Good Morning & Happy Friday—Today I want to take you back to the origin of float planes. There were many involved in the quest to conquer the hydroplane concept but most were unsuccessful. Glenn Curtiss is actually credited with the first successful flight in 1912 but for today I want to focus on the Wright Brothers.
The experiments and testing that were done by the Wright Brothers between the years 1907 and 1914 are among the least documented of their activities. Their testing on the Great Miami River, South of Dayton, near the Third Street Bridge was among the earliest hydroplane experiments designed for aircraft use. While showing some early promise the experiments were suspended for several years.
Historically there were many aviators experimenting with both hydro-aeroplanes and flying boats. Most were unsuccessful until Glenn Curtis successfully demonstrates a hydro-aeroplane on January 26, 1911 at North Island in San Diego Bay.
During 1911 and 1912 several owners of Wright B aircraft designed and fitted pontoons or floats to their aircraft and successfully flew from the water.
In October 1911 Frank Coffyn flew a Wright B in Detroit, with hydroplanes designed by Russel A. Alger. On February 13, 1912 he flew his modified plane under the Manhattan Bridge. In the same month he carried a photographer over the Hudson River. He also mounted a movie camera to his plane and made the first motion pictures taken from an airplane. In March of 1912 Wilbur Wright traveled to New York and witnessed Coffyn’s accomplishments.
W. Starling Burgess, a well known yacht designed and first person in the United States licensed to build Wright designed aircraft,, from Marblehead, Massachusetts announced his design for hydroplanes in February, 1912. He flew on of his hydroplane designs on the morning of October 25, 1911. He continued to fly his hydroplane for the next week, taking many passengers aloft.
Grover Cleveland Loening, working for the Queen Aeroplane Company designed an “aero-boat”. He made test flights at Bayonne, New Jersey during April 1912. The aircraft only made short test hops and never made any real flights. It had been constructed from a speed boat hull and a discarded set of wings. It was destroyed in a storm before flight testing was completed. In a letter to Orville Wright seeking employment with the Wright Company Loening mentioned his design experience with his aero-boat. Loening was employed by the Wright Company between 1913 and 1914. He is responsible for the Model G Aeroboat that flew on the Great Miami River, south of Dayton.
Edward R. Brown, of the Brown Aeronautical Company, designed a Flying boat, the “Lord Baltimore II”. It was test flown by Tony Janus on May 17, 1911 in Curtis Bay. It was test flown several times over the next two months, being damaged in several accidents. It had difficulty in turns. It flew for the last time on July 2, 1911.
In July, 1911 Hugh L. Willoughby flew a seaplane of his own design, “The Pelican” near his home in Newport, Rhode Island. Willoughby was so pleased with the Pelican’s success; he had it sent back to Sewall’s Point, Florida, so he could use it for routine transportation between Sewall’s Point and Palm Beach during the winter of 1911-12, instead of using his motor boat. Willoughby had been part of Wilbur Wright’s support team during the military tests at Ft Meyers, Virginia in 1908. Willoughby formed the Willoughby Aeroplane Company.
On March 9, 1911 the Wright Company made an offer to the U. S. Navy to train a pilot if they would purchase an aircraft from the company. On March 17, 1911 Lt. John Rogers reported to Simms Station for Flight Training. He became Naval aviator #2. The Navy took delivery of a Wright Model B on September 7, 1911. It was designated B-1. On November 14, 1911 the Navy ordered a set of floats from the Burgess Company in Marblehead, Massachusetts for conversion of the B-1 into a hydroplane.
It is certain that the Wrights knew of the other designers and their work when they began their experiments and trials in 1912. The other designers were testing their aircraft on large, open bodies of water. The Wrights wanted to design a hydroplane that could be flown off narrow and shallow inland waterways. The bend in the Great Miami River, south of Dayton was the ideal spot. The river flowed south and mad a turn to the west and then another turn to the north. The farm of J. Elter was on the north side of the river between to two bends and the village of Alexandersville was on the south side. Because the river flowed north to south and east to west at this point they were able to conduct experiments no matter which direction the wind was blowing. Moraine Airpark (I73) now occupies the site of the former Elter farm. West Carrollton and Alexandersville have now merged to form the city of West Carrollton.
At the time of the hydroplane trials the farm was in the northwest corner of Miami Township in south west Montgomery County. In 2010 the Wright Seaplane Base, Inc. installed a historical maker on the West Carrolton side of the river in the Miami & Erie Canal Park to commemorate the historic events that took place along this section of the river. The park is located at 5457 Marina Dr., West Carrollton, OH, 45449. To reach the park take I 75 to Exit 47, turn west on Central Avenue to the first traffic light. Turn Right on to Marina Drive, drive about 1/4 mile and the Park will be just to your left
The Wright brothers often rode their bicycles to a popular picnic area south of Dayton called the “Pinnacles” to observe the many birds that flew there. Early on they decided that practical flight was possible by man using soaring large birds as their model.
The Pinnacles consisted of a gorge with a river flowing through it and unique large boulders created during the ice age on its slopes. The updraft created by the terrain attracted soaring birds. The Wright brothers regularly observed birds there from 1897 to 1899.
