Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pieces of the Wright puzzle, What Really Happened Part III

   "Truth never damages a cause that is just."--Mahatma Gandhi

Predecessors of the Kill Devil Hills Coast Guard, below, were witnesses of
the Wright brothers "flights" on December 17, 1903.

American heroes on the job.  The Kill Devil Hills Coast Guard rescues crew from stricken ship in 1938.

Getting the Story Right
There is a new blog in town called "Getting the Story Wright." The stated purpose: a "defense against those who would attempt to revise history, and discredit the Brothers (sic) of their rightful claim to first powered heavier than air flight. From their hometown of Dayton Ohio, Birthplace of Aviation."(sic)

From this contemporaneous blog, we have the following statement:
"Photographic evidence of the flight, 'the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it started'* is shown below. The flight was repeated, four flights total, in front of reliable witnesses, and a telegraph indicating success was sent home that afternoon. Newspapers carried the story the next day, December 18, 1903." (emphasis mine)
"Photographic evidence."
Witness Daniels was told he took this picture Dec. 17, 1903.

That the "flights" were in front of reliable witnesses is not disputed by us. But we do dispute the Wright "historians"' contention that the witnesses of these so called "first flights" didn't get the story right. They say they got it all wrong.

What the witnesses remember isn't the official story,"Getting the Story Wright," as related above.*
John Daniels didn't remember taking the picture, above, ( but he said he must have because the  Wrights told him he did). He did remember supporting the wing of the plane, though.** How he did both would be one of the "miracles" of Kitty Hawk. Moreover, statements by both witnesses, Adam Etheridge and John Daniels, preclude Orville Wright's 1908 claim that the plane landed at a "point as high as that from which it started."* The points at which it landed had to be lower than the starting point, because Daniels stated more than once that the plane was carried up the hill for its launch. Etheridge agreed. Moreover, John Daniels didn't mention four "flights." His statements mention only two; and additional documentation indicates that the second one was in the afternoon, not in the morning, as the Wrights claimed in their telegram to their father.

Please see "Pieces of the Wright Puzzle, Part I" and "Part II"

"But they forgot what happened,"
say Wright "historians." 1928 newspaper clipping of witnesses
Coast Guardsmen from left: Adam Etheridge and John Daniels

So Wright "historians" have been stating up until now that the Lifesavers confused the facts about the events that day. Too much time had gone by for them to remember accurately what happened. See more of the posts on Of course they say that. If the witnesses' statements are true, the Wright brothers did not make the first heavier than air, manned, powered, controlled, sustained flight on December 17, 1903. Nor did Daniels take a picture of that so called flight.

Nevertheless, there are educated, intelligent groups, including entire countries, who consider themselves quite reasonable, who have been swept into a gigantic tsunami of popular belief in the Wrights. But it's our contention that whole histories can't be based on the word only of two brothers who had much to gain by manipulating the truth. Nor can the course of a history be decided by a massive popular movement to support their word--if their word is insupportable. Lemmings follow each other into the sea. It happens all the time.

That the Lifesavers forgot strikes us as ludicrous. Let's see how the "historians'" beliefs hold up--because not much else does.

Nailing down how old Daniels, Dough, and Etheridge actually were when they observed the activities December, 1903, is easy. According to the U. S. census on, John  T. Daniels of Nags Head, North Carolina, was 26 years old in June, 1900. In July of that year he turned 27. Adam Etheridge was almost exactly a year younger. So when they assisted the Wrights in December of  1903, Daniels was 30 years old and Etheridge 29. Willie S. Dough of Nag's Head was 34 in December, 1903, and Johnny Moore was eighteen.

Too much time had not gone by when reporter Harry P. Moore said he was told by the Surfmen from the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station on the very day of the event that Orville's flight was initiated from the hill. This is backed up by the newspaper article he helped write that came out the next day

The use of the hill is one of the facts that reporter Moore no doubt provided the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Since the newsmen couldn't glean enough detail and wanted more elaboration for a full front page story, they made up some of what they needed--and the article is amusing from the standpoint of their creativity. It's doubtful, though, that they would make up the launch from the hill.

