Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wright Brothers "Hijacked History."--by Historian Paul Jackson*

 "The Wrights are claimed to have solved the mysteries of flight," states Aviation Historian Paul Jackson; "still to be solved is the mystery of how they managed to stage the first air hijack -- of the history of aviation."

Jackson's statement is the conclusion of an exceptional essay (below),  just released, regarding early aviation history, as presented by contemporary historians. Today's views have been unduly influenced by the many questionable claims of the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur.

Paul Jackson is writing in his private capacity as an Aviation Historian, not his public persona as Senior Editor of one of the world's most prestigious aviation publications, "Jane's All the World's Aircraft." --ed.*

Rare "close-up" photograph of the Wright  "Flyer" (III) at Kill Devil Hills, 1908. Note the inclined track
 for take off, even in 1908. Without such assistance of wind and gravity, the Wrights used a catapult, no doubt because the "Flyer" was under powered.--ed.**

"Inflated to bursting point -- the Wrights’ claims

by Aviation Historian Paul Jackson

Almost two years ago, the present reassessment of Gustave Whitehead’s aeronautical achievements was publicly launched with editorial endorsement in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. This, Jane’s was pleased to do, because the methods of research and assessment of results accorded to time-honoured procedure which generations of its editors have attempted to implement. The period under consideration was prior to the establishment of the Jane’s annual and the study did not attempt any comparison between the respective achievements of the Wright Brothers and Whitehead -- indeed the Wrights were most emphatic that there was no connection between their endeavours.
    There the matter might have rested, save for the insistence of some that it would have been impossible for anyone to have flown an aeroplane before the Wrights showed them how it was done. On that premise, Whitehead’s claim would have to be dismissed without the courtesy of a hearing — an unjust and unscholarly reaction. For reasons which will become apparent, that insistence makes the early editions of Jane’s a vital witness to evaluation of the Wright-primacy claim.
    The origin of the present dispute is in the 1940s when the Smithsonian Museum acquired what is described as the original, 1903 Wright Flyer. Documents originally withheld, but now in the public domain, show that the Wright family and their friends and advisors were permitted to write the description board below the exhibit. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a gross exaggeration of the Brothers’ achievements, which hyperbole the Smithsonian has declined to correct. Thus, it finds itself condemned to defend the patently indefensible.
    The words specified in the once-secret agreement between the Smithsonian and the Wright family, bestowing indefinite loan of the Flyer, are: “By original scientific research the Wright Brothers discovered the principles of human flight. As inventors, builders, and flyers they further developed the aeroplane, taught man to fly, and opened the era of aviation.” This sweeping and absolute declaration leaves little room for Whitehead — or, indeed, for any of the other early pioneers mentioned in the aviation history books. However, both Wright claims may be demolished with nothing more potent than rational argument.
    Firstly, Orville and Wilbur wrote that they were inspired to begin their quest for flight by the descriptions and photographs which were being published in the early 1890s of Otto Lilienthal’s gliding achievements. Clearly, therefore, Lilienthal, or a predecessor, had discovered most of the fundamentals of aviation before the Wrights had given the slightest thought to the matter. Taking credit for one’s mentor’s invention is poor form.
    The second claim summons Jane’s as a ‘near witness’. Its first edition did not appear until 1909, but in this matter, the Wrights only effectively appeared on the scene in the previous year, 1908. This proximity assists in placing the Wrights’ contribution to flight in dispassionate perspective.
    It is seldom appreciated that the iconic Wright “1903 first flight” photograph was not produced until 1 September 1908. Before then, great efforts were made to keep the Flyer and its technicalities secret — with such success that some believed the brothers did not even exist. The first surreptitiously taken images from a photographer hiding in undergrowth only appeared in May 1908. It was at an air display in France in August 1908 that the Wrights revealed the Flyer to the public and allowed other, perhaps ‘rival’, aviators to see it close-up. The Wrights did not enlighten, offer to inform, or teach anybody anything until August 1908 — almost five years after they left Kitty Hawk.
    The name of the event at which they unveiled their invention is a clue to why they were too late with their supposed magnanimity. While the Wrights were secretly developing their Flyer, the Europeans had taught themselves to fly and had produced enough flying machines of various (including non-Wright) configurations to put together an air show. Creditably and without doubt, the Wrights had the best-performing aircraft at the show, but that is not quite the same as having the only aircraft.
