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Thursday, July 10, 2014

What if the Wright Brothers Had Not Experimented in Flight in the Early 1900's?

(Minor changes, 3/11/17) In Fred Kelly's "Miracle at Kitty Hawk", 1951, Kelly documents Wilbur Wright's letter to Octave Chanute, October 28, 1906-
"I am not certain that your method of estimating probabilities is a sound one. Do you not insist too strongly upon the single point of mental ability? To me it seems that a thousand other factors, each rather insignificant in itself, in the aggregate influence the event ten times more than mere mental ability or inventiveness. The world does not contain greater men than Maxim, Bell, Edison, Langley, Lilienthal & Chanute. We are not so foolish as to base our belief, (that an independent solution of the flying problem is not imminent,) upon any supposed superiority to these men and to all those who will hereafter take up the problem. If the wheels of time could be turned back six years, it is not at all probable that we would do again what we have done. The one thing that impresses me as remarkable is the shortness of time within which our work was done. It was due to peculiar combinations of circumstances which might never occur again."

What if the circumstances had been different? Orville Wright was sick with typhoid fever in 1896. What if he had not survived? The following explores that alternate time line....

Bishop Wright's Diary entries, 1896-(1)
Friday, September 4, "Reach Dayton at 4:30. Found Orville very sick with typhoid fever. The temperature at one time, days ago, ran to 105.5 degrees. Temperature is now about 102 or 103 degrees."   
Monday, September 7, "Bro. Burris takes me to Kenton, and I go on 8:50 tr. to Dayton. Orville had been better since Saturday. At home the rest of the day, and to remain till about Sept. 23."
Wednesday, September 9, "At home, Orville is about the same."
Thursday, September 10,"Orville continues the same. His fever rises in the afternoon. The doctor called."
Friday, September 11, "Orville continues to have strong fever."
Wednesday, September 16,"Orville is no better. He has an attack mentally, for the worse. It was a bad spell. He is put under opiates. He is unconscious mostly."
Monday, September 21, "I slept some in the night. I awoke at 4:00. Orville is sinking. The doctors have no hope of his recovery. At 6:30 eve. the doctor thought him dying. He revived in about an hour."
Wednesday, September 23, "This morning at 3:15, Orville passed away, aged 25 years, 1 month, 6 days. A short life, full of consequences......"
Saturday, September 26, "Orville is dead and buried! We are all stricken. It does not seem possible he is gone. Probably Wilbur and Katharine felt his loss most. They say little."

Lorin Wright stepped in and joined his brother Wilbur in the bicycle business. Tom Crouch records in "The Bishop's Sons",(2) "The production of their own line of machines marked a turning point in their financial fortunes. By the spring of 1898, Lorin reported with some pride that they were getting in better shape and keeping very busy. During the years of 1896-1900, Wilbur and Lorin constructed perhaps three hundred bicycles.(3) Wilbur had briefly expressed an interest in heavier than air flying machine experimentation, but the success of the cycle business did not allow him to pursue his temporary interest as the demand for their product required his full attention.(4)  In 1902, the brothers, working with Charles Taylor, installed a motor of their own design on their first of a line of  single-cylinder motorcycles." Crouch's history of the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Lorin Wright, and their eventual partnership with Glen Curtiss in the Wright-Curtiss Motorcyle Company, is a classic, and a recommended read.(5) The Wright Cycle Shop pictured below, was eventually relocated from Dayton to Greenfield Village to preserve the history of the birthplace of the Wright-Curtiss hover-cycle.(6) Wilbur Wright III, grandson of Wilbur Wright(7), and mayor of Detroit at that time, was present for the 50th anniversary of the invention of the hover-cycle that continues to make Detroit one of the most successful manufacturing cities in the world, well into the 21st century.
The Wright Cycle Shop, 1936, just prior to its move by Henry Ford to Dearborn Michigan.
Samuel Langley's December 8, 1903 attempt at flight ended in disaster. Charles Manly, the pilot, found himself entangled under water, but was able to free himself from the sinking aerodrome. The press reports "Prof. Langley's ship is aimed at the Heavens and starts off, but seemingly prefers to fall, taking into the water like a handful of mortar....". Having more than exhausted the $50,000 grant from the War Department, no additional monies or interest would come from this source.(8) However, in the fall of 1904, after receiving funds from private investors, Manly was launched on the machine for one more attempt at first flight, and as Langley watched, the aerodrome split in two sections, fell, and quickly sank. Charles Manly was drowned, unable to free himself from the tangled sinking mass. Langley never recovered from the grief and public humiliation, and died in 1906, a broken man. In the course of time, history was kinder to Langley, and his memory was honored in 1928 with a memorial statue designed by the famous French Sculptor, Ferdinand Leon Delagrange, who, at 55 years of age at that time(9), was present at the unveiling ceremony. At the base of the statue, Delagrange had carved the words "Nous sommes battu."(10)
Samuel Pierpont Langley
Attempts at heavier than air flights in France had been winding down by 1902, and vanished by the end of 1904. Octave Chanute's speech to the Aero-Club of France in October of 1904,  drove the nails into the coffyn, quite frankly(11), as he made the much quoted declaration, "Not within a thousand years would man ever fly!"(12)
In 1907, the US Army seeks to purchase a Dirigible, as heavier than air flight is shown to be impossible.(13)

