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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

American Genius- Wright Brothers vs. Curtiss, The True Story


The National Geographic Channel presented their account of history concerning the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss on June 1, 2015. The disclaimer was provided "This program included dramatizations inspired by history. Some events have been altered for dramatic purposes." This begs the question- Why would events be altered for this production when the actual unaltered historical events would have presented a historically accurate yet just as exciting and entertaining episode? The revisions to history were absolutely unnecessary, and extremely revealing of the true intent of this production. A more honest name for this episode would have been "American Genius- Our Hero, the Magnificent Glenn Curtiss (oooh, aahhh!) vs. The Wright (Losers) Brothers". But why would The National Geographic Channel be biased in their presentation, you ask?
Glenn Curtiss was recruited by Alexander Graham Bell in October of 1907 along with three other men to form the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) with the mission to build a powered man carrying flying machine. The other three men were Frederick Baldwin, John McCurdy, and Lt. Thomas Selfridge. This team of men developed the June Bug which was praised in this National Geographic production. So where is the bias? Surprise, Surprise- Alexander Graham Bell was one of the founders of the National Geographic Society. His father-in-law was the first President of the Society in 1888. Alexander Graham Bell became the second President of the Society from 1897 to 1904. Alexander's son-in-law became editor of the National Geographic Magazine in 1899 and served for 55 years until 1954.

July 4, 1908 Glenn Curtiss flight of the June Bug, just shy of a mile in length, 1 minute, 42.5 seconds. Wilbur Wright flew 24 1/5 miles in 38 minutes, 3 seconds October 5, 1905 in front of many witnesses at Simms Station, Dayton, Ohio. Brother Orville flew 20 3/4 miles, 33 minutes, 17 seconds October 4th, 1905.Three years before the June Bug flight!

A scene opens, showing a large warehouse, the year is 1899, Dayton Ohio, with multiple workers walking around, with a sign out front "Wright Cycle Company". The National Geo Channel was unaware of the actual details of the small building that housed the Wright Cycle shop? It has been relocated to Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, Dearborn Michigan. The village is open to the public, and it is not difficult to observe that the building was not a sizable warehouse structure.
 
Another scene opens, showing a large home intending to represent Hawthorn Hill, the home Orville had built and the family occupied in 1914. But the year is now 1908. Wilbur and Orville are shown discussing Glenn Curtiss and the June Bug flight in a house that wouldn't be built for another 6 years!
The Hawthorn Hill house located in Oakwood is open for tours. National Geo Channel representatives are free to visit it and learn its history. Wilbur never entered its halls, as he died in 1912 two years before its completion!
National Geo was attempting to make the point that the Wrights were greedy and stifling innovation by pursuing their patent rights in law suits against Curtiss and others.  If the Wrights Cycle shop had been shown for the small rented space that it was, and their actual small home in West Dayton had been depicted, then the illusion that the Wrights were rich and greedy wouldn't have come across. So the history was manipulated. There is no other way to explain it. Their house was also relocated to Dearborn Michigan, and I'm sure someone from the National Geo staff could make a visit and see for themselves how small the home was. I'd suggest bringing a tape measure if that would help.

A scene opens showing the sands of Kitty Hawk. The date on the screen indicates it is 1902. Wilbur is at the controls during a glide, and suddenly things begin to go wrong. The glider crashes violently. The narrator indicates "Wilbur survives the crash. But if the Wright Brothers are going to be first in manned flight, they'll have to rethink their design and fast. After all the race to be first to fly is just heating up." Then they show Glenn Curtiss 500 miles away, working on engines. He looks to the skies at a bird, and his expression implies he's thinking about taking on flight. This entire scene is fabrication. Wilbur Wright did not violently crash in 1902. They did not have to rethink their design. The race was not heating up fast.  During the winter of 1901/1902, the Wrights performed their wind tunnel experiments. They tested hundreds of different wing designs. They determined the Lilienthal tables and Smeaton's coefficient for air pressure was incorrect. They made their own calculations- during these months they made incredible advancements in the solution to flight, and this was absolutely ignored in this National Geo production. 1902 at Kitty Hawk was a very successful year. Orville, still learning to glide, shifted the hip cradle to raise a wing, and not using the elevator properly, stalled the machine, falling backward into the sand. The craft was heavily damaged, but Orville came out of it without a scratch. They rebuilt the glider, and were back at it within a week. Shortly after this, Orville suggests rather than a fixed rudder, the rudder should be hinged, with control given to the pilot. With this change, the Brothers had solved the last component to controlled flight. 1902 was a fantastic successful year, and the Wrights returned home confident of final success. Glenn Curtiss wouldn't enter the aviation field until 1907, so why is he shown looking at birds in 1902? If there was anyone who was approaching manned flight at this time, it was Samuel Langley with the Smithsonian, and he wasn't even mentioned.

Next we're shown the July 4, 1908 flight of the June Bug, the first public flight by Glenn Curtiss- he flies almost a mile, just short of a two minute flight. We're told that people in the crowd were crying and cheering, witnessing a whole new horizon. Keep in mind that the Wright Brothers flew December 17, 1903 before witnesses, 5 years prior. And the Wrights flew at Simms Station in Dayton in 1904 and 1905 before many witnesses. Orville flew nearly 21 miles, and Wilbur 24 miles in October 1905, having developed the world's first practical aeroplane. This, three years prior to Glen Curtiss's June Bug flight. Despite this, the National Geo narrator makes this statement-

"In one day Curtiss does more to promote aviation then the Wright Brothers ever have."

Seriously, National Geo, do you take your audience for idiots? The Wright Brothers solved the flight problem in 1903. They perfected the aeroplane by 1905. In May of 1908 they made practice flights at Kitty Hawk that exceeded in length this flight made by Curtiss the next month. The flights in May were witnessed by reporters who then wrote about these flights. Additionally, the Wrights flew with a passenger in May of 1908! This was in preparation for flights to be made publicly by Orville at Ft. Myer Virginia and by Wilbur at Le Mans France in September, as contracted in deals with the US and foreign governments long before the June Bug flight.
Yet, despite the well know facts above, the National Geo presentation shows Orville and Wilbur in the Hawthorn Hill home in June of 1908 (the home that wasn't built till 1914), with Orville reading the news to Wilbur about Curtiss's June Bug flight, with expression of depression and concern, begging Wilbur that they need to make a public flight soon. While National Geo presents this "alteration of history for dramatic effect", the true history is that the Wrights had just returned from Kitty Hawk, and were preparing to perform public flights in just a couple months. 

Practice flights performed by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk to prepare for Ft Myer and Le Mans flights. Note that three of these flights exceeded the length of the flight of the June Bug made a month later, and these were just practice flights! Also note, May 14, 2 passengers, 2.5 miles.

Aero Club of America 1906
Late season flights of 1905 by Wright Brothers at Simms Station, Dayton. Each flight listed exceeded the length of the flight made by Curtiss in the June Bug 10 to more than 20 times over, three years prior. Before many witnesses.

In the scene of the Hudson Fulton Celebration in 1909, Wilbur's flights from Governor's Island, over the Hudson River, circling the Statue of Liberty, witnessed by a million New Yorkers is mentioned. The Narrator indicates that Glenn Curtiss was also "present". This portion is historical revisionism by lack of detail. Glenn wasn't just "present", he was paid to be there to fly for the event! He attempted to take his plane up, but landed quickly as he was too nervous due to the wind conditions. Wilbur, with the vastly better engineered aeroplane, performed amazing flights while Glenn packed up his things and left the site. Not mentioning any of this, this episode instead had Glenn approach Wilbur Wright, extending a hand of friendship, and a suggestion that with cooperation, together they could make millions. Wilbur tells him "Good Luck". Then Glenn mentions Lt. Selfridge's name to place the guilt trip on Wilbur. Total historical fabrication by National Geo. (Earlier in the production, when Orville and Selfridge crash at Ft. Myer, the Narrator indicates that "For Glenn Curtiss, the competition against the Wrights turns personal". Glenn Curtiss understood this was just an unfortunate accident, as did Alexander Bell.)

Orville Wright sells his interests in the Wright Company and patents in October of 1915. Yet this National Geo production has a scene showing Glenn and Orville sitting side by side in 1917 as the patent dispute is settled once for all as the US enters WWI. Again, this scene is total historical fabrication. Orville didn't own the patents at this time!

When the opposition has to resort to tactics of distorting the truth, fabricating history, and omitting basic historical facts in order to attempt to make their case, it should be clear to all that their case is fatally flawed. The Wright Brothers solved the flight problem long before Glenn Curtiss even entered the field of aviation.

After completion of this post, I was sent the following links which I recommend:
National Geo "Wright Brothers vs. Curtiss" How Bad Was It?

National Geo "Wright Brothers vs. Curtiss" How Bad Was It? Part 2

Nat'l Geo Loses its Compass.



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