Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/466

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THE experiments undertaken by the Smithsonian Institution upon an aerodrome, or flying machine, capable of carrying a man have been suspended from lack of funds to repair defects in the launching apparatus without the machine ever having been in the air at all. As these experiments have been popularly, and of late repeatedly, represented as having failed, on the contrary, because the aerodrome could not sustain itself in the air I have decided to give this brief though late account, which may be accepted as the first authoritative statement of them.

It will be remembered that in 1896 wholly successful flights of between one half and one mile by large steam-driven models, unsupported except by the mechanical effects of steam engines, had been made by me. In all these the machine was first launched into the air from "ways," somewhat as a ship is launched into the water, the machine resting on a car that ran forward on these ways, which fell down at the extremity of the car's motion, releasing the aerodrome for its free flight. I mention these details because they are essential to an understanding of what follows, and partly because their success led me to undertake the experiments on a much larger scale I now describe.

In the early part of 1898 a board, composed of officers of the army and navy, was appointed to investigate these past experiments with a view to determining just what had been accomplished and what the possibilities were of developing a large-size man-carrying machine for war purposes. The report of this board being favorable, the Board of Ordnance and Fortification of the War Department decided to take up the matter, and I having agreed to give without compensation what time I could spare from official duties, the board allotted $50,000 for the development, construction and test of a large aerodrome, half of which sum was to be available immediately and the remainder when required. The whole matter had previously been laid before the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution, who had authorized me to[1]

  1. Dr. Langley's pioneer experiments in aerial navigation are of such contemporary interest that we reproduce this article, written shortly before his death, and printed in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1904.