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WELCOME TO today’s debate. Its topic, who invented the aeroplane? The Wright Bros. of Dayton, Ohio? Or Gabriel Voisin of Billancourt, Paris, France?
In composing the Wright Bros. argument, I used as my primary source the book Aviation, The Hulton Getty Picture Collection, the Early Years, Die Anfänge der Luftfahrt, Les Premières Années de l’Aéronautique, by Peter Almond, Konenmann, Köln, 1997.
To present the Voisin side, I depended on no less than Monsieur Voisin himself, through his autobiography, Men, Women and 10,000 Kites, translated by Oliver Stewart, Putnam, London, 1963.
The passages in quotes, other than Wilbur Wright’s, are from these books. I will act as moderator (D.S.).
By virtue of age—he was 84 when his autobiography was published—M. Voisin makes the first statement.
Gabriel Voisin (G.V.) includes a chapter in his biography titled “One of Aviation’s Biggest Hoaxes.” In detailing the “Wright affair,” Voisin proposes “At the same time American claims in this direction will be reduced to their proper proportions.”
Peter Almond (P.A.) offers photographic proof that on 17 December 1903, Orville Wright became the first human to achieve sustained, controlled flight in an aeroplane. Before the day was out, both brothers were successful, one of the flights lasting 59 seconds and covering 852 ft.
D.S. – The Wrights’ efforts at Kitty Hawk were confronted by stiff headwinds, the upcurrents of which aided them as well.
G.V. – “The Wright aircraft was never able to leave the ground under its own power until the 1908 period when it was fitted with a French engine.” The December 1903 flight “was only a glide of 59 seconds.”
D.S. – Being businessmen at heart, the Wrights subsequently tried to sell their invention first to the U.S. Army, then to the British and Germany military. No one was interested.
P.A. – The Wrights flew around Huffman Prairie, near their Dayton home, so often that farmers lost interest too. Then, from October 1905 until May 1908, the Wrights went into seclusion. “They were far ahead of anyone else in aviation, but it was almost as if their historic flight had never been.”
G.V. – “If there is a critical date in the history of aeronautics it is 13 January 1908.” This was when Henry Farman flew one of Voisin’s aeroplanes a distance of more than 1 kilometer “under official observation (that is, in circumstances not open to question).”
D.S. – This flight of less than a mile in 1 minute 28 seconds, modest performance by Wright standards, earned Henry Farman and his Voisin biplane a 50,000-franc prize. Next, let’s turn to Wilbur Wright’s Le Mans demonstration, the subject of www.wp.me/p2ETap-2j.
P.A. – On 8 August 1908, just off what was destined to be the Mulsanne Straight of the Le Mans race circuit, hundreds of spectators saw Wilbur Wright take off, make two controlled circles and land smoothly. “The audience was stunned. For the first time they saw what flight control was all about.”
G.V. – “After the miserable demonstration in France on 8 August 1908,” a French engine was fitted and “the Wright flew at last. But its performance was immediately outdone by French performances and it went back to America.”
P.A. – “Over the next few months Wilbur flew further and higher, the crowds grew bigger and the cheers louder.” By January 1909, he established a flying school at Pau, in southwestern France. Orville joined him and they made flights in Italy and Germany. And the French Bariquand et Marré engine was a Wright design built under license. Wilbur wrote in his diary, “They are such idiots! and fool with things that should be left alone.”
D.S. – Concluding statements, please.
G.V. – “The first balloon… Montgolfier. The first of all dirigible balloons… Charles Renard. The first aeroplane… l’Etoile designed and built by Clément Ader. The first aeroplane officially observed… a Voisin piloted by Henry Farman. Finally the first…to journey from one point to another…also a Voisin. Aeronautics, then, is truly a French science.”
P.A. – Europeans emphasized stability of an aeroplane, akin to that of a boat. By contrast, the Wrights emphasized control of their inherently unstable—but more maneuverable—wing-warping Flyer design. In conclusion, “Farman’s success was perhaps the second greatest advance after the Wrights’ first flight.”
D.S. – Thank you, gentlemen, for a stimulating sharing of opinions. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012