Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Wrights' 1903 Photographs, Part I: The Third (Fourth) Attempt to Fly

"The Blind Leading the  Blind" by Pieter Breughal the Younger

The "1903" Wright Photos
(Or The Blind Leading the Blind)
Most aviation historians have come to accept without question Orville and Wilbur Wright's story that they made four actual powered flights on December 17, 1903.  Three days before  that, on December 14th, the Wrights said they tried a flight, but it was a failure. We might add that the witnesses make no mention of this Dec. 14 attempt.To back up the first, third, and fourth alleged flights on the 17th, the Wrights eventually presented photos, below, as proof that these three claimed flights occurred. The second alleged flight has no photo.

But what do these photos actually show? According to our studies of the photos together with the Wrights' written descriptions of these attempts, they show that they are not what they are claimed to be. If they are indeed photos of alleged flights on December 17th, 1903, what they actually indicate is that the first and the third alleged flights likely ended in crashes before they traveled the distances the Wrights claimed. As for the fourth, if it was made, the photo provided as evidence by Orville Wright proves that it didn't travel even close to the distance the Wrights claimed--that is, if it's a photo of the claimed fourth flight. Evidence contradicts their claim that it is. The Wrights admitted that this claimed flight ended in a hard landing that broke struts, and the frame of the front rudder.

Don't Look Closely
(Because I said so)
First alleged flight--piloted by Orville

Third Alleged  Flight, Orville on deck

Fourth alleged flight, alleged 852 feet by Wilbur

Many Books, Same Story

It has become customary for the everyday garden variety of Wright historian, nearly every one of them, to accept everything the Wrights said as" Holy Writ," as described by one exceptional, dissenting historian. If any Wright stories contradict themselves, they are accepted anyway.

Some of the Wright history books are folksy, easy reading, full of  inconsequential trivialities and false claims, for example, the David McCullough book, "The Wright Brothers,"  that made the top of the New York Times best sellers list. Some are for children and make an exciting tale. Some try to be more technical. But they always say essentially the same basic things; and they almost all fall in line with the original testimony of the Wrights, after questionable testimony has been culled through numerous Wright biased hands. Even portions of witness statements have been discarded in these books, except what seems to verify the preordained conclusions of the "expert" historians--and to eliminate any discrepancies someone might easily spot. Finally, at Orville Wright's death in 1948, documents were burned at his directive. Fortunately for us in "Truth in Aviation History," the story is still rife with contradictions if you really look--bad apples that were missed in the cullings from the beginning.

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Moreover, it has  been customary for writers to skip a sound study of the primary documents left by the Wrights, and  to reference so called "expert resources," the statements of historians that have come up the ranks accepting the Wrights' veracity.  Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith comes to mind. After all, reading and comparing the Wrights' letters and documents is a monumental task. As a result, history has become a sort of clone begetting a clone begetting a clone begetting a clone in an endless chain  that was birthed by the brothers themselves. It started with their January 5, 1904, news release that they themselves concocted, after a scoop of their two* flight attempts on December 17 was slipped  to the press through the diligence of a reporter called Harry Moore, who got tips from some of the Life Saver witnesses. See "Truth in Aviation History"--various posts "What Really Happened." Then there were the Wrights' "verifying" letters after the "fact," diary entries they wrote later but we don't know when, and finally, above mentioned pictures they took. The pictures didn't come out until five years after the claimed successes--1908. Since the Wrights have been presented as God fearing, church type people, who, for instance, didn't work on Sundays; and because their promoters, such as Octave Chanute, assured the public that they were as honest as the day is born, we are told we must believe their testimony. Just believe. And people do.

Maybe that's the reason the photos have never been seriously examined. But today with photogrametry ( or photogrammetry), an analysis of photographs as used in the US Air Force, and with sounder knowledge of aerodynamics, together with wind tunnel and replica tests, the photos have stories to tell that are not at all complimentary to the Wright story. Of course, Wright historians are pushing back hard. It's a phenomenon called "backlash."

More blind leading the blind

So the Wright first-to-fly myth begins this way. It was a blustery, blustery day on December 17, 1903. As the cold wind swept the hinterlands of  Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, mankind sprouted wings and began his journey to the stars. How many ways can you say that? As many ways as there are writers cashing in on Wright mania. Just dress the clones in different outfits.

