7/31/2019 0 Comments
OBX Airplanes: Octave Chanute the Father of Aviation and the heavier -than-flying Machine
“So may it be; let us hope that the advent of a successful flying machine, now only dimly foreseen and
nevertheless thought to be possible, will bring nothing but good into the world; that it shall abridge
distance, make all parts of the globe accessible, bring men into closer relation with each other, advance
civilization, and hasten the promised era in which there shall be nothing but peace and good-will among
-From the Conclusion of Progress in Flying Machines by Octave Chanute
Octave Chanute: Aviation Pioneer
At his death, Octave Chanute was hailed as the “father of aviation and the heavier-than-air flying
machine.” Chanute was a French-born American civil engineer. He was widely considered brilliant and
innovative in the engineering profession. During his career he designed and constructed the United
States' two biggest stock yards, Chicago Stock Yards (1865) and Kansas City Stockyards (1871). He
designed and built the Hannibal Bridge which was the first bridge to cross the Missouri River in Kansas
City, Missouri, in 1869 and established Kansas City as the dominant city in the region. After retiring from
his career in railroad engineering, Chanute decided to devote his time to the advancement of aviation.
Chanute compiled all the data he could find from flight experiments around the world and published his
findings in a series of articles in The Railroad and Engineering Journal between 1891 and 1893. He then
compiled all his findings and published Progress in Flying Machines in 1894. His work was the most
systematic global survey of fixed-wing heavier-than-air aviation research published up to that time and
was influential on budding aviators across the world, including the Wright Brothers.
Although Chanute was too old to fly himself, he was able to partner with younger aviators to help them
with their experiments. In 1896 Chanute, Augustus M. Herring, and William Avery tested a design based
on the work of German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal, as well as hang gliders of their own design in the
dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. These experiments convinced Chanute that the best way to
achieve extra lift without a prohibitive increase in weight was to stack several wings one above the
other. Chanute introduced the "strut-wire" braced wing structure that would be used in powered
biplanes of the future. Chanute based his "interplane" concept on the Pratt truss, which was
familiar to him from his bridge-building work. The Wright brothers based their glider designs on the
Chanute "double-decker" as they called it.
Chanute and the Wright Brothers
The Friendship between the Wright Brothers and Octave Chanute began in 1900 when Wilbur wrote to
Chanute after reading Progress in Flying Machines. Between 1900 and 1910, Chanute and the Wright
Brothers exchanged hundreds of letters. Chanute provided encouragement to the Wright Brothers
through his correspondence, visited their camp in Kitty Hawk in 1901, 1902, and 1903, and was
instrumental in publicizing their work.
Their friendship became strained when Chanute criticized the Wright Brothers’ patenting of their
‘warped-wing’ concept. Chanute did not believe that the Wright flying machine patent, premised on
wing warping, could be enforced and said so publicly, including a newspaper interview in which he said,
"I admire the Wrights. I feel friendly toward them for the marvels they have achieved; but you can easily
gauge how I feel concerning their attitude at present by the remark I made to Wilbur Wright recently. I
told him I was sorry to see they were suing other experimenters and abstaining from entering the
contests and competitions in which other men are brilliantly winning laurels. I told him that in my
opinion they are wasting valuable time over lawsuits which they ought to concentrate in their work.
Personally, I do not think that the courts will hold that the principle underlying the warping tips can be
The friction between the Wright Brothers and Octave Chanute lasted until Chanute’s death. However,
Wilbur did attend the memorial service at Chanute’s home and wrote a eulogy which he delivered at the
Aero Club meeting in January of 1911. Despite their different opinions, the Wright Brothers understood
the debt they owed to Octave Chanute and his work.
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As a Certified Flight Instructor on the Outer Banks of North Carolina I am pleased to say that when you fly with me you will be sure to have fun, be safe and learn to fly!