AN AIRSHIP STORY – The Weimar Mercury, December 7, 1901

Transcribed from The Weimar Mercury, December 7, 1901


New York, Nov. 23.— Will America soon lead the world in the construction of flying machines? That is the question before the public who are interested in aerial navigation, as the result of the experiments which have been conducted at Bridgeport Conn., by Gustave Whitehead.

France, with Saulos-Dumont the young Brazilian inventor, as the most prominent, seems to have taken the lead in aerial navigation heretofore, but it looks now as if the United States would come to the front with a rush.

It is believed that the sight of flying machines flapping their wings as they glide over hill and vale and soar through the busy streets of the cities and towns of the country will soon become a reality.

Inside of one year one may be able to purchase an air vehicle and tour through space as freely as automobiles are used to-day. This may read like a dream, but it is reality for in Bridgeport a young man is building a machine, the counterpart of which has already journeyed for a mile and a half through the air. And what is more, the new machine will be able to travel on land at great speed, and also through the water.

From an 1882 postcard - This is the Bridgeport Connecticut Gustave Whitehead would be familiar with. Bridgeport was at the center of the American industrial revolution. It was a great place to start building engines and airplanes.

From an 1882 postcard – This is the Bridgeport Connecticut Gustave Whitehead would be familiar with. Bridgeport was at the center of the American industrial revolution. It was a great place to start building engines and airplanes.

The inventor, who has been mentioned before, is Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport, Conn. With 17 machinists working under him in a little shop in Pine Street, on the outskirts of the city, he is working night and day on the machine, mates of which he expects before long to have on the market. It is not an experiment nor the creation of a dreamer, for Whitehead has already built an airship resembling a huge bird, which has proved that he has solved the problem of aerial navigation.

“This new machine will be the twentieth I have made,” Whithead said as he paused in his work recently and talked about the invention that promises to make him famous for all time. “Eighteen of them were failures, through some fault that I could not fathom at the time, but the last one I made rewarded my years of effort and accomplished what I have so long been trying to solve.

“The new one I am making will be far better than the last one, for I have profited by my mistakes, and, when completed, it will astonish the world. It will have the finest engine ever made, one I invented and constructed myself, and its power, considering the weight,
will be far greater than that of any engine in existence.

“Since I was a boy, going to school in Ausburg, Germany, where I acquired some knowledge of mechanics and engineering, I have had the idea ol a flying machine in my mind and I made up my mind that I would some day fly like the birds I was so fond of watching. After leaving school I went to sea and sailed around the world five times,

Spiral Elastic Wings of the Gull. Each wing forms a mobile helix or screw.

Spiral Elastic Wings of the Gull. Each wing forms a mobile helix or screw. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition)

“I remember once watching the big condors flying off the South American coast and trying to understand how they did it, I used to study the gulls, too, as they would soar against the wind with outstretched pinions, moving apparently without the slightest effort.

“Now I understand how they did it, for 1 have done tie same thing myself, I am the only man who has ever risen from the ground and flown through the air. Money?
No, I do not believe I will ever be rich. At least I do not think or care about that. When I make my machine perfect, so that I can fly about at will, I shall be .satisfied. My new machine will do better than the old one, but, of course there will be room for improvement. Besides flying through the air it will run on the ground on four big rubber tired wheels, and will also sail through the water.

Calcium Carbide - The reaction of calcium carbide with water, producing acetylene and calcium hydroxide, was discovered by Friedrich Wöhler in 1862.

Calcium Carbide – The reaction of calcium carbide with water, producing acetylene and calcium hydroxide, was discovered by Friedrich Wöhler in 1862.

I expect my new machine to attain a speed of 50 or 60 miles an hour in the air and about 40 miles an hour on the ground. The little propeller astern, which will be arranged so that it can be connected with the land engine, will drive the machine through the water at something like 15 miles an hour. The power will be generated by calcium carbide, which is 14 times as powerful as gasoline.”

With all his knowledge, Whitehead is a modest man. When I surprised him at his shop he first refused to talk about his invention at all, saying that he would rather wait until the new machine was completed. He declared, however, there was no secret about what he was doing and to prove it, pointed out a window and said:

“There is the machine that I flew in. You can go out and look at it. It is abandoned now as
junk, for the new one I am making will he much lighter and stronger and will contain better material. The old one taught me my lesson and that was enough for it to do.”

