Chapter 1 - HISTORY

- Marshall Ferdinand Foch
professor of strategy, Ecole Superieure deGuerre

Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.
- Lord Kelvin
president of the Royal Society, 1895

Introduction - return to top
The history of aircraft modeling is closely linked with the history of aviation. It's interesting to note the effect that the two have on one another. Early experimenters often tested their ideas and fortunes with full sized aircraft. This all or nothing approach sometimes failed to identify the cause of failure. Testing with small, expendable models was found to save both time and money. As the causes of failure began to be isolated and identified, component testing contributed to the store of knowledge. An example of such tests is the preliminary work done by Phillips on airfoils, followed by wind tunnel airfoil studies by the Wright brothers.

In the following discussion we will review the findings of some of the key players and the principles that apply to our modeling and flying activity. Emphasis will be placed upon the period from 1809 to 1943.

We are fortunate that knowledgeable writers have produced historical documentation from time to time within this period that serve as milestones on the path of progress in the design of "flying machines."

These documents are found on Web sites or as published books. Do not be put off by references made to out-of-print books. One can often obtain them for review through interlibrary loan. Many libraries have placed their catalogs on the computer and online. Most will have links to Word Cat, an international catalog of books that can be made available to you. If you want to purchase referenced out-of-print books, check with your local bookstore or see Web sites such as:

1.1 CAYLEY'S ON AERIAL NAVIGATION - 1809 - return to top Sir George Cayley published a paper with the above title on September 6, 1809 in Nicholson's Journal. He argues against the prevalent ornithopter model (flapping wings) and outlines a fixed wing aircraft that incorporates a separate system for propulsion and a tail to assist in the control of the airplane. Cayley's paper can be seen at:

Cayley was the first to identify the four aerodynamic forces of flight: weight, lift, drag and thrust, and their relationship. He was also the first to build a successful human-carrying glider. Cayley was the first investigator to apply the research methods and tools of science and engineering to the solution of problems of flight.

In his articles, he shows that lateral stability is easily secured by placing the wings at a slight dihedral angle to each other. He also shows that in order to secure longitudinal stability: 1 "The center of gravity must be made to occupy a position directly under the center of pressure." 2 "The aeroplane requires, to steady it, a rudder in similar position to the tail of the bird." (Quote from Progress in Flying Machines, part 6 of Aeroplanes November 1892)

