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A DECADE after the Wright Bros. first flight, Jane’s all the World’s Aircraft 1913 published 220 pages of aircraft information. The book also contained an appendix titled “Historical Aircraft.” Its explanatory note: “While many are merely freak machines, which in the light of present knowledge seem ridiculous, the germ of modern practice is to be found in many other aircraft illustrated in this cemetery of dead ideas; and it is worth noting that at least one constructor, who is one of the first in the field to-day, commenced operations with machines that were entirely ‘freaks.’ ”
Here are several of these, presented alphabetically by country, as they were in Jane’s. I’ve augmented matters with some research on my part. For much of the latter, I acknowledge the wonderfully informative Russian website Their Flying Machines, www.flyingmachines.ru by citing it for several of these.
Emil Némethy, 1867 – 1943, was a pioneer aviator of Hungary (listed in Jane’s as Austria, as in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the time). A Hungarian site credits him with early use of steel tubular structures for aircraft. Also, the Némethy Equation is one of the first mathematical means of calculating with precision the mass-lifting capability of aeroplanes.
Jane’s notes that the Santos-Dumont “made an extraordinary sensation in France in 1909. It flew at the then incredible speed of 65 mph. (100 k.p.h.) A large number were built before it was realized that only an extremely light weight pilot could fly one. Few of the copies ever left the ground.” Alberto Santos-Dumont was a little guy.
Danish watchmaker and inventor Jacob Ellehammer, 1871 – 1946, got interested in flight because of his constructing motorcycles and their engines. Notes Jane’s, “On September 12, 1906, this machine made the first free [i.e., untethered] flight in Europe…. It also had a pendulum seat as a stabilising device.”
The French Marquis Raymond d’Equevilly-Montjustin, 1873 – 1925, was a French naval engineer with an interest in what he termed “simple and cheap” flying machines. (Both Jane’s and the Russian site got his name wrong.) Jane’s called this aircraft an “Interesting example of the strange machines devised by pioneers.”
Frenchman Claude Givaudin, 1872 – 1945, worked for the Vermorel automobile works where he designed a series of these bizarre aircraft. Notes Jane’s, “The first conception of an idea which has since attracted a certain class of inventor in Germany, Italy and the U.S.A.”
The Russian website has the best analysis: “Each double drum could pivot: the front for altitude and the rear for directional control. The arrangement was meant to be proof against side gusts of air. It was certainly safe in this respect, since it never got off the ground.”
R.E.P. stood for Robert Esnault-Pelterie, 1881 – 1957, French aviation pioneer whose work extended into spaceflight theory. Jane’s claims, “Apparently the first machine in which steel construction appeared.” It and other craft of Esnault-Pelterie’s design are noted for being first with a joystick for principal flight control.
Morris Bokor built a triplane in 1909, one of its features being a pendulum seat rigged to remain horizontal and exert a stabilizing force on the aircraft. According to Jane’s, this aircraft was “The third American machine to leave the ground; the second purely U.S. craft.”
Jane’s considered Glenn Curtiss’s 1908 June Bug as Aerodrome No.3 of the Aerial Experiment Association, Alexander Graham Bell’s joint Canadian-U.S. effort.
Contesting Jane’s claim, Scientific American, June 3, 1909, gave full details of the Bokor craft and wrote, “In all probability, however, a larger engine will have to be installed before the triplane can be made to soar.” The Russian site is detailed, but non-committal on the matter.
It appears the Bokor never actually soared, despite Jane’s 1913 claim. However, as this otherwise authoritative reference noted, each of these aeroplanes “for one reason or another, ‘made history’ in their own way.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015