By the time of the Stock market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression, Wilbur Wright had taken a lesser role at Wright-Curtiss.(14) Wilbur Wright Jr. was now company president. Wilbur Sr., now in his mid-60's, had more time to devote to his other interests. Reuchlin Wright had suffered some poor health early in 1920, but pulled through(15), finding a new lease on life. He moved the family back to Dayton. Katherine married Harry Haskell, an old friend from her days at Oberlin, moving to Kansas City, but visiting Dayton often. It was during one such visit in January of 1929 (16) that Wilbur, Lorin, and Reuchlin discussed their plans with her, of attempting to solve the age old heavier than air flight problem.  Glen Curtiss had shown interest, but passed away in 1930. Wilbur Wright Sr., Lorin, and Reuchlin, the Wright Brothers(17), proved Octave Chanute's declaration of 1904 wrong, and on December 17, 1933(18), they flew a heavier than air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Harry Haskell took the famous picture of first flight...actually, he set up the camera, and let Katharine take the shot(19). Wilbur told his brothers he had an eerie experience on the first flight. He said as the Flyer left the ground, he looked to his right, and swore he saw Orville running along side.(20)
Less than 60 years later, on September 12, 1992, 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush delivered his famous speech,(21) "But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the hover-cycle across the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other thousand points of light(22), not because they are easy, but because they are hard...." George H. W. Bush easily won a second term, during which, the United States put its first men on the moon. "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" And the rest is history (or could have been).

Space Station Civilian Shuttle services at George H W Bush Space Center, Florida.(23)

Follow the irony-
1. Diary entries transition from actual entries about Orville, to entries made about Wilbur in 1912, but with Orville's name inserted.
2. In our time line, Tom Crouch wrote "The Bishop's Boys". This is a must read.
3. This was true of Wilbur and Orville.
4. Had circumstances been different....too much work wouldn't have allowed for the study of flight.
5. Curtiss had been interested in motorcycles and engines. Partners here in lieu of rivals.
6. Move over Marty McFly!
7. Wilbur didn't make the business trip to Boston in April of 1912 during which he ate bad shell fish, and so didn't contract Typhoid fever in this time line. This Wilbur marries and has children.
8. This first part is true. The remaining only occurs in this alternate time line. In our time line, Langley did not try again after the December 1903 failed attempt at flight.
9. Delagrange was killed in an aviation accident in 1910. In this time line, there were no aeroplanes for Delagrange to be killed in, so he lives a full life.
10. A play on Leon Delagrange's statement after seeing Wilbur fly in 1908, "Nous sommes battu" (We are beaten).
11. Play on aviator's name Frank Coffyn.
12. Statement attributed to Wilbur Wright on train returning from Kitty Hawk after a difficult season in 1901.
13. Actual news article, the Army was interested in both lighter than air, and heavier than air flights.
14. At least in this time line, the names are in the correct order!
15. Reuchlin passed away in 1920. In this time line, he survives.
16. In this time line, Katharine is visiting Dayton in early 1929, and therefore does not catch pneumonia, and does not die of it in 1929.
17. Wilbur, Lorin, Reuchlin, the Wright Brothers, in this time line.
18.  First flight, 30 years later than our time line. If the Wright's had not experimented in flight, when would have first flight occurred? It was Octave Chanute's talks about the Wright's experiments that encouraged others to pursue the dream. If not for the Wright's progress, how many years would have passed before first flight?
19. In lieu of John T. Daniels, who took the famous 1903 first flight photo.
20. Orville and Wilbur were a team. I don't know if Wilbur would have accomplished the feat with the help of his other brothers in lieu of Orville's help. The intent of the post, really, was to suggest that without the early experiments of 1899-1905, perhaps we wouldn't have seen a working heavier than air machine for many many years, and perhaps WW1 would have been quite different.
21. Kennedy wouldn't make this speech in this time line, because everything related to flight has shifted 30 years.
22. Bush's famous line "A thousand points of light".
23. It's the Bush Space Center, not the Kennedy Space Center, in this time line.

 Check out another alternate time line blog, "An alternate time line- The 1905 Wright Flyer III Flies Again!"

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