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Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Conversation with Orville Wright- 1925

Orville Wright spoke before the President's (Calvin Coolidge) Aircraft Board on the question of how the civilian use of aircraft can be promoted, on October 12, 1925. His statements were printed in "Aircraft, Hearing before the President's Aircraft Board", Volume 3, Washington Government Printing Office, 1925. It is interesting to read through this, remembering that Orville didn't like to speak in public, yet he seemed to do pretty well in this circumstance. Katharine Wright had helped him gather his thoughts on paper the previous day, and was present during the presentation.
Pull up a chair, and imagine yourself in the room, and you'll gain a feel for "Mr. Wright's" personality. Note that at one point in the meeting, attention is brought to Katharine Wright as an equal partner in the development of the aeroplane, and Orville simply allows the statement to stand rather than cause embarrassment to the parties concerned. (See my blog "Did Katharine Wright contribute to the invention of the Wright Flyer?")

The Chairman- "Mr. Wright, the President's aircraft board was appointed to study the facts and make recommendations to the President as to possible ways of improving aviation in the United States. We have asked you to appear before the board because you, in a sense, are responsible for the whole problem. You and your brother taught men to fly......We will be glad to have you give the board any views you may have which you think will assist the board in the problem before it."

Orville Wright before the President's Aircraft Board, October 12, 1925.

Mr. Wright- "I have prepared a very short statement which will take but a few minutes. Not being a student of naval or military affairs, I shall not presume to make any suggestions as to the use of aircraft in warfare. I offer only a few suggestions, and none of them new, along the lines of civil aviation, in which I believe the National Government can and should take part immediately. There are many other ways in which the Government can eventually participate, but I do not venture to make suggestions far in the future. 
The promotion of civil aviation will serve two purposes: It will contribute to the happiness and welfare of the people and at the same time will build up a reserve for our national defense. The large body of skilled pilots, of skilled mechanics, of experienced aeronautical engineers, as well as the factories experienced and equipped for rapid output, which will be in existence, can be turned quickly to military uses in the emergency of war. Government money spent in building up such a reserve for national defense will not be wasted should war never occur. The greatest present drawback to the use of aircraft for civil purposes, such as commerce, mail, travel, and sport, is the lack of suitable airports and suitable emergency landing fields. Several of the larger cities now have the benefit of landing fields. Money spent by the National Government in helping to provide these fields, in the equipping of the air ports properly, in marking and lighting the airways, in providing radio or other means of directing the course, and in furnishing meteorological reports to as many of the fields as is necessary, will be money well spent and will some day bring large returns. 
The commercial use of aircraft brings out the need of regulations for the protection of the public. It is clear that this regulation should be uniform throughout the country, and therefore should be by the National Government rather than by the States. I think this can be done best through one of the present governmental departments. The Department of Commerce is well suited to this. But some congressional legislation will be necessary to put the control of aerial transportation into that department. 
I believe the examination and licensing of every pilot who engages in the transportation of passengers or merchandise for pay should be required. I also believe that proper precautions must be taken to insure the safe condition of the planes so used. If this is done by Government inspection, the cost of such inspection should be at the expense of the public, which is being protected, so that it can not work a hardship on the small manufacturer or operator. For, it seems to me, everything should be done to encourage these small manufacturers and operators. I do not believe that the licensing of pilots or the inspection of planes should be required of any excepting those dealing with the public. I think it essential that Government regulation should not go too far at first. Further regulation can be added as experience demonstrates its necessity. What we need now is the beginning.
The success of our air mail, operating in every kind of weather 24 hours of the day, demonstrates the practicability and usefulness of the airplane in peaceful pursuits in the future. Government aid, such as is now given to maritime commerce, will greatly hasten that day."

The Chairman- "Are there any questions for Mr. Wright?"

Senator Bingham- "Mr. Wright, what do you think of the statement that has been made that aeronautical engineering has become standardized?

Mr. Wright- "I think it is changing every day."

The Chairman- "Do you think that the state of aeronautics is such as to require very considerable experimentation still to go on?

Mr. Wright- "Oh, yes indeed. I think that will be required for years and years. There has been a very rapid advance in the last five years since the war."

Senator Bingham- "It has just been recommended to this committee that money be spent for the purchase of planes and for the training of pilots and that the engineering field, McCook Field, for the Army and the naval aircraft factory be closed down. Do you think that such a procedure would tend to better aeronautics?"

