The Brothers Wright Had “The Right Stuff”

Their names are synonymous with the airplane and aviation, yet they are under-appreciated by today’s public. Wilbur and Orville were brothers from Dayton, Ohio, and they truly had “the right stuff.” Nobody knew their names in the beginning. This famous picture captures the moment that changed everything.

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 Kitty Hawk – Dec. 17, 1903 – Orville Wright at the controls!

Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot who first flew through the sound barrier at Edwards Air Force Base in 1947 also personified the “right stuff”, and nobody knew his name. Also anonymous were his fellow test pilots at Edwards who risked their necks while pushing aviation’s “envelope” in the early part of the last century. But, all of it started with the Wright brothers from Dayton, Ohio.

Humans had dreamt of flying for centuries. It finally truly happened on December 17, 1903 on the barren sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The chosen site of mankind’s first self-sustained, powered flight had little to offer as amenities except sweeping expanses of soft sand and virtually constant wind – just what the brothers Wright were looking to find. Despite all the hot-air ballooning and gliding experiments that had taken place decades before that day in December, 1903, there were many so-called aviation “experts” who said man would never truly fly…right up to the time of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight.

Wright Bros. Stamp_1Wilbur and Orville Wright were not listening to the skeptical “experts.” They navigated their successful course relying on their own compass bearings: That was just their way of doing things – a necessary ingredient for the “right stuff” recipe. Even so, they had hoped to leverage their engineering/design efforts by using worthy findings and data compiled by their contemporaries and predecessors in “the flying machine game.” It was only common sense to use what findings were already available. But, as often as not, the brothers had to invent and chart their own course in so many ways.

Even the great German, Otto Lilienthal, whose pioneering experimentation with gliders furthered the cause of flight, had compiled data on wing curvature that was proven erroneous by the independent-minded brothers who proceeded to correct Lilienthal’s findings. Ultimately, the brothers Wright did things their own way, and, in the process, provided society not only with man’s first flying machine, but with a template for future large-scale engineering and manufacturing processes.

1909_Wright_Cycle_Shop[1]There are few stories more engaging than that of these two brothers who turned the world on its ear through their vision, ingenuity, and stark determination. Imagine: Two brothers in the business of manufacturing and selling bicycles from their tiny shop in Dayton, Ohio, taking upon themselves the immense task of building a flying machine by studying and observing birds in order to decipher their DNA encoded secrets of flight. Wilbur and Orville had no fancy college education to enable them. It was their curiosity and sense of wonder, coupled with their practical, can-do attitude, that powered them to success in the venture.

Their father, Bishop Wright, was a religious man – a traveling pastor whose personal example instilled in the brothers their common-sense approach to life and their devotion to hard work. And the task they undertook required copious quantities of both virtues.

Their first successful powered flight of 12 seconds duration over120 feet of distance occurred during the third of three extended trips to Kitty Hawk. The first two outings which began in 1900 were devoted to gliding experiments.

Among the critical findings during those first two extended stays on the site’s desolate sands were the concepts of wing-warping and proper wing curvature. Warping of the wings using controls by the prone pilot anticipated the modern aileron design present in all modern airplanes and crucial to controlled turns. It was their correct surmise that control of the machine was the ultimate problem standing in the way of successful flight, and they attacked it with a vengeance. The critical wing curvature question was tackled in the backroom of their cycle shop using one of the first wind tunnels ever constructed (by themselves, of course!).

There was one major problem remaining, and that was acquiring a very lightweight engine capable of launching their craft in the air…and keeping it there. A search for appropriate power-plants revealed none, so the brothers furnished their own! The twelve horsepower, four cylinder engine with a lightweight aluminum block was designed and built by Charlie Taylor, a mechanic with a genius bent who worked for the brothers in the backroom “machine shop” of their cycle shop. Yes, luck is always present in any successful endeavor with a long reach, but the brothers’ association with Mr. Taylor accurately illustrates the adage that talent attracts talent. It is quite incredible and so fitting that the brothers produced, as icing on the cake, their own power-plant for the world’s first true flying machine.

The brothers continued their pioneering work on flight in the years which followed Kitty Hawk, keeping much of it under wraps for fear of those who would steal from them, their patentable ideas. Indeed, in France they believed that they, the French, were leading the charge in aviation – that is, until Wilbur traveled to France in 1908 and took the wraps off the brothers’ latest refinements with a tour-de-force series of demonstration flights by Wilbur in the latest “Wright Flyer.” The French were stunned and found themselves quickly relegated to a back seat in the bus along with the rest of the “flying machine” contenders.