With a look of pride Whitehead gazed. upon the curious creation that had moved through the air like a thing of life. The machine, which weighs 350 pounds when equipped for flying, resein of canvas spread over bamboo poles, and a canvas fanshaped tail,
like- that of a bird. The frame work of the boat is of wood painted blue and the bowsprit projects from the bow just as a regular sailboat. Underneath are four wooden wheels, upon which it is propelled over the ground by a secondary engine lying in the bottom of the boat.

The tail of Whiteheads #21. Note the fan like construction.

The tail of Whiteheads #21. Note the fan like construction.

The sail area of the new machine is 450 feet. Then even if it did take years to think it out. After running along the ground until a good rate of speed s obtained the two six-foot two-blade propellers, one on either side of the boat forward, are started revolving at great speed as the sails or wings are unfolded. The rush of air striking the outstretched wings raises the machine from the ground, just as a flat stone thrown from one’s arm soars up and keeps moving upward until be force propelling it is overcome by gravitation, and that is where the marvel of his invention lies.
Mie rapidly revolving propellers, aided by the wings, which can be set at different angles, generate enough force to overcome the force of gravitation. At least they did when the old machine was tested, and, as Whitehead said, one cannot ask for any better proof than that. Persons who saw the machine skim along the ground and then rise, say it looked for all the world like a monster beginning its flight.

Whitehead tested his machine for the first time last June, but his first successful test was made on August 14. The place selected for trial was back of the village of Fairland, along the highway, where there are few trees in the way. It was 2 o’clock in the morning when the great white wings were spread, ready to leap through the air. The first trial was made with two bags of sand, each weighing 110 pounds, for ballast, in the ship. Ropes were attached to the machine to keep it from flying away, and then the engine that operated the four wheels were started.

When the ship was going as fast as the men holding the rope could run, Whitehead shut off the ground repelling engine and pulled open the throttle that started the air propellers. Almost instantly the low part of the ship was lilted and rose at an angle of six degrees. The two men with the ropes were tumbling over the hummocks in the field, while Whitehead waved his arms excitedly as he watched his invention rise into the air.

He had set the dial so the power shut off automatically, and in a few minutes, when the men with the ropes were almost exhausted, the ship settled to the ground as easily as a bird without injuring any of the mechanism.

That was only a preliminary, but it satisfied the inventor. Taking the ship back to the starting he threw out the sand ballast and got into it himself. The engines were carefully tested and every joint and rod in the structure carefully gone over. Whitehead was about to risk his life, but his confidence in his ship was so great he had no fear. Settling himself in the ship he opened the throttle of the ground propeller and was soon bounding over the ground at an alarming speed. The machine looked like a ship in a storm as it sped along on its crude wooden wheels but Whitehead kept his nerve and spread the great wings and started the propellers. As he did this the ship rose from the ground. A human being for the first time in the history of the world was flying through the air like a bird. Up the ship soared until it was about 50 feet from the ground and making a “chunk, chunk,” something like the noise of a threatening machine.

Everything was working just as the inventor had planned it should. But the danger was ahead for the ship was moving straight at a clump of chestnut trees on a little knoll. Whitehead saw the danger, but seemed powerless to avoid it, as it was too late to rise above the trees, high up in the knoll as they were, and the inventor had not thought of a plan to turn suddenly sideways.

According to Researcher, John Brown, this long though sketch of the flight was in reality a lithograph of a photograph taken by sports Editor Dick Howell the morning of Aug. 14th 1901.

According to Researcher, John Brown, this long though sketch of the flight was in reality a lithograph of a photograph taken by sports Editor Dick Howell the morning of Aug. 14th 1901.
(The Bridgeport (Connecticut) Sunday Herald)

To strike the trees meant destruction to the airship and probably death to its solitary passenger. But neither happened. Whitehead suddenly remembered how birds slanted their wings to turn and instinctively he turned to one side. This careened the ship and she turned her nose away and glided around them as prettily as a steam yacht answers her helm. This gave Whitehead confidence and he looked back and waved his arms. He had now soared through the air for more than half a mile and, satisfied with what be hat accomplished, shut off the power.

Without a dip or any indication of turning over, the ship settled down from a height of about 50 feet and lighted on the ground so gently that her passenger was not even jarred.

Another trial was made later and the ship sailed through the air without an accident for a mile and a half.

But all that was in the past, and Whitehead has his eyes and mind to the future. The new ship— before going into that, it will be interesting to tell something about this remarkable man who has conquered the eterual force of gravitation.

Whitehead is only 27 years old, and was born in Bavaria. To prove that he has an American heart, however, aside from speaking excellent English he dropped his real name, Weiskopf, about six months ago, and adopted the name she now uses. He came to New York a few years ago, and while working in a humble way, began making models of flying machines.

