Little Bits of History

September 24

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 24, 2017

1852: Henri Giffard flies. The French engineer was born in 1825, in Paris. He invented a steam injector engine to power his airship. This type of engine pushed cold water into a boiler against its own pressure and used its own exhaust as power. While this seems to be a perpetual motion machine, thermodynamics holds the explanation. His airship or dirigible weight over 400 pounds and was the world’s first passenger carrying airship. His engine was able to deliver 3 hp and made the craft steerable. On this day he traveled from Paris to Elancourt, but was unable to return because he did not have enough power to drive against the wind. The 18 miles journey was able to prove the craft could make turns and was under his control.

In 1670, Jesuit priest Francesco Lana de Terzi, proposed a theoretical airship for the first time. His ship had four copper spheres completely emptied of air which would raise the ship. This was never built and still cannot be built today because the spheres would collapse from air pressure unless they were so thick, the ship would be too heavy to lift. The theory, however, remains possible. Others kept trying to come up with a way for mankind to fly.  There are rigid, semi-rigid, and non-rigid airships today and all of them must have certain components to be classified as an airship. They must have an envelope in which lifting gas is contained. They must also have a gondola for the crew and passengers and there must be a propulsion system which can be controlled.

Rigid airships have a rigid framework and can be built to any size. Semi-rigid ships have some supporting structure but the main envelope is held in shape by internal pressure. Non-rigid airships are called blimps and rely entirely on internal pressure to keep the envelope expanded. It can have only one envelope, unlike the other two types which can have compartmentalized envelopes. Blimps usually have “ballonets” containing air which are filled at sea level, but that air is expelled at altitude via pressure valves. The process is reversed while landing.

After Giffard’s success, improvements in airships was swift. A decade later, Solomon Andrews offered his newer design to the US for use in the Civil War. More experimentation changed the way lift was used to help provide propulsion. Twenty years after Giffard’s steam engine worked, Paul Haenlein included an internal combustion engine in his ship.  Airships were used in both world wars but since then they are no longer used for major cargo or passenger transport. Giffard was appointed a Chevalier in the Legion d’honneur in 1863. His eyesight failed as he aged and as a response to this, he committed suicide in 1882 at the age of 58. He left his estate to France for humanitarian and scientific purposes.

The sky is an infinite movie to me. I never get tired of looking at what’s happening up there. – K. D. Lang

Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work. – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky. – Bob Dylan

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. – Rumi




Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 24, 2015
1911 Wright Glider

1911 Wright Glider

October 24, 1911: Orville Wright is able to fly for 9 minutes and 45 seconds. The Wright brothers, Wilber and Orville, began their foray into flight by making a kite in 1899. They flew the kite near their home in Dayton, Ohio. It had a wingspan of only 5 feet and was too small to carry anyone. They wanted to test their theory of wing-warping for roll control – an essential discovery making controlled flight possible. Their first Wright Glider able to carry a person was built in 1900. It was designed after Octave Chanute’s 1896 two surface glider. The wing airfoil was based on Otto Lilienthan’s tables of aerodynamic lift. This was a full size craft but it was first tested for flight on October 5, 1900 by flying it again as a kite, this time near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Wilbur went up in the first plane while men on the ground held tethered ropes. Eventually it was possible to make several test flights but the plane was abandoned when the brothers went back to Ohio and it was torn apart by storms and pieces salvaged for other uses. They built a second glider in 1901 and tested it at Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk. This glider had larger wings and the brothers were able to fly 50 to 100 times in free flights as well as many tethered flights as a kite between July 27 and August 17, 1901. During these flights, measurements of lift and drag led the brothers to believe that Lilienthal’s calculations were wrong.

The 1902 Wright Glider was their third glider and the first to have yaw control by having a rear rudder under the pilot’s control. Their wing design was perfected during the winter using their homemade wind tunnel. They were able to fly with true control between September 19 and October 24, 1902 and their longest glide lasted for 26 seconds and went 622.5 feet. They put their craft into storage. The wingspan was 32 feet, 1 inch and had an area of 305 square feet. The craft, empty, weighed 117 pounds. They returned to North Carolina in 1908 to test their new Flyer III and found that the storage shed and the glider inside had been destroyed by storms.

In 1911, Orville Wright returned to Kill Devil Hill along with Alec Ogilvie. They hoped to test an automatic control system for the glider but did not invite reporters to witness their attempts. The glider was taken up on this day using a design which is considered now to be a conventional tailplane. The pilot was seated with hand controls rather than lying prone in a cradle. Winds that day were about 40 mph and the plane was able to fly much longer. The previous record had been 1 minute and 12 second so the nearly ten minute flight was quite remarkable. In fact, the record stood for ten years.

If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance. – Orville Wright

I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. – Wilbur Wright

The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who … looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space… on the infinite highway of the air.  – Wilbur Wright

It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill. – Wilbur Wright

Also on this day: Nedelin Catastrophe – In 1960, a Soviet Union ICBM exploded on the launchpad.
Notre Dame – In 1260, the cathedral was dedicated.
Terror Along the Beltway – In 2002, the Beltway Sniper was arrested.
Earth – In 1946, the first picture of Earth from outer space was taken.
Thar She Goes – In 1901, Annie Taylor celebrated her birthday.



