Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Wrong Wright Story Series: Visions of a Flying Machine II (Part 2)

The Wrong Wright Story 2

Peter Jakab's Visions of a Flying Machine

Part II of a critique by Joe Bullmer

Introduction to Part II

The previous article in truthinaviationhistory discussed the first four chapters of the book Visions of a Flying Machine by Peter Jakab. In this article, the subsequent six chapters of that book are critiqued. The article begins with a listing of the largely overlooked, but well documented and vital contributions to the Wrights' efforts made by Octave Chanute. The damage done to the historical record by Visions is summarized at the end of this article.

Left: Peter Jakab’s Visions of a Flying Machine. Right: The Wrights’ mentor, Octave Chanute.
 Chapter 5: "Riding the Winds"

Page 84: The Wrights’ relationship with Octave Chanute is discussed by saying that “Chanute provided the Wrights with little genuine technical assistance and few if any useful theoretical ideas.” This egregious falsehood is exactly opposite of the truth. According to records of their correspondence, Chanute provided the Wrights with, or alerted them to:

  • His 1894 book that was the basis for their study of earlier works.
  • Realizing the biggest problem remaining to be solved was control.
  • The need to master control with gliders before adding power.
  • Trussed biplane wing construction.
  • First testing gliders unmanned with tethering lines.
  • The best gliding areas are the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas.
  • His cohorts (Huffaker and Spratt) who showed the Wrights the reversal of the center of lift’s movement.
  • Doing tests with a wind tunnel to determine better wing shapes.
  • Photos of wind tunnels and the design of their lift balance.
  • The basic design of a falling weight catapult enabling testing near Dayton and flying for the next six years.

In fact, it is evident that without these inputs the Wrights may well not have succeeded. If they did it would have taken them far longer, which may well have denied them the reputation of being the first to accomplish powered, manned flight.

 Page 110: The claim is made that the wing tests at Kitty Hawk “confirmed their earlier assumption regarding the reversal of the center of pressure [lift].” As previously discussed in relation to page 65, the Wrights did not have an “earlier assumption regarding the reversal of the center of pressure”. They admitted that the Kitty Hawk tests suggested to them by Huffaker and Spratt in 1901 showing the reversal of center of pressure movement came as a complete surprise to them.
Left: Dr. George Spratt (photo from the Harold E. Morehouse Flying Pioneers Biographies collection in the NASA archives); Right: Edward Huffaker

Page 112: Here, the author’s shoddy research has led countless subsequent authors and historians into an unintended error. A discussion on the Wrights’ problem with wing warping drag is opened by saying “Wilbur took the next step and attempted to make an intentional turn with wing warping.” In fact, the Wrights, particularly Orville in his 1920 deposition, made it perfectly clear that they were not attempting turns at Kitty Hawk, but rather were simply trying to maintain heading and avoid spins while correcting inadvertent banking when they ran into the problem.

They had put anhedral or droop into their wings to facilitate traversing a hill without getting rolled and blown sideways into it. Unfortunately anhedral made their gliders unstable in roll since the higher wing would develop more lift than the low one. But when they used warping to bring the glider back level, the downward warp on the low wing gave that wing substantially more drag causing it to drag back and slow down so much that it actually lost lift. This made the vehicle spin and roll further into the bank rather than level out.

Describing this problem in his 1920 deposition, Orville testified that “Sometimes in warping the wings to restore lateral balance…” In another reference to roll control he stated “When the wings were warped in an attempt to recover lateral balance…” On page three of their 1906 patent, it says “…owing to various conditions of wind pressure and other causes, the body of the machine is apt to become unbalanced laterally…. The provision we have just described [wing warping with coordinated rudder] enables the operator to meet this difficulty and to preserve the lateral balance of the machine.” Nowhere does their 1906 patent address turning.

The Wrights also describe their glider spinning into the lower lagging wing and auguring it into the sand. The Wrights referred to this as “well digging”. Had they been trying to turn, the vehicle would have slipped straight toward the other side, which it didn’t.

Actually, with the rudder mechanically connected to the wing warping, and only deflecting enough to keep the 1902 vehicle going straight, both it and the 1903 Flyer couldn’t turn. In fact, the Wrights were only able to make turns after they disconnected the rudder from warping in 1905. However this error in the book, along with laziness and/or lack of understanding by subsequent authors and historians, has perpetrated to this day the myth of the Wrights practicing intentional turns at Kitty Hawk.

Chapter 6: "Seeking Answers: The Wrights Build a Wind Tunnel" 

A 1949 reproduction of the Wright Wind Tunnel by the National Cash Register company

Page 119: This chapter launches into a two-chapter discussion of what was supposedly wrong with Lilienthal’s lift data to cause the Wrights to have lifting problems in 1900 and 1901. Right away it erroneously states that they used Lilienthal’s incorrect value of Smeaton’s coefficient for both of these vehicles. This is obviously wrong since wing area is proportional to Smeaton’s, and the ’01 vehicle had twice the wing area of the ’00.

This two-chapter discussion of what was “wrong” with Lilienthal’s data and how the Wrights “corrected” it with their wind tunnel, includes a whole series of falsehoods that have been repeated ad infinitum by authors and “experts” for over 30 years. The first blunder is saying that Lilienthal used Smeaton’s coefficient to calculate his lift coefficients from the equation

This is absolutely wrong since, as evident in Lilienthal’s book, Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation, he simply compared the lift on his wing sections at various angles of attack to their drag at 90 degrees. Since, at that time, the drag coefficient of any plate at 90 degrees was taken to be 1.0, the ratio of the pressures was the lift coefficient directly.

Lilienthal's glider. Photo from

The next blunder was spending pages on what was wrong with the whirling arm device used back then by many experimenters to calculate lifting data. As its name implies, a long arm went round and round with a test section on its tip. Obviously the test section was (without a breeze) continually passing through its own wake of turbulent air which could cause errors. Lilienthal did use a 25-foot diameter whirling arm to calculate some of his data. However he also did tests in steady natural wind with no turbulence. Both of these data were plotted as “Plates” at the back of Lilienthal’s book.

Lilienthal's whirling arm device.

