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From contemporary news articles and earlier hints from Sir George Cayley, a cartoonist created this depiction of what the 1834 mystery craft could look like. (Jim Baker/Ohio Historical Society)

Above & Beyond: The Oldest Powered Flying Machine?

Above & Beyond: The Oldest Powered Flying Machine?

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(Continued from page 1)

Of course there are no photographs of Mason’s craft. When I first discovered the strange case of the Aerial Steamboat, I was the Chief of Education for the Ohio Historical Society and wrote a short article for the society’s newsletter, Echoes, that was illustrated by Jim Baker, a Columbus cartoonist who produced newspaper comic strips and illustrated comic books on Ohio history. Last year my colleague Greg Bryant, a National Air and Space Museum registrar, produced an Aerial Steamboat model based on Jim Baker’s vision. While both the drawing and the model show the boat hull sheathed in wood, rather than covered in silk, and with a forward propulsion system not described in the newspapers, my guess is that Mr. Mason would recognize the craft depicted.

And now the most important question: Who cares about any of this? Well, I do. If we are to believe the articles published in the Cincinnati papers, and there seems no reason to doubt them, then Albert Mason, or Masson, was the first person in history to produce a heavier-than-air craft, powered by a prime mover, that was actually intended to fly.

The problem is, I don’t know any more about this fellow than I did when I first ran across his name 40 years ago. The point of this story is not simply to introduce readers of Air & Space to an interesting if somewhat arcane bit of aeronautical trivia, but also to spread the word in the hope that someone can help me discover a bit more about this long-lost aerial dreamer.

Tom D. Crouch is a curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum.

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