Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

The Wrights fitted their machine with two long-bladed wooden screws, or propellers, which by means of
chains and sprocket-wheels, very like those of a bicycle, were driven by the engine, whose speed was

about 1200 revolutions a minute. The first motor engine used by these clever pioneers had four cylinders,

and developed about 20 horsepower. Nowadays engines are produced which develop more than five

times that power.

In later machines one propeller is generally thought to be sufficient; in fact many constructors believe
that there is danger in a two-propeller machine, for if one propeller got broken, the other propeller,

working at full speed, would probably overturn the machine before the pilot could cut off his engine.

Beyond the propellers there are two little vertical planes which can be moved to one side or the other by
a control lever in front of the pilot's seat. These planes or rudders steer the machine from side to side,

answering the same purpose as the rudder of a boat.

In front of the supporting planes there are two other horizontal planes, arranged one above the other;
these are much smaller than the main planes, and are known as the ELEVATORS. Their function is to

raise or lower the machine by catching the air at different angles.

Comparison with a modern biplane, such as may be seen at an aerodrome on any "exhibition" day, will
disclose several marked differences in construction between the modern type and the earlier Wright

machine, though the central idea is the same.


CHAPTER XXVI. How the Wrights launched their Biplane

Those of us who have seen an aeroplane rise from the ground know that it runs quickly along for 50 or
60 yards, until sufficient momentum has been gained for the craft to lift itself into the air. The Wrights,

as stated, fitted their machine with a pair of launching runners which projected from the under side of the

lower plane like two very long skates, and the method of launching their craft was quite different from

that followed nowadays.

The launching apparatus consisted of a wooden tower at the starting end of the launching ways - a
wooden rail about 60 or 70 feet in length. To the top of the tower a weight of about 1/2 ton was

suspended. The suspension rope was led downwards over pulleys, thence horizontally to the front end

and back to the inner end of the railway, where it was attached to the aeroplane. A small trolley was

fitted to the chassis of the machine and this ran along the railway.

To launch the machine, which, of course, stood on the rail, the propellers were set in motion, and the
1/2-ton weight at the top of the tower was released. The falling weight towed the aeroplane rapidly

forward along the rail, with a velocity sufficient to cause it to glide smoothly into the air at the other end

of the launching ways. By an ingenious arrangement the trolley was left behind on the railway.

It will at once occur to you that there were disadvantages in this system of commencing a flight. One was
that the launching apparatus was more or less a fixture. At any rate it could not be carried about from

place to place very readily: Supposing the biplane could not return to its starting-point, and the pilot was

forced to descend, say, 10 or 12 miles away: in such a case it would be neces- sary to tow the machine

back to the launching ways, an obviously inconvenient arrangement, especially in unfavourable country.

For some time the "wheeled" chassis has been in universal use, but in a few cases it has been thought
desirable to adopt a combination of runners and wheels. A moderately firm surface is necessary for the

machine to run along the ground; if the ground be soft or marly the wheels would sink in the soil, and


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