion, with their gliding machine. When they became experts they brought in, as they had planned to do, a gasoline-engine to furnish power, and made a little success “A little success” does not equate with what great things were claimed for December 17 with their apparatus before winter set [in]. As soon as the weather would permit, their experiments were resumed the past season. You may have seen something in regard to it in the papers; but as their purpose has been from the beginning to the end to avoid publicity, “Avoiding publicity” does not tally with the December 17 telegram ending “Inform press” the great outside world has had but very little opportunity of knowing what is going on. The conditions were so different after applying power that it seemed at first, to a great extent, as if they would have to learn the trade of guiding their little ship all over again. At first they went only a few hundred feet; and as the opportunity for practice in guiding and controlling it was only a few seconds at a time, their progress was necessarily very slow. . . .

“I recognized at once they were really scientific explorers who were serving the world in much the same way that Columbus did when he discovered America.”

. . . I found them in a pasture lot of 87 acres, Falsely implies a chance meeting a little over half a mile long and nearly as broad. The few people who occasionally got a glimpse of the experiments, evidently considered it only another Darius Green [a youth in a famous poem by John Townsend Trowbridge who tries but fails to fly], but I recognized at once they were really scientific explorers who were serving the world in much the same way that Columbus did when he discovered America, and just the same way that Edison, Marconi, and a host of others have done all along through the ages. Most apt. Columbus did not discover America; and Edison and Marconi both appropriated others’ inventions (light bulb and radio) and claimed them as their own.

In running an automobile or a bicycle you have to manage the steering only to the right and left; but an air-ship has to be steered up and down also. When I first saw the apparatus Visit #1 it persisted in going up and down like the waves of the sea. Sometimes it would dig its nose in the dirt, almost in spite of the engineer. After repeated experiments it was finally cured of its foolish tricks, and was made to go like a steady old horse. This work, mind you, was all new. Nobody living could give them any advice Clearly, an unsupportable claim. It was like exploring a new and unknown domain.

Shall I tell you how they cured it of bobbing up and down? Simply by loading its nose or front steering-apparatus with cast iron. In my ignorance I thought the engine was not large enough; but when fifty pounds of iron was fastened to its "nose" (as I will persist in calling it), it came down to a tolerably straight line and carried the burden with ease. There was a reason for this that I cannot explain here. Neither, it would seem, can any aerodynamicist to this day  Other experiments had to be made in turning from right to left; and, to make the matter short, it was my privilege, on the 20th day of September, 1904, Visit #2 to see the first successful trip of an airship, without a balloon to sustain it, that the world has ever made, that is, to turn the corners Note phraseology: ‘Turn the corners’ and come back to the starting-point. Root thus describes the September 20 flight as a rectangle with rounded corners; the Wright diary shows a drawing of a perfect circle — and that drawing was repeated, by Orville in improved form, a quarter-century later.

The Wright flight test diary for September 20, 1904, shows two flights, the second, in the afternoon, describing a circle. Despite the lengths of the field boundaries being marked, the map is not to scale.

Close-up of the afternoon’s circular flight trace and confirmation of Root’s presence. Note the launch rail and the final few yards of the Flyer’s track.

Re-drawing, circa 1928, by Orville Wright of the “first circular flight” path on an accurate, scale plan of Huffman Prairie. No launch rail or landing position is shown.

Modern plan photograph of Huffman’s Prairie.

Above: Projections of the 1904 and 1928 flight paths on an aerial photograph of Huffman Prairie, the former a “best fit” from an inaccurate sketch which, if to scale, would have the aircraft landing outside the confines of the field.

During all of these experiments they have kept so near the soft marshy ground that a fall would be no serious accident, either to the machine or its occupant. In fact, so carefully have they managed, that, during these years of experimenting, nothing has happened to do any serious damage to the machine nor to give the boys more than what might be called a severe scratch. I think great praise is due them along this very line. They have been prudent and cautious. I told you there was not another machine equal to such a task as I have mentioned, on the face of the earth; and, furthermore, just now as I dictate there is probably not another man besides these two who has learned the trick of controlling it.

