Thursday, May 31, 2018

WRight Perspective - Article Two of Four

The  WRight  Perspective – Article  Two
by Joe Bullmer 
The Wright Brothers, left to right, Wilbur and Orville, at their home in Dayton, Ohio.

     As pointed out in the introduction to the first article in this series, the impressively technical Smithsonian publication The Wright Flyer, An Engineering Perspective,  (hereafter referred to as the Perspective), [full text found here] has influenced the beliefs of many interested in early Wright aircraft.  But the Perspective compilation includes many non-technical and some technical statements and opinions that contradict information in the Wrights’ records and in this author’s book The WRight Story. 
      The purpose of this series of articles is to present this author’s positions on these differences. 
 Image result for wright story bullmer
    In addition to other material, over twelve hundred pages of the surviving records of the Wrights’ work were studied to create The WRight Story.  Consequently it corrects dozens of common misconceptions concerning their work.  These errors have been repeated for many decades and still are by most whose reputations have been built in part on the traditional Wright brothers’ story. The WRight Story contains hundreds of references to the Wrights’ own words and records, and detailed proofs of all points made in these discussions. 
     The author of The WRight Story and this series of articles has a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering along with additional post graduate studies from the University of Michigan, and has worked in the field of aircraft design and performance for decades.  Consequently this author is knowledgeable of the technical detail presented in the subject Smithsonian publication.

     This discussion addresses the second paper in the Perspective titled Aerodynamics, Stability, and Control of the 1903 Wright Flyer.  Although that section is fairly technical, effort has been made to make this discussion much less so.  The length of the subject Perspective article, 20 pages of double column print, has dictated the length of this discussion.  The subject article was originally an American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronomics (AIAA) Wright Flyer Project paper numbered WF 84/09-1.

     The first page of the article, page 19 of the Perspective, includes the statement that by the end of 1903 “the Wrights had in hand all of the fundamental understanding and knowledge they needed to show the world how to fly”.  This is a major overstatement since, as clearly shown in their writings and patent, they did not understand how cambered wings lifted their vehicle off of the ground, nor did they yet know how to control the vehicle’s direction of flight.

Edward Huffaker, important aviation

 pioneer, who, together with Dr. George Spratt,
 provided early research and essential advice to the Wright brothers


     The next paragraph states that the Wrights “conducted the necessary tests….. to learn just what they required to succeed” giving the impression that they determined what all of these necessary tests would be.  But it should be noted that they were talked into a most critical test and assisted in carrying it out by visitors to their Kitty Hawk camp, namely George Spratt and Edward Huffaker.

      This test proved that the movements of the center of lift of their wings were opposite to what the Wrights had thought and exactly as Spratt and Huffaker had said, thus explaining their vehicles’ instabilities.  Nonetheless, they still did not change their aircraft’s configuration.  Also, both  Octave Chanute and Dr. Spratt 
Image result for octave chanute
Octave Chanute, one of the first aviation pioneers. He was the author  of "Progress in Flying Machines," an early reference for all of the aviation pioneers, including the Wrights.

familiarized them with wind tunnels, showing them photos of tunnels and the scheme for the lift-vs-drag balance that the Wrights were to use.

  On the next page it is stated that their wind tunnel data “served them well for a decade”.  This may be true, but unfortunately the data served no one else.  Contrary to common practice within the fledgling aviation fraternity, the Wrights never published their data, according to Marvin McFarland and others.*

Otto Lilienthal, glider pilot and great aviation pioneer.

     Page 20 of the Engineering Perspective also claims that “Otto Lilienthal   had used a whirling arm apparatus to measure the lift and drag for various airfoils” clearly implying that was a likely source of errors.  This is irrelevant.  The data the Wrights used was developed by Otto in a natural straight steady wind.  A whirling arm had nothing to do with it.  This is easily proven by comparing the Lilienthal data that the Wrights used to the plates at the end of Lilienthal's book, "Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation."