 If you have read this blog, you realize that we don't accept what the Wrights claimed unless there is corroborating proof that originates from sources other than the Wrights.At a certain point, after encountering so many conflicts in their accounts and their evidence, one can't believe them anymore. See "Didn't the Wright Brothers Always Tell the Truth?" in this blog. Proof for an honest aviation historian can include expertise from unbiased aeronautical engineers analyzing their claims, a hand writing expert, and/ or detective work uncovering their discrepancies. But believe nothing unless it is witnessed and/or verified. There are far too many anomalies, too many contradictions in this story to accept  it as the "Holy Grail" of truth.

Secondary source history

In this blog, we have already questioned the first flight photo for a number of  reasons. See "The First Flight Picture: Puzzling Questions," for example.There are even stronger criticisms to come about this photo. A recent analysis of the fourth flight picture is positively devastating to the Wright claims and actually proves fraud on the part of Orville. Publications of that study are pending.

What about the photo of alleged flight number three? Take a look. You don't have to be an aeronautical engineer or even a pilot to question the claim that this is a photo of a successful  flight.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Alleged third  flight of the Wrights brothers, December 17, 1903?

If you were just  a regular person--an observer of this third alleged attempt at flight on December 17, (and if you  had eyes to see), your reaction to the moment the photo was taken would be that the right wing was going to hit  the ground if it hadn't already; and the plane was going to crash. Unless, of course, there were instant corrections by the pilot that would have to be already evident in the photograph. If you were a passenger in this plane, you'd probably be saying your prayers. (Some people acquire a belief system very quickly in an event like this.) In any case, your life might be flashing before your eyes. Fortunately,  this plane wasn't capable of carrying a passenger and the Wrights later rarely got above ground effect--that cushion of air when traveling close to the ground that helps a plane to fly. They also traveled slowly and chose a soft, sandy crash pad like the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

 Orville Wright was said to be the one who was piloting the plane on the third flight attempt. He obviously survived and lived to write this description of the attempt in his diary.

"... At about twenty minutes til 12'oclock I made the third trial.When out about the same distance as Will's [about 175 feet], I met with a strong gust from the left which raised the left wing and sidled the machine off to the right in a lively manner. I immediately turned the rudder to bring the machine down and then worked the end control. Much to our surprise, on reaching the ground the left wing struck first, showing the lateral control of this machine much more effective than on any of our former ones. At the time of its sidling it had raised to a height of probably 13 to 14 feet ....Will took a picture of my third flight just before the gust struck the machine."

Since there has to be a delay in reaction time and a delay in the plane's response, however quick, we proposed the question to experts--Is there any evidence from the third "flight" photograph that the pilot has employed his lateral control to counter the right wing's imminent meeting with the ground? If not, could the impending crash still be avoided?

The expert answer is, no. The wing warping that might have righted the plane if there was enough time, was controlled by movement of the hips. Even though the rudders hide any hip movement, there is no evidence of any warping of the wings whatsoever in the photograph. If the pilot were to rescue the plane, evidence that he had already engaged/employed the wing warping to lift the right wing would be apparent.

No, the plane would have struck the ground and the claimed "flight" would have ended. Orville's statement that after the wind raised the left wing, he "turned the rudder to bring the machine down and then worked the end control" can't be true.

More and more questions

Examining other quotations from the diary: "At the time of its sidling it had raised to a height of probably 13 to 14 feet...." What ? The plane is barely off the ground.

"Will took a picture of my third flight just before the gust (of wind) struck the Machine." Again, what? In the photograph, the gust from the left has already struck the machine and raised the left wing, causing the plane to sidle to the right.

"I immediately turned the rudder to bring the machine down and then worked the end control." As we stated, the evidence of the photo refutes this statement. The plane would have crashed before the pilot reacted.

"Much to our surprise, on reaching the ground the left wing struck first."  No, the right wing clearly struck the ground first and ended the flight.

There are other questions about the  photo, if you really look. Some of them will be addressed in our next post-- coming soon.  For example, if Orville was piloting the plane, Wilbur was obviously taking the picture.  It's astonishing that he survived this third "flight," too, as described by Orville. An expert can establish where Wilbur had to be standing to get that picture. With the plane's drive by and sidling to the right., it's a miracle that he remained intact  He should have been nearly decapitated by the wing, or at least suffered a concussion.

Watch for the next episode of  "The Wrights' Third  (Fourth) Attempt to Fly, Part II" in Truth in Aviation History-- called "I Wouldn't Stand There If I Were You."

Coming soon on your computer near you! Be sure to tune in.
Alleged third  flight of the Wrights brothers, December 17, 1903?

*The witnesses of the Wrights' attempts to fly only mention two attempts total, none on December 14 and  two on December 17.