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Monday, June 2, 2014

Witnesses of Wright Brother's Simms Station (Huffman Prairie) 1905 Flights

(Updated 5/30/18) In November of 1905, The Aero Club of America requested documentation of eyewitness accounts to the Wright flights of 1905 at Huffman Prairie. 
Navigating the Air, Aero Club of America, 1907- 
"My dear sir: In response to your request of November 21, I take pleasure in telling of my observance of the Wright Brother's aeroplane. Early in October, 1905, it was my privilege to witness a very successful flight made by Mr. Wilbur Wright in the aeroplane of their own invention. When I arrived at the appointed place, the air-ship had already ascended and was flying at what seemed to me to be a distance of fifty feet from the ground, and in a rectangular course....A distance of twenty-four miles was covered on this occasion, in about thirty-eight minutes. The turns at the various corners of the field in which the flight was made, were made easily and gracefully, and it seemed to be as easy for Mr. Wright to operate it as for any one else to ride a bicycle....I believe that the aeroplane of the Wright Brothers has successfully solved the problem of aerial navigation.
Very truly yours, E.W. Ellis, Assistant City Auditor" Dayton Ohio, December 5, 1906

Huffman Prairie, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Photo by Author.
"Gentlemen: In reply to your inquiry of recent date, I would state that I witnessed a flight of the Wright Brothers aeroplane and there exists in my mind no doubt that, to the Wright Brothers is due the credit of the solution of aerial navigation without the aid of balloons or like contrivance. The day I witnessed their flight the aeroplane remained in the air at a height of between 50 to 100 feet for a period of about 23 minutes, and in that time covered a distance of about 15 miles, according to the meter attached to the aeroplane. The machine appeared at all times to be under perfect control, the operator elevating and lowering it at will. In his flight he described a circle of about a mile in circumference. Unfortunately, however, he was obliged to descend on account of a hot bearing...
Yours very truly, Howard M. Meyers, Dayton Ohio, November 25, 1906.
Replica of Simms Station, Huffman Prairie. Photo by Author.

"Dear Sir: The brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, have lived from childhood within a few squares of my home and have always had the fullest confidence of all their neighbors and acquaintance; but I must confess that when I read that they had solved the problem of human flight down on the coast of North Carolina I did not believe it. I thought that what they had accomplished was not real flight at all, but due to some peculiar condition of the atmosphere in that locality. I believed mechanical flight was impossible as perpetual motion. It was not until I saw one of their flights, near Dayton, with my own eyes that every doubt was removed....I simply cannot describe my feelings during the first few minutes. When it was well above the tree-tops it continued on a level course in easy circles about the field, for more than half an hour, as timed by several spectators present. The operator brought it to the ground, without any damage whatever, directly in front of the building in which it was housed. I had seen the eighth wonder of the world!
Respectfully yours, Henry Webbert, Dayton, Ohio November 24, 1906
Huffman Prairie, the first Airport. Photo by Author.
"Dear sir: I take great pleasure in answering your letter of November 21, 1906. Along with some friends, I had the privilege of witnessing a flight of the Wright Brothers, in the autumn of 1905, a few miles east of Dayton. The machine started from a short track lying on the ground, and rose into the air on an inclined path till it was well above the height of the tallest trees. It then kept on a horizontal path flying round and round the meadow in circles about a quarter of a mile in diameter. The flight lasted more than a half hour. At last Mr. Orville Wright shut of the power and landed as gracefully as a bird just in front of the building in which the machine was kept. I can only say that it was the most wonderful sight of my life....
Yours respectively, Chas. Webbert 

American Magazine of Aeronautics, Jan 1908, The Wright Brothers Flying Machine, by Captain Hildebrandt- 
"...I went to Dayton, and here visited the father of the brothers, the old American Bishop, Milton Wright. The old man of about seventy years of age verified in simple language that he had witnessed the longest flight. He happened there by chance. Troubled constantly in regard to the fate of his sons who had subjected themselves to such daring flight experiments, he had frequently gone to the trial grounds and thus had been witness of numerous ascensions. He would not go into full particulars in the matter. If I had any doubts whatever after my conversation with the two competitors of the Wrights, they would have been dispelled after my visit with the Father. I believe that there can be few suspicious people who would doubt the words of this old, honorable priest...."

"We interviewed Mr. C.S. Billman thereafter, secretary of a bank. He exclaimed excitedly: Well, she flies! Then he pictured how imposing it looked when the flying machine rose from the ground and flew over the fields about the height of a tree in a slightly undulated manner; how readily she answered her rudder and returned to earth...." 