     The next paragraph states that “the difficulty [in generating lift] lay with "Smeaton's coefficient"  This is also not true since Smeaton’s coefficient primarily affects wing area and the very successful 1902 glider had essentially the same wing area as the poorly performing 1901 machine.  The reason the 1901 machine performed so badly was that both the 1901 and 1900 machines had extremely poor aspect ratios and camber shapes while the well performing 1902 vehicle did not.  These were the Wrights’ own mistakes as they discovered with their wind tunnel and as they admitted in a November 24, 1901, letter to Octave Chanute. 

     Then on the next page the authors go on to say that “With a clever combination of their wind tunnel data and a few tests with a wing from their 1901 gliders (sic) they concluded that the correct value [of Smeaton’s coefficient] was 0.0033.”  In actuality, on October 6, 1901, over a month before they built their wind tunnel, Wilbur told Chanute that "I see no good reason for using a greater [Smeaton's] coefficient than [Langley's value of] 0.0033." They had previously tried to calculate the coefficient with bicycle tests but concluded that those tests were not sufficiently accurate.  So, since it seemed consistent with their glider data, they adopted Langley’s value.

     On page 22 it is claimed that the great German glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal died because of  “a vertical gust, or by…. raising the nose too far.”  Although the Wrights had no information to dispute this, it seems extremely doubtful that, with nearly 2,000 glides under his belt, Lilienthal could have made such a novice mistake.  Other more likely explanations made at the time by those familiar with his equipment include that he was of necessity practicing with a poorly maintained glider that broke a tail support, or that he was testing a new pitch control that failed.

     Also on this page it is stated that “whether their aircraft were stable or unstable was an accidental matter” and so “the question of the Wrights’ intentions to design an unstable airplane is meaningless” as if they never addressed the problem, didn’t care, or their intentions can not be determined.  In fact they stated quite clearly that they did care and intended to design a stable vehicle, but the movement of the center of lift with changes in angle of attack was in the opposite direction from what they thought it would be. 
     During his speech to the Western Society of Engineers in 1901Wilbur stated, "Our peculiar plan of control by forward surfaces instead of tails was based on the assumption that the center of pressure would continue to move farther and farther forward as the angle [of attack] became less”.  In his 1920 legal deposition Orville recalled their perplexity over the situation thus: “Our elevator was placed in front of the [wing] surfaces with the idea of producing inherent stability fore and aft, which it should have done had the travel of the center of pressure been forward [with decreasing angle of attack] as we had been led to believe.  We found, however, that these machines were anything but inherently stable fore and aft.”  Thus their original intentions are quite clear.  They did address the problem and wanted a stable aircraft, but their basic understanding of aerodynamics was incorrect.  Perpetuating the result of this mistake turned out to be extremely detrimental to the acceptance of their planes.  They finally abandoned canard elevators in 1910.

     Figure 3 on page 22 is incomplete, and Figure 4 on page 23 is incorrect and confusing.  Figure 3 shows aircraft axes and positive rotational moments, but as a setup for Figure 4 the directions of positive angular displacements should also have been indicated.  

Figure 3:

Figure 4:

     Figure 4 contains three plots intended to show how stabilizing moments should vary for angular displacements along each of the aircraft’s three axes of rotation.  To properly envision this problem one need first realize that the axis, angle, and moment directions are all supposed to follow what are called “right hand rules”.  That means that if you take your right hand palm down and extend the thumb to the side, the first finger straight out, and the second finger straight down, then the axes of the airplane are labeled in that order.  The thumb is the positive x or roll axis through the nose, the index or first finger is the positive y or pitch axis out the right wing, and the second finger is the yaw axis z positive straight down.
     Then if you stick your right thumb out again and curl your fingers, as you point your thumb in the positive direction of an axis, your fingers indicate the positive direction of aircraft rotation about that axis, and the positive direction of a moment, and moment coefficient, about that axis.  For example if your thumb is pointing out the nose of the aircraft your curled fingers show the direction of positive roll (right wing down) and positive rolling moment coefficient.  These are standard academic conventions for the mathematics used to describe aircraft maneuvering. 

     A little thought reveals that, using the conventions just described, a given positive rotation of an aircraft should generate a negative torque or moment in the opposite direction to bring a stable airplane back to its original position, and visa-versa.  That’s really all one needs to know.  Standard graphic presentations show positive displacement angles to the right versus the moment coefficients generated plotted positive upward.  Thus lines of positive stability about any axis should always have a negative slope, a positive angular displacement generating a moment in the opposite direction.  The more negative the slopes, the stronger the stabilizing influences.  Unfortunately, in the Perspective, Figure 4a is unnecessarily complicated, Figure 4b shows the wrong axes and slope, and Figure 4c is mislabeled.

     The non-technical reader may not care about this tutorial on aircraft stability diagrams, and I would agree that it is unnecessary to a reasonable understanding of how the Wright Flyer flew.  But it is instructive to see how something so seemingly impressive as Figure 4 can in fact be so confused.

Figure 5A:

Figure 5B Canard Configuration:

     Figure 5A on page 24 presents four airplane stability sketches.  The canard configuration shown at the top right, and shown here as Figure 5B, is claimed to be stable because the heavy positive load on the canard would cause it to stall before the wing does as the airplane pitches up, thus lowering the nose.  At the limit this is indeed a stable reaction.  But stability in flight is more concerned with the effects of small perturbations from nominal.  In that case, as the nose of this supposedly stable canard configuration is pitched up slightly, the canard’s increased positive angle of attack would cause more pitch up.  Although the main wing would develop slightly more lift, it would do so closer to the center of gravity tending to negate its stabilizing effect.  Thus, unless the canard is very small, these effects would result in a further pitch up of the aircraft. This unstable pitch reaction contradicts the labeling.

     The Wrights eventually reduced this problem somewhat by moving the center of gravity well forward putting a heavy positive load on the canard.  (Interestingly this altered their canard configuration toward the tandem wing configuration used by Langley.)

     Pages 25 through 34 display a Vortex Lattice analysis and the results of two wind tunnel investigations.  Although somewhat impressive, neither contains any surprises or unexpected results, and thus they add little toward explaining the overall flight characteristics of the 1903 Flyer.  The authors say as much in their summary at the end of the article.

     However these pages do contain some noteworthy comments.  On page 31 it is claimed that “from the beginning of their work, the Wrights chose not to use dihedral." In support of this a February, 1902, letter to Chanute is cited.  However, 1902 is a long way from the beginning.  In fact their first glider in 1900 began tests with dihedral in its wings, but it was later taken out leaving the wings perfectly straight.  The 1901 machine also started with straight wings, but by the end of testing they had decided to arch their wings thereby using  anhedral. All subsequent vehicles into 1905 used anhedral.

     The article also claims that “the Wrights’ gliders had anhedral….to allow more effective use of the warp control”.  It certainly made the use of a roll control more necessary, but other than making the vehicle unstable, anhedral added nothing to control effectiveness.  They actually used anhedral to keep winds from blowing their vehicles back into the hillside while traversing the hill.  Although dihedral would cause the wind rushing up the hillside to tilt a traversing aircraft into the hill, anhedral caused the vehicle to tilt away from the hill. 
     On page 31 the effect of dihedral is explained as wind blowing on the tops or bottoms of wings.  This is a common explanation.  However a document of the technical stature of the Perspective should point out that dihedral actually makes wings roll away from cross winds by increasing the effective angle of attack of the upwind wing and decreasing it on the down wind wing.

     There is a discussion on page 32 describing the problems the Wrights had in 1904 and 1905 trying to learn how to configure and operate their vehicles to make turns.  Notably, this directly contradicts the comment in the previous section of the Perspective that claims the 1902 glider was capable of making “smooth banked turns”. 

     Page 34 states that the “combination of warp and rudder deflection will produce….a more coordinated turn”.  That is not why the Wrights connected them.  They clearly stated more than once that when the aircraft inadvertently banked and they tried to right it, warping would cause it to roll, yaw and spin into the lower downward warped wing having increased drag.  The original rudder was fixed straight ahead to keep the vehicle on course but this didn’t work.  The rudder was then made moveable to counteract the yaw due to warping, but was only given enough deflection to keep the aircraft going straight when warping was used to correct an inadvertent roll, not enough to yaw it into, or out of, a coordinated turn.  That is why the two controls had to be disconnected in 1905, to enable performing both simple roll corrections and coordinated turns.

     Pages 35 to 41 are devoted to an extensive Root Locus analysis of the closed loop response of the aircraft to control.  Much of the results of this analysis are dependent upon assumptions concerning the responses of the pilot which are represented as Kp in the diagrams.  This analysis adds, little since it concludes that the vehicle can barely be controlled by a skillful and well-practiced pilot, something we already knew.  However it does lead to an interesting and descriptive quantitative conclusion on page 35 stating that "stabilizing the 1903 Flyer is roughly equivalent to balancing a yardstick vertically on one's finger!"

     On page 41 the argument is made that “far from abandoning warp/rudder interconnection” both wing warping and rudder movements were controlled by different movements of the same stick on later models.  This is a specious argument because the original mandatory non-variable interconnection was the special feature of the Wright brothers’ control scheme that was patented.  As previously mentioned, this feature had to be abandoned in 1905, a year before the patent for it was issued, in order to make turns.  Although this feature had been abandoned, it was vigorously defended by the Wrights in subsequent patent infringement battles.

     The next article in this series will discuss the longitudinal dynamics of early Wright Flyers. 

* Marvin MacFarland's "The Papers of Orville and Wilbur Wright" are fully digitized  at hathiway The link is to Volume I of two volumes.


Joe Bullmer, above, has a Master's degree plus advanced studies in Aeronautical Engineering. His first contribution to the"Truth in Aviation History"series of articles is "Joe Bullmer Rebuttal to Tom Crouch in the"Huffington Post."       

All of the pictures and most of the links in this essay were selected and added by the founding editor of "Truth in Aviation History."__

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The WRight Perspective: by Joe Bullmer. Article One of Four

The WRight Perspective    
by Joe Bullmer

     Since its publication by the Smithsonian in 1987, the 107 page booklet The Wright Flyer, An Engineering Perspective (above), hereinafter referred to as the Perspective, has been considered by many to be the most technically thorough and accurate assessment of the development and characteristics of the earliest Wright aircraft.  It has an impressively technical appearance, is a compilation of papers written by impressively credentialed authors, and carries the authority of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Smithsonian.  It can be seen online at the wright flyer, an engineering perspective – internet archive 

    Unfortunately, close examination of the Perspective reveals numerous judgments and opinions which, while popular with both prominent and amateur aviation historians, contradict Wright statements and records.  A number of statements appearing in different sections of the compilation actually contradict each other.  Also, most of the technical material presented gives very limited added insight into the design and performance of these vehicles.       
     The author of this article, a retired aeronautical design engineer, has written a book titled The WRight Story. 

Its purpose is to correct the historical record of the Wrights’ work using their own words and records.  In that book, the Perspective was referred to as “perhaps the best example of excellent detailed research and reporting” on technical aspects of the design and performance of early Wright aircraft.  Research for The WRight Story did reveal information differing from statements appearing in the Perspective, but this was mostly on non-technical points and no worse than in most other previous publications about the Wrights.  

     However, since publication of The WRight Story numerous differences between information in it and material appearing in the Perspective have been pointed out by concerned readers.   This is the first of four articles by the author of The WRight Story presenting his positions on these differences.  These positions are presented in further detail, with many hundreds of references to specific sources, in The WRight Story.

     Not counting the brief half page Forward, the first section of the Perspective is titled, The Wright Brothers, The First True Aeronautical Engineers.  On page 10 appears the statement “wing warping, was another one of the major ingredients of the Wrights’ success”.  Although the Wrights did indeed need some form of roll control, others had used warping previously; and better ways to control aircraft roll, such as ailerons or separate winglets, already existed.  Unintended effects of warping turned out to be a source of trouble for the Wrights throughout flight testing; and it was eventually rejected by aircraft builders and buyers world wide.  The Wrights finally abandoned it for ailerons in 1915 after challenges to their patent, largely based on opposable warping, were rendered moot by the federal government.
The 1901 Wright glider at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
     Page 11 contains the statement that the Wrights’ 1901 glider “embodied the best aerodynamic state of the art”.  Actually, with a terrible aspect ratio, poor camber, and extreme instability caused by the canard elevator and inappropriate center of gravity location, the 1901 vehicle could barely be made to fly.  However, a number of aircraft and unmanned models developed by the Wrights’ predecessors did not have these deficiencies and flew quite well.

     Appearing on the same page is the popular quote of Wilbur’s 1901 statement as “nobody will fly for a thousand years.”  According to Smithsonian historians his actual and more reasonable statement was that man wouldn’t fly for 50 years.

    One of the most common beliefs about the Wright aircraft appears on page 13.  There it is stated that control over all three axes of the aircraft allowed the 1902 glider to “make smooth banked turns.”  Actually the Wrights added the vertical aft rudders to enable that vehicle to continue to fly straight when correcting an inadvertent roll. That’s why their first rudder was a fixed installation.  Soon they found that didn’t work, and that the rudder had to be moveable and connected with wing warping to keep the vehicle on course.  The similarly configured 1903 Flyer had the same control scheme for exactly the same purpose.
The Wright 1902 glider in flight. The famous Wright 1906 patent was based on this glider and not for a powered machine.
     The Wrights’ patent, based on the 1902 vehicle, makes it unmistakably clear that the three axis control of that vehicle was to allow it to maintain heading while correcting inadvertent roll, not to facilitate a turn.  Another obvious proof of the lack of turning ability of the 1902 and 1903 vehicles is that the whole purpose of their subsequent extensive flight testing and development throughout the next two years, including numerous serious crashes, was to develop the capability to initiate and complete turns with their aircraft.  This was only accomplished by totally abandoning the patented interconnected rudder and warping control scheme of the 1902 glider and 1903 aircraft.

     Page 13 also contains the statement that the Wrights decided that the empirical techniques used by designers of maritime propellers “were useless [for an] aeronautical application”.   Actually the main reason maritime designs were and are largely irrelevant is that air is compressible and water is not.  Consequently the propellers must function differently in the totally different mediums.  But the Wrights did not understand how cambered wing sections develop lift, so they did not appreciate this basic problem.  However they did object to the maritime “empirical” design techniques and wanted a positive theoretical approach.  

     Having actually designed a propeller in 1960, this author can attest to the fact that, at least over a half century after the Wrights, propeller design was still not a unified mathematical theory.  It is not what mathematicians would call a “closed” problem but rather an “under-constrained” problem.  There are over twice as many unknowns as there are known factors.  Usually one starts with a known number and type of engines and maximum prop diameters dictated by the proximity of engines to each other or to the fuselage or ground.  Although there may also be speed objectives, unknowns to be determined include number of blades, blade rpm, cross section shapes, angles of attack or twist, blade width and taper, and resultant thrust from the prop(s) which actually determines speed of the props (and the vehicle) through the air.  One must also account for the acceleration of air as it approaches the propeller at various flight speeds, what the Wrights called “throwdown.”

Editor's note: These are attempts at creating close reproductions of the Wright propellers as they evolved, using the fragments of broken propellers, what few original notes that are in existance, and photographs.

     Although some equations used by the Wrights to get a handle on the problem survive, the complete design procedure they used does not. This is no doubt because their procedure also employed some “empirical” techniques such as simply picking some parameters, calculating the other factors, constructing tables of data, and iterating based on data trends.  Either they were not satisfied with the appearance of that procedure, or they wanted to preserve their design secrets.  Remember, contrary to usual practice they never published the aerodynamic data derived from their wind tunnel either.

     While on the subject of propellers it would be well to address another incorrect statement appearing on page 13, namely that Wilbur Wright “was the first to recognize that a propeller is nothing more than a twisted wing”.  It is fairly well known that Sidney Hollands presented a paper to the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain in 1885 on exactly that subject.  As recounted in Chanute’s Progress in Flying Machines, a document that the Wrights had originally studied, Hollands “stated that he had found it advantageous to make the fan blade concave on the driving or lifting side, and that the angle of maximum efficiency was 15 degrees with the plane of motion at the tip and 30 degrees at the root.”  (Here it must be remembered that Hollands, like most others including the Wrights, erroneously thought cambered sections developed their push or lift by pressure on the bottom or concave side.)  Hollands also pointed out that the blades should be tapered toward their tips, something the Wrights didn’t appreciate.

     What’s more, as pointed out in the next section of the Perspective, three designers of maritime propellers, Lanchester, Drzweicki, and Prandtl, had developed design theories for air propellers that considered them as cambered twisted airfoils well before the Wrights addressed the problem.

     Page 16 quotes Orville’s claim to have taken off on the first flight of December 17th with the airplane having “raised by its own power alone” into the air.  This statement should not be allowed to stand since the headwind of 25 to 27 mph recorded by the Wrights supplied 90% of the airspeed and 80% of the lift required for takeoff.  The aircraft was almost flying sitting still.  In fact, later that day the vehicle was raised by the wind and rolled over while stationary and unattended.

     Finally, on page 16 the author presents his opinion that “Wilbur and Orville Wright were indeed the first true aeronautical engineers” and lists six reasons to support this claim.  They are:
1.       “They were the first to recognize the importance of    control around all three axes of the airplane.”  Actually they did not originally “recognize” the importance of three-axis control but rather were eventually driven to it in order to be able to maintain straight and level flight.  Others before the Wrights did “recognize” the importance of three axis control of aircraft.  These include John Montgomery, Francis Wenham, Pierre Mouillard, and go all the way back to Jean-Marie LeBris in 1857.

2.   "They were the first to modify and improve their flight controls by means of a systematic servies of successful glider flights in 1902." In fact, Otto Lilienthal and Augustus Herring were testing and improving their flight control through glider tests in the mid 1890s as was John Montgomery in the 1880s.

Otto Lillienthat in one of his many successful glider flights

3.            Here the statement is made that they were “the first to use wind tunnel results to correct some defective data existing in the literature.”  Actually the Wrights admitted to Chanute that their wind tunnel showed that “the [Lilienthal lift coefficient] table is probably as near correct as is possible,” and in a November 24th, 1901 letter to him they admitted that their previous lift inadequacies were their own fault for misusing Lilienthal's data.  And it was flight test data that convinced them to adopt Langley’s value of Smeaton’s coefficient months before they built the tunnels.  Their tunnel did not “correct” any of Lilienthal’s data.
4.    Although the Wrights did develop the most complete technique yet to design efficient propellers, their “understanding of the true aerodynamic function of a propeller” was preceded by others.  As previously discussed, the others include Hollands, Lanchester, Drzweicki, and Prandtl.  And technically, since they believed that cambered wings produced lift by pressure on their bottom surfaces, they also did not really understand how propellers produced thrust.
5.          The Wrights’ creation of a functioning engine, along with the help of Charlie Taylor, was indeed an impressive accomplishment. 
Charlie Taylor, the mechanic who built the Wrights' early engines.
     However, with no fuel, oil, or water pumps, and no carburetor, their engine was definitely not “beyond the state-of-the-art” as claimed here.  It was also behind the state-of-the-art in smoothness, reliability, and in weight per horsepower.
6.     The final reason given is that "the Wrights were the first to treat a flying machine as an integrated system involving aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, and flight dynamics." Although there were machines before December 17th, 1903, that had structure, engines, and aerodynamic features, it is arguable how integrated these features may have been. But the author mentions flight dynamics, which is the study of how a vehicle moves through the air, both linearly and angularly, with or without flight control inputs. In this regard, it appears that by October of 1905, the Wrights were well ahead of any of their predecessors or contemporaries. *

     The next article in this series will discuss the second paper in the Perspective compilation titled Aerodynamics, Stability, and Control of the 1903 Wright Flyer.

* Editor's note: We  respect Joe Bullmer's conclusion in number 6 and can see the validity of his reasoning. However, we are not yet certain that the jury is fully out, as new discoveries are being made in the research of some of the Wrights' contemporaries and predecessors. The standing of the Wrights in 1905 could possibly change in comparison.

 All of the pictures and most of the links in this essay were selected and added by the founding editor of "Truth in Aviation History."

Joe Bullmer, above, has a Master's degree plus advanced studies in Aeronautical Engineering. His first contribution to the"Truth in Aviation History"series of articles is "Joe Bullmer Rebuttal to Tom Crouch in the"Huffington Post."

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.

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.