Wilbur died early, in 1912, but Orville lived until 1948, long enough to see their brainchild, the airplane, exceed anyone’s wildest imaginings. I recall that Orville’s death occurred just one year after Chuck Yeager shattered the sound barrier in the rocket-propelled Bell X-1 at Edwards, thus giving birth to a new age in aviation.

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The saga of the Wright brothers is the quintessential American story. Fact is always stranger than fiction…and so much more engrossing. I love a true story, well-told, so I am very pleased that the author/historian best positioned to do the Wright brothers justice has chosen to do so in his just-released book, The Wright Brothers. That, of course would be David McCullough, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies, Truman, and John Adams.

Wright_Brothers_in_1910[1]Author McCullough maintains that Wilbur and Orville Wright, though well-known, are under-appreciated by today’s public; I agree. In reading McCullough’s carefully researched account, I find so much of value in their story which sticks to the reader’s ribs. The author’s demonstrated appreciation of “excellence” and “self-reliant” motivation resonates perfectly with the characters in his book. In today’s world, with its emphasis on glitz and immediate, though transient impact, the devotion-to-task and patient steadfastness of the Wright brothers may appear old-fashioned and out-of-date, but there is no denying that that they, as much as anyone in our history, characterize our celebrated “Yankee ingenuity” and inventiveness. These were serious people, doing serious engineering, and making great history. I applaud author McCullough for his thorough research which figures so prominently in highlighting the personal characteristics of these men, characteristics which enabled their great success. The world has been and continues to be changed forever by the likes of them.

Remarkably, they achieved this great success without any outside funding for their efforts – unlike some other competitors who failed, despite government funding. True to their independent nature, the brothers paid their own way – entirely. Later, the government in Washington predictably became very interested in their flying machine… for military purposes.

I found fascinating, McCullough’s vignette on Amos I. Root, an enterprising beekeeper from upstate Ohio and one of the very few people who took any notice of the Wright’s extensive test flying at Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, in the spring of 1904. It was over that expansive prairie that the brothers perfected their flyer and honed their flying skills. This went on for months, to the complete oblivion of virtually everyone in the region including the local Dayton newspapers. Proud owner of a new Oldsmobile automobile, Root would motor down to Dayton to watch the brothers fly, earning their friendship and confidence, in the process. It was months before the population and the local papers finally latched on to the importance of what was visibly happening right under their distracted noses. In contrast to the public at large, Mr. Root possessed intellectual curiosity and sufficient wisdom to be able to discern history in the making.

And finally, much like the brave, intrepid test pilots like Chuck Yeager at the Edwards Air Force Base Test Center, the two brothers risked their lives every time they went up in the air – even in the early gliders. The brothers did all of their own flying. The first airplane passenger ever killed was a member of the Signal Corps who went up with Orville in 1908. Orville was seriously injured and barely survived the crash. Nothing about their remarkable, successful journey was simple or easy. I confidently hope that David McCullough’s book will help to impress that fact upon the public while generating new interest.

The quote which opens chapter one is perfectly suited to the message received from the story within the book:

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

 – Wilbur Wright

Postscript:

With all due respect to Ohio, that state may not quite be the exciting cauldron of opportunity it once was, but Wilbur’s contention that a good father and mother are  prime catalysts to the success of their offspring still holds true. I feel so strongly about that contention that my blog post last week happens to be about the most important job in the world: PARENTING. I think the brothers Wright would agree.

Click here to see last week’s post on PARENTING

 For my previous blog post on author David McCullough click here:

My post on David McCullough

Better to Pursue One’s Passion or a Practical Profession?

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The Wright Brothers from Dayton, Ohio, pursued their passion of manned flight. In 1903, their dedication and efforts created not only a practical profession for themselves, but the entire aviation industry! In case they were not successful, they had an established backup plan: Their profitable bicycle shop back home. They were quintessential examples of successfully pursuing a passion.

The working world offers many career choices. Within any given category lurks the tricky task of choosing “passion” or “practical profession.” The question is: “Shall I pursue my passion, or shall I choose a more predictable profession which will offer financial security?” The expense of a college degree or other training which is required is often a significant factor in the whole equation. Let us look at another, less dramatic example of passion vs. profession involving aviation.

