Strange Aircraft From the Early Years of Flight

In the early days of aviation, not all builders were as systematic as the Wright brothers who carefully tested each component of their machines and made adjustments to them to gain maximum efficiently. Many builders took a more trial and error approach to their designs. Below are some of the results:

Louis Bleriot would eventually build a plane that would be the first to successfully cross the English Channel (with himself at the controls), but this early powered glider, built to his specifications by Gabriel Voisin, would never make it off the surface of the Seine River where it was being tested.
This vehicle was called the umbrellaplane. Built with a circular wing and an engine in the center, it actually flew several times at Chicago's Cicero Field. This flying-saucer-like design was the work of Chance Vought, who would later become an important aircraft builder.
This plane had four banks of slats and managed to hop about 500 feet in 1907. The brainchild of British designer Horatio Philips, it had been inspired by an earlier, simpler version using fewer slats that had flown as high as 50 feet.
This strange French contraption with drum-like wings was inventive, but produced little in the way of lift and never made it off the ground.
Another plane with a drum-like design was the 1911 Geary Circular Triplane. Although eventually triplanes would be successfully flown, this one never made it off the ground.
In an attempt to learn from nature the 1910 Burke "Seagull" had a set of curved wings similar to its namesake. The machine never flew, however.
This craft with five cambered wings was the design of Jerome S. Zerbe. It attempted flight at a Los Angeles air meet in 1910, but came apart before it could get into the air when it hit a pothole in the airfield.
Some designers tried to follow the birds by building ornithopters - planes the flap their wings. This 1890 version created by E.P. Frost weighted 650 pounds and used steam-power to flap a set of goose-feathered wings. It did not fly.
This 1908 Cornu helicopter with double rotors actually manged to lift itself and its pilot off the ground for a very short time.
This aircraft was another Bleriot creation named Libellule, the "butterfly," because of pairs of wings on the front and back. Bleriot made short hops with it in 1907, but on the last test flight, after he'd climbed to about 60 feet, he lost control of the plane and it crashed to the ground. Bleriot escaped without serious injury..

To learn more about early flight check out: Those Fabulous and Foolhardy Flyers I and Those Fabulous and Foolhardy Flyers II.

Copyright 2001Lee Krystek. All Rights Reserved.


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