    That several other pioneers produced flying machines in Europe without the Wrights’ assistance, and at about the same time, confounds those who would argue that “Only the Wrights could have invented the aeroplane.” Furthermore, having seen that others had the same ability at the same time, and could draw from a common fund of basic knowledge, it becomes logically impossible summarily to dismiss any other contemporary claimant to membership of that ‘flying club’ without proper investigation. If the Wrights had some special knowledge or technology denied to others, its acquisition was a pointless diversion from the task in hand, for the Europeans managed to get into the sky without it.
    Perhaps, it may be claimed, the Wrights’ appearance in France showed the Europeans the futility of their present path and converted them to the Wright way of building aeroplanes. There was, however, no change of direction. Sensation though the Flyer was in France, within a year it had been eclipsed by Bleriot’s cross-Chanel machine. The Bleriot XI’s configuration could not have been more different: It had the elevator at the rear (not the front); it was a monoplane (not a biplane); and the propeller was in the nose (not behind the wings). It was the aeroplane layout immediately recognisable today.
    Had the Flyer been so unique and sensational when it appeared out of ‘nowhere’ in August 1908, it would be reasonable to expect the first edition of Jane’s, a mere 15 months later, to have mentioned the fact that the book could not have existed without the Brothers’ immense contribution. Reviewing the world of aviation as it then stood, Fred Jane’s Foreword found it unnecessary to make any mention of the Wrights at all. Their aircraft (and its licence-built copies) is treated in the body of the book with no greater reverence than any other machine; and the longest entry in the book is that reserved for the Bleriot XI. The Wright was already yesterday’s aeroplane.
    The reason why Fred Jane launched his annual in 1909 was that there were so many different shapes of aircraft about that a guide was necessary. The claim that the world of aviation was, at the time, divided into (1) Wright types and (2) no-hopers does not survive scrutiny on several levels. Jane’s was summoned into existence precisely because the Wrights were not showing the world how an aircraft should be built and flown — or, at least, the whole world was not listening, and was getting the job done with alternative tools.
    It is undeniable that the Wright Flyer inspired many copies in 1909, and this is testimony to its flying qualities. But how strong was the Brothers’ influence on what real people were doing with real aeroplanes in real time?
    The pages of the 1909 Jane’s provide an answer. Analysing those aircraft which are illustrated by a photograph and/or drawing, it can be seen how many conform to the Wright canard-pusher-biplane configuration. There were 126 illustrated aircraft (excluding licensed versions) in the book, of which 42 employed the Wright layout — exactly a third. Nearly as many (38) were monoplanes, all but three with tractor propellers. Another 15 were biplanes with rear elevators and six were tractor triplanes with rear elevators. Discounting helicopters and kites, another 20, despite illustration, had layouts which are difficult to define.
     Perhaps, the Wrights’ 1908 ‘lessons’ were a little too recent for assimilation in 1909. Jumping four years to the 1913 Jane’s makes the position clearer, practical experiment having had ample opportunity to shape events. The matter may be summarised in the entry for the Wright Company, which had, even itself, abandoned the foreplane.
    The 1913 book illustrates 140 aircraft (with only one, additional indeterminate design), a mere 17 of which are to the Wright configuration. Its numbers were falling precipitately. The monoplane tractor (59) and biplane tractor (37), both with conventional tails, dominate. Pushers account for 25, most of them biplanes. Conclusively, therefore, the heyday of the Wright aeroplane design was in the year after it had been revealed — before the realisation dawned (reinforced by Bleriot) that those working on tractor designs with elevators at the rear were right all along.
    With hindsight, it can be seen that one ‘achievement’ of the Wrights was to misdirect a third of 1909’s aircraft programmes down a dead-end street. Back in the USA, they went on to exert such a malign influence on their homeland’s aviation that the country that invented the aeroplane was forced to buy British and French aircraft when it entered the First World War a decade later, because its own were so far behind in technology. The Wrights, their business partners and their lawyers were responsible for this squandered legacy.
    In the Foreword to the 1913 edition, Fred Jane credits the Wrights with being the first to fly an aeroplane. Curiously, this is an accolade he felt unable to bestow during the previous three years, when memories were fresher and the impact of 1908 far stronger. His endorsement was, of course, coincident with publication of Orville Wright’s self-flattering How We Invented The Airplane. Were ‘the victors’ already writing their own history? Certainly, the Wrights were the first aviators to write articles telling the world they were the first aviators.
    The Wright Flyer was in the limelight for fractionally less than a year in 1908-09. Its successor was no better than a dozen other contemporaries of different configurations and, in any case, Wilbur and Orville had lost interest in the aeroplane by then. There was nothing more from them. The Wrights are claimed to have solved the mysteries of flight; still to be solved is the mystery of how they managed to stage the first air hijack -- of the history of aviation."

