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Transportation Science Technology

For Jane's, Gustav Weißkopf's 1901 Liftoff Displaces Wright Bros. 267

Posted by timothy
from the ahem-there's-been-a-development dept.
gentryx writes "Newly found evidence supports earlier claims that Gustave Whitehead (a German immigrant, born Gustav Weißkopf, with Whitehead being the literal translation of Weißkopf) performed the first powered, controlled, heavier-than-air flight as early as 1901-08-14 — more than two years before the Wrights took off. A reconstructed image shows him mid-flight. A detailed analysis of said photo can be found here. Apparently the results are convincing enough that even Jane's chimes in. His plane is also better looking than the Wright Flyer I." (And when it comes to displacing the Wright brothers, don't forget Alberto Santos Dumont.)
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For Jane's, Gustav Weißkopf's 1901 Liftoff Displaces Wright Bros.

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  • Richard Pearse (Score:4, Informative)

    by taniwha (70410) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @09:41PM (#43128571) Homepage Journal

    let's not forget Richard Pearse too

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Pearse [wikipedia.org]

  • Smithsonian (Score:5, Informative)

    by jazman_777 (44742) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @09:41PM (#43128573) Homepage
    Has a deal to display one of the early Wright flyers. The deal stipulates that the Smithsonian MUST present the Wright brothers as the first. Period.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Whitehead [wikipedia.org]

    "When the Flyer was finally brought back and presented to the Smithsonian in 1948, the museum and the executors of the Wright estate signed an agreement (popularly called a "contract") in which the Smithsonian promised not to say that any airplane before the Wrights' was capable of manned, powered, controlled flight.[37][note 5] This agreement was not made public."
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by samkass (174571) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @09:54PM (#43128619) Homepage Journal

    That is rowboat with some kind of wings attached. Not flying wings but insect wings. Is this some kind of joke?

    No, it's conspiracy theorists at its best. Here's the actual analysis that went into the re-creation of the photo linked above:
    http://www.gustave-whitehead.com/history/detailed-photo-analysis/ [gustave-whitehead.com]

    As you can see, it's pretty much the "computer... magnify, rotate, enhance" sort of photo manipulation that "proves" flight. Whitehead was definitely a pioneer in aviation. But there is absolutely no evidence he created a steerable machine or even understood differential lift to cause banking in a plane to accomplish a curved, controlled, coordinated turn in flight like the Wright machine was able to accomplish.

    Other people had been in the air before flight in gliders and on ground effect. A Frenchman named Ader lifted off the ground (barely) first, to disastrous consequences earlier (he, too, based his plane on a bird/bat design instead of scientific analysis and was unable to control it in flight). It was actually the earlier failures of Ader, Langley, and others that caused so many problems when the Wrights tried to sell their planes to the US and French military, who had seen the earlier failures and couldn't believe a couple of bicycle mechanics had cracked the problems of efficient propellers, steering, proper wing camber, and usable controls.

    It was only after there was competition from aircraft manufacturers trying to invalidate the Wright patent that all this prior art suddenly magically materialized. The Wrights never lost a case.

  • Re:Picking nits (Score:5, Informative)

    by Psychotria (953670) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @10:09PM (#43128679)

    The reconstructed photo is a montage of known images stuck together to match the analysis of the highly magnified zoomed portions of the photos. Seriously.

  • Re:Smithsonian (Score:5, Informative)

    by westlake (615356) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @11:17PM (#43128881)
    You are leaving out of the story a singular example of fraud and collusion between the Smithsonian and Glenn Curtiss.

    With Smithsonian approval, Glenn Curtiss extensively modified the Aerodrome and made a few short flights in it in 1914, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to bypass the Wright Brothers' patent on aircraft and to vindicate Langley. Based on these flights, the Smithsonian displayed the Aerodrome in its museum as the first heavier-than-air manned, powered aircraft "capable of flight." This action triggered a feud with Orville Wright (Wilbur Wright had died in 1912), who accused the Smithsonian of misrepresenting flying machine history. Orville backed up his protest by refusing to donate the original 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer to the Smithsonian, instead donating it to extensive collections of the Science Museum of London in 1928. The dispute finally ended in 1942 when the Smithsonian published details of the Curtiss modifications to the Aerodrome and recanted its claims for the aircraft.

    Langley Aerodrome [wikipedia.org]

    Langley's simple approach was merely to scale up the unpiloted Aerodromes to human-carrying proportions. This would prove to be a grave error, as the aerodynamics, structural design, and control system of the smaller aircraft were not adaptable to a full-sized version. Langley's primary focus was the power plant. The completed engine, a water-cooled five-cylinder radial that generated a remarkable 52.4 horsepower, was a great achievement for the time.

    Despite the excellent engine, the Aerodrome A, as it was called, met with disastrous results, crashing on takeoff on October 7, 1903, and again on December 8. Langley blamed the launch mechanism. While this was in some small measure true, there is no denying that the Aerodrome A was an overly complex, structurally weak, aerodynamically unsound aircraft. This second crash ended Langley's aeronautical work entirely.

    Langley Aerodrome A [si.edu]

    Achieving dynamic control in three dimensions was the Wrights' great obsession.

    They were as intensely focused on learning how to fly as they were on the evolution and refinement of their mechanical designs.

  • Re:Smithsonian (Score:3, Informative)

    by JBMcB (73720) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @11:55PM (#43129003)

    If you are getting your info from the Whitehead site, the guy seems like a bit of a quack:

    Quote from:
    http://www.gustave-whitehead.com/history-of-whitehead-critics/ [gustave-whitehead.com]
    "Interestingly, Wright (or his attorney) tried to be too clever when tying up the Smithsonian, and the latter's trustees, apparently, failed to notice the blunder: By referring to "any aircraft" and not "airplane", the document prohibits the Smithsonian from even admitting that, since 1852, dozens of dirigable airships (indisputably 'craft of the air') had been "capable of carrying a man under [their] own power in controled flight". Count Zeppelin and his predecessors would be as unhappy as Whitehead if airbrushed out of history by this secret agreement."

    Quote from:
    http://blog.nasm.si.edu/aviation/blimp/ [si.edu]
    "All Zeppelins are dirigibles, but not all dirigibles are Zeppelins. A dirigible is any powered lighter-than-air craft capable of maneuvering. For the linguistically fastidious, a Zeppelin is a rigid airship manufactured by the Zeppelin Company, or by Goodyear-Zeppelin, the American firm that produced the two great U.S. naval airships, ZRS-4, USS Akron (1931-1933), and ZRS-5, USS Macon (1933-1935)."

    Oops.

  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @12:27AM (#43129093) Journal

    Politics and penis-waving aside (though Whitehead lived in Connecticut when he built it, but anyway...)

    Given the image, I'd love to see if someone actually managed to reconstruct the thing and see if it actually can fly... ah, wait - someone managed it [wikipedia.org] )

  • Keyword is "practical". The Wright brothers did not fly a practical plane.

    The Wright brothers had achieved flights of over 5 minutes with multiple circular paths around the field within a year of the first powered flight success. And they incrementally improved their designs and concepts over many years. They were truly engineers, not romantics, and based their development on research, science, testing and feedback. They were instrumental in the development of practical aircraft.

    Oh, you mean wifi and body scans and free gin-and-tonics? OK.

  • by jkflying (2190798) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @08:12AM (#43129981)

    If you RTFA, you'll see that Whitehead was using wing-warping as well, several years before the Wright Bros. How the Wright Bros. got their patents on wing-warping is a mystery.

  • by theVarangian (1948970) on Sunday March 10, 2013 @10:46AM (#43130791)

    Wright brothers patented a lot of the mechanics of the aircraft they built and later prevented Curtis & other US aviators from progressing. By the time the Great War had started, European aviation was greatly ahead of the USA's efforts.

    I know it is fashionable to blame patents for all the ills that plague humanity but stagnation in the US aircraft industry prior to the US entry into the Great War was down to more than just patents. Most of the aviation advances in Europe were due to state aviation challenges that featured big purses, air racing and most importantly military expenditure on aviation. In Germany and France for example military spending was a key factor in the expansion of the pre-war aviation industry and a key factor in technological advancement prior to 1914. Even in 1910-1914 both the German/French armies and navies were ordering aircraft by the hundreds. The USA's expenditure in the same period was a joke and despite US industry eventually accepting massive orders to supply the UK and the French with aircraft, large portions of the US air service had to be equipped with aircraft by the French and the British including the entire US fighter fleet on the Western Front. Civilian aviation as a technological motivator only began to assume any degree of importance when Hugo Junkers wheeled out the all metal Junkers F13 in 1919 to everybody's surprise and people found it was more sophisticated technologically than contemporary military machines. Especially because the F13 prototype could lift well over half a metric ton on a salvaged 160hp Mercedes engine.

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