""Inconsistencies,' answered Imlac, 'cannot both be right, but imputed to man they may both be true.'"--Rasselus
"...I have found that silent truth cannot withstand error aided by continued propaganda."--Orville Wright: "Why the 1903 Wright Airplane Is Sent to a British Museum"
|Glenn Curtiss flying in the AEA "June Bug" July 4, 1908, at Hammondsport, New York|
1908 was the year that man's ability to fly exploded into the world's consciousness--like fireworks; and it was on the 4th of July that our own Glenn Hammond Curtiss made the first pre-announced public flight in the United States. Glenn's amazing demonstration was in front of officials and a large crowd and convinced many, I'm told, that he was the very first to fly. Although most Americans now believe that manned, powered flight had been achieved four and a half years before on December 17, 1903, the year the Wright brothers claimed they flew from level ground in North Carolina, their claim is in dispute because of later statements by the eye witnesses and others. Evidence keeps mounting, as emphasized before in this blog, that instead of taking off from level ground with their engine power alone, the Wrights had used the gravity of Kill Devil Hill to launch against a strong headwind. This is what a glider does, and their plane essentially was a glider--under- powered with a 12 horsepower engine that was driving two propellers. The Fédération Aéronautique
It would be accurate to say that the ability to make a manned, heavier than air, powered flight was demonstrated before a large public in the year 1906 by Brazilian Alberto Santos Dumont, who had official witnesses in France--and that the real surge in powered flying took off in the following years. European pioneers, such as Farman, and Delagrange were flying in planes designed by the Voisons in 1907. Bleriot was experimenting with various designs, such as tandem wings, and by 1909, his tractor monoplane that flew across the English Channel looked much like many of our planes today. In May of 1908 the Wright Brothers were spotted off the ground by reporters at Kill Devil Hills and photographed at a distance. The 1905 plane that we are told they used at Kill Devil Hills that May was soon crashed and destroyed there by Wilbur.
None of the witnesses who say they saw the Wrights in the air before 1908 were qualified to judge if they were seeing viable flights except, perhaps, Octave Chanute in 1904. But what Chanute saw in 1904 was the Flyer II catapulted into the air where it managed to stay for only 24 seconds before it crashed--out of control. See his statement. As in the case of their 1903 attempts, the FAI would/could not have certified this as a viable powered flight, either. The Wrights also claimed their witnesses later observed them flying 24 miles in 1905, but the length of that flight is unofficial and unproven.
|No secrecy here. Glenn Curtiss (foreground, sixth from right, white shirt, tie, and hat), the June Bug, and some of the many observers of the first preannounced public flight in America, July, 1908. Photo from the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.|
The Wrights didn't formally debut in public until August, 1908. In fact, the Wrights would not have been able to compete for the prize Curtiss won, because one of the requirements was to take off from level ground with wheels and engine power alone. The Wrights plane took off with skids, not wheels, using their catapult. Wright proponents like to say that they could have used wheels, they just didn't want to! Strangely, with so many already flying in Europe by 1908, the Wrights claimed they "taught the world to fly." Please see "The Wright Brothers 'Hijacked History' " (Click here and scroll down.)
1908 was the year the Wrights at last flew in public, Wilbur in France in August and Orville at Fort Meyer, Virginia, in September. Both broke records.** But Orville soon crashed at Fort Meyer, killing a passenger, Lieutenant Selfridge, one of the AEA members who had helped them research their way into the air. Orville sustained injuries that haunted him the rest of his life. Both Wrights had used catapults to get off the ground in 1908--except in May at Kill Devil Hills, we assume, where they had plenty of hills and a headwind to assist them at take off. But it's documented in their 1908 letters to each other that they both were having multiple problems with their engines before their debuts; and that observation raises the tantalizing question, were their own early engines dependable and powerful enough to get them off the ground and to stay reliably in the air? All indications are that they were not.See Library of Congress (LOC) letters. But that is a different blog post.
At issue now is whether the original artifacts, the 1903 "Flyer I" they claimed was the first to fly, and the 1905 "Flyer" III they say they used at Kill Devil Hills in 1908 were really preserved and reconstructed for the public to see, and if those are on display now, as they're advertised to be.
