Saturday, February 20, 2016

Where on Earth is the Real Wright Flyer?

  "'How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?'
"I don't know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking."--
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 

A display of the claimed "Wright Flyer I" at the Smithsonian Institution

Ask almost anyone where the original "Wright flyer" is and the answer will be, "At the Smithsonian, of course. Everyone knows that!"

Well, sometimes "everyone knows" what they actually don't know.

I saw the claimed "Wright flyer" myself years ago. It confronted you then, suspended overhead at the entrance of the Smithsonian's Art and Industries Building. At the time, who knew that no other plane is permitted to intrude on your view of the flyer or compete with its primacy? Who knew that there was (and still is) a contract that the Smithsonian had made with the Wright estate/family that specifies how it is to be displayed, including a label that must accompany the machine at all times--declaring that this is the original Wright flyer and that it was first to fly?

The supposed Wright Flyer on display in the 1950's at the Smithsonian
Art and Industries Building

 What's more, the Wright/Smithsonian agreement states that the Institution and its affiliates may never say that any other plane was even capable of flight before the Wright flyer--or else.*

The Contract and the label were composed by representatives of the Wright estate/family and their attorney, not the Smithsonian. The Contract must have been a thorn in the Smithsonian's side, because knowledge of  it was hidden to all except for a select few. What self-respecting scientific institution would sign such an agreement?  Our store of knowledge is always in flux as new discoveries are made. That includes history. We would laugh today if scientists had signed an irrevocable statement that the world is flat or that the sun travels around the earth. Or if historians signed a nearly inviolate agreement with the descendants of Columbus that no one from across the Atlantic set foot in the New World before he "discovered" it in 1492.

 "The Contract, originally kept secret from the public, was learned of and obtained by Major William J. O’Dwyer (USAF, ret.), with the help of then-Senator Lowell Weicker, Jr., in 1976. [More on “the Contract” here. " Quotation from website "History by Contract." Click here to see full text of the Contract.

Most people believe what they are told, especially if the story comes from those supposedly in authority-- such as the Smithsonian Institution, which gained great respect in no small measure because it was composed of working scientists who contributed immensely to our body of knowledge. This is apparently no longer the case. Most Secretaries and the head of NASM are not scientists or even experts in aeronautics. They more often appear to be politicians and promoters.

The chances that the plane displayed at the Smithsonian is the actual Wright flyer I, and is the first plane to fly are practically nil. The "doubting Thomas's," and there are some, will not be surprised, then, that we are continuing to find strong evidence that this plane was never at Kitty Hawk, never flew anywhere--or even glided an inch. Already there is too much evidence to ignore.

"Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain!"

“Oh - You're a very bad man!" "Oh, no my dear... I'm just a very bad Wizard.”
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Not fooled for long: the Tin Man, Dorothy, Toto, and the Scarecrow
 As with many of the Wright history claims, the only proof that the plane at the Smithsonian is the original Wright flyer boils down to the word of Orville Wright--and that, unfortunately, is no proof at all. Especially when, in his desire to be remembered as first to fly and as inventor of the airplane, Orville was, according to author Jack Carpenter, "loose with the truth," (to put it politely). For some verification of his "looseness," see former posts of "Truth in Aviation History."  Note especially the post "More Errors, Inaccuracies, and Whoppers by Orville  Wright in Boys' Life."

Orville Wright
According to "Orv's" story, the Wright brothers shipped the original plane back to their home in Dayton, Ohio, from Kitty Hawk in 1903 and stored it crated for thirteen years, outdoors in the weather and even in a flood.

That this is truly the Wright flyer is based on this assertion by Orville.  It's the weak link in the chain.

Continuing on, Orville claimed that in 1916  he unpacked  the original plane, repaired it, and displayed it in various venues, including MIT. After its last gig at the Science Museum in London, England, it was returned to the U. S. in 1948

However, in direct contradiction to Orville's claim, is a statement by his own brother, Wilbur. Unearthed from among the mountains of letters at the Library of Congress, lurking entombed, nevertheless discovered, digitized, by an astute researcher, is a December, 1905, letter written by Wilbur Wright.

The Wrights, says Wilbur in the letter, never sent their machines from Kitty Hawk. to Dayton. They were never, says Wilbur, ever meant to be sent.

Wilbur Wright
"The machines themselves were not so constructed as to be transported from Kitty Hawk so we did not try to preserve them.," wrote Wilbur in this primary document.

The letter is missed, ignored, or misinterpreted by Wright historians. In their misguided faith in the "Holy Word" of Orville, they may try to say Wilbur meant the gliders, not the "flyer." That is, of course, absurd. Did they construct the Wright Flyer differently to be transported home just in case it flew? Or did they change their minds and send it home because it did fly? Didn't they expect it to? The improbabilities and absurdities keep multiplying.

Wilbur's statement in his 1905 letter was an aside to one of the founding members of the Aero Club, an important aviation pioneer, Dr. Albert Zahm, who wrote a six page letter on behalf of the newly minted group, asking if the Wrights had pictures or models to contribute to an exhibit they were mounting on early aviation. Wilbur replied that they had no models, none were made, but that they would be happy to contribute some photographs of gliders to the exhibit.