In making this last trip of rounding the circle (a circle IS round!), the machine was kept near the ground, except in making the turns. “Making turns” confirms there were straight sections of the flight-path If you will watch a large bird when it swings around in a circle you will see its wings are tipped up at an incline. This machine must follow the same rule; and to clear the tip of the inside wing it was found necessary to rise to a height of perhaps 20 or 25 feet. Thus the straight sections at low altitude, climbing to turn the corners When the engine is shut off the apparatus glides to the ground very quietly, and alights on something much like a pair of light sled-runners, sliding over the grassy surface perhaps a rod (=16½ feet) or more. Whenever it is necessary to slow up the speed before alighting, you turn the nose up hill. It will then climb right up on the air until the momentum is exhausted, when, by skillful management, it can be dropped as lightly as a feather.

Diagram above: What Amos Root told his readers he had seen on September 20: Low-level legs with climbing turns between, achieving a return to the starting point. With only 16 hp available, climbing turns would have been difficult; at even 25 feet, the wingtip would have been dangerously close to the ground and deep in ground-effect.

Diagram above:What Amos Root told the Wrights he had seen on September 20: A landing in an adjacent corn field — with a request to be informed when they eventually did achieve a return to the starting point.

"Since the above was written, Therefore, that which follows was written on a subsequent occasion and, furthermore, is not stated to be an eyewitness account (= hearsay) they have twice succeeded in making four complete circles without alighting, each circle passing the starting-point. These circles are nearly a mile in circumference each; and the last flight made, Dec. 1, could have been prolonged indefinitely had it not been that the rudder was in such position it cramped the hand of the operator so he was obliged to alight. The longest flight took only five minutes and four seconds by the watch. Over 100 flights have been made during the past summer. Some of them reached perhaps 50 or 60 feet above ground. On both these long trips seventy pounds instead of fifty of cast iron was carried on the "nose." Mostly hearsay. Root’s letter to the Wrights of December 6, regarding December 1, hails this as the first four-circle flight, not the second, and privately credits the report to his friend, and Huffman Prairie neighbor, Torrance Baird (not “Dave Beard”). The claim to have climbed out of ground-effect (50-60 feet) on 16 hp is deeply suspect, even without the extra iron.

Everybody is ready to say, "Well, what use it? What good will it do?" These are questions no man can answer yet. However, I will give you a suggestion or two. The man who made this last trip said there was no difficulty whatever in going above the trees or anywhere he chose; but perhaps wisdom would dictate he should have still more experience a little nearer the ground. The machine easily made 30 or 40 miles an hour, and this in going only a little more than half a mile straight ahead. No doubt it would get up a greater speed if allowed to do so—perhaps, with the wind, a mile a minute after the first mile. The manager could doubtless go outside of the field and bring it back safely, to be put in the little house where it is kept nights. All hearsay and unsubstantiated prediction.

But no matter how much time it takes, I am sure all the world will commend the policy so far pursued—go slowly and carefully, and avoid any risk that might cause the loss of a human life. This great progressive world cannot afford to take the risk of losing the life of either of these two men.* [Footnote: *If these two men should be taken away by accident or otherwise, there is probably no one living who could manage the machine. With these men to teach them "the trade," however, there are plenty who could doubtless learn it in a few weeks.]

I have suggested before, friends, that the time may be near at hand when we shall not need to fuss with good roads nor railway tracks, bridges, etc., at such an enormous expense. With these machines we can bid adieu to all these things. God's free air, that extends all over the earth, and perhaps miles above us, is our training field. Rubber tires, and the price of rubber, are no longer "in it." The thousand and one parts of the automobile that go to make its construction, and to give it strength, can all be dispensed with.

You can set your basket of eggs almost anywhere on the upper or lower deck, they will not even rattle unless it be when they come to alight. There are hundreds of queer things coming to light in regard to this new method of travel; and I confess it is not clear to me, even yet, how that little aluminum engine, with four paddles, does the work. I asked the question, "Boys, would that engine and these two propellers raise the machine from the ground if placed horizontally above it?" 'Certainly not, Mr. Root. They would not lift a quarter of its weight.'

The answer involves a strange point in the wonderful discovery of air navigation. When some large bird or butterfly is soaring with motionless wings, a very little power from behind will keep it moving. Well, if this motion is kept up, a very little incline of the wings will keep it from falling. A little more incline, and a little more push from behind, and the bird or the butterfly, or the machine created by human hands, will gradually rise in the air. I was surprised at the speed, and I was astonished at the wonderful lifting power of this comparatively small apparatus. When I saw it Visit #3 pick up the 50 pounds of iron so readily I asked if I might ride in place of the iron. I received, by way of assurance, the answer that the machine would no doubt carry me easily. You see then I would have the "front seat"; and even if it is customary (or used to be in olden times) to accord the front seat to the ladies, I think the greater part of them would say, 'Oh! Sit still, Mr. Root. Do not think of getting up to give us your seat.'