We are told that the pieces of the plane, smashed by the wind in 1903, were shipped back to Dayton, Ohio, and stored there, until Orville unpacked them and put them together in 1916. That tale is absolutely not backed by witnesses, except for Mabel Beck, who was Orville Wright's loyal secretary and who faithfully supported him in everything he said. (But wait. Charlie Taylor, the Wrights' mechanic stated that he helped unpack the old plane in 1916 and put it together. A statement by eyewitness John Daniels for Colliers magazine seems nearer the complete truth. Eyewitness Daniels stated that they crated up the plane in 1903 and shipped it back--except for pieces that were given as souvenirs. So despite Beck and Taylor, we have strong support for Etheridge's statement that he received the wings and more as he said. (See blog, "More Mystery..," ) This "Flyer" is now supposed to be on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The crashed 1905/8 "Flyer," used by both Orville and Wilbur at Kill Devil Hills in 1908 is the plane claimed to be reconstructed and at Carillon Park in Dayton, Ohio. But it can't be.
Due to the wonders of the internet, evidence has been found that the claims.based on Orville Wright's statements, that these are the original planes, can not be supported. So what really happened to the early Wright "Flyers" must be stitched together from statements of witnesses and other original/primary documents.. See the previous post, "Mystery of the Wright Flyer Wings, Part I."
|Adam Dough Etheridge, eye witness in 1903. His statements are discredited by Wright historians because they contradict the Wright brothers' stories.||.|
According to eye witness Adam Etheridge, the wings of the 1903 plane and more weren't shipped to Dayton, Ohio, by the Wrights when they departed. Instead, they gave him the wings of that broken plane and probably/possibly most of what was left the plane itself, (except for the engine and hardware). Maybe they didn't went to pay the freight. He took the parts to his home on the beach and stored them there. Subsequently, Wilbur informed a man "from Philadelphia" that Etheridge had the old plane, and the man contacted him about buying it. There is absolutely no reason to doubt Etheridge's story except for the fact that it contradicts Orville Wright's.
(Interesting that in order to support the Wright stories, Wright historians discredit the witnesses of other aviation pioneers, such as the many who observed the flights of Gustave Whitehead, but need to discredit their own key witnesses. as well.)
Etheridge took up the offer, sold the old plane for 25.00, and shipped it to Elizabeth City, from where it could be shipped on to his customer. Later, Etheridge regretted that decision, because he realized, he said, that he might have made a fortune.***
The story of the 1903 Wright Flyer wings continues with letters that were made public after the death of Orville Wright and are now digitized on the LOC Wright brothers site. Reading these letters and researching the net, we find that the man who purchased the plane was a gentleman named Zenas Crane, who had made a fortune manufacturing paper. Crane had started a museum in Pittsfield, Massachusets, called the Berkshire Museum, and hoped to rebuild the plane for display there. The available letters fully back up Etheridge's statement except for one thing. Which plane he sold to Crane.
|The Berkshire Museum today. The founder, Zenas Crane, purchased a Wright "Flyer."|
After his purchase, we discover from the letters that Zenas Crane began a correspondence with Orville Wright to enlist his help. He wanted to reconstruct the plane accurately, and he also needed parts that were missing. We don't have these first letters. His son in law, Samuel Colt, continued the correspondence in 1914. At this point we can begin our study of the tale with the digitized primary documents of the letters that were exchanged. Because the first correspondence is obviously missing, we have to read between the lines and logically surmise some eliminated truth of the matter. As we believe and have reiterated, we can't and don't rely on Orville or even Wilbur as the primary references to be trusted. Their statements needed to be backed by supporting references.
We discover that Crane and his son in law, Samuel Colt, believe that the museum has in its possession the 1905 Flyer that Wilbur crashed in 1908, not the 1903 "Flyer" that Etheridge says he sold to him. We have to guess why and when Crane was told that and by whom--by Wilbur or by Orville after Wilbur's death? By claiming The Berkshire Museum had the 1905 "Flyer" and that he had the original 1903 "Flyer" I in Dayton, Orville could use that tale to his great advantage.****
Obviously, the sale of the plane to Crane by Etheridge would have had to be made after 1908 for Crane to believe he had the 1905/8 plane. But there is another way we might pinpoint the date of the sale even more closely.