 *Due to a series of miscommunications, it appears that I didn't have Senior Editor Paul Jackson's direct permission, as I thought, to publish this essay on my blog (even though the essay had been disseminated). Jackson didn't write this essay with the intention of having it published. In the spirit of true research, I feel I need to correct the record, as all honest and responsible researchers would do. My apologies to Paul Jackson and the readers of this blog.

** Photo and caption of the Wright "Flyer" in 1908 were added to this essay, not by writer Paul Jackson, but by "Truth in Aviation History" editors

"Truth in Aviation History" blog posts to be continued...


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pieces of the Wright Puzzle. What Really Happened December 17, 1903, Part II

 "Truth is truth to the end of reckoning"--William Shakespeare
"It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen."--Homer Simpson, "The Simpsons"

Kill Devil Hill, Outer Banks, North Carolina, (back side). This is the hill the Wrights used to conduct their aviation experiments and attempts at powered flight, according to their witnesses from the U. S. Life Saving Service.The Wrights declared they made their attempts at powered flight December 17, 1903, not from the hill, but from "level ground."

When the Wright brothers were experimenting with flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, from 1900 through 1903, the Surfmen at Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station provided them with an enormous amount of invaluable assistance. Consequently, these men were at hand to see events as they unfolded. The precursors of the Coast Guard, they were called Surfmen or Life Savers at the time. Their most critical job was to save lives and property along the dangerous coast of the Outer Banks. The U. S. Life Savers were not known as Coast Guardsmen until the year 1915, when the Life Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were combined to become our U. S. Coast Guard. 


These underpaid heroes received no wages from the Wrights other than the pleasure of watching and helping.  As was typical of the Wright brothers, they gave no credit to the Surfmen or to virtually any others who freely provided them with needed assistance and advice ( see former posts), but it is clear that without their help, the brothers could not have carried on their experiments or at least carried them on to the extent they did. 

Thus in their website, "The Indispensable Men," the United States Coast Guard reminds us:  
"...(John Daniels) and the other members of the crew assisted the brothers as described in the following article. More importantly they acted as eyewitnesses to the flight. Who better to verify the flight than five employees of the U.S. Government?" (There were three of the proud and honest surfmen who observed on the day of December 17, 1903--ed.)

   "...these tough Outerbanksmen were privileged to witness history being made first-hand. Their willingness to assist the brothers with their experiments led directly to those experiments' success and they are therefore worthy of mention in this story of mankind's first heavier-than-air powered flight."

But when it comes to accepting their statements about what happened on December 17, 1903, Wright historians accuse Coast Guardman, Alpheus Drinkwater, who said he relayed the first telegram that day, of "concocting" the truth. As for actual witnesses, U. S. Surfmen, John Daniels and Adam Etheridge, their narrations got them characterized as old men who had forgotten or confused the facts. Why? It's apparent that their statements don't support the story told by the Wright brothers.

U. S. Life Saving Station at Kill Devil Hills, N. C.
Recap: Historical evidence indicates that on the morning of December 17, 1903, Surfmen witnesses, John Daniels and Willie Dough, phoned Joe Dosher, the telegraph operator at Kitty Hawk  that the Wrights had achieved a  flight.They placed their call from the  U. S. Life Saving Station (right) at Kill Devil Hills, N. C. The two Surfmen had pledged to inform Harry Moore, a Norfolk, Virginia, reporter, if the Wrights were successful; and Dosher could telegraph Norfolk from Kitty Hawk. The Kill Devil Hills station pictured here was a fifteen minute walk from the Wright camp, and it's accepted that the flight attempt we're concerned with was initiated at 10:35 a. m..