First Flight

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 15, 2015
Castle with flight monument *

Castle with flight monument *

May 15, 1793: Diego Marín Aguilera flies – well, glides. He was born in 1757 in Coruña del Conde, Spain. He became the head of the household when his father died, leaving him to take care of his seven brothers. He was forced into agricultural labor as a matter of necessity and spent his days herding sheep. He was an inventor by inclination and devised several pieces of technology which could ease the burden of physical labor. He improved the local mills and improved a method of cutting marble from quarries. He came up with a device to whip horses during the threshing process and he invented something to make cloth pads.

His afternoons spent in the fields with the sheep were not wasted. He watched eagles flying overhead and wished to soar with them. He wanted to fly and to that end, he spent six years trying to build a machine to help him. His craft was made of wood, iron, cloth, and feathers. In order to secure enough feathers, he built traps and loaded them with rotting meat. As the vultures and eagles swooped in for their free food, they were caught and Marín harvested the feathers. As he watched the birds, he studied their wing and tail movements and with the help of the local blacksmith, Joaquin Barbero, he built wrought iron “joints” for his flying machine that moved like a fan. He built added for his feet and hand-cranks to steer his machine.

On this day, as night fell, Marín and Barbero, along with one of Marín’s sisters took the glider to the highest part of the Coruña del Conde castle. The 36-year-old pilot confidently laid out his plans to fly to “Burgo de Osma, and from there to Soria,” adding, “and I’ll be back in a couple of days.” He flapped the wings as he took off and rose to a height of 16 to 20 feet. He managed to make it across the Arandilla River and reached an area known as Heras, crash landing about 300-500 yards from his take off position. One of the metal joints broke. His sister and friend ran to his aid, fearing he may have also been the first flight fatality. Marín had suffered only scratches and bruises. He was irate with Barbero, accusing him of improperly welding the joint.

The locals thought he was either a lunatic or a heretic, or possibly both. They burned his “demonic” flapping wing creation. He lost hope and became depressed, never again attempting to fly. He died six years later in 1799 and left no documentation about his invention. The Spanish Air Force dedicated a monument to him placed  next to the ancient castle from which Marín flew. He is known as the “father of aviation”. The old castle was on sale for one euro in 2002 with the proviso that the purchaser restore the crumbling building.

It is impossible to determine how much truth there is to the story of Marín, but it seems that he did achieve some gliding flight, surviving after structural failure and a crash landing. Marín, who had no formal scientific education, was endowed with a special technical ingenuity and is a good example of the ageless human aspiration toward flight. – American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. – J. B. S. Haldane

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. – Golda Meir

I hate flying, flat out hate its guts. – William Shatner

Also on this day: A Cattle Trail Grows Up – In 1905, Las Vegas was established.
Friends Hospital – In 1817, the first private psychiatric hospital in the US opened.
Puckle Gun – In 1718, the first machine gun was patented.
Plane Crazy – In 1928, Mickey Mouse starred in a silent, black-and-white cartoon.
Baily’s Beads – In 1836, Baily described what he had seen during an annular eclipse.

* “Castillo De Coruña Del Conde” by Juan Carlos Gómez – Castillo De Coruña Del Conde. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Wilbur and Orville

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 17, 2010

The Wright Flyer

December 17, 1903: The Wright Brothers fly their invention, the Wright Flyer, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers had tried, unsuccessfully, to fly the craft on December 14. The plane was damaged and took days to repair. Wilbur had been flying. So it was Orville’s turn and the first flight lasted for 20 seconds and went 120 feet. The took turns flying and on the fourth and last flight, with Wilbur at the controls, the plane stayed aloft for 59 seconds and went a distance of 853 feet.

The Wright Flyer was 21 feet long and had a wingspan of 42.5 feet. It weighted 605 pounds and had a maximum speed of 30 mph. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale recognized the flight by the Wright Brothers as the first controlled, powered, sustained flight in a heavier-than-air craft. All the adjectives are necessary because flight has been a goal of mankind since he first yearned to join the birds.

Ancient Chinese were flying men via kites in the 550s. Parachutes and gliders, also using area to capture updraft, were the next types of flight. But these flights began at a higher level than the ending point, gravity working to end the flight. Then lighter-that-air became possible when the first balloon flight took place in 1783. By the nineteenth century there were unmanned heavier-than-air flights.

The Smithsonian Institute did not recognize the Wright Brothers as the first pilots. After Wilbur’s death, Orville attempted to persuade the Smithsonian to recognize their achievements by threatening to give the original plane to the Science Museum in London. The Smithsonian would not be swayed. The plane went to London. She was safely hidden away during WWII. In 1942, the Smithsonian recanted and brought the plane back to the US, opening the exhibit on December 17, 1948, forty-five years after the initial flights.

“I don’t have any regrets about my part in the invention of the airplane, though no one could deplore more than I do the destruction it has caused. I feel about the airplane much as I do in regard to fire. That is, I regret all the terrible damage caused by fire. But I think it is good for the human race that someone discovered how to start fires and that it is possible to put fire to thousands of important uses.” – Orville Wright

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance” – Orville Wright

“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!” – Orville Wright

“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then, if possible, add my mite to help on the future worker who will attain final success.” – Wilbur Wright

Also on this day, in 1989 The Simpsons became a prime time show on Fox Broadcasting.