From the letters, we find that Crane also bought a glider for 25.00. Note in subsequent letters that Samuel Colt indicates he doesn't know which glider it is, but he believes it's the one Orville flew at Kill Devil Hills in 1911. Since Wilbur arranged the sale and died in 1912, we may fairly,safely conclude that Etheridge sold the 1903 plane he was given about the same time Crane bought the glider--between 1911 and 1912. The glider Crane bought that year was likely not the 1902 glider that was left at the camp at Kill Devil Hills. See post "More Mystery of the Wright Flyer Wings."
The plot thickens. On March 7, 1910, (we have to assume before the transaction with the Berkshire Museum), the Smithsonian wrote the Wrights, that they were creating a display and would like to exhibit one of the Wright machines or a model of one. Wilbur wrote back and queried which plane they would like. He stated that most of the parts of the 1903 plane were still in existence and that they could reconstruct it. Link to the Library of Congress letter. It would seem that he believed that he could recover the parts of the plane from Etheridge --or build another to stand in.The Smithsonian didn't respond with the enthusiasm the Wrights expected at their offer of the 1903 artifact; in fact, in answer to Wilbur's query, which one(?), they asked for a model of the 1908 plane that was flown at Fort Meyer. This is the plane that crashed and killed Lt. Selfridge. Granted, this was insensitive of the Smithsonian. Later statements by Orville indicate they were highly offended, even embittered that the Smithsonian wasn't particularly interested in the 1903 Flyer. It would be the next year we figure that the plane was sold by Etheridge to the Pittsfield Museum. Was it Wilbur's idea to arrange this sale to "get even" by allowing another museum to display the "Flyer" I? And he, of course, died before he could help put it together?
Now let's take a look at one of the first letters (LOC) we can find that Samuel Colt writes to Orville for Zenas Crane, the owner of the Museum at Pittsfield. Remember that by now, Wilbur Wright has died of typhoid. Also, keep in mind that Crane has been told he has the 1905 "Flyer" that was crashed in 1908. As usual, it is frustrating that some of this correspondence doesn't seem to exist any longer. Note also that Colt writes to Orville as if he and Wilbur are one and the same.
The following letter dated March 2, 1914 is Orville's answer. It begs the question, why does he have to ask Colt what parts of the Flyer he has at the museum?
*The aileron was patented by Matthew Boulton in 1868. Wright historians claim that although many pioneer aviators employed the aileron before the Wright's wing warping apparatus, none of them used it for lateral, or roll control, or used it in conjunction with the rudder. See "Air and Space". This is not true. A prime example is Montgomery's glider equipped with ailerons, which publicly demonstrated in 1905 complete lateral or roll control in conjunction with a rudder large enough to serve the use the Wrights claimed was theirs and their alone. See "The Wrights Invented What? Lateral Control and John Montgomery" in this blog.
** Wilbur's skillful flying in France convinced many that he and Orville were first to fly. According to a Smithsonian website, "Over the next several weeks he made headlines around the world with one stunning flight after another—demonstrating once and for all that the Wrights’ claim to priority in the invention of the airplane was true (there had been skeptics), and that their airplanes were capable of tight turns and a degree of control impossible with other machines." This is, of course, fuzzy thinking and faulty logic. A non sequitur. One can't conclude that demonstrations of flying that impressed the French in 1908 proves that the Wrights were first to fly in 1903.
*** It's ironic that the Islanders (except for one) made no money from the work they did for the Wrights at Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.The Wrights profited immensely. What the Islanders did, they did for nothing, except for one man, Dan Tate, who quit because he could make more there by fishing. The Wrights were notoriously tight with money, but at the same time, the Life Savers were extremely underpaid for the work they did for a living. So when you read about the Wrights bragging how little it cost them to build and "fly" their machine, it must be realized that the Wrights begrudged paying for their help, with the exception of some gifts at the end of the season that might have cost more to send back to Dayton than they were willing to pay.
****Orville Wright sent the claimed artifact of the 1903 plane to the Science Museum in London in order to essentially extort a statement from the Smithsonian that implied that a plane built prior to the Wrights'--the Langley aerodrome of 1903 was incapable of flight.
To be continued. (For the continuation of this story, please see "More Mystery of the Wright Flyer Wings--Continued."