Huffman Prairie - 1904
Following their successful day of flying on December 17, 1903, the Wrights returned to Dayton, Ohio, with their damaged Flyer—or what remained of it after it was caught by a gust of wind.
They decided to remain in Dayton at least through 1904. They wanted to avoid the expense of traveling to North Carolina and living away from home.
Drawing of the Wright Flyer 2.
The Flyer II that they built in Dayton in 1904 was almost identical to the first Flyer, but heavier. They shifted the motor to improve the center of mass and decreased the wing camber. They exchanged their first-flight engine for a new, more powerful 16-horsepower (12-kilowatt) design. Charlie Taylor built two of these enginesone to replace the engine that had been destroyed when the gust of wind destroyed the Flyer I and another for experimental purposes. The elevators and rudders were positioned slightly higher to keep them clear of the ground, and weight was added under the elevator in an attempt to cure the pitch-instability problem.
The Wrights looked around for the best location for their flights and decided on a 100-acre meadow 7 miles east of Dayton called Huffman Prairie. They received permission from the landowner and made their headquarters there. They cut the tall grass, leveled bumpy areas with pick and shovel, and erected a wooden hangar.
Wilbur and Orville consult over the Flyer 2.
Their first publicized flight occurred in May. In an attempt to correct the misinformation in the press, the Wrights invited reporters from the prominent newspapers in Dayton and Cincinnati to watch them fly their new machine with the understanding that there would be no photographs allowed. About a dozen reporters showed up on May 23, but the new engine was hard to start and continually misfired when they finally got it going. Orville made a run down a 100-foot (30-meters) launching rail but never rose off the ground. Three days later, on May 26, the Wrights tried again. Orville managed only a brief hop of 25 feet (7.6 meters). It was what the reporters had expected. They decided there was nothing much to report and left the brothers alone after that.
The 1904 Flyer had a tendency to pitch upward and down and often the Wrights
The year was marked by successes, failures, and many frustrations. The wind at Dayton was much lighter than it had been at Kitty Hawk, and without high winds, the Wrights had great difficulty getting off the ground. They had to extend their launching rail so they could take off on a windless day. They had many accidents and many aircraft repairs. Material changes were made and then remade to control weight and strength; control surface areas were altered. Farmers in the area thought the Wright brothers were “tetched” and expressed sympathy for their father, Bishop Wright, who they thought was troubled by his sons’ erratic behavior.
Flyer 2 poised on its track, ready for launch before the Wright brothers
In their usual methodological fashion, the brothers determined that the problem with takeoff occurred because the Flyer needed to be moving at a speed of at least 27 to 28 miles per hour (43 to 45 kilometers per hour) relative to the wind for a successful launch. The slower the wind was blowing, the faster the airplane had to move to take off.
They decided that they needed some help getting off the ground. Late in the summer, Wilbur and Orville built a device that would get them up to flying speeda catapult. This catapult was actually a wooden derrick, 20 feet (6.1 meters) high, which dropped a 1,200- to 1,400-pound (544- to 635-kilogram) weight attached to a rope. The rope stretched down the derrick, under the launching rail, and back to the rail on which the Flyer traveled. When the weight dropped, the rope pulled the carriage and the Flyer along the rail, giving the airplane just the extra energy it needed to reach flying speed.
The 1904 Flyer 2 catapulted into the air. The derrick and weight are at the extreme right of the photo.
The Wrights first tested their catapult on September 7, 1904. From the beginning, it was clear this would get them back in the air. The Flyer 2 lifted cleanly off the carriage as it approached the end of the rail and began to fly. By September 15, the Wrights were making flights up to a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) long. More importantly, they began to make controlled turns in the air, which they had never done before in a powered machine.
The Flyer 2 flying above Huffman Prairie.
On September 20, Orville flew a complete circuit of the Prairie. This was the first complete circle in an airplane. One of the spectators was Amos Root of Medina, Ohio, the inventor of the modern beehive. Root had heard that men were actually flying at Huffman Prairie and had driven 175 miles (282 kilometers) to meet the Wrights. He saw Orville's triumphant flight. He later published the first eyewitness account of a sustained, controlled, powered flight in Gleanings in Bee Culture, a journal he published for his customers. In fact, he was so impressed by what he saw that he wrote and published a series of articles in his journal for the next two years, reporting on the developments at Huffman Prairie. His writings were eloquent, accurate, and very supportive of the Wrights. It’s ironic that the best coverage of the development of the airplane was written for an audience of beekeepers.
The Wrights made 105 flights in 1904, but racked up only 45 minutes in total flight time. The two best flights, on November 9 and December 1, exceeded five minutes and about three miles (4.8 kilometers) in length (almost four circles of the field). Their flying machine still had serious shortcomings. In between their long flights, there were many short hops that ended with the aircraft out of control. Accidents were a daily occurrence, some of them potentially serious. Of special concern was the pitch controlthe Flyer II had a tendency to swing up and down. The Wrights tried placing weights on the aircraft to change its center of gravity, but this was only marginally successful. Clearly, the machine would have to be redesigned yet again.
The Wright brothers flying their Flyer 2 at Simms Station (Huffman Prairie) on November 16, 1904.
The Wrights ended the year with an additional frustration. They had applied to the U.S. Patent Office for a patent covering their invention more than a year before. The patent had not been granted, nor would it be for two more years, until 1906. France and England had granted patents to them in 1904; Germany would in 1906.
In the meantime, aviation was taking hold elsewhere, especially in France. In April, Ernest Archdeacon, one of the founders of the Aéro-Club de France, had a Wright-type glider built for him, which Ferdinand Ferber and Gabiel Voison flew cautiously. After testing it for several weeks, Voison was flying up to 65 feet (20 meters), and Archdeacon gleefully announced to the Aéro-Club that Voison had mastered the skill of piloting an aircraft. They were not concerned that the Wrights had made flights almost ten times as long in their 1902 glider. Archdeacon was confident that the French could now design a glider that would "do as well as the Wright brothers’."
In May, Robert Esnault-Pelterie, a French engineer and inventor, imitated the Wright glider, but without success. Later, in October, he tested, still unsuccessfully, his modified Wright glider near Boulogne, France. This aircraft was significant because it used ailerons for the first time, which were fitted in front of the wings. They would lead to the modern aileron system. Also in October in France, Ferber took the first important step to modify the Wright-type glider by adding a tail assembly to provide longitudinal stability. This was the beginning of the European biplane. All these aviators, however, misunderstood the function and necessity of the Wrights’ control system and discarded it—with negative results. Instead, they tried to build an inherently stable flying machine that would need little control input from the pilot.