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William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

the face of a stiff breeze, he violently worked his arms and legs, so that the paddles beat the air and gave
him support. It is said that Besnier became so expert in the management of his simple apparatus that he

was able to raise himself from the ground, and skim lightly over fields and rivers for a considerable


Now it has been shown that the enormous extent of wing required to support a man of average weight
would be much too large to be flapped by man's arm muscles. But in this, as with everything else, we

have succeeded in harnessing the forces of nature into our service as tools and machinery.

And is not this, after all, one of the chief, distinctions between man and the lower orders of creation? The
latter fulfil most of their bodily requirements by muscular effort. If a horse wants to get from one place to

another it walks; man can go on wheels. None of the lower animals makes a single tool to assist it in the

various means of sustaining life; but man puts on his "thinking-cap", and invents useful machines and

tools to enable him to assist or dispense with muscular movement.

Thus we find that in aviation man has designed the propeller, which, by its rapid revolutions derived
from the motive power of the aerial engine, cuts a spiral pathway through the air and drives the light craft

rapidly forward. The chief use of the planes is for support to the machine, and the chief duty of the pilot

is to balance and steer the craft by the manipulation of the rudder, elevation and warping controls.


CHAPTER XVIII. A Great British Inventor of Aeroplanes

Though, as we have seen, most of the early attempts at aerial navigation were made by foreign engineers,
yet we are proud to number among the ranks of the early inventors of heavier-than-air machines Sir

Hiram Maxim, who, though an American by birth, has spent most of his life in Britain and may therefore

be called a British inventor.

Perhaps to most of us this inventor's name is known more in connection with the famous "Maxim" gun,
which he designed, and which was named after him. But as early as 1894, when the construction of

aeroplanes was in a very backward state, Sir Hiram succeeded in making an interesting and ingenious

aeroplane, which he proposed to drive by a particularly light steam-engine.

Sir Hiram's first machine, which was made in 1890, was designed to be guided by a double set of rails,
one set arranged below and the other above its running wheels. The intention was to make the machine

raise itself just off the ground rails, but yet be prevented from soaring by the set of guard rails above the

wheels, which acted as a check on it. The motive force was given by a very powerful steam-engine of

over 300 horse-power, and this drove two enormous propellers, some 17 feet in length. The total weight

of the machine was 8000 pounds, but even with this enormous weight the engine was capable of raising

the machine from the ground.

For three or four years Sir Hiram made numerous experiments with his aeroplane, but in 1894 it broke
through the upper guard rail and turned itself over among the surrounding trees, wrecking itself badly.

But though the Maxim aeroplane did not yield very practical results, it proved that if a lighter but more
powerful engine could be made, the chief difficulty iii the way of aerial flight would be removed. This

was soon forthcoming in the invention of the petrol motor. In a lecture to the Scottish Aeronautical

Society, delivered in Glasgow in November, 1913, Sir Hiram claimed to be the inventor of the first

machine which actually rose from the earth. Before the distinguished inventor spoke of his own work in

aviation he recalled experiments made by his father in 1856-7, when Sir Hiram was sixteen years of age.


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