Later Lilienthal took the tabular data of lift coefficients for one of these plots and published it in James Means’ Aeronautical Annual. Anyone willing to go through the trouble to compare all of the table entries to the corresponding points on the plots in the back of Lilienthal’s book can see that the tabular data, which is all the Wrights had, exactly corresponds only to the points on the plot for a natural steady straight smooth wind. So, contrary to assertions in the subject book, the data the Wrights used had nothing to do with a whirling arm, or Smeaton’s coefficient.
James Means' Aeronautical Annual

Along with a lengthy discussion of the Wrights’ wind tunnel (we’ll get to that in a moment) the author spends a substantial part of the next 30 pages trying to say what could cause errors in Lilienthal’s data without actually determining anything. He uses the terms “could have”, “might”, “if”, “could be misleading”, “problems”, and “may have’s” without ever reaching a conclusion. The author’s task is made worthless by the fact that the Wrights admitted in a November 24, 1901 addition to a letter to Chanute (originally dated November 22, 1901) that the errors causing poor lift were theirs, not Lilienthal’s, and that there was nothing really wrong with Lilienthal’s data.

Page 124: Near the bottom of this page we are told that “the Wrights’ wind tunnel work best demonstrates their brilliance as engineers”. No mention is made of the fact that the idea and design of the tunnel was discussed with the Wrights by Chanute and his cohorts, Huffaker and Spratt, at Kitty Hawk. In fact, the subject was probably brought up by the Wrights’ guests since there is no mention anywhere of a tunnel by either of the brothers before then. As previously mentioned, during the summer of 1901, Chanute showed the Wrights photos of existing wind tunnels, and Spratt gave them the design of their “ingenious” and “inventive” lift balance with which to take test measurements.
Visitors to Kitty Hawk: l-r Octave Chanute, Orville Wright, Edward C. Huffaker, and Wilbur Wright.

In a letter to Chanute from October 16th, 1901, Wilbur refers to the photos, and in a letter to Dr. Spratt from October 16th, 1909, he discussed Spratt’s lift balance and claims he will be sure to give Spratt his due credit for the idea in the future. Orville also mentioned that the lift balance was Spratt’s idea in his sworn deposition for the 1920 Montgomery court case.

Throughout just this one chapter he lavishes gushing adjectives and phrases on the Wrights, including “imaginative, clever, conceptualizing, genius, marvels, ingenious, incredibly impressive, amazing, sophistication, inventive, visualizing, think through a problem clearly, and technical skill.” He even, on page 135, gives the Wrights credit for devising the scheme of calculating lift coefficients from force ratios and thus avoiding the use of the controversial Smeaton’s coefficient, not realizing, as was just discussed, that is exactly how Lilienthal did it ten years earlier.

Page 144: Here the erroneous claim that Lilienthal’s lift coefficients were wrong is repeated. A blunder trifecta is completed by repeating his claims that Lilienthal used a whirling arm and an incorrect Smeaton’s coefficient to generate the lift coefficients the Wrights used

Page 146: A plot of the Lilienthal lift coefficients versus angle of attack is presented along with the Wright data for a similar wing. This clearly shows that the data are basically coincident at the angles used in flight, and that Lilienthal’s data are more consistent than are the Wrights’ data. Not questioning the validity of his previous claims, the author merely attributes this data agreement to coincidence.

Pages 147 & 148: Here the author goes completely off the rails again saying that “Lilienthal’s….table had an even greater drawback” in that it could only be used for one wing shape! This statement is nothing short of bizarre. That is the purpose of lift coefficients, to express the different performances of differently shaped wings of the same size at the same flight conditions. This statement is exactly equivalent to saying that Volkswagen wheels are no good since they won’t work on a dump truck, or the recipe book has a drawback in that it calls for different temperatures or baking times for different dishes.

Page 149: While he’s out of his element, the author calls the fact that Lilienthal’s lift coefficient data can only be used for one given airfoil or wing shape a “stumbling block” and a “pitfall”. But farther down the page he magnanimously forgives Lilienthal’s “mistakes” because of all his “contributions to the advancement of aeronautics.”

Page 150: Here, after having sung their praises in previous chapters, the author finally acknowledges that the 1900 and 1901 Wright gliders had inadequate lift.

Page 152: The subject of induced drag is raised and the author ascribes the improved efficiency of the 1902 wings to an improved camber or curvature shape. Although the Wrights’ camber change probably changed lift coefficient somewhat, the vast majority of the reduction in induced drag was due to their more than doubling the aspect ratio from 1901 to 1902.

Page 153: The Wrights’ discovery of the significance of aspect ratio is mentioned here with no recognition that this was known by George Cayley a century earlier, and by many aviators in between. The Wrights could have learned this, years earlier, simply by reading. He also fails to mention that, along with changing their wing camber shape to much like that used by their more successful predecessors, they also changed their wing’s aspect ratio from 3.1 to 6.5, exactly the value used by Lilienthal on his test wings.

Sir George Cayley

Page 156: Reprinted here is Orville’s boast about how their predecessors were so ignorant of camber that they all used highly inefficient shapes and none had developed good data. Orville wrote “we possessed in 1902 more data on cambered surfaces, a hundred times over, than all of our predecessors put together.” Unfortunately this author, and apparently all others, are unaware that although the Wrights may have had more data that any others, they totally failed to understand the basic aerodynamic principal that caused their data

But their predecessors, Augustus Herring, Horatio Phillips, and Otto Lilienthal, did understand lift. They all knew that the primary cause of lift on a cambered wing was lowered pressures on its upper surface. The Wrights thought it was all due to pressure on the bottom of a wing that met the flow at a positive angle. In fact, that’s why they always used the term “center of pressure” (on the bottom of the wing) instead of center of lift (on the top surface).

In their 1906 patent they stated that their aircraft were “…supported in the air by reason of the contact between the air and the under surface of one or more aeroplanes [wings], the contact surface being presented at a small angle of incidence to the air.” They thought the only purpose of camber was to allow the wind to impact the forward upper surface of the wing to keep it from flipping over backwards. They held this erroneous belief for years after creating their powered airplanes.

Chapter 8: "'We Now Hold All Records!'"

Page 175: The author claims that the moveable rudder “provide[s] another instance of the presence of visual thinking in the Wrights’ inventive method.” Unfortunately their “visual thinking” did not recognize the problem of warp induced yaw beforehand, and that the fixed rudder, which they tried first, would make the problem worse.

Chapter 9: "The Dream Fulfilled"

Page 184: Yet another example of careless research is the claim that, in the Wrights’ first patent granted in 1906 “No mention of power is made in the claims.” In fact on page 1, lines 12-15, the patent states “….[the] aeroplanes [wings] are moved through the air edgewise at a small angle of incidence either by theapplication of mechanical power or by the utilization of the force of gravity.”

Page 186: Another try at belittling Octave Chanute is made by claiming that his statement that three-axis control was “ancient and well known” showed “almost unfathomable ignorance on the part of Chanute.” This claim actually shows “unfathomable ignorance” of the history of flight by a Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The concept of three-axis control was evident in a few glider concepts and vehicles, including Professor John Montgomery’s in the 1880s and going as far back as Le Bris’ 1857 glider which had wing warping and moveable horizontal and vertical tail surfaces. Moreover, the argument can be made that the Wrights didn’t actually have three-axis control until 1905 since their earlier vehicles all had vertical rudders only as an adjunct to wing warping to make the roll control work as intended. Those vehicles could only erratically control pitch and recover from inadvertent rolls, but could not intentionally execute turns.

The 1857 flight patent by Jean-Marie Le Bris

Page 189: We are told how Wilbur and Orville “cleverly used their tables…and lift and drag equations to determine the ….power requirements for the aircraft.” Unfortunately they were only “clever” enough to do it for level ground skimming flight. They did not heed warnings going all the way back to Cayley a century earlier, that an airplane would need additional power for taking off and climbing away from the ground. As a result, their aircraft could not “raise itself by its own power into the air” as they so proudly claimed in their post-1903 statements. In fact, their airplanes could not climb out of ground effect until 1905, and could not achieve flight without the help of strong headwinds or a catapult until late 1910, long after numerous other aircraft were routinely doing so.

Pages 194-198: On these pages the Wrights are lauded for making the “intellectual leap” that a propeller was just a wing moving in a spiral pattern and thus needed to be made up of cambered sections twisted as they went out from the hub to account for their increasing speeds through the air. Actually, this exact concept was presented to the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain in 1885 by Sidney Hollands and published in the U.S. by Chanute in February, 1893. (See the previous article Propelled to Absurd Heights by Paul Jackson in the January 26th, 2020 posting of this blog.)

Sidney Hollands, pioneer of the modern propeller

In fact, Hollands went the Wrights one better by also pointing out that the blades should be tapered as they progressed out from the hub to minimize bending loads and aerodynamic tip losses. It was primarily the increasing blade widths of the Wrights’ propellers that limited their efficiencies to around 65 percent. It may well also be this excessive tip loading that contributed to one splitting and causing Orville to crash during a 1908 demonstration at Ft Myer, killing Lt. Tom Selfridge and braking Orville’s back.

Page 206: The assertion is made that the Wrights use of a 60-foot launching rail would “make it clear that the [1903] takeoff[s] had been unassisted, allaying any possible doubts that the Flyer had made a true flight.” However the author says nothing about the fact that at Kitty Hawk, on the morning of December 17th, 1903, the 27 mph headwind with gusts even higher, supplied at least 90 percent of the airspeed, and over 80 percent of the lift required to get the Flyer into the air. It was almost flying sitting still without the engine and propellers turning. In fact, later that day the unattended vehicle did just that, the wind raising it up and rolling it over, destroying it. It would seem this wind constituted an essential assist and could raise, in Jakab’s words, “doubts that the Flyer had made a true flight.”

Chapter 10: "The Meaning of Invention"

Page 213: Although previous chapters lauded the Wrights’ “three-axis control” as enabling their 1902 glider to make turns, here that is directly contradicted by stating that “Before marketing their invention was possible, they would have to be able to make turns”. The author correctly points out that this was the purpose of their testing in 1904 and 1905 at Huffman Prairie, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he has made yet another contradiction within his own book.

l to r: 1902 Wright glider, 1903 Wright flyer, 1905 Wright flyer

Page 217: After spending the whole book describing the Wrights’ fabulously inventive genius, the book winds up by saying on the last page that “with the exception of the propellers, there was nothing fundamentally original about the way in which the 1903 machine was designed”. But as a last treat, two paragraphs down the author yet again demonstrates a somewhat schizophrenic style by following that statement with “they invented a fundamentally new technology.”


At this point I am somewhat at a loss for words to conclude this review. Not only is this the most inaccurate and confused book on the Wrights I have ever read, it is also possibly the most inaccurate record of technological history. And it was written by an Associate Director of the World’s premier aviation museum along with the help of some supposedly qualified technical contributors. Possibly some pressing deadline was imposed on the book preventing any real research. Or perhaps the intent was to do America a service by deifying two of its favorite sons. But still, these would not explain the numerous contradictions.

The real shame is that so many of the errors in this book have become part of the accepted historical record, and been repeated many times over, for decades, in subsequent books and media. This book seems to be yet another example of authority trumping truth.

--Joe Bullmer


Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Wrong Wright Story Series - Visions of a Flying Machine I

The Wrong Wright Story 2

Peter Jakab's Visions of a Flying Machine

Part II of a critique by Joe Bullmer

Left: Peter L. Jakab of the Smithsonian Institution; Right: Jakab's book Visions of a Flying Machine

Introduction to the Wrong Wright Story series:

This is the second in a series of critical reviews of four books and a television documentary about the Wright brothers’ creation of an airplane. The books include a biography authorized by Orville Wright, and three more by senior officials of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. This article refers to the paperback reissue of Visions ofa Flying Machine by Associate Director Peter Jakab, published in 1990 by the Smithsonian Press, ISBN 1-56098-748-0.

These books were chosen because they have been used as source material for dozens of other publications containing discussions of the Wright brothers’ work and accomplishments. The NOVA documentary Wright Brothers' Flying Machineis perhaps the most prominent of approximately a dozen produced since 2003 portraying the invention of the airplane.

These five accounts all contain numerous fabrications and false statements that contradict the Wright brothers’ original records, the records of other aviation researchers who preceded the Wrights, and even aviation science. Unfortunately, other authors have relied on these books as bases from which to launch into discussions of the Wrights’ work. As a result, nearly every source of information on the Wright brothers’ work is contaminated with some of these same falsehoods and errors.

This series of articles represents an attempt by this author to establish “truthinaviationhistory” concerning the work of the Wright brothers. With this goal in mind, any technically qualified rebuttal to these critiques, or criticism of The WRight Story, would be welcomed.

Visions of a Flying Machine: Overview

It may seem unlikely that a book with such an extensive list of contributors in its Acknowledgements section as Visions would contain so many errors. However, only three contributors are credited with technical qualifications. One of these made similar errors in his books, which subsequent articles in this series will reveal. The others have published only limited writings on the Wright brothers, indicating only limited research.

