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Wilbur and Orville were arguing about propellers, Octave Chanute took a
business-and-pleasure trip to Europe that would have a profound impact on the Wrights in
later years. On April 2, 1903, while passing through France, Chanute addressed the Aero-Club
de France, a group of aeronautical engineers, experimenters, and enthusiasts that, up
'til then, had concentrated their efforts mostly on lighter-the-aircraft -- balloons and
dirigibles. He described his own work in heavier-than-aircraft and the gliding experiments
of the Wright brothers, particularly their wonderfully successful 1902 season.
member, Ferdinand Ferber, had already experimented with gliders loosely based on Wright
designs, and had been trying to enlist others in his endeavor. Chanute's speech persuaded
them. Ernest Archdeacon, a lawyer and balloonist, wrote, " Will the homeland of
Montgolfier suffer the shame of allowing this ultimate discovery of aerial science --
which is certainly imminent, and will constitute the greatest scientific revolution since
the beginning of the world -- to be realized abroad?" The honor of France was at
stake, and the French set out in hot pursuit of the Wright brothers.
Over the next three years, several French aeronautical enthusiasts would build and fly
many variations of the Wright glider design, including not only Ferdinand Ferber, but also
Ernest Archdeacon, Robert Esnault-Pelterie, Gabriel Voison, and Louis Bleriot. However,
none of these pioneers delved deeply into the Wrights extensive theoretical work, the
reasons behind their successful designs. In particular, they failed to grasp the
importance of control, which was the Wright path to success.
European aviation research, thus far, had concentrated on the illusive quest for an inherently
stable aircraft -- a craft that would remain pointed in the proper direction and
right side up ("pointy end forward and dirty side down," as the saying goes)
with little input from the pilot. Consequently, the French thought the Wright
control system was of secondary importance. They did not realize that the Wright gliders
were unstable aircraft, and that the Wright's success was largely due to
their ability to balance their craft in the air.
Later -- much later than the Wright brothers -- all of these Frenchmen would
develop successful powered airplanes, but only after the Wrights showed them how to
Click on a
photo to enlarge it.
Launching the 1902 Ferber glider, a crudely-made copy of the 1901 Wright
The 1904 Archdeacon glider was a copy of the 1902 Wright glider.
This glider, built by both Voisin and Archdeacon, borrowed from both Wright
designs and Lawrence Hargrave's work. Hargrave was an Australian experimenter who
invented the box kite in the 1890s.
The 1904 Esnault-Pelterie glider, also based on Wright designs, incorporated
rudimentary ailerons. (Technically, these were elevons since they were mounted
forward of the wing.) Later, ailerons would be used to circumvent the Wright's patents.