Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

weigh more than a 12-pound barnyard fowl. These engines had been developed - I might say created - by
the builders of motor cars. Extreme lightness had been gradually obtained by those making racing cars,

and that had been intensified by aviators. In many cases a speed of 80 or 100 miles per hour had been

attained, and machines had remained in the air for hours and had flown long distances. In some cases

nearly a ton had been carried for a short distance."

Such words as these, coming from the lips of a great inventor, give us a deep insight into the working of
the inventor's mind, and, incidentally, show us some of the difficulties which beset all pioneers in their

tasks. The science of aviation is, indeed, greatly indebted to these early inventors, not the least of whom

is the gallant Sir Hiram Maxim.


CHAPTER XIX. The Wright Brothers and their Secret Experiments

In the beginning of the twentieth century many of the leading European newspapers contained brief
reports of aerial experiments which were being carried out at Dayton, in the State of Ohio, America. So

wonderful were the results of these experiments, and so mysterious were the movements of the two

brothers - Orville and Wilbur Wright - who conducted them, that many Europeans would not believe the


No inventors have gone about their work more carefully, methodically, and secretly than did these two
Americans, who, hidden from prying eyes, "far from the madding crowd", obtained results which

brought them undying fame in the world of aviation.

For years they worked at their self-imposed task of constructing a flying machine which would really
soar among the clouds. They had read brief accounts of the experiments carried out by Otto Lilienthal,

and in many ways the ground had been well paved for them. It was their great ambition to become real

"human birds"; "birds" that would not only glide along down the hillside, but would fly free and

unfettered, choosing their aerial paths of travel and their places of destination.

Though there are few reliable accounts of their work in those remote American haunts, during the first
six years of the present century, the main facts of their life-history are now well known, and we are able

to trace their experiments, step by step, from the time when they constructed their first simple aeroplane

down to the appearance of the marvellous biplane which has made them world-famed.

For some time the Wrights experimented with a glider, with which they accomplished even more
wonderful results than those obtained by Lilienthal. These two young American engineers -

bicyclemakers by trade - were never in a hurry. Step by step they made progress, first with kites, then

with small gliders, and ultimately with a large one. The latter was launched into the air by men running

forward with it until sufficient momentum had been gained for the craft to go forward on its own


The first aeroplane made by the two brothers was a very simple one, as was the method adopted to
balance the craft. There were two main planes made of long spreads of canvas arranged one above

another, and on the lower plane the pilot lay. A little plane in front of the man was known as the

ELEVATOR, and it could be moved up and down by the pilot; when the elevator was tilted up, the

aeroplane ascended, when lowered, the machine descended.

At the back was a rudder, also under control of the pilot. The pilot's feet, in a modern aeroplane, rest
upon a bar working on a central swivel, and this moves the rudder. To turn to the left, the left foot is


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