The Wright Brothers" "Fourth Flight Picture"
|This photo is claimed by Wright historians to be the 852 feet flight at Kitty Hawk, December 17, 1903|
Tom Crouch Article for the "Huffington Post"*
by Joe Bullmer
Having a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Michigan with additional post graduate studies, I was a practicing aircraft design and performance engineer involved in intelligence analysis. This is the best possible background from which to assess the Wrights' various records of their work in aviation.
In his article, Crouch asserts that I claim the photo said to depict the end of the Wrights' final test in 1903 is actually of a flight during their testing at Kitty Hawk in 1908. I have never said this and have never reached that conclusion. My statements about this photograph have consistently been that I don't know what it depicts. As I stated in an interview concerning this photo for a documentary film, "I'm not sure what I'm looking at."
The facts about this photograph are conflicting. Crouch gives the usual caption (annotated on the back of the original photo by Orville Wright according to the Wright State University Library Special Collections and Archives Department), that the photo was of the 1903 aircraft on the ground at the end of a claimed 852 foot 59 second flight, the fourth and last attempt of December 17. Both the launching rail and the aircraft appear in the photo. Using simple proven photogrammetric mensuration techniques, I have determined the aircraft to be only about 270 feet from the rail. (Interestingly, others have come up with similar results. In fact, in 2002, Carroll Gray determined the distance in the photo to be 250 feet, although he claimed the vehicle was in the air and must have continued on to the 852 foot point after the photo was taken.
Compounding the mystery is the fact that the propellers are obviously stopped. In other Wright photos of the aircraft with the engine running, the propellers appear as almost invisible blurs. However, in the "fourth flight" photo, propeller blades are clearly defined. Thus the aircraft in the photo has its engine stopped and is at, or very near, the end of the flight photographed.
Crouch refers to the anhedral of the wings versus the dihedral exhibited in the only photo claimed to be of the 1908 aircraft.***
[Ed. note: Compare pictures, below.]
|This is the only photograph claimed by Wright historians to be of the 1908 "Wright Flyer III" (with one exception. See note below) ** Observe that the wings are obviously dihedral (tilted upwards at the ends.)|
|This photo is identified by Orville Wright as depicting the end of the 852 feet flight in 1903. It can't be. Note that the wings are tilted downward at the ends in an anhedral position.|
This feature was adjustable by the Wrights, either by replacing the wing bracing wires, adjusting turnbuckles, or by switching them. In fact, they stated that they preferred anhedral for flying at Kitty Hawk.
But Crouch does not mention the even more obvious three objects of the lower wing [below], features typical of the 1908 two-seat-with-engine aircraft but not the single prone crewman and horizontal engine of the 1903 version.
|The three objects on the wing of the plane.|
I find the short distance, stopped propeller, and three objects on board to be incompatible with what the photo has been claimed to represent. It seems that either the photo is of the fourth test in 1903 (ignoring the three objects on the wing) and the aircraft didn't go a third as far as was claimed, or perhaps their aircraft did go 852 feet as claimed, but that is not a picture of it. I simply am not sure what the photo represents. Contrary to what Crouch states, at this point all I know is that it does not show the 1903 aircraft at the end of an 852 foot flight.
Crouch has also called me a "Wright skeptic." He very well knows better. He has read my book "The WRight Story" and in a face-to-face meeting, was quite complimentary to me about it. On page 114 of my book, I repeat the Wright claim that the aircraft flew 852 feet on the fourth attempt of December 17. In fact, my book contains over three dozen highly complimentary comments about the Wrights, such as "...they were the first to achieve a minimal combination of all the essential elements comprising an airplane"; "I have utmost respect for their intellects and accomplishments"; "They accomplished the magnificent feat of creating the world's first real airplane and did so in an amazingly short time"; and "[the Wrights] did develop the world's first manned, powered, and, by the end of 1905, fully controlled airplane." These are hardly the statements of a "Wright skeptic."
However, I do not deify the Wright brothers, either. I point out numerous instances of deceitful statements by the Wrights. In a sworn deposition for their 1910 patent suit hearing, Wilbur described their 1904 and 1905 test failures as "On a few occasions the machine came to the ground in a somewhat tilted position." This is in contrast to their test notes which list numerous occasions when they crashed heavily enough to crush wings and structure, smash propellers, and even break engines and suffer minor injuries.
They also gave sworn testimony on how easily their aircraft could be turned with their interconnected rudder, when, in fact, they had to permanently disconnect it in order to complete turns. Actually, they had disconnected it for years before their patent on the connected rudder was granted and vigorously defended by them in court.
Orville's published descriptions of the 1903 tests claimed totally unaided takeoffs, when, in fact, the wind supplied 90% of the required takeoff speed and 80% of the necessary lift. It was almost flying sitting still without using the engine. In a 1908 article, Orville described his first attempt as having "sailed forward on a level course" but later admitted that the flight was "exceedingly erratic," pitching and diving uncontrollably into the sand.
According to page 70 of Crouch's own book "Wings," Orville claimed in 1923 that their 1903 original powered aircraft was capable of flying for more than 20 minutes and achieving altitudes exceeding 1000 feet. This from an engine that, with no real cooling or oiling systems, couldn't run for more than two minutes without seizing, according to both the Wrights and modern engine experts, and couldn't supply enough power to climb the aircraft out of ground effect.
These and over a dozen other false Wright statements, referenced in my book, belie Crouch's claim that "the Wright brothers did not lie, and they did not misrepresent." Indeed, as we just saw in the last paragraph, Crouch himself, albeit unwittingly, published one of Orville Wright's biggest falsehoods. I consider them exceptional intellects and gentlemen, but far from saints.
Mr. Crouch and I have met cordially and exchanged emails. If in the future he wants to present my position on the"fourth flight" photo or any other facet of the Wrights' work, he should first determine the truth by contacting me directly. I would not have expected such shoddy research from one of the Smithsonian's Chief Curators.
Copyright 2016 - Joe Bullmer
Editor's note Joe Bullmer is author of the very popular book, "The WRight Story."
From "Good Reads" and Amazon.com:..."a new scientifically and historically accurate, unbiased account of the birth of aviation. The fact is that what many readers think is all Wright, is actually not...."
Support the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY. Inquire there for "The WRight Story."
*Ed: Although Joe Bullmer retains the copyright to this essay, he has graciously permitted
"Truth in Aviation History" to publish it in full. Photographs and notes are added by the editor.
**Ed: The blog post written by Tom Crouch in the "Huffington Post" is titled: "The Photo Doesn't Lie and Neither Did the Wright Brothers."
***Ed. note: There is a distant photograph of the "Wright Flyer III," caught by journalist "Jimmy" Hare in 1908. It was published in "Collier's Weekly" magazine. The wings appear to be anhedral, not dihedral. In other words, the 1908 profile most resembles the photo that was identified as the "fourth flight picture" of 1903, not the "photo shoot" still of 1908 with the Life Savers (above).The Hare photo thus supports the thesis that the Wrights flew in 1908 with the wings anhedral.