Good Morning & Welcome Back,
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 the Wright Brothers were also working on the concept.
First, let’s look at an article from the Scientific American that was written in 1911.
The first experimenter to succeed in making an aeroplane rise from the surface of the water was the French inventor, M. Fabre, who accomplished this feat with a monoplane of his own invention the last of March, 1910. About a year later Glenn Curtiss, at San Diego, fitted a float to his biplane and made it rise from the water and alight thereon with complete success during the course of his experiments.
He flew out to the cruiser “Pennsylvania” anchored off the harbor and was lifted aboard with his machine. After paying a short visit to the ship, the aeroplane was lowered once more and Curtiss flew back to his starting point within the harbor.
During the past summer the hydro-aeroplane has been experimented with by officers of the navy and two Curtiss hydro-aeroplanes have been purchased. These machines have found favor on account of their shift control, which consists of a movable wheel in front of the two aviators and mounted upon a vertical arm pivoted at its lower end so that it can be swung in front of either man.
By this means it is extremely easy to shift the control wheel of the machine from one to the other pilot whenever it is desired to do so. In their long flight from Annapolis to Hampton Roads recently, LTs Ellison and Towers found this control of great benefit, as they were able to take turns in running the machine. Quite recently Mr. Curtiss has received a large order for hydro-aeroplanes for the Russian navy, and he has sent one of his aviators to Russia to demonstrate these machines, while Capt. W. I. Chambers of our own navy believes that before long each battleship will have to carry one or more hydro-aeroplanes.
One of our illustrations shows Witmer skimming the surface of the waves in the Hudson River in one of the latest Curtiss machines. This biplane is mounted on a single float, the bottom of which is rounded upward at the front, while the top is rounded downward at the rear end. This float is made of wood and is 14 feet long by 2 feet wide by a foot in depth. It will sustain a weight of some 1,400 pounds without being submerged. The front horizontal rudder is mounted above the bow of the float, where it not only serves its purpose of steering the machine in a vertical plane, but also keeps the spray from striking the aviator. At each end of the lower plane there is an inclined air cylinder which acts as a buffer and buoys up the end in case the machine tips when skimming the surface of the water.
Recently Hugh Robinson made a flight in one of these machines down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, Minn., to St. Louis, Mo., for the purpose of demonstrating its use as a mail carrier. Some five thousand pieces of mail were carried, and mail pouches were taken on and put off at the various towns on the way.
Capt. Willoughby has built two long narrow floats with up curved bows, which match the skids on his biplane. These floats are carefully constructed and are sheathed with brass, making them watertight. Their combined weight is but 103 pounds, or some 20 pounds less than that of the single Curtiss float. They will lift 1,200 pounds without submergence. The “Pelican” was fitted with only a 30-horse-power, 4-cylinder, Curtiss motor, which was not quite sufficient to raise it from the surface of the water.
Now that he has transferred his machine to Sewell’s Point, Va., he expects to fit a more powerful motor, and make flights above some of the streams in that vicinity. This new hydro-aeroplane is fitted with front and rear horizontal rudders which work in unison, the front one turning up, while the rear one points down, and vice versa. This is a system which has been used for some time by Farman, Curtiss, and the Wrights, but Capt. Willoughby has secured patents upon it, both in the United States and France.
The shape of these rudders is practically triangular, and they have vertical triangular fins above and below. Triangular ailerons are also fitted at the rear ends of both planes. The inventor also has perfected a new form of throttle control whose action is just the reverse of the usual arrangement, in that when the pedal is pushed the throttle is closed and the engine slows down, while a full movement of the pedal short-circuits the magneto as well. Both the Wright and the Burgess-Wright companies brought out a hydro-aeroplane.
A Burgess-Wright biplane, viewed from’ the rear, is shown skimming the surface of the water in one of our illustrations. Like the “Pelican,” it is provided with double floats, but the skids instead of resting upon these floats, are rigidly attached to the aeroplane by means of suitable uprights. These floats are single-step, cedar wood hydroplanes 14 feet long by 2 feet wide, and having a 44nch step placed about in the middle.
This biplane, which has a long body projecting forward in front, is mounted upon four floats, two of which are distinctly visible beneath the lower plane about half-way between the body and the ends. The third float is also visible beneath the body about half-way out from the front of the main planes. The horizontal and vertical rudders can be seen at the front end of the body, while the two men in the body are peering over the side as the machine travels forward. The propeller is also visible across the rear end of the body. This machine, mounted . on wheels, was described some time ago in the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.
During the past summer it was fitted with Fabre floats, and has made many successful flights from the surface of the Seine, near Paris. M. Fabre’s original monoplane was built on the lines of the “Canard,” and was fitted with small floats, placed in practically the same positions as they occupy in this machine. M. Fabre experimented for a long while before he was able to obtain floats that would stand the shocks of the waves and remain watertight. He finally found that several layers of veneer was the most suitable substance for this purpose. Recently the Aeronautical Society has obtained grounds at Bergen Beach, near New York, for the purpose of making it possible for its members to experiment on the water next summer.
As the members are alive to the possibilities of the hydro-aeroplane, without doubt there will be a number of these machines developed next year. The advantage of the hydro-aeroplane is that it can follow water courses that cannot be traversed by motor boats, and can travel much faster than any of these craft. In case of accident or a forced landing, there is always a good place upon which to alight.
There are thousands of miles of rivers and canals in the United States above which amateur aviators can fly in safety, and without doubt another year will see a great development in the popularity of the new sport of hydro-aeroplaning.
Now, let’s talk about the Wright Brothers and how they worked the problem, stopped, and started again.
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.
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.
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.
Now, let’s take a look at an article, and a painting, from Air and Space Magazine that that will add a different dimension to our discussion by adding art to the history we have before us.
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 articles above mentioned Glenn Curtiss 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 and tomorrow ours is one day shorter.
July 29, 2022