They were not successful. He refused to know what despair was, however, and, three years ago, went to Buffalo, where he was married, More machines were made there, but Whitehead could not make them fly.

From Buffalo he went to Pittsburg, Pa., where he kept on working and hoping. He made a machine in Pittsburg which, as he says, was more or less successful, but chiefly less, though improvement over former ones. About a year and a half ago he came to Bridgeport.

As he said to-day, he had no means to build the big machine he had in his mind then, but instead of giving up he took a position as night watchman and worked daytimes in a cellar building the ship that has crowned his efforts with success.

His savings were meager, and he used all on the machine, but the future looks brighter now, as Whitehead has a man with capital backing him. Who the man is Whitehead refuses to say and he was equally noncommittal in talking about his plans for the future.
But he admitted that his machine would be put on the market in a few mouths, perhaps, and said it was possible that the price would be as low as $1500 or $2000.

“I have no doubt flying machines will be as common as automobiles in a few years,” Whitehead said, “and before you and I are old men there will be more traveling in the air than on laud and water. At present it seems improbable that airships will be able to carry heavy cargoes, or even many people. I say it seems improbable, but it is not impossible.

“It is not safe nowadays, when so many wonderful things are being invented, to say anything is impossible. I am not prepared to say anything is impossible except perpetual motion. I have wasted no time trying to solve that problem, for it is beyond the power of man.”

While Whitehead was talking he opened a closet and took out a polished cylinder a little more than a foot long and about four inches in diameter.

Whitehead was a noted engine builder.

Whitehead was a noted engine builder.

“That weighs only about a pound and a half,” he said, “and it’s worth it’s weight in gold. Two of those will be used in the new engine I am building to operate the air propellers. That steel was made to order in England and there isn’t any better in the world. I have carefully considered aluminum, but decided steel was better, as it is much stronger in proportion to its weight.”

Whitehead became more interested as he talked, and told more about his new airship that was interesting.

“The engines will be the finest in the world,” he declared. “The one that will operate the air propellers will weigh only 25 pounds, but will generate 30 horse-power.
Isn’t that a triumph of mechanical skill? This engine, which will be about four feet long, will be placed across the bow of the boat, projecting over each side just as the engine did in the old boat.”

To show just how the engine would be placed, Whitehead walked into the old ship and showed where the old engine had been placed. As he did this he looked at the old engine lying on the ground and smiled.

“That isn’t like the new one will be,” he said, “but I built that old one myself in a cellar. I think I have a right to be proud of it. No, the weight of the engine forward does not overbalance the ship. That matter of balance was one of the most difficult problems to solve.

“Anybody that knows anything about a bird knows that its greatest weight is at its front, where the breasts are. The engine to propel the engine on land will lie in the bottom of the boat. It will weigh about 15 pounds, and will be of about 12 horse-power. One of the
chief reasons men have not been able to fly,” Whitehead said, as he looked meditatively at the parts of his new engine, “has been that they could not make an engine light enough. My engine will, create a power in proportion to its weight greater than the muscles of a bird’s wings, but in a bird the brain that directs the muscles weighs less than an ounce. If a man could use only his brain without the heavy part that goes with it, flying would not be so difficult.”

Whitehead declares that Santos Dumont has not accomplished anything remarkable in his airship.

Santos-Dumont's dirigible Number 6 circling the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Santos Dumont’s dirigible Number 6 circling the Eiffel Tower in Paris

“The only new thing about it,” he said, “is that he uses a gasoline motor. The balloon I.aFrance, in 1889, made five successful trips out of seven, returning to its starting place. Santos Dumont has nothing more than a balloon, a floating machine.

“Santos-Dumont did not fly around the Eiffel Tower, but floated around it. Any great speed with his machine is impossible, as the big hag offers too much resistance to the air. I do not believe he can make any headway against a wind blowing 15 miles an hour.

“My machine is entirely different in that respect, as it will fly better in a heavy wind than in light air. It will fly in any direction, too, just as a bird does, regardless of the wind, and will make fast time, even directly against it, soaring like a bird.”

There is nothing pretentious about Whitehead’s factory. In fact, one might easily pass it without notice. It is only 40 feet long and about 15 feet wide, and is crudely constructed with boards. In it, however, is some valuable machinery, and Whitehead says the place is big enough for the present. Adjoining it is a diminutive engine house about 15 feet square. In his little shop a dozen men are working on the day force and five at night.
— Galveston News.

Strong evidence has been given that Whitehead did fly. What do you think?


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