Tag Archives: Orville Wright

29 January 1926

Mrs. Macready with her husband, Lieutenant John Arthur Macready, shortly before his altitude record flight, 29 January 1926. (George Rinhart via Daedalians)

29 January 1926: At McCook Field, near Dayton, Ohio, First Lieutenant John Arthur Macready, Air Service, United States Army, took off in an experimental airplane, the Engineering Division XCO-5. Macready was attempting to exceed the existing Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world altitude record of 12,066 meters (39,587 feet), which had been set by Jean Callizo at Villacoublay, France, 21 October 1924.¹

The official observers of the National Aeronautic Association were Orville Wright (co-inventor with his brother Wilbur, of the airplane); George B. Smith of Dayton; and Levitt Luzurne Custer (inventor of the statoscope, the original barometric altimeter).

The Dayton Daily News reported:

     Every part of the plane functioned perfectly. . . with the exception of the supercharging apparatus. The plane climbed to 25,000 feet in less than 45 minutes. The remainder of the flight was a fight against the dropping pressure in the motor.

     In taking off, the altitude plane required approximately 50 feet and immediately began a steep ascent. Throughout the test the several hundred people who had congregated to see the flight start could find the plane by a long line of white vapor, which trailed in the wake of the ship in the rare atmosphere.

     On other tests the plane has shown sea level pressure at approximately 32,000 feet. The super-charger showed a steadily declining pressure after 25,000 feet, indicating its lack of sufficient capacity for the motor. . .

Dayton Daily News, Vol. XL, No. 162, January 29, 1926, Page 1, Column 7, and Page 2, Column 2

Lieutenant John A. Macready, 28 September 1921. “The cold, though a severe drain on the system with the best protection possible, is more easily met. To prepare for it, Lieutenant Macready wears over his uniform, a heavy suit of woollen underwear and over that a thick heavily padded, leather-covered suit of down and feathers. Then, fur-lined gloves, fleece-lined moccasins over the boots, and a leather head mask lined with fur, which, with the oxygen mask, completely covers the face, completes the costume. The goggles are coated on the inside with anti-freezing gelatine supposed to function to 60 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.” (NASM)

Lieutenant Macready reported, “My watch stopped at 30,000 feet and I believe it was frozen, because just before landing it started again.” He observed a temperature of -62 °C. (-79.6 °F.) at 34,600 feet (10,546 meters), which he said then increased to -56 °C. (-68.8 °F.) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters).

When the airplane was inspected after landing at McCook Field, it was found that a crack had developed in the supercharger intercooler, allowing the supercharged air to escape. This resulted in a significant loss of power, and prevented Macready from passing Callizo’s record.

Lieutenant Macready reported that the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale altimeter (one of two altimeters in the airplane’s cockpit) had indicated that he had reached a maximum of 36,200 feet (11,034 meters). When the sealed barograph was sent to the Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., for calibration, it indicated a peak altitude of 38,704 feet (11,797 meters). This was 269 meters (883 feet) lower than the existing world record, but it did establish a new United States national altitude record.

Letter from Orville Wright to the National Aeronautic Association, 11 March 1926.
Engineering Division XCO-5, A.S. 23-1204. (U.S. Air Force)

The XCO-5 was a prototype two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane, a reconnaissance and observation variant of the TP-1 fighter. It was built by the Engineering Division at McCook Field. The airplane carried project number P305 painted on its rudder.

The XCO-5’s wings were built specifically for flight at very high altitude, using an airfoil (Joukowsky StAe-27A) designed by Professor Nikolay Yegorovich Zhukovsky (Николай Егорович Жуковский), head of the Central AeroHydroDynamics Institute (TsAGI) at Kachino, Russia. The two-bay biplane wings had a significant vertical gap and longitudinal stagger. The lifting surface was 600 square feet (55.742 square meters). The upper wing had dihedral while the lower wing did not.

The XCO-5 was 25 feet, 1 inch long (7.645 meters) with a wingspan of 36 feet (10.973 meters) and height of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The empty weight was 2,748 pounds (1,246 kilograms) and the gross weight was 4,363 pounds (1,979 kilograms).

The XCO-5 was powered by a water-cooled, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty 12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 is a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. As installed on A.S. 23-1204, the engine turned a specially-designed, two-bladed, ground-adjustable, forged aluminum propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

Also installed on A.S. 23-1204 was an experimental supercharger. FLIGHT explained:

     Since the Liberty engine, which delivers 400 h.p. at sea level, has an output of but 50 h.p. at 35,000 feet unsupercharged, a supercharger is a prime requisite of altitude work. The General Electric Form F, 20,000-ft. side type supercharger used in previous tests, with certain modifications, has been installed. The supercharger is an air compressor which keeps the air pressure in the carburettor at sea level pressure at heights where, owing to the natural decrease in the air pressure, the horsepower gradually falls away but to a fraction of its original output. In former supercharger installations, much difficulty was experienced with pre-ignition of the engine. This often became so pronounced that the plane had to be brought to earth. It was suspected that a richer mixture with the supercharger at altitude was necessary. This was found to be true but the principal difficulty was the overheating of the mixture due to the heat generated in the supercharger itself. Due to the increase in temperature created by the compression in the supercharger, it was necessary to interpose an intercooler between the supercharger outlet and the carburettor in order to obtain satisfactory engine performance. The intercooler, in the form of a honeycomb radiator, was placed on the side of the aeroplane. It was also found that the poor conductivity of the air at high altitudes, additional radiating surface for engine cooling was required. This, with the correction of mixture, put an end to pre-ignition.

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 893. (No. 5, Vol. XVIII.), 4 February 1926, Page 69, Column 1

The XCO-5 has a maximum of 129 miles per hour (208 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a cruise speed of 117 miles per hour (188 kilometers per hour).

Lieutenant John A. Macready, USAAS, stands in front of the Engineering Division-built XCO-5. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8384, Gourdou-Leseurre GL.40, 300 c.v. Hispano Suiza

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.

Orville Wright at the controls of the Flyer, just airborne on its first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903. Wilbur Wright is running along to stabilize the wing. This photograph was taken by John Thomas Daniels, Jr., using the Wright Brothers’ Gundlach Optical Company Korona-V camera. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.: Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, had been working on the development of a machine capable of flight since 1899. They started with kites and gliders before moving on to powered aircraft. At the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the eastern shoreline of the United States, they made the first successful flight of a manned, powered, controllable airplane.

Orville was at the controls of the Flyer while Wilbur ran along side, steadying the right wing. Against a 27 miles per hour (12 meters per second) headwind, the airplane flew 120 feet (36.6 meters) in 12 seconds.

Three more flights were made that day, with the brothers alternating as pilot. Wilbur made the last flight, covering 852 feet (263.7 meters) in 59 seconds. The Flyer was slightly damaged on landing but before it could be repaired for an intended flight four miles back to Kitty Hawk, a gust of wind overturned the airplane and caused more extensive damage. It never flew again.

Flyer after fourth (final) flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The 1903 Wright Flyer is a canard biplane, with elevators to the front and rudders at the rear. The flight controls twisted, or “warped,” the wings to cause a change in direction. The pilot lay prone in the middle of the lower wing, on a sliding “cradle.” He slid left and right to shift the center of gravity. Wires attached to the cradle acted to warp the wings and move the rudders. The airplane is built of spruce and ash and covered with unbleached muslin fabric.

Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer is 21 feet, 1 inch (6.426 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches (12.293 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 3° 25′. A built-in curvature of the wings creates a continuously-varying anhedral. (The wingtips are 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) lower than at the centerline.) The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings is 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). There is no sweep or stagger. The total wing area is 510 square feet (47.38 square meters). The Flyer weighs 605 pounds (274.4 kilograms), empty.

Wright Flyer, right quarter view. The airplane was damaged during the landing after its fourth flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 201.06-cubic-inch-displacement (3.30 liter) 4-cylinder inline overhead valve gasoline engine, which produced 12 horsepower at 1,025 r.p.m. The engine was built by the Wright’s mechanic, Charlie Taylor. The engine has a cast aluminum alloy crankcase with cast iron cylinders. Fuel is supplied from a gravity-feed tank mounted under the leading edge of the upper wing. Total fuel capacity is 22 fluid ounces (0.65 liters).

Wright Flyer, left profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, right profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

Using chains, sprockets, and drive shafts, the engine turns two fixed-pitch wooden propellers in opposite directions at 350 r.p.m. They turn outboard at the top of their arcs. The propellers have a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) and are positioned at the trailing edges of the wings in a pusher configuration.

The Wright's airfield at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbure Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
The Wright’s airfield near Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

In 1928, the Wright Flyer was shipped to England where it was displayed at the Science Museum on Exhibition Road, London. It returned to the United States in 1948 and was placed in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Wright Brothers’ first airplane flew a total of 1 minute, 42.5 seconds, and travelled 1,472 feet (448.7 meters).

The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued to fly until 1918. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, predecessor of NASA) for 28 years. He died in 1948.

The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 September 1904

Wilbur Wright, 1867–1912. (Library of Congress)

20 September 1904: In an effort to improve their airplane, the Wright Brothers moved their test flights from the windy Kill Devil Hills of North Carolina to Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, Ohio. Without the winds, however, they needed to achieve greater speed for the airplane to take off, so they devised a catapult which used a 1,200 pound (544 kilogram) weight dropped from a 20 foot (6.1 meter) wooden derrick to pull the Wright Flyer II down a wooden track.

The Wright Flyer II was very similar to the original Flyer. Some parts of the airframe were strengthened, which slightly increased the new airplane’s weight.

Wilbur Wright was at the controls of the Flyer II on 20 September 1904, when it made the first-ever complete circular turn by an airplane. This was witnessed by Ames I. Root, who wrote about it in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture:

“When it turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and I believe still, it was. . . the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels. . . but with white wings instead. . . Well, now, imagine that locomotive with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something like what I saw.”

The 30th flight of Flyer II at Huffman Prairie, August 1904. (Wright State University)

The Wright Brothers flew the Flyer II 105 times that summer. Next would come the Flyer III.

Wilbur Wright and the Flyer II on Flight 85 at Huffman Prairie. (Wright State University)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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