Header Graphic
Orville Wright Looks Ahead


This article appeared in the Dayton Journal Herald on December 12, 1943
Orville Wright Looks Ahead
Sees Future of Aviation in Trade, Commerce
By Alexander McSurely
     The first man to fly a motored airplane, the modest scientist, Orville Wright of Dayton, this week leaves his customary seclusion in his little laboratory on North Broadway to receive at Washington the admiring tributes of the world on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the famous first flights at Kitty Hawk, N. C., Dec. 17. 1903.
     Appropriately, theme of the anniversary dinner at the Washington Statler hotel next Friday night is “Aviation in Peace,” for the Wright brothers from the beginning envisioned their new inventions’ future usefulness in trade and commerce rather than as a scourge of war.  Virtually every national aviation figure is expected to participate in the Washington observance, with secretary of Commerce Jesse Jones as chairman of the celebration.
     Orville Wright receives the new tributes in the same way in which he has accepted countless others, in the name of the famous Wright Brothers “team.”  He credits that remarkable co-operative association between his brother, Wilbur, who died of typhoid fever in 1912, and himself, as a major factor in their discovery of the principles which made airplane flight possible. It was their mutual confidence which gave them the daring to scrap erroneous earlier ideas and to proceed by the true scientist’s method of actual physical experiments and exacting measurements, to find the true answers.
     Now 72 years old, Orville Wright is white haired, perhaps a little stouter than on the day four decades ago, when he crouched on the lower wing of the flimsy bi-plane, and launched out into space at Kitty Hawk.  But his grey-blue eyes still sparkle as he discusses aerodynamical theories, or research in which he is presently engaged.
     A visit to his laboratory, shortly before his departure for Washington, found him just returned from lunch, and fortunately not yet plunged into his workshop again.
     He brought out a working model of one of his newest inventions, in a field not allied with aviation, and explained in layman’s terms some of the intricacies involved in its making.
     “I am a poor machinist,” he laughed.  “If I can get a ting to work in rough form, I am ready to turn it over then for somebody else to make.  Once I find out that an idea will work, I lose interest in it and want to go on to something untried.”
Postwar Aviation
     What of aviation in the postwar period?
     The co-inventor of the airplane foresees a serious crisis, paralleling the aviation situation after the First World War, unless intelligent handling by government and industry can prevent it.
     “I believe that much will be accomplished by international air routes in the postwar period, and I believe that they should not be limited to any one company or any one country.  If all of our airlines which have signified their intention of operating foreign routes are allowed to do so, there won’t be any business for anybody,” he said.  “There must be some reasonable arrangement worked out.”
     Predicting that new advances in science, may make many present-day aviation procedures obsolete, Mr. Wright referred particularly to rocket propulsion, and to some more efficient means of landing and launching airplanes than the present bulky, heavy landing gears.  He believes the helicopter will have practical application in short trips, although he does not consider it as likely to approach the conventional airplane in efficiency for longer trips.
     He is conservative on the development of private flying after the war, while admitting its great potentialities for widening the sphere of aviation.
     The interviewer lit a cigarette and blew a fat, lazy smoke-ring.
     Mr. Wright watched as it rolled through the air, and inquired with a grin, “Do you know the scientific principle behind that ring?  The rolling motion that your tongue gives to it creates a centrifugal force that holds the smoke together.”
Smoke Tunnels
     From this tangent, he began a discussion of smoke tunnels, and their use in testing aircraft structures by making visible to an observer the flow of air over a wing or other air foil.  A representative of the Griswold smoke tunnel in Connecticut recently came here to Dayton to consult with him about some of the early experiments with smoke tunnels here in his laboratory about 1919.
     “We used a fan from our regular wind tunnel, and actually at one time tried out tobacco smoke furnished by a man who sat there smoking and puffing it in, but it wasn’t very successful.  Later we tried a mixture of chemicals to provide the smoke, and it worked better.  The Griswold people burned rotten wood to make smoke for their larger tunnel.  If conditions are right the smoke will show little eddies and vortices in air currents over a wing surface which you would never suspect otherwise.”
     The conversation turned back to the subject of the first Kitty Hawk flights.  Wilbur won the toss for the honor of making the first flight which was attempted on the side of Kill Devil hill not far from their camp, on December 14, but the plane stalled and settled to the ground at the bottom of the hill, breaking one of the skids.