An excerpt from the December 18, 1903, Virginian-Pilot article is as follows:

"Start Was Success"
"Wilbur Wright, the chief inventor of the machine, sat in the operator’s car and when all was ready his brother unfastened the catch which held the invention at the top of the slope.
The big box began to move slowly at first, acquiring velocity as it went, and when half way down the hundred feet the engine was started.
The propeller in the rear immediately began to revolve at a high rate of speed, and when the end of the incline was reached the machine shot out into space without a perceptible fall."
(emphasis mine)
That it's Wilbur who is stated as the pilot in the newspaper the next day indicates that reporter Moore had made contact with the Life Savers again after Wilbur's "flight." After Moore got the first telegram at 11:40 a. m., and phoned the Lifesavers, only Orville was reported as having "flown." None of the three telegrams indicates who "flew."

Joseph Dosher, telegrapher at Kitty Hawk or Charles C. Grant, at Norfolk, Va, probably related some other details for Moore after the Wrights sent their final telegram to their father, Reporter Moore had spent time calling around that afternoon trying to find out more information. An example of a detail is the 21 mph headwind stated in the Virginan-Pilot article. The actual wind speed was about 27 mph according to the weather bureau. It's far too much of a coincidence to us that the Wrights telegraphed their father that they had taken off against a 21 mph headwind--and that the same wind speed of 21 mph was related in the Virginian Pilot story published on the 18th. 

When Daniels made a statement for Colliers magazine in 1927,**  twenty four years had elapsed. (There may have been other statements in between.) He was 53 years old. But he was consistent, except for his estimate of the distance of Wilbur's (powered) glide. Daniels made his next statement as presented here in 1933 when he was 56, almost 57. Two years later, he stated again that the plane was set on the hill for take off. Surfman Etheridge agreed in writing, saying, to paraphrase, that the events happened just about the way Daniels said. Could they both have had such poor memories of an event they must have been told was momentous? Or laughably, did both Daniels and Etheridge have early onset dementia?

The rail and the 1903 "Flyer" set up on the side of the hill.The Wrights claim they only used the gravity of the hill to take off on Dec.14, but not on Dec.17.* Why? It would not have been defined as a sustained, powered flight if it was known that they had used the inclined plane of the hill and a strong head wind for assistance taking off on December 17.
So let's get real. People can forget what happened only yesterday. But most remember long afterwards minute particulars of what happened around an earth shaking event. I know someone 82 years old who witnessed the only flight of Howard Hugh's enormous flying boat, the "Spruce Goose," that took place 67 years ago. He tells me he remembers the flight in vivid detail. What about our memories (those who are old enough) of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated nearly 51 years ago. Moreover, how many Americans don't remember every detail of when and how they heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11?  But we are to believe that Coast Guardsmen, who were told they were witnesses of the first powered flight in history couldn't remember after 24 years with clarity what happened that day? (Let alone, the same day.)
I have no doubt that the Wright witnesses would have remembered very well that they hauled that 600 plus pound  plane up the incline of the hill on both the 14th and the 17th, then shoved it to the top of the monorail, Pall bearers at a funeral remember the weight of their experience. A coffin can weigh 450 pounds or more, and its resident can weigh 150 pounds. A fully loaded coffin would be close to the weight of the empty Wright flyer I. It normally takes six pall bearers. There were seven to haul and push the Flyer, thanks to the Lifesavers and Brinkley and Moore.

They would all especially remember the day of December 17, 1903, which was colder and windier than December 14. They would remember that frigid, nearly gale force breeze that froze the puddles of water that morning. But if that very day, the 17th, the plane took off from level ground like the Wrights said it did, the Surfmen would remember clearly that this one day out of all the rest, including all the previous glider tests over three years and the admitted failed powered test of Dec.14, which was definitely from the hill---that this one day they didn't have to haul the plane or glider the 1/4 mile to the hill, then up the hill and up the rail. They only had to set it out the door of the building onto the level ground.  The difference would stand out. And they would have said so in their statements.