A couple years of researching thousands of pages of original records of the Wrights and their predecessors resulted in my publishing a book in 2009 titled The WRight Story. Reliable primary and secondary sources were consulted for historical events preceding the Wrights and those after 1905. However, only original Wright material was consulted for all descriptions of their work resulting in a successful airplane by October of 1905. Surviving authors and producers of the works discussed in these reviews were contacted in an effort to discuss and resolve differences, but none have expressed interest in pursuing a dialogue.

A first reading of the book being discussed in this article revealed over 160 exaggerations or errors. Just addressing the 43 listed here precluded citing complete sources for each comment. However, eliminating more would be an injustice to portraying the nature of the book.

Chapter 1: "Why Wilbur and Orville?"

Page 15: The author claims “The majority of the critical elements in the airplane were original to the Wrights.” Actually, Wilbur admitted that the truss biplane structure was copied from the Chanute/Herring glider, their successful post-1902 wing camber and aspect ratios were essentially those used by numerous predecessors, and wing warping had already been used and patented by at least three experimenters. Cambered twisted propellers had also been recommended by a few predecessors, and even the forward elevator was a feature of Maxim’s 1894 machine. The only feature “original to the Wrights”, opposable wing warping with a mechanically coordinated rudder, had to be abandoned by them in 1905 in order to make turns.

The Chanute/Herring glider

Page 16: Here he repeats, writing that “Much of what the Wrights accomplished was highly original.” These comments are the first examples of the author's frequent contradictions, since page 217 says that “with the exception of the propellers, there was nothing fundamentally original about the way in which (sic) 1903 machine was designed”. In a sort of double reverse, the next paragraph on 217 says “they invented a fundamentally new technology.”

Chapter 2: "Aeronautics before the Airplane"

Page 33: The author claims that “Using [Otto Lilienthal’s] data and tables, an experimenter could easily calculate the size wing required to support a given weight at a particular velocity.” Then on pages 143 to 149 he talks about how bad he thinks Lilienthal’s data was. This is another unresolved contradiction in the book.

Chapter 3: "'You Must Mount a Machine'"

Page 46: The author writes, “[Lilienthal] failed to see that [weight shifting] was a dead end as far as a large, powered aircraft was concerned.” Actually Lilienthal did not “fail to see that.” On page 284 of the current edition of his book Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation, Lilienthal pointed out that although wings twice as big would be more optimum for gliding, he felt he couldn’t safely handle gliders larger than about 160 square feet with just weight shifting. In the 1896 edition of James Means’ TheAeronautical Annual, Lilienthal reported that he was well aware aerodynamic methods would be necessary to control larger aircraft. In fact, he was collaborating with other German experimenters on the design of such controls and had begun experimenting with them. Some claim it was actually a failure of one of these devices, rather than a piloting mistake, that resulted in his fatal crash.

Left: Lilienthal's Birdflight as the Basis of Aviation; Right: Chanute's Progress in Flying Machines.

Page 48: Here the Wrights are given credit for being the first to realize that control was the most important problem to solve. But in his 1894 book Progress in Flying Machines, the Wrights’ principal research source, Chanute stated that experimenters should direct their attention to gliding or “soaring” flight, and that the “maintenance of equilibrium….was by far the most important aspect of flight yet to be solved”. Nonetheless, in the book under discussion, this author goes on to say that “The Wrights’ recognition of the centrality of control…was…the premier conceptual leap that set them apart from their predecessors and their contemporaries.” He apparently has no idea that they read it in Octave Chanute’s book.

In the next paragraph, Alphonse Penaud is given credit for developing dihedral for roll stability during the 1870s. Yet again a lack of research is evident. Sir George Cayley invented dihedral and reported on it in the November, 1809 issue of Nicholson’s Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts.

Page 49: The careless claim is made that “proponents of inherent stability gave no thought whatsoever to controlling or steering their machines.” adding “Many reasoned that if simple straight-line flight was achieved, control could be easily dealt with later.” This completely misses the fact that that is precisely the approach the Wright brothers took, concentrating solely on achieving straight line flight until 1904, then beginning attempts at maneuvering and turning, finally accomplishing these by October, 1905. They stated this many times, even in their patent, wherein on page three, lines 78 to 87, they explained that their moveable coordinated rudder was invented to maintain straight and level flight.

Page 50: In the second paragraph a severe lack of knowledge of aircraft design is exhibited by the author. He states “The Wrights were the first to see that control was [for airplanes] the very essence of maintaining equilibrium.” Actually, until recently all airplanes have been designed such that, once trimmed, they maintain equilibrium completely by their aerodynamic design without any control movements whatsoever. This was true of airplanes immediately following the Wright Flyers, and is largely what caused the Wrights to eventually totally change their designs not long before going out of business.

Later in the paragraph the author's lack of knowledge is confirmed by saying “…just as a cyclist must make constant control movements to stay on two wheels, the airplane pilot must exercise similar authority over his craft to stay in the air.” Anyone who has ever flown in an airplane, or even seen a film of a pilot flying one, should know this is not true. Even more astounding is the number of “aviation historians” that have confidently parroted these absurd statements in their books and TV appearances.

Page 51: The Wrights’ experience of riding bicycles is given credit for the idea of banking an airplane in order to turn. This is another fallacy that has been picked up by countless authors and “aviation historians.” It’s quite likely that some cavemen, over 100,000 years ago, noticed that birds always bank when they turn.

Page 58: Here and on the next page indecision is expressed as to whether or not the Wrights copied the trussed biplane design of the Chanute/Herring glider of 1896. Again, lack of research glares out. The Wrights both said they did! In a December 21st, 1909 letter Wilbur wrote, “We have repeatedly acknowledged our indebtedness to the Chanute double-decker for our ideas regarding the best way of obtaining the strongest and lightest sustaining surfaces [wings].” Explaining their design in his sworn deposition for the 1920 Montgomery case, Orville testified that “it was apparent that the wings of a Chanute double-deck type [of glider] could be warped.”

Octave Chanute and his 1896 "double-decker" (as the Wrights called it)

Chapter 4: "Learning the Art of Airplane Design"

In this chapter, the book’s author, a history and arts major, attempts to explain key aerodynamic and stability and control aspects of aircraft design. Only major errors are discussed here. There are many others.

Page 65: At the bottom of the page he writes, “Although the record shows little specific discussion of these issues by the Wrights before 1901, it is clear….that they had at least a basic understanding of the reversal of the center of pressure before building their first full-size machine.” (Although he cites two references in the Notes section of his book for this statement, examination of the references reveals no justification for such a statement.)

