Flying Boats, Part II: “The Wright Brothers”

By Kyle Thede, former SC&A intern and recent graduate of the Wright State University Public History program

Wright Model CH Flyer in flight over Miami River, ms1_20_2_23

By 1911, the Wilbur and Orville Wright had managed to prove that manned, powered flight was possible, practical, and profitable. They had secured U.S. Army contracts for their Model A two years before, begun mass-production of their improved Model B design in a newly built Wright Company factory a year later, and founded the world’s first flight school at nearby Huffman Prairie. They were Dayton’s hometown heroes and had been the toast of Europe over the past few years, the first major worldwide celebrities of the dawning 20th century. Lesser known among their achievements and experiments of this particularly fruitful period, however, are their forays into the combination of aviation and water travel. While the term would quickly become anachronistic, the brothers’ “hydroplanes” remain among their most curious innovations.

A view of the crowd and the submerged Wright Model CH Flyer after J. William Kabitzke’s crash into the Mississippi River, 1912, ms1_19_7_11

1911 and 1912 saw several attempts by Wright Model B owners to adapt the design for water operation, with varying degrees of success. Frank Coffyn earned the distinction of being the first to film a motion picture from the air in his Wright B floatplane in October of 1911, while J. William Kabitzke, an employed pilot of the Wright Company, suffered a severe crash of his in the course of attempting a long-endurance flight. It would not be until 1913, however, that the Wrights would design an aircraft with the purpose of taking off and landing on water, the first of which was designated the Wright CH. Initially employing a twin-pontoon layout, the difficulty of turning the craft in the water caused the brothers to adopt a single large pontoon instead, serving much the same function as a boat’s hull.

Right profile view of the Wright Model G “Aeroboat” moving on the Miami River, ms1_20_3_5

It was Grover Cleveland Loening, however, who can be credited with designing the Wrights’ first proper “aero-boat,” having personally solicited Orville Wright for employment following the crash of his first seaplane design in 1912. The Model G, a marked departure from several signature Wright design elements, earned the distinction of being the company’s first airplane with an enclosed cockpit space, as well as dihedral wings and a non-flexible elevator assemblage. Loening himself, along with Orville, would make several experimental flights in this craft off of the Great Miami River in 1913 and 1914 during his employment with the Wright Company.

Orville Wright standing in the Miami River between the pontoons of a Wright Model CH Flyer. Two unidentified men sit in the seats of the Flyer, ms1_20_2_5

By this time, however, the Wrights’ status as the world leaders in aviation had diminished significantly. Not only were European designers and experimenters rapidly catching up with the Dayton brothers’ discoveries, but Wilbur’s death in 1912 and Orville’s continued legal battles surrounding patents and copyrights hobbled the Wright Company’s ability to lead in the arena of technological development. Slowly but surely, the innovations driving the newly born world of flying – and of flying boat-shaped craft off of water specifically – would find their manifestations elsewhere. One competitor of the Wrights in particular would serve as the catalyst for the airplane’s arrival as a truly transcontinental means of travel.

Bibliography:

Novell, Robert. “The Wright Brothers and the Wright Hydroplane.” Robert Novell’s Third Dimension. Published April 4, 2014. http://www.robertnovell.com/blogwright-brothers-and-wright-hydroplane-april-4-2014/

The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, Volume Two: 1906-1948, Edited by Marvin W. McFarland. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953.

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Celebrating Wright State’s 50th: WSU’s Founding Faculty

In 1964, a small group of young faculty, some from Ohio State and some from Miami University, were recruited to come help establish a new branch campus for their respective schools. Known simply at the time as the “Dayton Campus Project”,  each school entered into a joint venture to establish a new branch campus in Dayton, that ultimately was to become a new state university. This was an exciting opportunity for the young faculty, to help develop a new university in a quickly growing metropolitan area. It was also a tremendous leap of faith, to commit their futures to a new, yet-to-be-built university, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We are pleased to honor these 54 members of the founding faculty of Wright State, and those that followed in the early formative years of the university. Many of their memories have been captured in the Wright State Retiree’s Association’s Oral History Project. In the coming weeks we will highlight many of these individuals and their stories as captured in the project.  In our first post we are spotlighting Dr. Gary Barlow, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Teacher Education in the College of Education and Human Services. In this clip, Gary reflects on his first visit to the “farmland” that was to become the site of the Dayton Branch Campus:

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When the Brickyard was an Airfield: Flying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1910

MS-355: Charles Wald Collection
The photograph is of two Wright Model A/B Flyers flying above the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. The photograph is taken from the grandstands looking over the speedway and several small buildings are located in the center of the image. Two signs near the stands read, “In case of accidents please keep your seats” and “Speedway Prices.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of one of the country’s first aviation meets, June 12 – 18, 1910. Instead of cars racing around the track, aviators risked their necks flying machines they were still learning how to master, thrilling the public with their record setting antics. Following on the heels of the first American air meet, held in Los Angeles in January of 1910, the Indianapolis meet drew enormous crowds and it wasn’t long before aviators were introducing the American public to flight all across the country. Wilbur and Orville Wright were not anxious to get into the exhibition flying business, but soon realized that if they hoped to sell airplanes, they would have to do so. There were numerous other aviators flying a variety of machines by 1910. The Wright Company Exhibition Team made its debut before the general public at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection
Frank Coffyn, Ralph Johnstone, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Walter Brookins seated on the ground near a Wright Flyer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Wright aviators, such as Walter Brookins, Arch Hoxsey, Ralph Johnstone, and A.L. Welch broke numerous records. Brookins garnered the most attention with his record setting high altitude flight of 4,384 feet. Brookins also earned the longest duration flight record by staying aloft for 1 hour and 4 minutes.

R.E. Scott wrote the following for the aviation journal Aeronautics, August 1910 issue:

“So far as the flying itself was concerned, the meet proved pretty conclusively that the Wright aeroplane is a very steady and dependable machine. There were about sixty flights during the six days of the exhibition, and there was no suggestion of an accident. In the tranquility of the performances – the invariably successful starts, and quiet, uneventful landings – lay the chief beauty, from the writer’s standpoint of the meet. But in just that same tranquility lay its chief drawback from the standpoint of the box-office. Peace and quiet are all very well in their way, but after a man has loafed around a railroad station thirty-eight minutes waiting for transportation to the field, has quietly sat on a plank upholstered bleacher divan at a temperature of 120 Fahr. for three hours waiting for something to happen, and with equal peace of mind finally watched – at a distance of half a mile or more – these great white birds rise gently into the air and sail placidly around the track until fancy moved them to descend, that man is apt to lean toward something more stirring than the prospect of quietly walking two or three miles along a country road to where he can find a suburban trolley to take him back to town.”

MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection
A Curtiss “pusher” biplane in flight over the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with several race cars below on the track.

The aviation journal Aeronautics reported the results of the Indianapolis meet in its August 1910 issue.

The accumulated duration of the flights made:
W.R. Brookins 7 hr. 59 min.
A.L. Welsh 1 hr. 51 min.
Arch Hoxsey 1 hr. 25 min.
F.T. Coffyn 20 min.
D. La Chappelle 1 ½ min.

Longest duration single flight:
W.R. Brookins 1 hr. 4 min.

High altitude flights:
W.R. Brookins June 13 (world’s record) 4,384 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 13 2,093 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 14 2,083 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 16 3,876 ft.
W.R. Brookins June 17 (world’s record) 4,939 ft.
Ralph Johnstone June 14 920 ft.

Flights of which official record was taken: 55

For more photographs of the Wright Exhibition Team visit:
http://corescholar.libraries.wright.edu/special_ms1_school/

To learn more about the aviation meets of the early twentieth century, visit Special Collections and Archives on the fourth floor of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library.

 

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