 "....a young druggist, Reuben Schindler, who had witnessed the long flight without being invited. On one day when he had expected a flight would be made, he had followed the father Wright at a distance and had thus witnessed an excellent flight. A laborer happened to come into the drug store, who had also been an uninvited onlooker to a flight, who confirmed in an exhaustive manner the statements made by Mr. Schindler."
 "A good many details on the construction of the flyer were given to us by a German hardware dealer, Frank Hamburger, who had been a keen observer and endeavored to make his statements more clear to us by aid of some sketches. The druggist William Foots (Fouts), also showed a good understanding for the technical matters and gave us a few valuable points...
e. "Finally, we succeeded in talking with two more very important people, C.V. Ellis, officer of the law, and Torence Hoffman (Torrence Huffman), president of the largest bank in the city."

To Conquer the Air, James Tobin, 2003, pg 235, "With the first hint of autumn in the air, the brothers began to invite guests to Huffman Prairie. Lorin and his wife, Netta, had seen a flight or two. Now they came back with their children. Kate came on October 4, though it was a school day, and saw Orville fly more than twenty miles. Torrence Huffman came again, as did a number of friends and neighbors. Among them were the brother's landlord on West Third, Charles Webbert, and his brother Henry, who was Charles Taylor's father-in-law. Bill Weber, a plumber, came; and Ed Ellis, an old friend from the Ten Dayton Boys club who was now assistant auditor of the city of Dayton; Bill Fouts, a druggest and friend of Orville's, and Fout's friend Theodore Waddell, an employee of the U.S. Census Bureau" 237, "Waddell was especially struck by the extraordinary means of moving the flyer around on the ground....He asked one of the brothers if he could give a hand in hauling the machine back to the shed. He could if he wanted, he was told, but he didn't need to help. As Waddel watched, "They.....starting the engine at slow speed, let the machine lift itself clear of the ground and walked it back to the (shed). It was about the most uncanny sensation I ever experienced...."

Eyewitness of 1905 flights, Theodore Waddell autograph from Author's collection.

Aero Club of America March 12, 1906 list of witnesses:

Wright Brothers 1905 flights.
Aero Club of America, March 12, 1906. Copy sent by Orville Wright to John W. Wood, author of Airports, Elements of Design.

Diaries 1857-1917 Bishop Milton Wright, WSU, 1999, pg 633,
"Wednesday, October 4, Wrote letters in forenoon. At 2:00 I went to Sim(m)'s. At 4:32 Orville flew in 33 minutes and 20 seconds 21 miles, lacking one-tenth. The Webbers there. Kath & I came home with Bilman's in automobile. 
Thursday, October 5, In forenoon, at home writing. In the afternoon, I saw Wilbur fly twenty-four miles in thirty-eight minutes and four seconds, one flight." 

Letter written by Milton Wright to Mr. L.N. Countryman, June 22, 1909-
".....I am in the last half of my eighty-first year. My sight, health and action are good. In a few days, I go to Washington, Ft. Myer, to see Orville fly. I saw him fly 21 miles, at Simm's station, 8 miles from Dayton, in 1905, and Wilbur fly 24 miles." 
Portion of Milton Wright letter, June 22, 1909, Author's collection.

In "Wright Brothers' Home Days Celebration, 1909" text by Mark Bernstein, with WSU archive photographs, 2003 by Carillon Historical Park- pg 1 states "By 1905, their aircraft was routinely making controlled flights of 25 miles or more." This is mistaken, as flights of this duration did not come till 1908. More correctly stated, the flights of 1905 at their end approached a 25 mile flight. At this point, the Wrights knew they had a practical flying machine, and due to increased attention from the public, put the flyer in storage. Per the Aero Club of America March 12, 1906 bulletin, the flights of September and October 1905 are listed. A flight of 25 miles or more would have likely simply required a larger fuel tank.

Portion of Aero Club of America March 12, 1906 bulletin listing Wright's late 1905 flight distances and time.

Simms location noted on map drawn by Lorin Wright in 1915, with notes penciled in by John McMahon, who, with Earl Findley, visited with the Wrights during the summer of 1915 to work on the history of the Wrights.
Lorin Wright 1915 hand drawn map showing Simms Station location near Dayton, Ohio. From Author's collection.

Wright Field 1904-1905, The World's First Airplane Field, map of Huffman Prairie, initial sketch by Orville Wright, as shown in "Airports- Elements in Design" by John Walter Wood:

This copy of Huffman Prairie map provided to John Wood in 1940 by Orville Wright. From Author's collection.

Railroad map, surveyed in 1903-1904, including West Dayton neighborhood of Wright Brothers, and Simms Station to the east. Map provided by Jerry and Nancy Millhouse of Centerville, Ohio.

Portion of map showing location of Wright Brother's home and Cycle Shop in West Dayton (in yellow).

Portion of map showing Cleveland Cincinnati Chicago and St Louis RR passing through Simms Station at Huffman Prairie.

Recommended Reading-
Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie- Where Aviation Took Wing- David Nolan, 2018.

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