On the next page he reverts to his favorite theme of Wright perfection, saying “Just as their initial instincts…regarding control moved them well ahead of their contemporaries, so too did their beginning assumptions concerning aerodynamics.”

Actually, both brothers recorded statements directly admitting that their canards (forward elevators) were the result of their erroneous concept of the movement of the center of pressure on a wing. During his speech in Chicago in 1901 Wilbur stated, “Our peculiar plan of control by forward surfaces instead of tails was based on the assumption that the center of pressure would continue to move farther and farther forward as the angle [of attack] became less”, an assumption that proved to be false. In his legal deposition of 1920, Orville recalled their perplexity thus: “Our elevator was placed in front of the surfaces [wings] with the idea of producing inherent stability fore and aft, which it should have done had the travel of the center of pressure been forward [with decreasing angle of attack] as we had been led to believe.”

The author admits that he couldn’t find much about the Wrights’ knowledge of center of pressure movements before 1901. The reason is that they didn’t know how it moved until the summer of 1901 when Chanute’s cohorts Edward Huffaker and Dr. George Spratt demonstrated it to them through wing balance tests at Kitty Hawk. Wright statements reveal that the reversal of movement of the center of pressure came as quite a surprise to them. Evidently they had only seen data on flat surfaces and neglected to check cambered ones.

                         Visitors to Kitty Hawk. l to r: Huffaker, Chanute, Wilbur Wright, and Spratt.

This is a good spot to address the constantly repeated claims throughout the book that the Wright’s “intuition” or “instinct” about aerodynamics enabled them to “visualize” air flow correctly in their minds without actually seeing it. This ability is credited for their development of their 1900 and 1901 wing shapes which he repeatedly claims were very good. He later contradicts these statements by blaming Otto Lilienthal’s data for these two vehicles having totally inadequate lift.

In fact, these vehicles could barely fly, and the Wrights’ wind tunnel showed them they had to change wing camber and aspect ratio to something very similar to Lilienthal’s (and numerous other predecessors) which solved their lifting problems. In a November 24th, 1901 (i can't find this letter) letter to Octave Chanute, Wilbur admitted that “It is very evident that a table based on one aspect [ratio] and [wing section] profile is worthless for a surface of different aspect and curvature. This no doubt explains why we have had so much trouble figuring all our machines from Lilienthal’s table.”

Other examples of the Wrights’ “instinct” for aerodynamics failing them, but not noted in this book, were not seeing

  • How cambered wings generate lift.
  • That an airplane needs tails to be easily controllable.
  • How wing warping would work in free flight.
  • That a fixed vertical tail wouldn't stop their warp-induced spins.
  • That stability and insensitivity to crosswinds were opposing goals.

Page 66: We are informed that when the center of pressure and center of gravity coincide, an airplane is at equilibrium. Instantaneously, yes. But practically, equilibrium implies stability at that point, i.e., the airplane should want to stay there. That requirement is something that eluded the Wrights, and evidently also the author of the book being discussed.

Page 67: Here he states that Horatio F. Phillips’ 1884 airfoil shapes set the precedent for the Wrights’ early airfoils. One can only conclude that he has never seen Phillips’ airfoils because some of them look quite modern, and all had maximum cambers at least a third of the way back, as opposed to those of the Wrights in which maximum camber was located immediately behind the leading edges.

Horatio F. Phillips' patented airfoil shapes

The author goes on to incorrectly discuss camber as if it was only “the [maximum] depth of the curvature” as opposed to the entire curvature of the wing from leading to trailing edges, including the critical location of maximum camber.

Page 68: Again, reality is contradicted here by saying that the Wrights’ early wings, with maximum camber right behind the leading edges were a “marked improvement in aerodynamic efficiency over the….wing used by Lilienthal and others” and “it also provided much more lift than the wings used by contemporary glider experimenters.” (Here again a source in his Notes section of the book is referenced that has nothing to do with his claim.) Contradicting this on pages 154 and 155 the author admits that their 1900 and 1901 wings were terrible and the wind tunnel showed that they had to move maximum camber much farther back and increase aspect ratio (more than doubling it to Lilienthal’s value) to obtain reasonable lift for their 1902 glider.

Page 69: He attempts to explain the “Penaud” method of achieving longitudinal stability but gets it exactly backwards by saying Penaud set his horizontal tails at a positive angle of attack. His explanation of how this would work is incoherent since it can’t work. In fact, Penaud set them at negative angles of attack to balance out the centers of gravity which were placed ahead of the centers of lift to achieve dynamic stability. With this, if the aircraft pitched nose up, Penaud’s negative tails would have a less negative angle to the wind and push down less, allowing the forward center of gravity to pull the nose back down. If the aircraft was pitched nose down, the tails would have a more negative angle, push down harder, and bring the nose of the vehicle back up.

                     Penaud's "aeronautical machines:" helicopter, planophore, and ornithopter.

And by the way, this author, like most all others, erroneously credits Penaud with originating this method of achieving stability. Sir George Cayley reported on using it for his unmanned gliders in Nicholson’s Journal in 1809.

Later on this page the author reveals the falseness of his assertion on page 65 that the Wrights knew about the reversal of movement of the center of lift (pressure) when they started. He says here that they “designed their forward rudder [canard] as if they were dealing with a wing having the properties of a flat plate,” i.e., no reversal of travel of the center of lift with angle of attack.

Page 70: Here he says “the Wrights’ scheme of a moveable elevator to keep pace with a constantly roving center of pressure was fundamentally sound, and it has been the method for pitch control on virtually every airplane since.” Yet again ignorance of aircraft design, and even flying, is revealed by not knowing that airplanes, once the horizontal stabilizer is trimmed out, do not need any help from an elevator to maintain longitudinal balance. A proper understanding of the “Penaud” technique would have revealed why.

Page 71: The author states that a canard stalls before the main wings because of its smaller size and thus avoids stalling of the wings which he implies is a stabilizing effect. Thus, two mistakes for the price of one. First, nothing stalls because of its size. It would stall first because of lack of camber or higher angle of attack, but not because it was smaller. Also, their canard is what made the airplane unstable and caused it to depart from level flight in the first place. It was therefore destabilizing.

Page 75: It’s asserted here that the Wrights didn’t put a vertical tail on their gliders for the first couple years because “it would complicate matters unnecessarily.” No, they didn’t think one was necessary because they were only trying to fly straight, and their aerodynamic “instinct” didn’t tell them about wing warping creating asymmetric drag which yawed their airplane. That’s why a rudder was required; to maintain the original heading.