Then Wilbur Wright  freely volunteered to Dr. Zahm that their experimental machines at Kitty  Hawk were left there.What's more, Wilbur goes on to say that  in order to transport Chanute's glider that was left at Kill Devil Hills (in 1902), it would take six weeks or two months to get it away, "for the means of transportation and communication in that country are almost wanting." Here we have it. It would have been a similar hardship to transport any of the machines back from Kitty Hawk.

The logistics of dismantling, crating, and transporting any of the gliders, as well as the Wright Flyer, to Dayton, not to mention the cost, should have made Orville's story more than questionable long ago. That they shipped back the engine and the metal hardware we're willing to accept. But the Wrights closed camp, packed up, and made their slow, arduous trip by boat and train back to Dayton in a total of six to seven days. Logically then, the business of properly transporting the Flyer I to Dayton would have had to be left, for the most part, to others. That is never mentioned in the history.

        Page 1 of Wilbur's 1905 letter to Dr. Zahm ( Library of Congress,
Wright letters, General Correspondence, Zahm 1902-1906, Page 21)

Wilbur's statement affirms eye witness Adam Etheridge's  more reasonable story that the Wrights gave the flyer to him. As this blog has stated many times, Etheridge was among the five witnesses who were at Kill Devil Hills and observed the claimed December 17 "flights." They gave "the old plane" to me, said  Etheridge, and he stored it at his home on the beach. When his widow later backed up his statement, she added that they'd kept it "in the attic."***

We introduced this issue in the posts titled "Mystery of the Wright Flyer Wings," Parts I and II (press link and scroll down) and in "More Mystery of the Wright Flyer Wings."

Of course, Wright historians today can't possibly accept Etheridge's statement. In fact, they totally discredit Etheridge as a witness at all, because the primary source documents attributed to him contradict the statements of the Wrights.**

Orville's belated claim that they sent the Flyer I home isn't consistent with what we know about the the Wrights' lack of sentiment for their gliders or flyers, once they were done with them. The second flyer," Flyer II," was burned after the 1904 experiments that took place in Dayton, Ohio. The Flyer III according to Wright history, was modified at Kill Devil Hills and flown there in 1908 for about a week until Wilbur crashed it. Then, according to their assistant and witness Charles Furnas, they burned  this one as well.What remained of the other machines at Kitty Hawk was left to the elements or reaped for wood and cloth by the thrifty Outer Bankers. Finally, Etheridge sold what he had left of the original Wright flyer and apparently the 1911 glider to the Berkshire Museum in Massachusetts for a total of 50.00.***

If the original Flyer was not shipped back to Dayton in 1903, as our evidence indicates, then the plane displayed at MIT and various places, then sent to the Science Museum in London was in reality, a fake. That plane was  reconstructed with no plans (because there were never any plans for the Flyer I) and put together by (who else?) Orville Wright, his secretary Mabel Beck, and his mechanic Charlie Taylor. (It might be noted here that replicas using measurements from this machine are unable to achieve controlled, sustained flights.)

England shouldn't be embarrassed that they were hoodwinked about the plane they so carefully displayed for years and protected throughout the bombings of London during WWII. An awful lot of people were.

Professor Marvel's Wagon from the Wizard of Oz.

After Orville's death, the plane that had been displayed in London, was shipped back to the Smithsonian Institution with great fanfare and has been displayed there ever since--as "the original Wright Flyer."

What then about the Contract with the Wright family,  if this is not the "real" Wright flyer? After all, the Contract was a result of negotiations with the Wright estate/family so that the Smithsonian could have and display what they thought was the "real Wright Flyer." Since our evidence indicates that it's not and never was, the question has to be put forward whether the Wright/Smithsonian Contract should be null and void? That's a question for an attorney, such as Jonathan Turley who called the contract "unethical," even if the plane were the real Wright flyer.

The attempts of the current regime at the Smithsonian to justify the Contract because of wrongful claims (they say) that Gustave Whitehead's pioneer planes and Professor Langley's Aerodrome were capable of flight before the Wrights' mire the Institution ever more deeply into controversy. The current regime states categorically that these planes were incapable of flight, despite evidence to the contrary, as information continues to come to light.

So where on earth is the original Wright flyer now?

To be continued in Part II

*...or else the Wright family can take back the "Wright flyer" from the Smithsonian.

**As my readers know, witness John Daniels repeated that the "flights" were made from the big hill, not from level ground. Etheridge backed up Daniel's statements. Alpheus Drinkwater, who lived in the area, said the same thing: a takeoff from the hill.

***Etheridge's story passed down through his family, not exactly as our research indicates, but in an interesting way. His family thought he had a glider only, probably because they had heard that Orville had the original :flyer." Their family lore affirms that Etheridge built frames for his wife's quilts from the machine's wood. They also have passed down through the family that Etheridge sold that glider to a museum for 50.00. The primary source documents on the LOC confirm that Etheridge sold a flyer for 25.00 and a glider for 25.00 for a total of 50.00.

 Pages from Dr. Zahm letter to Wilbur Wright (Library of Congress,
Wright letters, General  Correspondence, Zahm, 1902-1906 page 17 )