National Geographic : 1927 Aug
AIR CONQUEST From the Early Days of Giant Kites and Birdlike Gliders, The National Geographic Society Has Aided and Encouraged the Growth of Aviation INCE Langley pioneered thirty-one years ago; since Alexander Graham Bell flew his man-lifting kite; since the Wright Brothers boldly rode the skies in the first crude, careening biplane, the growth and progress of air travel have been steadfastly aided and encouraged by the National Geographic Society. In its Magazine there has been told in word and picture, year by year, the graphic, cumulative story of the Conquest of the Air. Twenty-four years ago, during his far reaching experiments with tetrahedral kites, Dr. Bell wrote, in an article for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "A properly constructed kite should be capable of use as a flying machine, when driven by its own propellers."* To-day we see the singular fulfillment of these prophetic phrases. Now the wings of the modern biplane are patterned closely after the "Hargrave Box Kite," from which Dr. Bell started his long, historic experiments. In 1907 Dr. Bell built and flew the fa mous Cygnet, a kite more than 40 feet long. Working with Bell then, in his laboratories at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, were Glenn H. Curtiss, J. A. D. Mc Curdy, F. W. Baldwin, and a young American Army officer, Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge-a student of air problems. One day Self ridge climbed into the big kite and rode it up into the air as it was flown. He rose to a height of 168 feet, and then was lowered gently and safely (see, also, page 236). FROM MAN-LIFTING KITE TO MODERN AIRPLANE Self ridge later associated with the Wright Brothers and became one of America's pioneer aviators. He was killed in line of duty at Arlington, Vir ginia. Selfridge Flying Field, at Mount Clemens, Michigan, is named for him. In its issue for January, 1908, the NA * "Aerial Locomotion," by Alexander Graham Bell, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for January, 1907. TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE printed an article, "Dr. Bell's Man-Lifting Kite," with 27 illustrations, describing that unique aerial vehicle. Dr. Gilbert Grosvenor, now President of The Society, was its author. "While Dr. Bell's ultimate object," wrote Dr. Grosvenor, 'is to secure a fly ing machine that will support itself in the air . . . the experiments with the Cygnet have been mainly studies in stabil ity . . . Dr. Bell's next step will be to put a powerful light motor on a modi fied form of the Cygnet." SPEED PLANE IS FIRST COUSIN TO KITE It is but twenty years since Selfridge went boldly up in Bell's kite-an un paralleled feat at that time-and remained in air seven minutes. Yet, to get up then, the big kite had to be flown with a long, stout rope, pulled by a horse or a steam launch. Now, propelled by powerful mo tors, planes may remain aloft forty hours or more. Yet, curiously enough, the graceful speed plane of to-day is but a first cousin to the kite-the same bulky, horse-drawn kite that Bell and Selfridge flew two short decades ago. Pursuant to its policy of promoting aviation, The Society's annual banquet of 1911 was given "In Honor of the Army and the Wright Brothers." In The Mag azine of March for that year, we read that this banquet was one of the most notable meetings in the history of The Society. Among those present were the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, and members of The So ciety from 37 States and many foreign countries. Dangerous and undeveloped as avia tion then was, it had already seized men's imaginations. Crude and clumsy as were the planes of 1911, they had even then definitely taken their place as implements of war. Major General Leonard Wood, speaking at this banquet, said: "All of us soldiers look upon the aeroplane as a great addition to our warlike apparatus.