In fact, in his speech in Chicago in 1901 Wilbur erroneously stated that “tails, both vertical and horizontal,..…may with safety be eliminated.” He then proceeded to design their next machines with vertical tails.

Page 78: Here the author explains the lift and drag equations as though lift and drag coefficients are the same for all wing shapes. Actually, until November of 1901 the Wrights thought so too.

Page 81: The bizarre tutorial on aerodynamics and airplane design is wound up by again admiring the Wrights’ supposed ability to mentally visualize aerodynamics, which, as previously noted, was often wrong. 

Conclusion - Part I: 

At this point the first four chapters of the book Visions of a Flying Machine have been discussed. Due to the length of this critique the remainder will be discussed in the second part appearing shortly in truthinaviationhistory. That part of the article will begin the discussion of Chapter 5 with a list of ten seldom noted, but well documented, significant contributions to the Wright effort by Octave Chanute, without which the brothers' achievement of success would have been problematic.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Wrong Wright Story Series - The Wright Brothers

The Wrong Wright Story 1

The Wright Brothers by Fred Kelly

A Critique by Joe Bullmer


This article, the first in a five-part series, addresses some of the discrepancies in Kelly’s 1943 book The Wright Brothers, (paperback reprint ISBN 0-486-26056-9) as compared to the Wrights’ original records and other well-established aviation history and scientific facts. Only his chapters IV through VIII are addressed since this material covers the period from 1899 through 1905 wherein the Wrights developed a powered controlled airplane (as discussed in chapters III and IV of my book, The WRight Story.)

On page 47 of the paperback edition of Kelly’s book, Orville gave him the impression that previous aviation experimenters such as Clément Ader, Hiram Maxim, Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute’s team and the Scottish experimenter Percy Pilcher had all accomplished very little. Actually, according to the French Aeronautical Society, Ader flew his first powered airplane smoothly for 165 feet (the length of his testing field) in 1890. Maxim’s powered vehicle, a result of his technical research, lifted off of its support rails for about 10 seconds and 400 feet in 1894. Lilienthal did over 2,000 controlled glides, some 1,000 feet long, during the mid-1890s, and Pilcher accomplished nearly 1,000 glides during the late 1890s.

From left to right: Clément Ader, Hiram Maxim, Octave Chanute, Otto Lilienthal, and Percy Pilcher.

In an 1895 letter, Pilcher warned of too much stability making a glider difficult to handle, something the Wrights are sometimes credited with discovering seven years later. In fact, Pilcher was creating an engine for powered flight in 1899 when he was killed attempting a gliding demonstration in foul weather to generate funds for his experiments. Lilienthal was also investigating power sources and more refined controls during the last couple years before he was killed.

By 1896, Octave Chanute’s group had accomplished around 1,500 glides. A member of his team of researchers, Augustus Herring, created a manned trussed biplane glider with smoothly cambered wings that was their most successful design. Its wing layout and structure were copied by the Wrights for their vehicles. In fact, in a letter written on December 21st, 1909, Wilbur wrote, “We have repeatedly acknowledged our indebtedness to the Chanute double-decker for our ideas regarding the best way of obtaining the strongest and lightest sustaining surfaces.” On November 30th, 1910, he penned, “we considered Chanute’s double-deck truss superior….and succeeded in adapting it to our own ideals and principles of control."  However, the Wrights failed to use Herring’s wing shapes, which set them back a couple years until their wind tunnel showed them that they had to adopt wing camber curvatures and aspect ratios (wing length to width) similar to those used on the Chanute/Herring and Lilienthal gliders.

But even more unfortunate for the Wrights, they failed to adopt the aft surfaces that the Chanute/Herring vehicle used for control of pitch and yaw. The need for such controls had been illustrated by Sir George Cayley in a 1799 engraving, and documented in his November 1809 article "On Aerial Navigation" in Nicholson’s Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts. In it, he stated that an aircraft needed an “up-and-down” rudder in addition to a “side-to-side” rudder, both located behind the main lifting wings. This had also been recognized by aviation experimenters since Cayley, including Jean-Marie LeBris in the 1850s, Alphonse Penaud in the 1870s, and of course Herring and Langley in the 1890s. Many of these experiments were discussed and illustrated in Chanute’s 1894 book Progress in Flying Machines, which the Wrights obtained in 1899 prior to their experiments. Ignoring or overlooking these features caused the Wrights great difficulty in developing their aircraft and, by the time they discarded the forward elevator in 1910, they were hopelessly behind other aircraft designers.

Sir George Cayley and his 1799 engraved silver disc, the first drawing of an airplane.

Evidently, not having researched aviation developments prior to the Wrights, Kelly was not aware of any of this. But even more egregious, subsequent historians and authors either did not bother to research flight experiments that preceded the Wrights, or they chose not to tarnish the Wright image established by Kelly a half century earlier. Thus evolved the myth of Wright “genius” in developing the configuration of their aircraft. In fact, aircraft layouts rapidly evolved to more closely resemble mid-19th century configurations of Cayley and LeBris than the early 20th century Wright Flyers. In any case, the impression Orville gave Kelly that previous experimenters had accomplished next to nothing is patently false.

Before leaving Herring, it should be mentioned that in 1898 he created an airplane that he claimed made a short powered flight into a stiff headwind in October of that year. Unfortunately it was destroyed in a storage shed fire before it could demonstrate its full potential.

On page 49, Orville claims that no one before them had thought of warping or bending wing extremities for lateral control. Actually, warping had been employed by LeBris in 1857, Richard Hart in 1870, John Montgomery during the 1880s, Clément Ader in 1890, Pierre Mouillard in 1896, and even Lilienthal in 1896. In fact, LeBris, Ader, and Mouillard had patented it. These controls could either yaw or roll a vehicle depending upon their degree of deflection. Slight deflections would tend to roll a vehicle away from the downward warped wing, while large deflections would yaw and roll the machine into the downward warped wing due to its disproportionately large drag increase slowing it down, actually reducing its lift. This control reversal perplexed the Wrights for a couple years until they came up with the moveable rudder to resist the yaw and force the vehicle to hold its heading while the wing warping returned it to level flight. 


Patent drawings by (l to r) LeBris, Ader, and Mouillard.

So the Wrights created their aft rudder not to yaw or turn, but to continue flying straight when correcting inadvertent rolls. In spite of their having explained this many times, even in their patent (see page four, lines 16 to 45), everyone who discusses the Wrights and their work always assumes their coordinated rudder was created to turn. Perhaps their lawyer, Harry Toulmin, described it most clearly in an explanation to the patent examiner, William Townsend, for their patent application based on the 1902 glider. Toulmin wrote “….the vertical rudder is in no sense a steering device, but is simply for correcting the increased resistance offered by one end [side] of the machine over the other arising from the different angles at which the ends of the planes [wings] are presented to the wind, and this it does automatically.” In fact, the Wrights’ records show that they couldn’t reliably accomplish turns with their aircraft until they disconnected their rudder from warping in 1905.

On page 53, Orville takes credit for devising the canard or forward-mounted elevator configuration of their early vehicles. In reality, Wilbur was the major designer of their early gliders. In a 13 May, 1900 letter to Octave Chanute, Wilbur stated that the 1900 glider would have an aft elevator similar to the kite they had tested the year before. But Wilbur changed his mind, and since he fabricated the machine at Kitty Hawk before Orville even arrived, it is clear Orville had little, if anything, to do with its configuration. The Wrights came to value the ability of the canard elevator to prevent stalls and avoid post-stall dives. Actually, considering the pitch instability their forward-mounted elevators created until they were abandoned in 1910, it seems odd that Orville would want to claim credit for that feature.


On Kelly’s page 54, Orville claims that Wilbur was the one responsible for misunderstanding the movement of a cambered wing’s center of lift with varying angle of attack, resulting in their aircraft’s instability in pitch.

On that same page, Orville makes the false statement that a positively loaded canard (one generating an up force at normal flight angles) results in pitch stability, a mistake often repeated to this day. The argument usually cited is that when an aircraft with a positively loaded canard surface is pitched up, the canard’s greater angle of attack will tend to stall it before the main wing does, thus allowing the angle of attack to drop avoiding stall of the main wings. While generally true, that is not what stability is about. Stability is concerned with how well an airplane avoids such unintentional pitch excursions to begin with. With a higher angle of attack, a positively loaded canard pulls a slightly pitched up aircraft farther up and away from a stable level attitude and toward a stall. That is unstable.

Discussing their test site on the next page, no credit is given to Chanute for recommending the Carolina and Georgia coasts, with their sand dunes and winds, as being excellent for gliding experiments. He did so in a letter to Wilbur on May 17th, 1900 while they were looking for a site.

Orville’s limited understanding, or perhaps recall, of technical issues is revealed in his discussion of the 1900 and 1901 vehicles’s glide performance on page 69. He blames the poor performance on improper maximum wing camber when in fact the poor performance was not due to the amount of maximum camber but rather to locating the maximum camber just aft of the wing’s leading edge with the rest of the wing flat or reflexed, and also to the low aspect ratio of the short stubby wings. Actually, maximum camber should occur from a third to halfway back in the wing, and aspect ratio should be at least twice what it was on those machines. Of course, Kelly could judge none of this.


The 1900 Wright Glider, designed primarily by Wilbur Wright.

Page 71 discusses the Wrights’ discovery of the true movements of their wings’ centers of pressure or lift without any mention of the fact that the visitors Chanute brought to Kitty Hawk, Dr. George Spratt and Edward Huffaker, had to inform the Wrights about it and suggest a test to prove it. The Wrights had thought that, just as on a flat plate, a cambered wing’s center of lift or pressure would gradually move from the leading edge to the midpoint as the angle of attack increased from zero to 90 degrees. However, on a cambered wing, at the low angles of attack used in flight, the center of lift actually moves forward as the angle increases. This is due to the more angled curvature accelerating and thinning the flow sooner along the forward upper surface of the wing. Also, any flow separation area on the aft upper surface expands forward from the trailing edge of the wing as the angle of attack increases, destroying lift there. 

Photo from Octave Chanute's 1901 visit to Kitty Hawk. (l to r: Octave Chanute, Orville Wright, Edward Huffaker, Wilbur Wright.)

Finally, during testing at Kitty Hawk in 1901, Spratt and Huffaker talked the Wrights into separating one wing from their glider and determining where it would balance in pitch at various angles of attack. This is another thing Orville had to admit under oath in his 1920 legal deposition for the Montgomery patent infringement case. He testified that “Dr. Spratt and Mr. Huffaker both suggested that there might be a rearward travel of the center of pressure on the curved surfaces at the small angles of incidence [as the angle is reduced]”. But before that, in his September 18, 1901 speech to the Western Society of Engineers, Wilbur said that “While the machine was building, Messrs. Huffaker and Spratt had suggested we would find this reversal of the center of pressure”.

Kelly recounts on page 73 that, according to Orville, in this same 1901 speech, Wilbur blamed their gliders’ poor performance on errors in the Lilienthal pressure table they had used to design the vehicles. Orville added that at the time he was not so sure that Lilienthal’s data was in error. Actually, while Wilbur only expressed uncertainty about Lilienthal’s data in that speech, I found no contemporary record of any dissension or position on the matter by Orville.


Otto Lilienthal's Table of Normal & Tangential Pressures

Apparently, Orville didn’t tell Kelly that a couple months later their wind tunnel actually showed there weren’t any errors in Lilienthal’s data. In fact, the errors resulted from the Wrights' poor camber shapes and aspect ratios. Wilbur clearly admitted this in letters to Octave Chanute on November 24th, 1902, stating that “[Lilienthal’s data] table is probably as near correct as it is possible”, and another on December 1st, 1902, “It is very evident….that a table based on one aspect [ratio] and [wing section] profile is worthless for a surface of different aspect and curvature. This no doubt explains why we have had so much trouble figuring all our machines from Lilienthal’s table.”

On the following two pages, Orville claims to have designed and built their first and second wind tunnels himself, and to have designed the balances in the tunnels that yielded lift and drag data. In twelve years I have found no record to support this. What I have found is a letter Wilbur sent to Chanute on October 16th, 1901 mentioning the wind tunnel photos Chanute showed them at Kitty Hawk, stating “The wind from the fan is rendered uniform in direction by the same means [as] in the photographs you showed us at Kitty Hawk”. Orville finally explained under oath in his 1920 deposition that they had gotten the design of the lift vs drag force balance from Dr. Spratt, writing, “This utilized an idea which had been suggested by Dr. Spratt.” Clearly, their guests at Kitty Hawk had familiarized the Wrights with the designs of some of the ten wind tunnels that had been built previously.

Then, on page 76, Orville claims that with their tunnel, they “discovered” the significance of wing aspect ratio - the ratio of a wing’s width or chord to its length or span. They may have, but this had already been discovered a century earlier by Sir George Cayley as documented in his November, 1809 article in Nicolson’s Journal, and by numerous experimenters throughout the 19th century such as Maxim, Lilienthal, and Langley.

Cayley's gliders in which his assistant and coachman briefly flew.

Orville claims on the next page that “they were the first men in all the world” to compile wing design data with their tunnel that could be used to design an airplane. They were not the first. Other aviators had already compiled design data from their wind tunnels (Maxim, Zahm, Phillips, and Wenham), or by using whirling arm devices and natural winds (Lilienthal and Langley). In addition, Orville’s statement is misleading since, unlike many of their predecessors, the Wrights never published their data so it could be used for designing by anyone else.

On page 80, it’s claimed that the Wrights were the very first to know correct wing shapes by 1902. An incomplete list of experimenters that preceded the Wrights, and used camber and aspect ratio wing shapes far superior to those of the Wrights' 1900 and 1901 machines, includes George Cayley (1799), LeBris (1857), Wenham (1866), Penaud (1870), Goupil (1883), Phillips (1884), Montgomery (1885), Lilienthal (1889), Ader (1890), Langley (1890), Pilcher (1896), Herring (1896), and Whitehead (1901). All but a couple listed here actually created models or vehicles that flew. Most of this was covered in Chanute’s book, which the Wrights obtained in 1899.

l to r: Montgomery's 2nd Monoplane Glider; Langley's Aerodrome No. 5; Whitehead and his No. 21 aircraft

On page 81, Orville takes complete credit for figuring out the problem caused by the fixed vertical tails on the 1902 glider, and figuring out the solution of a moveable rudder. But Kelly takes the discussion too far by claiming that the Wrights’ system of ailerons (actually warping) and rudder deflection is used today (today = 1943?). Furthermore, the following paragraph explains that the Wrights connected them to move together automatically, a system since used briefly in only a very few aircraft and discontinued due to safety concerns. Even the Wrights found that the controls had to be disconnected and used at different times and with different deflections. For example, when correcting a roll, less rudder deflection is required to hold a heading than is used to swing the airplane into a coordinated turn. In fact, on an airplane with dihedral, the controls for roll and yaw are cross-controlled (i.e., one is reversed) to side slip in a crosswind landing. 


The flight crew for the 1902 Wright glider, from left to right: Octave Chanute, Orville Wright, Wilbur Wright, George Spratt, Augustus Herring, and Dan Tate.


Orville says on page 84 that they doubted that an engine of 20 pounds per horsepower was available, but Wilbur wrote his father on September 23rd, 1900 claiming that they would have no problem obtaining a suitable engine. Actually, engines of half that weight per horsepower existed at that time. It seems likely that the Wrights had their assistant Charlie Taylor build their engines simply because they didn’t want to spend the money for existing ones, particularly since they thought there was a good chance of destroying at least one of them in testing.

On page 89, Orville claims that they developed a better understanding of the proper design of a propeller than anyone else, but does not claim that they were the first to see the propeller as a spinning wing. The latter has been incorrectly implied or assumed, without research, by almost all historians and authors since Kelly. As reported in a previous article in this blog, in 1885 Sidney Hollands presented a paper to the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain explaining that a propeller should be cambered, twisted, and tapered toward the tips. This was reported in Chanute’s book, which, again, the Wrights had obtained in 1899. (Reverse taper, as used by the Wrights, puts unnecessary bending and twisting loads on the blades and exaggerates aerodynamic losses at the tips, much as reverse taper on wings would require heavier structure and degrade their efficiency.)


Page 101 presents the Wrights’ famous claim that on their fourth trial on December 17th, 1903 their aircraft flew 852 feet in 59 seconds, a feat not verified by any witnesses or by photography. At least four different analyses have determined that the photo claimed by Orville to portray the end of the fourth flight shows the vehicle to be stopped less than 280 feet from the launch rail. For a detailed mathematical analysis of the photo see the November, 2019 article on this site.

Kelly, on page 128, appears to give total credit to the Wrights for the idea and design of the falling weight catapult first used in 1904, as have authors and historians since. In actuality, the idea and design were given to them in a July 29th, 1902 letter from Chanute, who himself got the design from Albert Merrill, a New England gliding enthusiast. Chanute wrote “I have your letter of July 27th and enclose a letter from Merrill and some photos”, and farther along, “Merrill had written to me to get my endorsement for…..a method for imparting initial velocity for a glider through a falling weight”.

Page 133 contains an interesting claim by Orville that, although they had to disconnect the rudder from wing warping in 1905 in order to make turns, they reconnected it “several years later”, albeit with a device to alter rudder deflection to enable both roll corrections and turns. I have never found any contemporary record of this, but if true, it must have been temporary and prompted by some opponent in a patent suit pointing out that testing forced them to abandon the very control scheme they patented and were defending in court. The technical limitations of a warp/rudder interconnect were explained in previous comments about Kelly’s page 81.

These are the major discrepancies in Chapters IV through VIII of Kelly’s 19-chapter book. They contradict information in Wright letters and records made from 1899 through 1905, the years from the Wrights first experiments through to the development of a controllable airplane. Many of these differences could be said to have been fabricated, or at least exaggerated, by Orville to glorify his contribution. Others might ascribe them to forty years of fading memory. However, many other details were accurately recounted, and there are other examples of Orville, after Wilbur’s passing, having claimed credit for things that are not supported by their contemporary records.

It is evident that using Kelly’s book as a basis, a narrative of the Wrights’ development of the airplane could end up quite different from that derived from the far larger mass of contemporary records along with such material as Orville’s 1908 article in The Century and his 1920 legal deposition. This would be particularly true if someone only vaguely familiar with the science were to fill in numerous blanks with assumptions. Unfortunately, that’s what has happened over the intervening three quarters of a century. This will become obvious in subsequent articles here discussing other books and the latest TV documentary

In all fairness to Kelly, it should be pointed out that his book was published ten years before McFarland’s compilation of the actual Wright records. Without McFarland’s compilation, it would have taken years for Kelly to have fact checked Orville’s statements. And that’s if he had reason to suspect that Orville was sometimes spinning yarns. But the other books and program I will be reviewing do not have that excuse. These, and countless other books and documentaries, were created a half to two thirds of a century later and appear to be products of either poor research, technical inadequacy, or a desire to glorify the Wrights’ legacy.  


 "The Wright Brothers A Biography by Fred C. Kelly, 1989, Dover Publications, Inc. 31 East 2nd Street Mineola, N.Y.11503

(First published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1943 as The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright)