The cradle

The simple bicycle repairers from Dayton, Ohio have not only beaten the respected Smithsonian Institution and its most learned professor Langley, but have also pinched honour from Washington DC to become the cradle of aviation which is very sensitive also politically.

Fig. 6-5
Number plate from the birthplace of aviation North Carolina

They are as good as ignored by the American public as well and even called ‘Lying brothers’ instead of ‘Flying brothers’: “If Langley couldn’t do it, nobody could” was a popular song.

Glenn H. Curtis, having lost a lawsuit from the Wright brothers on patents, proposes to take revenge. The machine ‘Aerodrome’ is heavily modified and with Curtis as pilot is put to extensive trials up till  June 5 1915 to prove that professor Samuel Pierpont Langley, and not some simple bicycle repairers, had the power to solve the problem of flying. History repeats itself: after a running start of less than a hundred metres the wings collapse. Nevertheless the  world press carries the sensational news one had succeeded to make a flight with the original airplane of Langley who is called “the first birdman”.

After further sad complications the conflict escalates to such a level that the Wright Kitty-Hawk-machine was shipped to England in 1928 and placed in the Science Museum at Kensington, London. In the end the Smithsonian Institution capitulates and on December 27 1948, on the forty fifth day of commemoration of the first flights at the foot of Kill Devil Hill, the Kitty-Hawk machine was handed over to the institute and provided with a historically correct inscription.

Amid all these insinuations Wilbur and Orville Wright offer their invention to the War Department in their country but they are not interested. Fearing to loose their invention they maintain complete silence for years.

Approaching the War Ministry of the United Kingdom produces no result either. It is then that the Wright brothers turn to the French Ministry of War. These new negotiations fail as well, among other things due to the refusal of the Wrights to show their airplane beforehand as they are asked. Besides Wilbur and Orville Wright are pushed and stimulated by the progress of their competitors, the French aviators (since 1783 France has had experience with hot air balloons with the brothers Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier and François Pilâtre de Rozier).

Particularly the successes of Henri Farman (1874-1958) with a biplane of the brothers (again!)  Gabriel and Charles Voisin equipped with a 38 HP Antoinette motor causes concern. On January 13 1908 he covers the first kilometre on a closed circuit and won the Deutsch Archdeacon-prize.

Fig. 6-6
Picture postcard with Henri Farman at the control-column on January 13 1908
published by Association des Amis du Musée de l’Air in Paris