Another Aviation Example: Passion or Profession?

For a youngster looking to the future who loves airplanes, the prospect of flying them might entail both a passion and the most enviable of professions – at least until a reality check makes it clear that a smooth path to a steady, well-paying flying career in the airlines is a thing of the past. Many career airline captains in past decades received their flight training and flying experience while in the military, a point of entry which is, today, almost non-existent compared with years past – especially the World War II and Korean War eras.

Private aviation flight schools are no less expensive than most colleges and universities; a degree/certificate from one of these comes complete with very tenuous employment opportunities with the major airlines. Flying for a small feeder line guarantees very poor pay, long hours, and no job security – if one should be so lucky to even find such a position. For some, their innate talent and the dedication to pursue their passion will overcome any practical considerations…and Godspeed to them!

A more practical alternative for the aviation buff might be to enroll in a college or university which offers a degree in mechanical or aeronautical engineering. With such credentials, the chances of a stable and rewarding career in aviation are significantly improved – compared to flying. My father had such a career.

My Father and the Perfect Solution

My Father had a lifelong passion for airplanes and aviation along with virtually no initial chance, whatsoever, to embrace his passion or even to experience a rewarding career in the field. He had but one year of high school before coming face-to-face with the necessity of going to work to help support his family during the Depression. He went from the bicycle assembly shop at Arnold Schwinn in Chicago in 1940  (the year I was born)  to senior mechanical design engineer/engineering manager at United Air Lines many years prior to his retiring (comfortably) in 1981 from United. He accomplished this very difficult feat through dedication, study, and hard work over many years.

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My father was a most uncommon man: You may read my prior posts on him for the details. Click here for: Aviation Scrapbook: A Long-Lost Treasure From the Attic (3-16-14); The Work Ethic and the Dignity of Excellence  (9-15-13); Family Funnies / Great Laughs! (6-9-13).

The point, here, is that he was able to do important work in aviation and to be around airplanes for the better portion of his career by making judicious choices along the way. Ultimately, he made his youthful dream come true by earning his private pilot’s license and flying single engine airplanes under the auspices of United’s employee flying club. Although he would have loved to fly for United as a career, he forged an alternate pathway to get up-close-and-personal to his great passion – airplanes and aviation. His career with United spanned thirty-seven years, capped by a comfortable retirement of eleven years before he passed away. He had aspects of both passion and stable profession over all those years.

Is the Passion vs. Profession Quandary Always Easy to Resolve?

Not really. For would-be artists, dancers, musicians, and athletes whose passion is  to reach the upper echelons, there is no compromise with the all-out dedication and effort those fields require. Although there is inevitably a fallback position available to those who fall short of reaching the top in those fields, the long-term prospects and the financial security of those alternate livelihoods are typically problematic.

It would seem that only those imbued with extreme confidence in their innate talent (and dedication) – Charles Lindbergh, for example – should “risk all” by entering a potentially dead-end, one-way alley. The rest would be well-advised to hedge their bets and plot an alternate path – just in case! Even Lindbergh, with his warranted, great self-confidence and his passion to make aviation history, had a fallback position: As an experienced air-mail pilot. He did not need it.

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Jet Engines and Michelangelo’s “Moses”

What do these two “finished products” have in common?

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The “reason” side of us acting alone would likely prompt the quick response, “Not much!” After some careful thought, our “reflective” side could provide some convincing arguments to support the contention that these two seemingly diverse objects, one from the world of technology, one from the art world, actually have much in common. Here is the way I see it.

The famous “Moses” at Rome, sculpted in hard marble by Michelangelo, represents the epitome of man’s ability to represent life and human nature using artistic mediums. In Moses, the inherent artistic genius of Michelangelo is brought to full bloom by the countless hours of diligent study and practice he devoted to mastering the techniques of working with marble. One man’s extreme dedication to his artistic cause has given us such priceless art as Moses, the Pieta, and the Sistine Chapel just to name a few.

As with Michelangelo’s Moses, the modern turbojet engine used in today’s airliners is the epitome of a product which demanded extreme dedication to a cause – only, here, the dedication extends over decades, indeed centuries, as armies of thinkers, scientists, and engineers fought to understand nature and natural forces.

Michelangelo’s Moses began as nothing more than a rudimentary “chunk” of marble; correspondingly, man’s knowledge of the various technologies inherent in modern turbojet engine designs ranged from rudimentary to non-existent as recently as four hundred years ago – well after Moses emerged from his marble prison. Michelangelo at least had his toolbox of fairly refined chisels and sculpting tools with which to work. The early “natural philosophers,” as early scientists and technologists were called, had little with which to work. They initially faced a confusing scramble of nature’s puzzle-pieces requiring painstaking assembly into a larger picture before true technology was possible.

Even allowing for whatever handed-down knowledge the artist might have received from mentors and colleagues, I see Moses more as the ultimate tribute to a single man’s talent and determination. I see the modern turbojet engine (and virtually all other technological wonders) as the ultimate tribute to mankind as a whole – the cumulative outcome of generations who worked to build our technology hierarchies. The iPhone, the modern automobile, the internet – these and all such technology triumphs are a tribute to the human spirit and its desire to “know.”

Highly-Polished Works of Art!

Michelangelo sculpted Moses cut-by-cut, chip-by-chip. And when Moses’ rough form finally emerged from the block of marble, he polished the innumerable rough spots – over and over again until the rippling muscles in Moses’ forearms fairly glistened of sweat. Like Moses, the modern turbojet engine is a highly-polished work…of the technological art, but with a much-extended gestation period and many fathers!

We recently returned from a two-week trip to New England, made possible by the marvels of modern aviation…and, specifically, the turbojet engine. Whenever I travel, I am cognizant of this monument to man’s ingenuity and dedication. Today, these engines are called upon to power countless tons of aircraft, passengers, baggage and cargo into the sky, hour after hour, trip after trip, week after week, without hesitation and without the need for frequent maintenance. Today, jet engine performance and reliability are so highly refined that travelers rarely think twice about flying over the rugged, isolated regions of polar routes in a large aircraft with only two engines.

A Bit of Historical Perspective

Jet engines were not so reliable in early aircraft. As a young boy, I recall numerous accounts of early jet fighter planes going down due to “flameouts” where the continuous fiery combustion and expelling of combustion materials out the back ceases and all thrust is lost. That problem and other major issues have long been solved. Today’s engineering efforts are focused on fuel efficiency and performance/cost factors along with quieter operation.

I also recall the public interest and excitement when the first U.S. commercial jet airliner service began – in 1959. My family lived not too far from San Francisco International Airport at the time. We could see the earliest American Airlines Boeing 707 jetliners off in the distance on final approach to the airport. It is interesting, today, to recall the fascination and excitement attendant to the advent of the commercial jet age, especially in light of today’s tendency to take it all for granted – which is a shame. I am a firm believer that when society loses its sense of wonder and perspective, it has lost something vital and precious.

The fundamental principle of physics which explains rocket and jet propulsion was first formally identified by Isaac Newton in his scientific masterpiece of 1687 – his book known as the “Principia” (See my post of Oct. 27, 2013, “The Most Important Scientific Book Ever Written: “Conceived” in a London Coffee House).

The third of Newton’s foundational “three laws of motion” states:

For every action, there exists an equal and opposite reaction

Despite this revelation and other fundamental physical principles so expertly articulated by Mr. Newton in 1687, much more physics and many new technologies were required for the first baby-steps on the long journey necessary to produce “engines” capable of powering our human desire to travel. The critical mass of required knowledge had not materialized until the nineteen-thirties when Frank Whittle, an English engineer, built the first laboratory version of a jet engine; it was operating by 1937.

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 An early Whittle engine

As with so many technologies, potential military applications provided great momentum to the product development cycle of the jet engine. The first airplane to fly powered solely by a turbojet was the German Heinkel 178, in 1939. In the 1944/45 time frame of World War 2, German engineering produced the Messerschmitt 262, the first jet-powered operational aircraft.

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 Messerschmitt 262

While much faster than the propeller-driven aircraft of the Allies, the planes were too few, too late, and plagued with reliability issues (including its pioneering jet engines) for it to be a decisive weapon in the war.

The die was cast by the end of the war, however; the jet engine’s rapid maturation and future domination was inevitable. One of the technologies which quickly matured out of necessity was the science of materials which dealt with the  “strength of materials” and their physical properties. The multiple internal turbine-fans spinning at very high speeds are populated with hundreds of turbine “blades.” The metallurgy to insure that these relatively small blades withstand the extreme forces and temperatures they experience requires a sophisticated metallurgical knowledge.

An interesting aside: One of the very first “textbooks” on the strength of materials was written by Galileo Galilei in 1638. The first half of Discourses on Two New Sciences is Galileo’s pioneering analysis of material strength and reliability – one of the “two new sciences.” The second half consists of his milestone revelations on the developing science of motion physics. The latter work qualifies this book as one of the most important science books ever published, one tier below Newton’s Principia of 1687 – like all other books except Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

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The next time you are at an airport, you might make it a point to observe jet aircraft which pull into a gate, power down, and sit there awaiting the next flight. The engine turbine fans can be seen still spinning 45 minutes after power-down, thanks to the superb, ultra low-friction ball-bearing designs which support the rotor shafts. You might notice also a “curly-cue” spiral painted on the front of the fan assembly just inside the engine cowl. They are there to provide easy visual indication that an engine is powered-up and turning at very high RPM. The tremendous appetite of these engines for air creates enough suction at the front-end to actually ingest ground crew members who get too close. This has, in fact, happened many times over the decades. Like the whirling propellers on older aircraft, jet engine intakes pose a deadly hazard to the folks who work around them.

Engine manufacturers such as General Electric and the U.K.’s  Rolls-Royce have learned enough of nature’s secrets to manufacture this product with an almost inconceivable reliability and performance capability. There is one aspect of nature which has proven stubborn to control and deal with, however.

Modern Jet Engines are NOT for the Birds!

The greatest enemy of the jet engine appears to be …birds! Our science and engineering capabilities have not figured out how to prevent the ingestion of our fine feathered friends into the compressor blades of these engines; it happens all too often. Do you recall Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his short trip into the Hudson River minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia in New York? No engine is tough enough to digest a large bird and spin merrily along as if nothing happened. Oh well, even Moses has always been susceptible to “chipping” if not handled carefully.

One final comment about the similarities drawn between Michelangelo’s Moses and the highly developed modern jet engine: I am certain that jet engine technology will continue to evolve and that the end-product will improve even beyond today’s high standard. I am not sure there will be anyone coming along anytime soon who will improve upon Michelangelo’s “design!”

 

 

 

 

Aviation Scrapbook: A Long-Lost Treasure from the Attic

For as long as I can recall, this picture, painted by my father in his teen years, hung in the bedrooms of my youth; now, it graces a wall in my den.

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In my dimmest recollections, I can picture it on the wall hanging over my bed when I was five and we were living in a rented flat in West Chicago. It came to California with us in 1948 when our young family moved here, and it hung in my room when I went off to college in 1958. For many years now, it has graced a wall in my den. It is a precious family heirloom, closely related to yet another which was “lost” until fifty years ago.

When I was barely in my teens, my dad told me that the painting’s depictions of aerial battle came from so-called aviation “pulp-magazines” that he had collected as a boy – inexpensive, popular publications that featured stories and illustrations of early warfare high above the ground. In the case of the painting shown here, Dad painted a montage of several such illustrations directly on the back of a sheet of glass…using house paints! There was no money for artist’s oil-paints or canvases in his boyhood household! Despite this unusual approach to painting, the colors remain brilliant even though the work is over eighty years old.

Retrieved from a Chicago Attic

In my youth, I often reflected upon the great thrill it would be to have the original paper illustrations which so captivated my dad as a teenager and which he chose to paint in my picture. Alas, they were all long gone…or were they?

When my maternal grandmother died in Chicago in the early nineteen-sixties, my parents and my mother’s younger brother (my Uncle Ed) went back to make necessary arrangements for the burial and the sale of the little brick house located in a west-suburb of Chicago –  the house that my grandparents purchased new in 1938.

There were old trunks up in the attic of the house. As was explained to me at the time, some of these contained memories which were too painful for my mother and uncle. My grandmother was a life-long alcoholic whose behavior made the lives of my grandfather, mother, and uncle very difficult. Most of the family memorabilia in those trunks was discarded or destroyed. Almost none of it came back to California.

