National Geographic : 1907 Jan
AERIAL LOCOMOTION large model of an aerodrome driven through the air by a steam-engine under the action of its own propellers. I was myself a witness of the memorable ex periments made by Professor Langley on the 6th of May, 1896, with this large sized model, which had a spread of wing of about 14 feet. No one who witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of a steam engine flying with wings in the air, like a great soaring bird, could doubt for one moment the practicability of mechanical flight. I was fortunate in securing a photograph of this machine in full flight in the air, so that an automatic record of the achievement exists (page 4). The experiment realized the utmost hopes and wishes of Professor Langley at that time : "I have brought to a close," he says, "the portion of the work which seemed to be spe cially mine-the demonstration of the prac ticability of mechanical flight; and for the next stage, which is the commercial and practical development of the idea, it is prob able that the world may look to others. The world indeed will be supine if it does not realize that a new possibility has come to it, and that the great universal highway over head is now soon to be opened." But the world was not satisfied with this position. It looked to Professor Langley himself to carry on the experi ments to the point of actually transport ing a human being through the air on an aerodrome like his model, and so, with the aid of an appropriation from the War Department of the United States, Pro fessor Langley actually constructed a full sized aerodrome, and found a man brave enough to risk his life in the apparatus Mr Manley, of Washington, D. C. LANGLEY'S EXPERIMENTS WITH HIS LARGE MACHINE Great public'interest was aroused; but Professor Langley did not feel justified in giving information to the public, and therefore to foreign nations, concerning experiments undertaken in the interests of the War Department. His own dislike to premature publicity cooperated with his conscientious scruples to lead him to deny the newspapers the opportunity of witnessing the experiments. But the newspapers insisted upon being repre sented. The correspondents flocked to the scene, and camped there for weeks, at considerable expense to their papers. They watched the house-boat containing the aerodrome by day and by night, and upon the least indication of activity within, newspaper reporters were on hand in boats. After long delay in hopes of securing privacy it was at last decided to try the apparatus; but the newspaper representatives, embittered by the at tempts to exclude them, were bringing the experiments into public contempt. They nicknamed the apparatus "The Buzzard," and were all ready to presage defeat. Two experiments were made; but on both occasions the apparatus caught in the launching ways and was precipitated into the water without having a chance to show what it could do in the air. The newspapers immediately announced to the world the failure of Professor Lang ley's machine and ridiculed his efforts. The fact of the matter is that the ma chine was never tried, and that there was no more reason for declaring it a failure than for deciding that a ship would not float that has never been launched. After having witnessed the successful flights of the large-sized model of 1896, I have no doubt that Professor Langley's full-sized aerodrome would have flown had it been safely launched into the air. When the machine was for the second time precipitated into the water it was not much damaged by the accident. Pro fessor Langley, of course, was more anxious about the fate of his intrepid as sistant than of his machine, and followed Mr Manley into the house-boat to ascer tain his condition. During this tempo rary withdrawal from the scene of the catastrophe the crew of a tugboat grap pled the frail framework of the sub merged aerodrome, and in the absence of any one competent to direct their efforts they broke the machine to pieces, thus ending the possibility of further experi ments without the expenditure of much.