Alleged second  (1904)  Flyer on the launch rail at Huffman Prairie

At first there was considerable trouble about getting the machine up in the air and the engine well up to speed. They did this by running along a single-rail track perhaps 200 feet long  This was “at first” and thus not at the time of writing. It was also, in the early experiments, found advisable to run against the wind, because they could then have a greater time to practice in the air and not get so far away from the building where it was stored. Hearsay (or a fourth visit)  Since they can come around to the starting-point, however, they can start with the wind even behind them Reckless, if not impossible, on 16 hp; and with a strong wind behind it is an easy matter to make even more than a mile a minute. The operator takes his place lying flat on his face. This position offers less resistance to the wind. The engine   is started and got up to speed. The machine is held until ready to start by a sort of trap to be sprung when all is ready; then with a tremendous flapping and snapping of the four-cylinder engine, the huge machine springs aloft. Carefully avoiding mention of the falling weight ‘catapult’ 

  When it first turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it; and I said then, and I believe still, it was one of the grandest sights, if not the grandest sight, of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you—a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say—a locomotive made of aluminum. Well, now, imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly, but I tell you, friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.

The attendant at one time, when the rope came off that started it, said he was shaking from head to foot as if he had a fit of ague. His shaking was uncalled for, however, for the intrepid manager succeeded in righting up his craft Why did it need righting?, and she made one of her very best flights. I may add, however, that the apparatus is secured by patents, both in this and in foreign countries; and as nobody else has as yet succeeded in doing anything like what they have done I hope no millionaire or syndicate will try to rob them of the invention or laurels they have so fairly and honestly earned. Yet, when Octave Chanute called the following month, they were unable to repeat the circular flight — which deficiency is easily explained by modern, computer analysis of the aircraft’s configuration: At that stage, it was aerodynamically incapable of doing what the Wrights claimed; and fatally incapable of the tight turns which Root says he saw.

When Columbus discovered America Not an opinion shared by many Vikings he did not know what the outcome would be, and no one at that time knew; and I doubt if the wildest enthusiast caught a glimpse of what really did come from his discovery. In a like manner these two brothers have probably not even a faint glimpse of what their discovery is going to bring to the children of men. No one living can give a guess of what is coming along this line, much better than any one living could conjecture the final outcome of Columbus' experiment when he pushed off through the trackless waters. Possibly we may be able to fly over the north pole, even if we should not succeed in tacking the "stars and stripes" to its uppermost end."

[article ends]



Great efforts are made in most Wright histories to portray Root as an impartial observer who just happened to put his head over the fence one day and introduce himself — but there are serious problems with his methodology, objectivity and reliability
1. He was both a friend of the Wright family and a friend-in-God of the Wrights

.2. He published his story at the Wrights’ convenience, delaying it for several months, despite becoming increasingly frustrated by the changes and deletions demanded.

3. He was more “press officer” than fearless news-hound. He omitted material facts (for example, the disastrous May “press facility” and reliance on a launching “catapult”) to please the Wrights and make the Flyer appear more capable than it was. He even, issued the Wrights with postcards (and offered some for sister Katharine) so they could keep him updated. Desperation to publish a story — at any cost — seldom enhances the objectivity of the writing.

4. He mixed eyewitness and hearsay reports, always to the advantage of the Wrights. (He had not been invited to the “press facility” and expressed his disappointment in a letter dated July 6.)

5. He differs from the account of the September 20 circular flight given in the Wright’s flight test diary. This latter depicts a constantly-banked circular flight-path, whereas Root describes seeing a rectangle with curved corners.

6. As revealed by modern computer analysis, the 1904 Flyer was incapable of the sharp, climbing turns Root says he saw. In the absence of evidence that the Laws of Physics are different in Ohio to the rest of the Universe, it must be concluded that Root was “mistaken” in what he claimed to have viewed.

7. On September 27, 1904, Root suggested in writing that he could arrange a meeting of his attorney with the Wrights to offer them legal advice at no cost to themselves. In connection with this, he reminded them that early publication by him could be valuable in establishing their prior rights in any future case they might bring of patent infringement by others. “I may be of some good to you as a witness, but a printed description with a date to it would be worth ever so much more.”  Neither proposal suggests neutrality or objectivity in the writer.