In 1799 Cayley designed a configuration that had a fixed wing, a fuselage, a cruciform tail with surfaces for vertical and horizontal control, and revolving vanes that were a precursor to the propeller. By 1804 he was producing model gliders that were similar to modern aircraft. The evolution of these models can be seen at: 1.2 CHANUTE'S PROGRESS IN FLYING MACHINES - 1891 - return to top Starting in October, 1891 Octave Chanute published a series of articles in The Railroad and Engineering Journal regarding the above subject. The series continued for twenty-seven issues. The content featured the work of dozens of pioneers in the field, describing their incremental successes and failures, "to save the waste of effort on the part of experimenters involved in trying again devices which have already failed." To see this entire series go to: The series is divided into three sections: 1.2.1 Wings and Parachutes - return to top Some success was had with rubber-powered model ornithopters. Human-powered flapping wing experiments are tried and failed. The conclusions reached by Cayley fifty years previously had been forgotten, as Chanute has stated earlier. ("to save the waste of effort") 1.2.2 Screws to Lift and Propel - return to top This section covers helicopter-like vanes and rudimentary propellers. The vertical lift "screws" worked well for experimental models and toys, but not for human flight. M. Launoy and M. Bienvenu experimented with feather-vaned, bow driven helicopters in 1784. But it took Alphonse Penaud, in 1870 to substitute twisted rubber energy to make the concept effective. 1.2.3 Aeroplanes - return to top In this section we see the screws used to propel the craft horizontally. John Stringfellow flew a steam-powered model indoors for forty yards in 1846 In Progress in Flying Machines/Aeroplanes/Part 6 we find Alphonse Penaud again. In 1871 he has designed a landmark rubber-powered model called a Planophore. To compensate for the effects of propeller torque he added weight to one of the wings. Later he resolved the torque problem by twisting the wing's airfoil. (wash-in or wash-out) Penaud republished the work of Cayley (see 1.1) For more on the Planophore, including drawings, see: www.flying For model plans for both Cayley's glider and Penaud's Planophore see: In Progress in Flying Machines/Aeroplanes/Part 7 we find M. V. Tatin. In 1879 he successfully flew a model powered by compressed air. The model was tethered to a central pole by two cords. Its two propellers enabled it to rise from the ground and fly for about fifty feet, and then the air supply, contained in a tubular fuselage, ran out. In modeling terms, it sounds like a round the pole (RTP), rise off ground (ROG) flight back in 1879. In Part 10 H. F. Phillips' airfoil patented shapes are featured, including drawings from the 1884 patent. Phillips favored curved airfoils with concave lower surfaces as did Otto Lilienthal, famous for his glider experiments. In part 13 Lilienthal's gliding experiments are featured. His experiments were directed toward understanding "the conditions governing mechanical flight as demonstrated by birds." [Otto Lilienthal, Birdflight As The Basis of Aviation, Markowski Publ., Hummelstown, PA, 2001, originally published in 1889] In this part there is a thirty-point list of Lilienthal's conclusions arrived at through his experiments. Although later experimenters were able to refine his findings, some think of his as the "father of gliding experiments." In part 16 Chanute provides a detailed account of the work of Australian Lawrence Hargrave. Hargrave designed and built eighteen flying models of increasing size. The first eight, through 1889, were powered by stretched (not twisted) rubber bands. In 1890 numbers ten and twelve were powered by compressed air. Number twelve flew 343 feet. An interesting sidelight is Hargrave's work with kites. They were of a box-kite configuration. He noted that his kites with horizontal surfaces of curved section had almost twice the lift of those with a flat section. (Score another one for Phillips and Lilienthal.) Also see: Octave Chanute concludes his series, Progress in Flying Machines, with a list of ten problems confronting experimenters on the road to controllable, stable flight as of 1893. Aside from the obvious lift, drag, thrust and propeller design the rest are control and more control. He thinks that: ⋅ Two to five degrees of the angle of wing incidence are most advantageous. (Similar to modern model practice) ⋅ Steam engines (at that time) have better thrust to weight ratio than, "gas or petroleum engines for aerial purposes." ⋅ "screw propellers" are better than "reaction jets" or "waving wings" (imagine his reaction if he could see a modern jet). ⋅ "maintenance of the equilibrium (stability) is now the most important and difficult of those (problems) remaining to be solved," and "the guidance, the starting up, and the alighting, as well as the combination of these several solutions into one homogeneous design." In Chanute's conclusion, he makes a brief reference to "professor Langley's experiments." Here, we will provide more detail regarding those experiments. Samuel P. Langley began "experiments in aerodynamics" in 1887. This led to construction of rubber powered models he called aerodromes. He built, or directed the construction of, over one hundred models in his series. Photographs of some of these models can be seen at: In 1891 Langley started to experiment with steam engine-powered models. Marginal success was found with a fourth design, but the fifth design flew for 3,300 feet in 1896. In 