The Wrights developed their wing warping theory in the summer of 1899 after observing the buzzards at Pinnacle Hill twisting the tips of their wings as they soared into the wind.
Standing on the river bank one can see the site of the Pinnacles by looking to the Northwest. The site is now a landfill and the features that drew the Writs and others to the site are no longer present.
An article from the May 29, 1912 edition of the Dayton Daily News indicates that Orville Wright flew a hydroplane from the Miami River near Eby’s farm. The article stated that Orville planned another flight on Thursday, May 30, 1912. The announced plan was to fly up the river to the city and then return. Wilbur died at 3:15 Am on Thursday morning. The accompanying photograph depicts a Wright Model CH with two pontoons.
An article in the June 28, 1912 edition of the St. Petersburg Independent reports an incident a few weeks prior to his death where Wilbur talked of the future of the hydro-aeroplane. “He declared that the advent of this device opened the era of safety and usefulness for his invention.” The article was titled “Wilbur Wright’s Dying Vision”. Without a doubt the Orville’s flight in the hydroplane was in honor to his brother’s dream.
(Ten years of research leads to a painting)
In 2002, when I first learned of Wilbur Wright’s 1909 flight around the Statue of Liberty, I knew I wanted to paint the scene. It would take 10 years of research, and I would end up building two models of the Flyer and its controls before I felt able to capture the moment on canvas. By the time I started my painting, which was recently accepted into the National Air and Space Museum’s collection, I’d learned the full story behind that historic flight.
Wilbur Wright had a lot on his mind when he arrived in New York City on September 20, 1909. With him was his mechanic, Charlie Taylor, and a Flyer still crated and ready for assembly. For a celebration honoring the maritime achievements of Henry Hudson and Robert Fulton, Wright had agreed that sometime between September 25 and October 9, he would make a flight that was either at least 10 miles or one hour in duration. In exchange, the city would pay him $15,000. What worried Wilbur that day was that his flights would be over water.
Just a few months earlier, when Wilbur was seriously considering attempting the first airplane crossing of the English Channel, Orville had written him to discourage the flight. The brothers’ greatest concern was engine reliability. Wilbur knew that if the engine failed and he had to set down, his skids would bite into the water, throwing him forward into the wires crisscrossing between the forward struts and possibly injuring him. As the wood-and-cloth wings would begin to settle and sink under the weight of the engine, they could drag him down before he could disentangle himself.
So when Wilbur arrived on Governors Island, south of Manhattan, on the morning of September 29, he and Taylor had made a strange modification to the Flyer: Beneath the lower wing, they had slung a bright red canoe, which Wilbur had purchased a few days earlier from the H&D Folsom Arms Company. A top-of-the-line Indian Girl canoe made by the Rushton Canoe Company, it featured a sturdy 16-foot frame made of northern white cedar, which Rushton claimed was nearly a third lighter than other cedars.
The canoe’s light weight (approximately 60 pounds) and sturdy construction attracted mostly Adirondack hunters and anglers used to portaging around rapids and waterfalls. Wright was drawn not only by these features but also by the canoe’s aerodynamic shape.To reduce drag, Wilbur had removed the Flyer’s second passenger seat back, and for waterproofing had tightly sealed the open canoe top with nailed-down canvas.
In essence, the canoe turned the Flyer into the world’s first floatplane. Wilbur hoped that in the event the engine failed and the airplane ended up in the water, the canoe would keep the aircraft afloat. With luck, as the airplane glided into the water, the canoe might even hold the craft upright. As the airplane floated, the pilot would have time to extricate himself and swim away. The addition of a life vest next to him, which he could don before swimming clear, suggests that Wilbur had characteristically thought the matter through and come up with a contingency plan.
The Wrights were used to firsts, and this was the first time a pilot would be carrying a large object aloft, so the arrangement needed to be tested for stability. At 9:15 a.m. on September 29 Wilbur ran down the rail built to assist takeoff, positioned into the light westerly breeze, went airborne, made a two-mile flight around the island, and landed safely. Satisfied that the canoe would not impede his ability to control the Flyer, he announced that he would fly again.
At 10:17 a.m., he arose from the rail, which was still oriented into the light west wind, and flew due east. A man in the crowd exclaimed, “I believe he’s off for Philadelphia!” Charlie Taylor calmly corrected him: “No, he will round the Statue of Liberty.”
And so he did. Crossing between Ellis and Liberty islands, Wilbur steadily gained altitude, then began a turn to the left, closing the distance to Lady Liberty. At 10:20 a.m., at an altitude of 200 feet, he passed in front of the statue, his wingtips only a few hundred feet from her waist.
He then flew back to Governors Island and landed at 10:22, in view of several hundred thousand spectators in lower Manhattan and the delighted passengers crowding the deck of the outbound Lusitania. On October 4 he would fulfill his contract by flying a distance of more than 20 miles in 33 minutes and 33 seconds.
The first article above mentioned Glenn Curtiss and he too was a pioneer of aviation in many ways. I have a link for an article I had on the blog last year that will give you some insight in to his life and career – Glenn Curtiss.
Have a good weekend, protect yourself and your profession, and remember to keep friends and family close. Life is short.
April 4, 2014