The Birthplaces of Aviation

It didn’t all happen at Kitty Hawk.

Still on the ground in Ireland, Harry Ferguson’s monoplane looks like it’s already having lateral control issues. (Ferguson Family Museum, Freshwater, Isle of Wight)
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Brze­­ski’s revolutionary 50-hp rotary powerplant, which he called Iskra (Spark).
In its first attempt, the Aquila shuddered aloft, and after 50 feet crashed into a hedge. The crash was blamed on the Schindler airframe, and the aircraft’s development was scrapped.


Born in the province of Transylvania, Aurel Vlaicu built a flyable glider model at Munich Polytechnic in 1907. Two years later, he built a glider in which he carried one of the first females to fly: his eight-year-old sister, Valeria. After an exhibit of Vlaicu’s scale models in Bucharest, the Romanian war minister funded a workshop and staff at the Army Arsenal for Vlaicu to continue his work.

Vlaicu traveled to the Paris workshop of fellow Romanian Trajan Vuia to buy a 50-hp Gnome engine. By June 1910 he had produced Vlaicu 1, taking flight from Romania’s Cotroceni military airfield. Vlaicu called his design a “flying machine with an arrow-like fuselage.” The aircraft had a diamond-shape cockpit that hung like a pendulum beneath the fir wing spars. It had a hinged front elevator and rudders that moved in tandem. There were propellers in both the front and rear, and a fixed rear horizontal tail with two vertical control surfaces straddling the central aluminum tube, an arrangement that ensured stability and smooth turns.

By mid-August 1910 Vlaicu could make sharp turns and exceed an altitude of 450 feet, and one of his flights surpassed nine miles. Within six weeks, in a test of army reconnaissance, he had risen above 1,500 feet, winning a prize from Romanian Prince Ferdinand that funded the launch of his Vlaicu 2 the following February. This aircraft was a monoplane of a parasol design, with fabric on just the top of the wings and tail and without ribs— features that made the aircraft light and nimble.


Another designer who borrowed liberally from fellow aircraft designers, José Luis Sanchez-Besa copied the Wrights’ pusher propulsion and the Voisin brothers’ designs. His 1910 biplane was full of curves, with a front elevator and a 50-hp Anzani chain-drive engine linked to two pusher props. He created a number of successful aircraft, for both land- and sea-based operations.

His 1912-1913 seaplane wrapped the pilot in a virtual tub, yet a land-based version was aerodynamic enough to work. Perhaps his most ambitious design had a Venetian-blind-like configuration of airfoils: five rows of 21 horizontal surfaces each.


William Wallace Gibson made his money in mining, and in 1906 he began to invest in manufacturing engines. However, Gibson’s propulsion efforts were marred. His four-cylinder engine shook itself to an early death. He had slightly better luck with a six-cylinder design, which in early 1910 yielded a smooth 60 hp. Next Gibson turned to an airframe. He sewed two 20-foot wings of silk staggered front and rear, and for pilot control used wires to tether a front elevator to his shoulder harness. On September 8, 1910, at a farm in Victoria, British Columbia, he managed to fly his 700-pound Twinplane 25 feet.

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