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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Wright Brothers - Flyers Not Liars

This is the beginning of a new cycle of 12 posts (at the rate of one a month). It follows the same structure that this blog has had since its inception in April, 2009. Each twelve months there is a different theme, which is intended as a different lesson in Life Cycles theory. I explain all this in greater detail in my SECOND BLOG. The lesson for this cycle of posts is Life Cycles and Families. We are going to see a variety of usually well-known people, who share some form of family relationship. Our first case is the world famous Wright Brothers (Wilbur and Orville). But before we begin I'll show you the accidental way this piece of research happened.

Do you remember my last post on Washington DC? There aren't any prizes for this, by the way, as it's directly underneath. It mentions my trip to the capital and shows a picture of the famous National Mall, where all the museums are. Well it was recommended not to miss the Aeronautical and Space Museum, so that was my first visit. Whilst waiting to get admitted I overheard someone being told that they should try and see the historical exhibit first, because it was closing in 10-15 mins. I thought, OK, that sounds like a good idea. I'm glad I did, because as I walked by the Wright Brothers' exhibit, I read a bit of their story and began to wonder if this could be another discovery, similar to the Walter Burley Griffin story in the second blog. Here's what I found.....

In one flash I saw that Wilbur, the elder of the two brothers was born in 1867 and that the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight happened on December 17, 1903. Try adding 36 to 1867 and what do you get? Yes it's 1903 and that's the year in question again isn't it? Bingo, I'd hit pay dirt. Same as last time. No pouring over copious biographies for hours on end. As I've indicated before I'd never have got started if the going had been too tough. I also noticed that his younger brother Orville would have been aged 31 for part of this year. What does this tell you? Probably nothing for most of you, but if you really understood my posts, you would know it means they were also Confluent during this time ie. they shared time together in the Life Cycles significant years (ie. 19/24/31/36 etc). A photo of the famous 1903 flight is shown below.

I'm not going to reprise all of their fascinating story, but instead I will concentrate on just two periods :- 1903 and the second half of 1907/first half, or so, of 1908. Why would I do this? Well the answer is :- 1903 is the major beakthrough year when Wilbur was 36 and during 1907/8 Orville was 36. See, my method is just maths and stats, maths and stats. Wilbur Wright was born April 16, 1867 and Orville Wright was born August 19, 1871. Their period of Confluence when they were aged 36/31 was therefore April-August, 1903.

In summary, during 1903 the brothers built the powered Wright Flyer I, using their preferred material for construction, spruce, a strong and lightweight wood. They also designed and carved their own wooden propellers, and had a purpose-built gasoline engine fabricated in their bicycle shop. I will now create a timeline for these events. On Feb. 12-13th they tested an unsuccessful engine, whose body and frame cracked during testing. Then Wilbur made a March 1903 entry in his notebook indicating the prototype propeller was 66% efficient. So just prior to our period of Confluence (April-August) things were not complete. We all know a powered airplane needs a workable engine and though they almost had their design done, it wouldn't succeed without it.

The Wrights next wrote to several engine manufacturers, but none met their need for a sufficiently lightweight powerplant (this is like the period of temporary frustration I mention during a Year of Revolution). They then turned to their shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor, who built an engine in just six weeks in close consultation with the brothers. To keep the weight low enough, the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice for the time. The Wright-Taylor engine had no fuel pump, carburetor, or spark plugs. Nor did it have a throttle. Yet this simple motor produced 12 horsepower, an acceptable margin above the Wrights’ minimum requirement of 8 horsepower. It was patented on May 22nd, 1903. So now preparations were properly underway. Below is a photo of a later model Wright engine circa 1910.

Those preparations were largely completed by August, because in Sept. they arrived in Kill Devil Hills and in Oct. they commenced assembling it. It should be noted that their airplane -The Flyer - cost less than a thousand dollars, in contrast to more than $50,000 in government funds that was given to their great rival Samuel Langley for his man-carrying Great Aerodrome project. He was trying to beat them to the punch at precisely the same time. You know what? Langley gave up the project after two crashes at take-off on October 7 and December 8, 1903. There's destiny if ever there was. If I'd been around then I'd have said:- "put your money on the 36 year-old Wilbur Wright, not the 69 year-old Samuel Langley. He's not in any sort of significant year." This also says something about the sheer tenacity and eventual superiority of the solo underfunded pioneers.

So here is your evidence writ large:-



Following their initial success the Wright Brothers deliberately kept a low profile so that they could concentrate on creating and marketing a practical airplane. This was a financially risky venture for them, as they wound down their successful bicycle business at the same time. Flights taken during the years 1904-1905 were unspectacular and reporters went away without a clear impression of their claims. There was reasonable speculation that this was done on purpose by the Wrights, to get reporters off their backs. In fact the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune headlined a 1906 article on the Wrights titled :- "Flyers Or Liars?" Even the publisher of their hometown newspaper The Dayton Daily News stated :- "Frankly, none of us believed it." The photo below shows the newspaper reporting an unspectacular flight in Oct. 1905, on page 9, in the agricultural and general news section.

We are now perched at the precipice of our second period of study ie. when Orville was in his age 36 Year of Revolution (Aug. 1907-Aug.1908). What happened next to get them true recognition, that had so far proven elusive? In 1907 they decided it was France, rather than the US (who had shown indifference to their work), that they would journey to get some backing. Whilst there they had face-to-face talks with government officials and businessmen. They also met with aviation representatives in Germany and Britain. Before traveling, Orville shipped a newly built Model A Flyer to France in anticipation of demonstration flights. The European end of things became more his baby, because whilst in France (ironically enough) Wilbur met Frank P. Lahm, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Aeronautical Division, who allowed him to give an in-person presentation to the U.S. Board of Ordnance and Fortification in Washington, D.C. when he returned to the U.S.

This time, the Board was favorably impressed, in contrast to its previous indifference. With further input from the Wrights, the U.S. Army Signal Corps issued Specification #486 in December 1907 (so here is direct evidence of a breakthrough in the exact period of study). Bids were invited for construction of a flying machine under military contract. The Wrights submitted their bid in January, 1908. In early 1908 the brothers also agreed to a contract with a French company. This was Orville's direct breakthrough moment, not that either brother hadn't been across things, but you can't be in two places at once. In May, 1908 they went back to Kitty Hawk with their Flyer to practice in private for their all-important public demonstration flights, as required by the contracts.

What else could have taken place of real importance between June and August 19th? (ie. Orville's remaining age 36 Year of Revolution). Well everything culminated in one day - August 8th, 1908 (I often write about this one day phenomenon in Years of Revolution). I'll let the narrative take over here, it's just such a great story :-

Facing much skepticism in the French aeronautical community and outright scorn by some newspapers that called him a "bluffeur", Wilbur began official public demonstrations on August 8, 1908 at the Hunaudières horse racing track near the town of Le Mans, France. His first flight lasted only one minute 45 seconds, but his ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, including several pioneer French aviators, among them Louis Bleriot. In the following days, Wilbur made a series of technically challenging flights, including figure-eights, demonstrating his skills as a pilot and the capability of his flying machine, which far surpassed those of all other pioneering aircraft and pilots of the day.

The French public was thrilled by Wilbur's feats and flocked to the field by the thousands, and the Wright brothers instantly became world-famous. Former doubters issued apologies and effusive praise. L'Aérophile editor Georges Besançon wrote that the flights "have completely dissipated all doubts. Not one of the former detractors of the Wrights dare question, today, the previous experiments of the men who were truly the first to fly....". Leading French aviation promoter Ernest Archdeacon wrote, "For a long time, the Wright brothers have been accused in Europe of bluff... They are today hallowed in France, and I feel an intense make amends."

Below is a photo taken of this famous flight at the Le Mans racecourse, France, on August 8th, 1908 - showing inset, a section of the large crowd.

So there it is. I don't think I need to spell it out any more than this. In Orville's age 36 Year of Revolution the Wrights finally gained the recognition and kudos they so rightfully deserved. Orville's French connection had paid off big time. You can actually see how this was a more central event for his whole life because Wilbur was to die tragically in 1912 from typhoid fever, leaving Orville to carry on their future struggles with Patents and running The Wright Company.

I think I'm done. It strikes me that all true pioneers have to fight long and hard for recognition and in that regard I believe my pioneering of a new theory of life is just another variant of this. Except I don't have a brother to share it with. However, all of you who read and enjoy my work are my brothers and sisters-in-arms. Next month Life Cycles Families will return with a totally different and maybe even slightly shocking change of pace. Till then :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune".