Early Birdmen…or How Flying Has Changed!

In 1843, a most unusual engraving was published in London which was titled,The First Carriage, The “Ariel.” Its depiction was fanciful in the extreme for the time: A steam-powered airship featuring two six-bladed pusher-propellers and a cambered wing structure rising majestically from the plains outside of London and soaring over a gathering of spectators.

Ariel Steam Carriage PSCC

Fully sixty years prior to the Wright Brothers first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the revolutionary design proposal by William Samuel Henson, an engineer in the lace-making industry of England, created quite a stir while serving as a pattern for the first monoplane (single-wing) designs to come some sixty years later. Henson’s vision was among the very first to propose propellers for providing motive power; the use of a wing with a cambered, or curved surface, was also prophetic. Although a moving tail and rudder were provided for ascent/descent and for “steering,” there was no provision for wing-warping or ailerons to enable controlled banking and turning. The Aerial Transit Company never really got off the ground, nor was a full-scale prototype ever built, but the design concept certainly gave impetus to the steady improvements which culminated in the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in 1903. 

This Bird Did Fly!

Glenn Curtiss 1910 Recto

Postcard of Glenn Curtiss in the famous “Curtiss Pusher” Flying
 Over the Grandstands at the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet

 I found this marvelous item at a postcard collector’s show a few years ago. The 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet was an historic, first-of-its-kind gathering to be held in the United States. It attracted over 250,000 people, many of whom saw airplanes for the first time. Also on display were some of the famous aviators of that time – a time when aviation was experiencing growth “on steroids.”

Glenn Curtiss was close behind the Wright Brothers as a mover and shaker in aviation. His famous 1910 “Curtiss Pusher” (named for the pusher-propeller) was helping to make a niche in aviation history for its inventor/flier.

Glenn Curtiss 1910 Verso 

The back of the postcard bears a distinct Hollywood postmark of Jan. 19, 1910, one day before the close of the meet. The sender writes: “How I wish you could have been here to see the wonders of the air – Thanks for your? sweet letter. Dear love Noah.” Such a great postcard, bearing first-hand witness to a significant event in aviation history! All of my thumbing through hundreds of postcards at the show was justified by this one “find.”

Glenn Curtiss LA, 1910 5 x7 LC

Photo of Glenn Curtiss at the controls of his “pusher” aircraft leaping into the air before the crowd at the Los Angeles International Air Meet on Jan. 11, 1910. This photo was taken on the second day of the meet, eight days prior to the above postcard’s postmark.

The following photo shows a vintage 1911 Curtiss pusher, largely renovated, but still featuring some of its original components, to the best of my knowledge. I took this photo last October at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, New York. The airplane was taxied up and down the Aerodrome’s grass “field,” but not flown –  although still flyable. The old plane is now too valuable and “tricky” an aircraft to risk flying anymore A trip to the Rhinebeck Aerodrome is a “must” if you find yourself in that area of New York, especially if you have an interest in aviation history. Highly recommended!

DSCN4093 Bright

DSCN4084

Happy Landings!

2 thoughts on “Early Birdmen…or How Flying Has Changed!

  1. Wow! I had no idea that even as early as 1843, people were imagining something that is so close to what the Wright Brothers ended up flying. That’s pretty astonishing. It’s a great testament to how much each generation builds upon the knowledge of the ones preceding.

    • You precisely perceived my reason for including the image of “The Ariel.” I, too, was struck a number of years ago when I first saw the image and how early it presaged the future of aviation.
      The famous quote of Isaac Newton is so applicable to all venues of science, mathematics, and technology:

      “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants.”

      In all the years of my involvement with science and science history, it has been next to impossible to identify a “discovery” that came truly without ANY significant precedents!

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