Langley Aerodrome

The Langley Aerodrome was a pioneering but unsuccessful manned, powered flying machine designed at the close of the 19th century by Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 Secretary Samuel Langley. The U.S. Army paid $50,000 for the project in 1898 after Langley's successful flights with small-scale unmanned models two years earlier.

Design and development

Langley coined the word "Aerodrome" and applied it to a series of engine-driven unmanned and manned tandem wing
Tandem wing
thumb|right|QAC Quickie Q2A tandem wing aircraft usually involves two full-sized wings, both of which are full airfoils. Sometimes an aircraft of this configuration can look like a variation on the biplane, but is in fact very different. The forward wing is often technically a canard, fitted with...

 aircraft that were built under his supervision by Smithsonian staff in the 1890s and early 1900s. The term is derived from Greek words meaning "air runner".

After a series of unsuccessful tests beginning in 1894, Langley's unmanned steam-driven model "number 5" made a successful 90-second flight of over half a mile about 25 miles an hour at a height of 80 to 100 feet on May 6, 1896. In November model "number six" flew more than 5,000 feet. Both aircraft were launched by catapult from a houseboat in the Potomac River
Potomac River
The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, located along the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States. The river is approximately long, with a drainage area of about 14,700 square miles...

 near Quantico, Virginia
Quantico, Virginia
- Demographics :As of the census of 2000, there are 561 people, 295 households, and 107 families living in the town. The population density is . There are 359 housing units at an average density of .-Racial composition:...

, south of Washington, D.C.

The full-scale Aerodrome, financed by the United States War Department and piloted by Langley's chief assistant Charles M. Manly
Charles M. Manly
Charles M. Manly was an American engineer who helped Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley build The Great Aerodrome, which was intended to be a manned, powered, winged flying machine....

, was launched the same way on October 7 and December 8, 1903. On both attempts the Aerodrome failed to fly and crashed into the Potomac River seconds after launch. Manley was pulled unhurt from the water each time. Nine days after the December 8 failure, the Wright Brothers flew into history with their four successful flights near Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk
Kitty Hawk or Kittyhawk may refer to:Places*Kitty Hawk, North Carolina*Kitty Hawk, is an area of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base*Kitty Hawk Air Society, an Honor Society for the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps programAirlines...

, North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

. The Aerodrome's internal combustion engine generated 53 horsepower, about four times that of the Wright brothers' gasoline engine of 1903. However, Langley had not properly appreciated the problems of calculating stress on an airframe or controlling an aircraft, and the Aerodrome broke up on launch. Langley made no further tests, and his experiments became the object of scorn in newspapers and the U.S. Congress.

With Smithsonian approval, Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Hammond Curtiss was an American aviation pioneer and a founder of the U.S. aircraft industry. He began his career as a bicycle then motorcycle builder and racer, later also manufacturing engines for airships as early as 1906...

 extensively modified the Aerodrome and made a few short flights in it in 1914, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to bypass the Wright Brothers' patent on aircraft and to vindicate Langley. Based on these flights, the Smithsonian displayed the Aerodrome in its museum as the first heavier-than-air manned, powered aircraft "capable of flight." This action triggered a feud with Orville Wright (Wilbur Wright had died in 1912), who accused the Smithsonian of misrepresenting flying machine history. Orville backed up his protest by refusing to donate the original 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer
Wright Flyer
The Wright Flyer was the first powered aircraft, designed and built by the Wright brothers. They flew it four times on December 17, 1903 near the Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S.The U.S...

 to the Smithsonian, instead donating it to extensive collections of the Science Museum
Science museum
A science museum or a science centre is a museum devoted primarily to science. Older science museums tended to concentrate on static displays of objects related to natural history, paleontology, geology, industry and industrial machinery, etc. Modern trends in museology have broadened the range of...

 of London in 1928. The dispute finally ended in 1942 when the Smithsonian published details of the Curtiss modifications to the Aerodrome and recanted its claims for the aircraft.


Two of Langley's scale model Aerodromes survive to this day. Aerodrome No. 5, the first Langley heavier-than-air craft to fly, is on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It was established in 1976. Located in Washington, D.C., United States, it is a center for research into the history and science of aviation and...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 Aerodrome No. 6 is located at Wesley W. Posvar Hall
Wesley W. Posvar Hall
Wesley W. Posvar Hall , formerly known as Forbes Quadrangle, is a landmark building on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. At it is the largest academic-use building on campus, providing administrative offices, classrooms, lecture halls, a food...

, University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh, commonly referred to as Pitt, is a state-related research university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. Founded as Pittsburgh Academy in 1787 on what was then the American frontier, Pitt is one of the oldest continuously chartered institutions of...

, and was restored in part by the Pitt engineering students
Swanson School of Engineering
The Swanson School of Engineering is the engineering school of the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1846, The Swanson School of Engineering is the second or third oldest in the United States.- History :...

. Fabric on the wings and tail is the only new material, although the tail and several wing ribs were rebuilt using vintage wood from the same time period provided by the Smithsonian. Langley had been an astronomy professor at the university before he ascended to the Smithsonian's top job.

The man-carrying Aerodrome survived after being rebuilt and tested by Curtiss and was converted back to Langley's original 1903 configuration by Smithsonian staff. It occupied a place of honor in the Smithsonian museum until 1948 when the Institution welcomed home the original 1903 Wright Flyer from the UK. Afterward, the Aerodrome resided out of view of the public for many years at the Paul Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland. Today it is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum 's annex at Washington Dulles International Airport in the Chantilly area of Fairfax County, Virginia, United States....

 in Chantilly, Virginia.

See also

  • History of aviation
  • Manly-Balzer engine
  • Wright Flyer - Debate with the Smithsonian

External links

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