 The Lifesaver witnesses, who had nothing to gain from their reports, would be reasonably far more trustworthy than the Wrights--who wanted fortune, fame, and a patent and had much of that to gain by disseminating the story they told and sticking to it. But, as a fellow researcher has noted, the witnesses would have been candid about what really happened. They considered themselves friends of the Wrights, and they apparently saw no reason to believe that their truthful statements would undermine the Wright story. Ironically, in the present "Wright environment," they haven't.

 Some years later, Alpheus Drinkwater, the Outer Banks Coast Guardsman, who relayed a telegram to the Wrights' sister from Orville that day, figured out that the so called "sustained, powered flights" in 1903 had to be glides--and made a statement to that effect. "...the brothers only "glided" off Kill Devil Hill that day."

Drinkwater did not watch the first take offs, as the article states, but the telegram he relayed for the Wrights on December 17, 1903, is often confused by "historians"with the one Orville Wright sent his father, Milton, at the end of the day. Since Orville Wright claimed the Drinkwater story was untrue, Drinkwater's statements are termed "apocryphal" by Wright historians, Peter Jakab and Rick Young.on pages 273-4 of  their  book.** In other words, "bogus.".

If the truth be told, the Life Savers' accounts would mean that we are celebrating the first true manned, powered flight in history on the wrong day. Does it mean that the Wright brothers' claims were a hoax? The world wide acceptance of their unproven claims in 1903, not backed by any evidence other than their own many statements--and their subsequent failures, witnessed by reporters in 1904, appear to put these claims solidly into that category. Not to mention today's failures of the Wright "Flyer" reproductions to verify their story. It's very likely to become accepted, as the facts become more widely known, that the first Wright story is one of the biggest hoaxes of the twentieth century.

And there are more to come.

It needs to be emphasized that The U. S. Coast Guard,  which believes, as most people do, that the first flight was made, as the Wright brothers claimed, on December 17, 1903, is proud of the contributions they made to the beginnings of flight. They should be. But that is whether the first manned, heavier than air, powered, controlled, and sustained flights were achieved by the Wrights that day at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, which appears highly unlikely, or the first true flight was made even before that time, as much evidence indicates, by someone else elsewhere.

Regardless, it was with the generous assistance of the United States Surfmen, the citizens of the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and the expertise of aviation pioneers, Octave Chanute, Edward Huffaker, and George Spratt, who had all traveled to Kill Devil Hills to help, that great strides were made in the understanding and the development of flight.

Captain Ward’s crewman at the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station (In photo pictured left to right: Captain Ward, Tom Beachham, unknown, John T. Daniels & Will S. Dough. 

Kill Devil Hills Surfmen were Will S. Dough, Adam D. Etheridge, Bob L. Wescott, John T. Daniels, Tom Beacham, and “Uncle Benny” O’Neal )

 "The Century magazine," September, 1908, Orville Wright quotation. This is also the year that the "photographic evidence" appeared. When Wright advocates state often that there are tons of documents proving that the Wrights flew in 1903, they are merely referring to repeats ad infinitum of the same or similar statements by the Wrights and variations of these same statements by Wright "historians." We maintain that these documents are not supported either by the witnesses or other credible documents.

** "The Published Writings of Wilbur and Orville Wright," edited by Peter L.Jakab and Rick Young, The Smithsonian Institution, year 2000, pp 272+

On page 272-3, Jakab and Young say, "Surprisingly, Daniels makes no reference in the [1924 Colliers] article to what turned out to be his most historically significant act that day. He had been enlisted by the brothers to man the camera..." According to Jakab and Young, "[At] the moment of triumph Daniels snapped the shutter just as Orville lifted the Flyer off the rail, capturing one of the most famous and widely reproduced images ever taken,"
On page 275 of the above cited book, however, Daniel is quoted in the article as saying, [The plane] "couldn't stand up without somebody supporting it at each end, and I had hold of one of the wings on the end."

 On page 276 Daniels says,"Orville climbed into the machine, the engine was started and and we helped steady it down the monorail until it got under way. The thing went off with a rush and left the rail as pretty as you please...." (Are we to believe that Daniels let go of the wing of the plane at "the moment of triumph," dashed over from the left side of the plane (Wilbur was on the right) and in a breathtaking split second, squeezed the bulb of the camera, none of which he remembers doing?)

To be continued.

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