  Despite being, clearly, biased towards the Wrights and willing to write under his own name what they told him, without checking that it was physically possible, Root still manages to contradict them on a fundamental point of aviation history and add details which the Wrights found inconvenient to record for themselves

And The Bombshell 

So, what is the “explosive” conclusion promised above? One of the Root-to-Wright letters in the Library of Congress requests, “When you get out of the corn fields and come back to the starting point, let me know and I will be down again.”

Clearly, the Brothers had not, at that time, mastered the art of flying a circular path, but Root is keen to see this for himself as soon as possible after they have navigated the airborne Flyer back to its point of origin without it going astray.

And the date of this letter? September 22, 1904. So, just two days after the Wright diary depicts a perfect circular flight and adds the notation “Root present,” the gentleman himself has arrived back home and is eagerly asking to be notified of the eventual achievement of that feat which he has, supposedly, just witnessed. Earlier correspondence (September 12) makes it clear that Root was intending to be in Dayton within the next week or so; there is no mix-up with dates .

Root’s letter to the Wrights shows keenness to see a circular flight and makes a tantalizing reference to an unintentional diversion into a corn field.

Two days after supposedly witnessing a historic, circular flight, Root appears to have forgotten all about it

Either Root is suffering from clinical senility causing serious memory loss, or the Wright diary is — not to put too fine a point on it — “misleading.” Subsequent letters from Root, and the editorial writings in his magazine over the ensuing months, show no evidence of an advanced medical condition.

But there remains one further problem. By the time Root’s much delayed, re-written, re-re-written and re-re-re-written article was published three months later, he had entirely reversed his “for publication” recollection of what he had seen on September 20. He even describes, breathlessly, the aircraft heading straight for him after it has completed its circle. How come?

Did the Wrights badger Root into changing his story? In truth, it is mystifying what prompted his volte face, beyond, perhaps (as his regular letters make clear), frustration at constant requests to “censor” and delay publication of his story, leading to despair that it would ever appear in print. One might conjecture that the otherwise perfectly honest Root decided he would write “whatever it takes” to win the go-ahead to publish.

 Root’s letters of September 22, September 30 and October 8 included three progressively revised drafts, all of which the Wrights forbade to be published; other letters (September 22, September c25, October 8) referred in exasperation to newspaper and magazine reports which breached Wright “security” (the Smithsonian missed those, too!); there was a meeting in Dayton in late November, presumably including further “clarifications” by the Wrights; and a fourth — even fifth — version was submitted for approval on December 24. The Brothers allowed this last-mentioned to appear, but sent only a doctored picture of an earlier glider by way of the requested illustration.

In fact, the conflict between Root’s private and public versions of events extends as far as the location of the corn field that the aircraft finished up in on September 20. The Wrights say they flew a perfect circle, under adequate control, on that date; witness, Amos Root says, privately, that they wandered off into an adjacent field, unable to fully control their flight path.

(Interestingly, the Wrights never declared the purpose of the flight on the afternoon of September 20, although they had attempted a first turn five days earlier and it ended in a crash. The morning’s sortie meandered over the Prairie in an S shape. Was this another failed attempt at a circle which, somehow, we are asked to believe, all came right after lunch? At this stage, the aerodynamics of the Flyer were such that it would both start turning when this was not desired; and/or refuse to come out of a turn, once in one. These tendencies were only overcome 12 months later after significant redesign.)

The September 27 letter from Root contains no evidence that the Wrights objected (in theirs of September 26) to his statements that [a] they had not yet flown a circle and [b] they had landed outside the boundaries of the Prairie on 20th.  In fact, Root’s letter of September c25 makes a second reference, with its prophesy of some future time when the Brothers will, indeed, be able to, “go out of that field and get back into it”. Had the Wrights regarded these statements as falsifications impugning their already proven achievements, they would have raised objections immediately — and the ever-courteous Root would have been fulsome in his apologies. They didn’t; so he didn’t; ergo, his letters were relating the truth as both parties then saw it. The pressure on him to suppress and contradict himself was, obviously, more subtle and came later.

 And, also, Root has modern, computer-aided aerodynamic analysis of the Flyer’s aerodynamics to back up his original version, describing an erratic flight. So — whose story is to be believed?

Into the cornfields. A Wright first?
In 1940, the Luftwaffe put many more aircraft into Britain’s September corn fields but, curiously, this was one “first” that the Wright Brothers, most uncharacteristically, declined to claim for themselves.