     After two days of making repairs the plane was again ready for flight, and despite a 17-mile-an-hour wind, the brothers with the help of the Kitty Hawk station life saving crew made ready for another trial.
     Here is Orville Wright’s own story of that memorable first flight, as he set it down years afterwards:
     “After running the motor a few minutes to heat it up I released the wire that held the machine to the track and the machine started forward into the wind.  Wilbur ran at the side of the machine holding the wing to balance it on the track . . . The machine, facing a 27-mile wind started very slowly.  Wilbur was able to stay with it until it lifted from the track after a 40-foot run.  One of the life saving men snapped the camera for us, taking a picture just as the machine had reached the end of the track and had risen to a height of about two feet.  The slow forward speed of the machine over the ground is clearly shown in the picture of the first flight by Wilbur’s attitude. He stayed along beside the machine without any effort.
     “The course of the flight up and down was exceedingly erratic, partly due to the irregularity of the air and partly to lack of experience in handling this machine.   The control of the front rudder was difficult on account of its being balanced too near the center.  This gave it a tendency to turn itself when started so that it turned too far on one side and then too far on the other.  As a result the machine would rise suddenly to about ten feet and then as suddenly dart for the ground.  A sudden dart when a little over a hundred feet from the end of the track or a little over 120 feet from the point at which it rose into the air, ended the flight.”
Only 12 Seconds
     The first flight lasted only 12 seconds, but because of the strong headwind, Mr. Wright calculated that the 120-foot distance covered was the equivalent of a flight of 520 feet in calm air since the plane was overcoming a head wind of 35 feet per second and moving forward an additional 10 feet per second.
     Wilbur’s second flight which lasted about 13 seconds, covered about 200 feet.  Orville took the third flight, which went about 200 feet, and lasted about 15 seconds, and Wilbur made the fourth and last flight, which covered a distance of 852 feet, and a time aloft of 59 seconds.  In landing, the front rudder was damaged so that it would have been necessary to spend a day or two more in repairs before the plane could be flown.  But then unfortunately, a strong gust of wind struck the machine and rolled it over and over, damaging it so seriously that possibility of any further flights with it, during that expedition was eliminated.
     Specifications of that first plane are interesting in the light of present-day airplanes.  The engine, which they built themselves, supplied 12 horsepower and weighed 170 pounds complete with accessories.  Today aircraft engines are designed so lightly that they provide approximately one horsepower per pound of weight, and engines producing 2500 horsepower and more are being used in airplanes.  The biplane wings had a span of 40 feet.  The plane was lunched from a 60-foot wooden monorail track, along which it rode with its landing skids, resting on a two-wheeled “car.”  Today, planes with wing span of more than 200 feet, ride on huge rubber tired wheels which fold up inside wings or engine nacelles after takeoff.  Yet aeronautical engineers even now, as Mr. Wright indicated are seeking some other solution for landings and takeoffs.
   It is possible that some modern refinement of the crude rail-and-car method, may again come into use?  That first motored plane used two oppositely rotating propellers on shafts 10 feet apart driven by chains from the single engine.  Purpose of the opposite rotation was to eliminate the effort of torque on the airplane.  And today once again oppositely rotating propellers are being used, in dual-rotation hookups, with three blades whirling in one direction and three in the opposite direction, while farsighted propeller engineers look forward to the day when as many as eight or even ten blades will be turned on the same hub.
     Lateral control of the first Wright plane was accomplished by warping the wings, a system previously used in their glider experiments.  It was their patents on lateral control which were later the subject of litigation carried to the U. S. supreme court, and decided in their favor both in the highest court of this country, and also in France and in Germany. The courts ruled that the ailerons later used for lateral control in effect utilized the principle of the Wright’s lateral control system.
     As Orville Wright goes to Washington to receive these latest honors, only one deficiency remains.  The original Kitty Hawk plane remains in England.
     Aviation enthusiasts in this country are hoping that soon after the close of the war the original Kitty Hawk plane may be returned to this country, to be given as Dr. Charles G. Abbot, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, expressed it, “the highest place of honor, which is its due,” in the U. S. National museum.