Mr. Wright- "I do not."

Senator Bingham- "What do you think of the work being done by the engineering division of the Army?"

Mr. Wright- "I think it has been very good, all that could be expected."

Senator Bingham- "You are satisfied that they have spent their money properly and made real advances?"

Mr. Wright- "I think so, as far as I have observed it."

Senator Bingham- "What do you think of the value of racing and some of these other so-called stunts, such as flying across the Pacific and into the northern regions?" (An interesting question- Charles Lindbergh would fly across the Atlantic within two years of this question, in May of 1927. The Pacific would be crossed in 1928. Lindbergh would visit Orville at his home, Hawthorn Hill,  in Oakwood, Ohio on June 22, 1927. My wife's Godmother Kathryn Baughan at 17 years of age was one of the Lindbergh admirer's that saw him appear on the portico balcony for a few minutes in order to appease the crowd. For information on Hawthorn Hill, go to the Dayton history web site.)

Mr. Wright- "All attempts of that kind lead to the perfection of the machine. Each competitor does his best to improve the existing models. So that while some of them have no immediate use, that is, the machine itself has no immediate use excepting in making a record, the development that has occurred in designing the machine and in producing such a machine, is used in civil aviation and I suppose in the branches of military aviation."

Senator Bingham- "You feel, then, that it has been worth while to promote the national air races and similar things?"

Mr. Wright- "I believe heartily in them."

Senator Bingham- "You spoke of the importance of the Government doing something for meteorology. How far do you think we ought to carry this?"

Mr. Wright- "I think that should be carried as it is found necessary. In flying cross-country the pilot is going out of one area to another and possibly to a storm area. He should have advice in advance as to what is ahead of him so that he can avoid danger. I think at the present this could be provided for by having stations at some of the principal air ports and furnishing charts to the intermediate stations, so that the pilot can pick up the information as he travels along."

The Chairman- "Any further questions?"

Mr. Coffin- "One question, Mr. Wright: The commercial air tour finished in Detroit on Sunday afternoon a week ago in a driving rainstorm after covering 2000 miles. Eighteen planes started, as I remember it, and 17 finished: what do you think of that sort of a contest?"

Mr. Wright- "I believe in that also; very useful."

Mr. Coffin- "Only one other thing, Mr. Chairman; we are hearing and have heard of the Wright brothers and their accomplishments, but we hear very little of Miss Catherine (Katharine) Wright, who after all, was just as instrumental in developing the airplane as were her brothers. (This was a misconception). I think we ought to at least be introduced to her. She is in the room."

The Chairman- "The chairman apologizes to Mr. Wright for not recognizing the most valuable member of the family."

Mr. Wright- "The apology is accepted." (Orville just lets this pass, which was classy on his part).

The Chairman- "Are there any further questions?"

Mr. Durand- "Mr. Wright, I want to ask: What in your view may be looked for in the near future along the lines of advances in weight-carrying capacity and radius of operation?"

Mr. Wright- "That has been gradually extending for the last six or seven years. I see no reason why is should not go on for some time to come at least at the same rate that is has been progressing."

Mr. Durand- "That is, you look for a continuous development?"

Mr. Wright- "Up to a limit. There will be an ultimate limit. There will be a limit, but I do not feel that we have nearly reached that."

Mr. Durand- "You would not feel like attempting to specify that limit?"

Mr. Wright- "No; I have not made a calculation of that kind and therefore would not wish to express a definite figure."

The Chairman- "Congressman Parker."

Representative Parker- "Mr. Wright, you heard Mr. Madden's testimony. Now if we should stop the Government experimentation and leave it all in the hands of the industry do you suppose we would progress as fast as we would- I mean having the Government specify what they want in the plane and leaving the experimentation in the hands of the industry; do you suppose we would progress as fast as would under the present system?"

Mr. Wright- "I think we would progress faster under a system in which both the industry and the Government carry on experimentation. I do not believe in concentrating all of it in any one place."

Representative Parker- "In the industry?"

Mr. Wright- "Yes; I do not believe in concentrating all of it either in the industry or in the Government, nor in just one division of the Government, for instance at McCook Field. I believe in having an engineering division in the Army and one also in the Navy. I believe friendly competition between these divisions is for the public good."

Representative Parker- "I wanted your opinion on that."

The Chairman- "We are very much indebted to you, Mr. Wright."

Dayton History link was updated 7/10/16
Several typos corrected 7/15/16

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