WENHAM, LE BRIS, AND SOME OTHERS
There are few outstanding events in the development of aeronautics between String fellow’s final achievement and the work of such men as Lilienthal, Pilcher, Montgomery, and their kind; in spite of this, the later middle decades of the nineteenth century witnessed a considerable amount of spade work both in England and in France, the two countries which led in the way in aeronautical development until Lilienthal gave honour to Germany, and Langley and Montgomery paved the way for the Wright Brothers in America.
Two abortive attempts characterized the sixties of last century in France. As regards the first of these, three men, Nadar, Ponton d’Amecourt, and De la Landelle, who conceived the idea of a full-sized helicopter machine, carried it out. D'Amecourt exhibited a steam model, constructed in 1865, at the Aeronautical Society's Exhibition in 1868. The engine was aluminium with cylinders of bronze, driving two screws placed one above the other and rotating in Opposite directions, but the power was not sufficient to lift the model. De la Landelle's principal achievement consisted in the publication in 1863 of a book entitled Aviation which has a certain historical value; he got out several designs for large machines on the helicopter principle, but did little more until the three combined in the attempt to raise funds for the construction of their full-sized machine. Since the funds were not forthcoming, Nadar took to ballooning as the means of raising money; apparently he found this substitute for real flight sufficiently interesting to divert him from the study of the helicopter principle, for the experiment went no further.
The other experimenter of this period, one Count d'Esterno, took out a patent in 1864 for a soaring machine which allowed for alteration of the angle of incidence of the wings in the manner that was subsequently carried out by the Wright Brothers. It was not until 1883 that any attempt was made to put this patent to practical use, and, as the inventor died while it was under construction, it was never completed. D'Esterno was also responsible for the production of a work entitled Du Vol des Oiseaux, which is a very remarkable study of the flight of birds.
Mention has already been made of the founding of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, which, since 1918 has been the Royal Aeronautical Society. 1866 witnessed the first meeting of the Society under the Presidency of the Duke of Argyll, when in June, at the Society of Arts, Francis Herbert Wenham read his now classic paper Aerial Locomotion. Certain quotations from this will show how clearly Wenham had thought out the problems connected with flight.
'The first subject for consideration is the proportion of surface to weight, and their combined effect in descending perpendicularly through the atmosphere. The datum is here based upon the consideration of safety, for it may sometimes be needful for a living being to drop passively, without muscular effort. One square foot of sustaining surface for every pound of the total weight will be sufficient for security.
'According to Smeaton's table of atmospheric resistances, to produce a force of one pound on a square foot, the wind must move against the plane (or which is the same thing, the plane against the wind), at the rate of twenty-two feet per second, or 1,320 feet per minute, equal to fifteen miles per hour. The resistance of the air will now balance the weight on the descending surface, and, consequently, it cannot exceed that speed. Now, twenty-two feet per second is the velocity acquired at the end of a fall of eight feet a height from which a well knit man or animal may leap down without much risk of injury. Therefore, if a man with parachute weighs together 143 lbs., spreading the same number of square feet of surface contained in a circle fourteen and a half feet in diameter, he will descend at perhaps an unpleasant velocity, but with safety to life and limb.
'It is a remarkable fact how this proportion of wing-surface to weight extends throughout a great variety of the flying portion of the animal kingdom, even down to hornets, bees, and other insects. In some instances, however, as in the gallinaceous tribe, including pheasants, this area is somewhat exceeded, but they are known to be very poor fliers. Residing as they do chiefly on the ground, their wings are only required for short distances, or for raising them or easing their descent from their roosting-places in forest trees, the shortness of their wings preventing them from taking extended flights. The wing-surface of the common swallow is rather more than in the ratio of two square feet per pound, but having also great length of pinion, it is both swift and enduring in its flight. When on a rapid course this bird is in the habit of furling its wings into a narrow compass. The greater extent of surface is probably needful for the continual variations of speed and instant stoppages for obtaining its insect food.
'On the other hand, there are some birds, particularly of the duck tribe, whose wing-surface but little exceeds half a square foot, or seventy-two inches per pound, yet they may be classed among the strongest and swiftest of fliers. A weight of one pound, suspended from an area of this extent, would acquire a velocity due to a fall of sixteen feet a height sufficient for the destruction or injury of most animals. But when the plane is urged forward horizontally, in a manner analogous to the wings of a bird during flight, the sustaining power is greatly influenced by the form and arrangement of the surface.
'In the case of perpendicular descent, as a parachute, the sustaining effect will be much the same, whatever the figure of the outline of the superficies may be, and a circle perhaps affords the best resistance of any. Take, for example, a circle of twenty square feet (as possessed by the pelican) loaded with as many pounds. This, as just stated, will limit the rate of perpendicular descent to 1,320 feet per minute. But instead of a circle sixty-one inches in diameter, if the area is bounded by a parallelogram ten feet long by two feet broad, and whilst at perfect freedom to descend perpendicularly, let a force be applied exactly in a horizontal direction, so as to carry it edgeways, with the long side foremost, at a forward speed of thirty miles per hour--just double that of its passive descent: the rate of fall under these conditions will be decreased most remarkably, probably to less than one-fifteenth part, or eighty-eight feet per minute, or one mile per hour.'
And again: 'It has before been shown how utterly inadequate the mere perpendicular impulse of a plane is found to be in supporting a weight, when there is no horizontal motion at the time. There is no material weight of air to be acted upon, and it yields to the slightest force, however great the velocity of impulse may be. On the other hand, suppose that a large bird, in full flight, can make forty miles per hour, or 3,520 feet per minute, and performs one stroke per second. Now, during every fractional portion of that stroke, the wing is acting upon and obtaining an impulse from a fresh and undisturbed body of air; and if the vibration of the wing is limited to an arc of two feet, this by no means represents the small force of action that would be obtained when in a stationary position, for the impulse is secured upon a stratum of fifty eight feet in length of air at each stroke. So that the conditions of weight of air for obtaining support equally well apply to weight of air and its reaction in producing forward impulse.
'So necessary is the acquirement of this horizontal speed, even in commencing flight, that most heavy birds, when possible, rise against the wind, and even run at the top of their speed to make their wings available, as in the example of the eagle, mentioned at the commencement of this paper. It is stated that the Arabs, on horseback, can approach near enough to spear these birds, when on the plain, before they are able to rise; their habit is to perch on an eminence, where possible.
'The tail of a bird is not necessary for flight. A pigeon can fly perfectly with this appendage cut short off; it probably performs an important function in steering, for it is to be remarked, that most birds that have either to pursue or evade pursuit are amply provided with this organ.
'The foregoing reasoning is based upon facts, which tend to show that the flight of the largest and heaviest of all birds is really performed with but a small amount of force, and that man is endowed with sufficient muscular power to enable him also to take individual and extended flights, and that success is probably only involved in a question of suitable mechanical adaptations. But if the wings are to be modeled in imitation of natural examples, but very little consideration will serve to demonstrate its utter impracticability when applied in these forms.'
Thus Wenham, one of the best theorists of his age. The Society with which this paper connects his name has done work, between that time and the present, of which the importance cannot be overestimated, and has been of the greatest value in the development of aeronautics, both in theory and experiment. The objects of the Society are to give a stronger impulse to the scientific study of aerial navigation, to promote the intercourse of those interested in the subject at home and abroad, and to give advice and instruction to those who study the principles upon which aeronautical science is based. From the date of its foundation, the Society has given special study to dynamic flight, putting this before ballooning. Its library, its bureau of advice and information, and its meetings, all assist in forwarding the study of aeronautics, and its twenty-three early Annual Reports are of considerable value, containing as they do a large amount of useful information on aeronautical subjects, and forming practically the basis of aeronautical science.
Ante to Wenham, String fellow and the French experimenters already noted, by some years, was Le Bris, a French sea captain, who appears to have required only a thorough scientific training to have rendered him of equal moment in the history of gliding flight with Lilienthal himself. Le Bris, it appears, watched the albatross and deduced, from the manner in which it supported itself in the air, that plane surfaces could be constructed and arranged to support a man in like manner. Octave Chanute, himself a leading exponent of gliding, gives the best description of Le Bris's experiments in a work, Progress in Flying Machines, which, although published as recently as I 1894, is already rare. Chanute draws from a still rarer book, namely, De la Landelle's work published in 1884. Le Bris himself, quoted by De la Landelle as speaking of his first visioning of human flight, describes how he killed an albatross, and then 'I took the wing of the albatross and exposed it to the breeze; and lo! in spite of me, it drew forward into the wind; notwithstanding my resistance, it tended to rise. Thus, I had discovered the secret of the bird! I comprehended the whole mystery of flight.'
This apparently took place while at sea; later on, Le Bris, returning to France, designed and constructed an artificial albatross of sufficient size to bear his own weight. The fact that he followed the bird outline as closely as he did attests his lack of scientific training for his task, while at the same time the success of the experiment was proof of his genius. The body of his artificial bird, boat-shaped, was 13 1/2 ft. in length, with a breadth of 4 ft. at the widest part. The material was cloth stretched over a wooden framework; in front was a small mast rigged after the manner of a ship's masts to which were attached poles and cords with which Le Bris intended to work the wings. Each wing was 23 ft. in length, giving a total supporting surface of nearly 220 sq. ft.; the weight of the whole apparatus was only 92 pounds. For steering, both vertical and horizontal, a hinged tail was provided, and the leading edge of each wing was made flexible. In construction throughout, and especially in that of the wings, Le Bris adhered as closely as possible to the original albatross.
He designed an ingenious kind of mechanism which he termed 'Rotules,' which by means of two levers gave a rotary motion to the front edge of the wings, and also permitted of their adjustment to various angles. The inventor's idea was to stand upright in the body of the contrivance, working the levers and cords with his hands, and with his feet on a pedal by means of which the steering tail was to be worked. He anticipated that, given a strong wind, he could rise into the air after the manner of an albatross, without any need for flapping his wings, and
the account of his first experiment forms one of the most interesting incidents in the history of flight. It is related in full in Chanute's work, from which the present account is summarized.
Le Bris made his first experiment on a main road near Douarnenez, at Trefeuntec. From his observation of the albatross Le Bris concluded that it was necessary to get some initial velocity in order to make the machine rise; consequently on a Sunday morning, with a breeze of about 12 miles an hour blowing down the road, he had his albatross placed on a cart and set off, with a peasant driver, against the wind. At the outset, the machine was fastened to the cart by a rope running through the rails on which the machine rested, and secured by a slipknot on Le Bris's own wrist, so that only a jerk on his part was necessary to loosen the rope and set the machine free. On each side walked an assistant holding the wings, and when a turn of the road brought the machine full into the wind these men were instructed to let go, while the driver increased the pace from a walk to a trot. Le Bris, by pressure on the levers of the machine, raised the front edges of his wings slightly; they took the wind almost instantly to such an extent that the horse, relieved of a great part of the weight he had been drawing, turned his trot into a gallop. Le Bris gave the jerk of the rope that should have unfastened the slipknot, but a concealed nail on the cart caught the rope, so that it failed to run. The lift of the machine was such, however, that it relieved the horse of very nearly the weight of the cart and driver, as well as that of Le Bris and his machine, and in the end the rails of the cart gave way. Le Bris rose in the air, the machine maintaining perfect balance and rising to a height of nearly 300 ft., the total length of the glide being upwards of an eighth of a mile. But at the last moment the rope which had originally fastened the machine to the cart got wound round the driver's body, so that this unfortunate dangled in the air under Le Bris and probably assisted in maintaining the balance of the artificial albatross. Le Bris, congratulating himself on his success, was prepared to enjoy just as long a time in the air as the pressure of the wind would permit, but the howls of the unfortunate driver at the end of the rope beneath him dispelled his dreams; by working his levers he altered the angle of the front wing edges so skillfully as to make a very successful landing indeed for the driver, who, entirely uninjured, disentangled himself from the rope as soon as he touched the ground, and ran off to retrieve his horse and cart.
Apparently his release made a difference in the centre of gravity, for Le Bris could not manipulate his levers for further ascent; by skilful manipulation he retarded the descent sufficiently to escape injury to himself; the machine descended at an angle, so that one wing, striking the ground in front of the other, received a certain amount of damage.
It may have been on account of the reluctance of this same or another driver that Le Bris chose a different method of launching himself in making a second experiment with his albatross. He chose the edge of a quarry which had been excavated in a depression of the ground; here he assembled his apparatus at the bottom of the quarry, and by means of a rope was hoisted to a height of nearly 100 ft. from the quarry bottom, this rope being attached to a mast which he had erected upon the edge of the depression in which the quarry was situated. Thus hoisted, the albatross was swung to face a strong breeze that blew inland, and Le Bris manipulated his levers to give the front edges of his wings a downward angle, so that only the top surfaces should take the wing pressure. Having got his balance, he obtained a lifting angle of incidence on the wings by means of his levers, and released the hook that secured the machine, gliding off over the quarry. On the glide he met with the inevitable upward current of air that the quarry and the depression in which it was situated caused; this current upset the balance of the machine and flung it to the bottom of the quarry, breaking it to fragments. Le Bris, apparently as intrepid as ingenious, gripped the mast from which his levers were worked, and, springing upward as the machine touched earth, escaped with no more damage than a broken leg. But for the rebound of the levers, he would have escaped even this.
The interest of these experiments is enhanced by the fact that Le Bris was a seafaring man who conducted them from love of the science which had fired his imagination, and in so doing, exhausted his own small means. It was in 1855 that he made these initial attempts, and twelve years passed before his persistence was rewarded by a public subscription made at Brest for the purpose of enabling him to continue his experiments. He built a second albatross, and on the advice of his friends ballasted it for flight instead of traveling in it himself. It was not so successful as the first, probably owing to the lack of human control while in flight; on one of the trials a height of 150 ft. was attained, the glider being secured by a thin rope and held so as to face into the wind. A glide of nearly an eighth of a mile was made with the rope hanging slack, and, at the end of this distance, a rise in the ground modified the force of the wind, whereupon the machine settled down without damage. A further trial in a gusty wind resulted in the complete destruction of this second machine; Le Bris had no more funds, no further subscriptions were likely to materialise, and so the experiments of this first exponent of the art of gliding (save for Besnier and his kind) came to an end. They constituted a notable achievement, and undoubtedly Le Bris deserves a better place than has been accorded him in the ranks of the early experimenters.
Contemporary with him was Charles Spencer, the first man to practice gliding in England. His apparatus consisted of a pair of wings with a total area of 30 sq. ft., to which a tail and body were attached. The weight of this apparatus was some 24 lbs., and, Lilienthal did launching himself on it from a small eminence, as later in his experiments, the inventor made flights of over 120 feet. The glider in question was exhibited at the Aeronautical Exhibition of 1868.