According to the telegraph operator in Norfolk, Virginia, C. C. Grant, it was a little after 11 a. m. when he received the telegraph from the Surfman to be delivered to Moore, about the first "flight" of December 17. The timeline fits perfectly.

Grant gave Moore the message personally by 11:40 that morning, and Moore called the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station for more information. A Surfman on the other end of the line (probably Daniels) confirmed the message. According to Moore, the Surfman said that "at last the nuts had flown. One of those fellows flew just like a bird. The two of them put gasoline in the engine in their contraption and after it glided down a hill on a wooden track, it went up. It was Orville that flew and he came down safely."

Obviously, neither the three Surfmen, who witnessed the Wright brothers' attempts at flight on December 17, 1903, nor Harry Moore, who reported for the Norfolk newspaper, knew that the criteria for a true powered, sustained flight does not include a take off from a hill into a strong head wind. The Wrights must have known, however, because they insisted from the beginning that they made four flights December 17 all from level ground.  The only witnesses who could verify or refute their claim were the three Surfmen who were there--John Daniels,Willie Dough, and Adam Etheridge; a farmer, W. C. Brinkley, whom Wright historians call a lumber dealer and never made a statement; as well as an 18 year old boy, Johnny Moore, who was considered "slow" by the residents of the area. See the 1933 letter included below from resident William Tate to a Mr. Miller. Tate states in the letter that "Johnny Moore was a youth who just happened along....He was not a very bright boy and of
course grew up to be a very illiterate man."

Many years later, it was claimed that one or two other Lifesavers watched from the Life Saving Station a mile away, more than likely because the Wrights needed more witnesses for one of the Wright lawsuits.

"It's just like yesterday to me," said witness John Daniels in 1927, 24 years later. "The Wrights got their machine out of its shed that morning, and we helped them roll it up to the top of the highest hill, on a monorail." The quotation is from an interview of Daniels, then a Coast Guardsman, by a W. O. Saunders of Colliers magazine.( Emphasis mine)

"...The thing went off with a rush" said Daniels in the interview, " and left the rail as pretty as you please, going straight out into the air maybe 120 feet when one of its wings tilted and caught in the sand, and the thing stopped."
"We got it back up on the hill again, and this time Wilbur got in. The machine got a better start this time and went off like a bird. It flew near about a quarter of a mile...and the rudder hit the sand." (Emphasis mine)
The Saunders interview for Colliers is recounted in the book "The Published Writings of Wilbur and Orville Wright," edited by Peter L.Jakab and Rick Young, The Smithsonian Institution, year 2000, pp 274+

In the 1932 "Daily Advance," Elizabeth City, N. C., Daniels maintains his assertion that they placed the Wright "flyer" on the hill to launch the flights on the 17th. Only the two so called "flights" are mentioned here again, Orville's short hop and Wilbur's (claimed 852 feet by the Wrights)--and Daniels states that Wilbur went up "later." This indicates that Wilbur's attempt was made, as we believe, in the afternoon.

In  1933, William  F. Tate was asked  by a Wright advocate from, Dayton, Ohio, named William V. Miller for names of witnesses who had observed the Wrights activities and flights at the Outer Banks. Postmaster William Tate was an OuterBanksman, who had encouraged the Wrights to come to Kitty Hawk and become a life long admirer. Miller was part of a group in 1931 interviewing various witnesses and trying to back up the Wrights' claims,

Tate's answer, in part, is presented as follows:

"Department of Commerce
Lighthouse Service
fifth district
Coinjock, N.C.
June 7th 1933
My Dear Mr. Miller.
Replying to your letter of June 2nd I will say that as to the names of persons
who were present at the Wrights camp during their experiments in 1900-1901-
1902-1903, there were many people who at different times visited the camp, but
many of them who were men at that time have passed to the great beyond, I
refer of course to people who were middle aged men at that time Many small
boys of course visited the camp but their juvenile interest at that time was not
sufficient to be of any use to You from an historical standpoint. Of the five
who witnessed the first flight three are living. J.T. Daniels and A.D. Etheridge both
of Manteo N.C. Johnny Moore was a youth who just happened along. He is
living and his address is Collington N.C. He was not a very bright boy and of
course grew up to be a very illiterate man."