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While cleaning out the attic of that little brick house, my father and uncle unexpectedly came across something very special, one of the few things that they brought back with them to California. It was an aviation scrapbook assembled by my father in the early nineteen-thirties. Dad had given it to the younger brother (my uncle) of his soon-to-be wife shortly before their marriage in 1939. When Uncle Ed fled Chicago to join us in California around 1953, the little book stayed behind, tucked away amid all the rest of the “stuff” in the attic.

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AVIATION SCRAP BOOK
MADE & OWNED BY ALFRED C. KUBITZ
THE CONTENTS OF THIS BOOK ARE ABSOLUTELY PRIVATE

The scrapbook contains articles, photos, and illustrations documenting key events, milestones, and people in early aviation. In addition, and most exciting of all to me, the book contained the original pulp-magazine illustrations, cut from their original pages, of the key scenes in Dad’s painting! It was a great thrill to actually hold the paper “models” for the familiar depictions in that painting that I knew so well.

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Lindbergh, Richard Byrd, Lieut. Jimmy Doolittle…and other famous fliers!

The many pages contain scores of news-clippings, magazine articles, and illustrations – virtually all highlighting significant aviation advances and events of the late nineteen-twenties and early thirties. Here is an actual news clipping from the day after Jimmy Doolittle set a new average air-speed record of 296 miles per hour around the closed course of the then-hugely popular National Air Races. His plane was the infamous (often deadly) Gee Bee racer which looked and flew like a bumble-bee but delivered high speeds and national speed records.

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Another famous aircraft which captured the public’s fancy in the early thirties were the huge dirigibles. Pictured here is the U.S. Navy’s Akron as it made its maiden flight in 1931 over Akron, Ohio. As smaller, safer, and more manageable “blimps” were developed, the huge, rigid-frame dirigibles lost favor and disappeared forever. Several highly publicized crashes hastened their demise. Not many miles from here, Moffett Field still has a huge hangar structure which housed the Akron’s sister ship, the Macon. Both of these huge airships met disastrous ends.

There are aviation surprises in the book, as well, such as this early conception of a Junkers luxury “flying wing.”

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Famed Brigadier General “Billy” Mitchell, an early advocate of air-power who demonstrated the ability of the Army Air Force to sink battleships with aerial bombing, here weighs-in on the operation of the auto-gyro aircraft.

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This little scrapbook was clearly assembled by someone who closely followed the rapid developments in aviation which occurred just after the depression – and that person was my father in his teen-years. While he loved anything and everything having to do with airplanes, his careful choice of relevant articles demonstrates far more than a fanciful love of aviation; it belies an early interest in the larger picture: aviation technology and the prospects of aviation to become a major force in the military and in society.

My dad was thrilled by the romantic aspects of aviation as epitomized by barnstorming pilots who would come to town and offer short rides in an open-cockpit Curtiss Jenny for a quarter – many boys were. But he would also want to know about the Jenny itself – how it operated and how to fly it – truly the outlook of a future engineer…which he became. For more on my dad and his love of flying, see the following posts of mine in the blog archives: Family Funnies / Great Laughs!, June 9, 2013; The Work Ethic and the Dignity of Excellence, September 15, 2013.

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I would like to have illustrated, in this post, the specific pulp-magazine cut-outs my dad pictured in the on-glass painting which appears at the beginning of this post, but these are currently stored in our safe-deposit box and not available in time for this post to go online. I have instead used some of the many other representative images which are pasted in his scrapbook.

This 1943 photo shows me with my Uncle Ed, my mother, father, and grandparents in front of the little brick house in West Chicago in whose attic the aviation scrapbook, presumed lost, was discovered some twenty years later.

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My dad was a remarkable individual in so many ways; the same could be said of my mother in the more arts-oriented venues. Despite having a superb engineering aptitude, he also had a talent for painting and illustration, a pastime he pursued early in life and even more vigorously later on. Despite acquiring a taste for scenic views and still-life subjects, he never lost his love for the more graphic arts – especially when it came to aviation. In 1988, he went back to the theme portrayed in his early, on-glass picture, and painted in oils on canvas, a more detailed version of his original work. It hangs on our hallway wall, just outside my den. Standing in my doorway, I can simultaneously admire them both.

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As for my prized aviation scrapbook, I suppose I should someday contact the Smithsonian or some other society about its historical significance to aviation and the possibility of restoring the deteriorating binding. I probably will do that.

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.

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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!

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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.”

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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!

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Happy Landings!