In an interview by the author John W. Wood with Orville Wright, February 15, 1940, per Wood's hand written notes,
|Langley Flyer Collapses; Manly Escapes Drowning, December 9, 1903|
"Attempts were made to launch this machine, with C. M. Manly on board, on the 7th of October and on the 8th of December, 1903. Both trials were failures in consequence of a trivial defect in the launching gear. In the first attempt 'the front guy post caught in its support on the launching car and was not released in time to give free flight'; in the second trial the same accident happened to the rear guy post, and the machine was both times more or less wrecked in the launching. As Langely states, 'The machine never had a chance to fly at all, but the failure occurred in the launching ways.' There is no doubt in my own mind that the apparatus would have flown if it had been well launched into the air......(No doubt in Chanute's mind, but there was more to the reason of the craft not flying than just a launching mishap- Matt's note) Meanwhile the funds allotted by the Board of Ordinance had been exhausted and no additional grants were made. Thus was Langley, with success in sight, finally defeated and deprived of the honor which he craved, of being the first to exhibit dynamic man-flight in the air. He was decried and ridiculed, both in prose and verse, his experiments were misrepresented, and he was called a 'professor wandering in his dreams'; so that all his other contributions to science were for a time obscured by a failure due to the trivial defect in his launching gear and by the lack of far-sightedness in our public men.
We all know how this told upon him. There is no doubt that the disappointment shortened his useful life and brought on the attack of paralysis which ended his days.
His lack of success was probably due to the fact that, like Maxim, Ader, Kress, and many others, he undertook too much at once by endeavoring to produce a full-fledged dynamic flying machine ab initio, before making sure of the control, the stability, and the possibility of alighting safely; but he rescued the problem from contempt, he laid the lines which must be followed, and, having published the results of his experiments and given other men data upon which to conquer the air, he will ever be remembered as the precursor and the pathfinder of successful flying-machines."
|Smithsonian publication, Samuel Pierpont Langley Memorial Meeting December 3, 1906|
|Langley Machine, June 1914, altered by Glen Curtiss and fitted with pontoons.|
Lincoln Beachey had requested to put the Langley aeroplane to the test, as reported January 26th, 1914, but Secretary Walcott's response at that time was that he could not see it, except if funds were provided for the building of a duplicate of the machine. The news article of January 26th continued:
"A young officer of the United States Signal Corps volunteered to ride it. (speaking of Charles Manly attempting to fly the Langley Aerodrome in 1903) It had to be launched from a houseboat on the Potomac with the aid of a catapult. As it shot off the boat the tail caught on a nail and the machine and its jockey plunged into the river.
There were no further experiments in the light of later developments it was apparent that it would never have been able to fly without the balancing devices which are the peculiar advance made by the Wrights that made practical aeroplane flying possible.
The Wrights as well as Langley used to say that if you could attach enough power to a kitchen table you could fly...."
And again the statement is repeated "He developed and built the first man-carrying aeroplane capable of sustained free flight."
This article was again published in 1920.
|1920 publication of 1918 report repeating the 1914 claims by the Smithsonian.|
|From page 24 of Smithsonian Publication 2977|
As the Smithsonian wouldn't recognize the 1903 Wright Flyer as the first man-carrying aeroplane capable of sustained free flight, Orville Wright made the decision to send the craft to England where it would be appreciated. As told by Tom Crouch in "The Bishops Boys":
"Sending the 1903 machine to a foreign museum was a stroke of political genius. Orville's announcement galvanized public attention and put the Smithsonian on the defensive. The world's first airplane was a national treasure. Ultimately, the National Museum could not allow the craft to remain abroad where it would serve as a perpetual reminder of the controversy."
Paul Laurence Dunbar was correct when he wrote-
|If sent to the Smithsonian for display, would they also lend this craft out to someone to modify and run experiments?|
Samuel Langley was innocent of the controversy, having nothing to do with it, as it all occurred years after his death. He did not deserve the ridicule he received by the press and public at the failed launchings of his aerodrome in 1903, ridicule that was really based on the public's belief that the pursuit of mechanical heavier than air flight was futile. The irony in it all, was as Langley received the criticism for the failed attempt at flight, the Wright Brothers would accomplish the task within the week.
James Tobin writes in "To Conquer the Air":
"For a time, Langley bore up pretty well. An old Boston friend said 'his patience and rare philosophy in meeting that phase of his career were among the noblest traits of his character.'...What crumpled his spirit as the months passed was the quiet disdain of his fellow scientists, the only community of equals Langley recognized. Scientists do not conduct their politics as politicians do. Ill will toward Langley, simmering for years, would have been expressed in quiet conversational asides and discreet private letters. John Brashear, his old friend and aide from Pittsburg, found him one day in a state of despair. The secretary took Brashear's hand in both of his and said, 'Brashear, I'm ruined, my life is a failure.' Langley took from his desk two small pieces of steel. They were the pieces that had fouled the launch, he explained- the sole cause of his downfall. Brashear stood helpless as Langley 'cried like a child.' He reminded Langley of his achievements in astronomy, 'but he would not be consoled.'"
In reality, there was more to the failure of the attempts of flight of the Aerodrome in 1903 than simply the two small pieces of steel. But this is what Langley believed, and as Octave Chanute shared in 1906, "There is no doubt that the disappointment shortened his useful life..."
The following is a personal letter written by Samuel Langley in 1901 concerning the death of his mother. At the time this letter was written, the Wright Brothers were at Kitty Hawk making short glides. Octave Chanute had left their camp four days prior. The brothers would leave camp for Dayton on August 22nd. Discouraged, Wilbur had "doubted that we would ever resume our experiments....At this time I made the prediction that men would sometime fly, but that it would not be within our lifetime."
|"I feel so much alone in the world, that I turn more eagerly to those few, of whose affection I feel sure.."|
The Smithsonian Institution published "The 1914 Tests of the Langley Aerodrome" October 24, 1942, listing the changes made from the 1903 Langley machine to the Hammondsport, 1914 machine. The Institution "accepts Dr. Wright's statement as correct in the point of facts."
|Smithsonian Institution publication 3699, The 1914 Tests Of The Langley "Aerodrome". Included in the various changes, the 1903 wing camber of 1/12 was altered to 1/18 in 1914.|
|Pages 4, 5, of Smithsonian Institution publication 3699, Comparison of 1903 to 1914 Langley Machine|
|Pages 6, 7, of Smithsonian Publication 3699.|
The Bishop's Boys, by Tom Crouch, Ch 35, The Smithsonian Feud
To Conquer the Air, by James Tobin- Ch7, Our Turn to Throw
For related posts:
The So-called Smithsonian Contract Controversy
1. From handwritten interview notes of John W. Wood, author of "Airports: Some Elements of Design and Future Development", (published in 1940). John met with Orville at the 15 North Broadway Laboratory, February 15, 1940. He wrote the 8 pages of notes while returning home on the train from Dayton to Buffalo.