At the request of Mr. Miller, John Daniels wrote the following letter dated 1933. (Transcription immediately below the letter.)

"Manteo, N. C.
 June 30--1933

Dear friend,
I Don't know very much to write about the flight. I was there and it was on Dec. the 17,-1903  about 10 o'clock they carried the machine up on the hill and Put her on the track, and started the engine and they through (sic) a coin to see who should take the first go, so it fell on Mr. Orival, and he went about 100 feet or more, and then Mr Wilbur takes the machine up on the Hill and Put her on the track and he went off across the Beach about a half a mile or more before he came Down, he flew so close to the top of a little hill that he pulled the Rudder off so we had to Bring her Back to the camp, and it was there I got tangled up in the machine and she Blew off across the Beach with me hanging in it, and she went all to Pieces It didn't hurt me very much I got Bruised me some. They Packed up every thing and went home at Dayton. that Ended the Day. I snapped the first Picture of a Plain that ever flew. They were very nice men and we all enjoyed Being out at the camp with them [mosly every ?] Days
     that accident made me the first airoplane causiality [casualty] in the world and I have Piece of the upright that I was holding on to when it fell.
      would be glad to Render any information at any time you need it
                                                                      Sincerely, John T. Daniels
                                                                      Manteo NC
(emphasis, of course, mine)

In even another statement on 12 March 1935, Daniels, then a member of the Nags Head Coast Guard Station, said,
"Orville Wright made the first flight in the plane with the power in it, between then and eleven o'clock, the 17th of December, 1903, and he went some 100 feet.  Then we carried it back on the hill and put it on the track and Mr. Wilbur Wright got in the machine and went about one half mile out across the beach towards the ocean.  Then we carried the machine back to camp and set it down and the wind breezed up and blew it over and just smashed it to pieces with me hanging on to it.  The way they decided who was to make the first flight was as they were talking, Wilbur and Orville walked aside and flipped a coin, and Orville won the toss and he made the first flight."   (Italics mine)
Note again that only two flight attempts are mentioned in these statements, Orville's hop at 10:35 a. m. and Wilbur's final attempt, both from the hill.

Below, a quotation from
Stanley W. Kandebo
Assistant Managing Editor
Aviation Week & Space Technology confirms the lack of respect that Wright historians give to the testimony of the witnesses.

"Obviously, after 30 years, time has played some tricks with his memory and Daniels has
combined some events that occurred on December 14, 1903 with those of December 17,
1903. This is something he also did in an interview that was written in 1927 by
newspaperman W. O. Saunders. Daniels has the Wrights taking the machine "up the hill"and conducting the famous coin toss on December 17,  events clearly described in Orville's diary as occurring on December 14, the date of Wilbur's aborted flight.
Daniels, who was a part of the activities on both days, does get the 17th's sequence of flights correct, but the description of Wilbur's brush with a sand dune could be describing the events of the 14th. On the other hand, it could have just been Daniels' vantage point that caused him to describe this as he did. According to Orville's diary, on the 17th, at the end of Wilbur's second flight that day he plunged into a small hummock, breaking up the front rudder after a flight of 852 feet, not the half mile or so that Daniels recalled."
Note that Kandebo, like other Wright historians, clearly gives the Wrights the final word on what happened. They never appear to question the integrity of the Wrights' statements, as many did with reason towards the beginning of the last century. Today if Orville's "diary" states the flights on the 17th were from level ground, etc., then that word is gospel--and the witnesses are, therefore, forgetful and mostly all wrong. True, Daniels tends to exaggerate and vary his estimate of the length of Wilbur's last "flight/glide."The 852 feet the Wrights said might have seemed like half a mile when moving the 600 plus pound plane back to camp in the wind and the cold. But there is no reason to disbelieve Daniels when he says that the Wrights tossed a coin on the 17th of December simply because Orville says they tossed a coin on the 14th. Might they not have tossed a coin on both days?

Can we accept that contemporary Wright historians like Kandebo of "Aviation Week and Space Technology" really have a case that the Life Savers were too old to remember the facts? Had too much time gone by after the events of December 17 when they made their statements? It's possible, of course. Most of us can't remember details of what happened yesterday. But then most yesterdays aren't associated with momentous events.

 To be continued in Part III...