1897 he decided to conclude his experiments. But, in 1898 he agreed to president McKinley's request that he solicit funds to develop a man-carrying design. He again used a series of models in the process. The public perception that all model aircraft are toys has always been a problem. Professor Langley's 1901 gas-powered model weighed 58 pounds. He was discouraged from flying it because some small-minded men, whose names are fittingly lost to us, chided the head of so illustrious an institution as the Smithsonian for fussing with toy airplanes. [1982 Model Airplane News Annual, 42] Unfortunately the final man-carrying design that Langley developed crashed on takeoff on December 8, 1903, just days before the Wright brothers achieved success with their first controlled flights on December 17th. See the following for more details: In addition to cataloging the work of others Octave Chanute conducted gliding experiments on his own designs in 1896. See: He was also a trusted correspondent with the Wright brothers 1.3 THE WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT PAPERS - 1881 TO 1952 - return to top The Wright papers can be found on line at: This treasure trove of historical information consists of almost 50,000 images spanning the years 1881 to 1952. Of particular interest is the correspondence between Wilbur and Octave Chanute. Although Wilbur Wright did not keep copies, Chanute preserved all of Wilbur's letters. It's very interesting to see and read these letters with the letterhead of the Wright Cycle Company and hand written by Wilbur Wright. One of the elements leading to flight control is the Wright's linkage of wing warping to rudder movement. A terse exchange between Wilbur and Octave regarding this can be found at: Click browse by series; click Octave Chanute Papers, 1902-10; click 1903; click view paper images; click next image until you find July 14, 1903 On page 3 Wilbur takes exception to "twines leading to the aviator." But on July 24, 1903 he explains the wire linkage and patent implications of revealing the information. In his December 28, 1903 letter Wilbur thanks Chanute for "Christmas rememberances", talks about problems with axles and installing new systems and finally - gets around to describing the four historic flights made on December 17th, 1903. This is followed up with a telegram, "We are giving no pictures nor descriptions of machine or methods at present." Signed Wilbur Wright. Chanute writes on the back of the telegram, "W. Wright Dec28/03 give no information now." 1.4 WILLIAM J. JACKMAN'S BOOK - 1910 - return to top [Flying Machines: Construction and Operation, W.J. Jackman. The Charles C. Thompson Company, Chicago, 1910] This book contains a very detailed account of the state of the art in 1910. Jackman compares the design approach and construction features of leading experimenters and manufacturers. Useful drawings and photographs are included. The book's text (only) is also available on the Web at: Chapter one of this book was written by Octave Chanute. Chanute quotes F. H. Wenham, "Two or more aeroplanes are arranged one above the other, and support a framework or car containing the motive power." In this case an aeroplane is a wing. Early experimenters used a flat wing section. Geometrically, the wing formed a plane surface. The flat wing was raised at the leading edge providing lift as it moved through the air. It was an aeroplane. Eventually the term was transferred to the entire aircraft. It became an airplane. Other early terms include: Drift - the resistance of the plane to forward movement (drag). Sustaining surface - extent of wings or planes, which lend support to an aeroplane. Head resistance - drag Scale reduction model - scale model Equilibrator - a plane or other contrivance which makes for stability Nacelle - the car of a dirigible balloon, literally a cradle Guy - a brace, usually a wire or cord used for tuning up the aeroplane Fusilage - Fuselage For a brief overview of the 1903 to 1913 period featuring aircraft and their designers see: 1.5 FRANCIS A. COLLINS' BOOK - 1910 - return to top [The Boys' Book of Model Airplanes, Francis A. Collins, The Century Co., 1910] This book captures the enthusiasm during the surge of interest following the early manned flights of the Wrights and others. Space allows only a few quotes: "Thoughout the country today upward of ten thousand boy aviators are struggling with the problems of the airship." There are fifty-one illustrations, mostly photographs, of some of the most bizarre and widely different shapes of rubber powered models seen anywhere. Some are designed for distance travel and others for speed. Some models feature extreme fuselage lengths to accommodate as long a rubber motor as possible. A few capture the odd characteristics of the full-scale aircraft of the period. These include multiple wings sprouting from various fuselage locations, vertical (rudder or fin) surfaces are found forward, aft or below the fuselage center. Horizontal stabilizing surfaces are also found at the rear for tractor (propeller at front) models and on the front for canard models. When modelers found that the canard configuration provided better stall recovery it became very popular. In 1910 we see just the beginning of the A-frame twin pusher canards. To learn more about twin pusher type models see: The A-frame and other variations of twin pushers continued to be dominant until the 1920s. As for competition, "the junior aero world has its prizes, which are scarcely less coveted than the rewards for actual flight. Some fifty medals have been distributed this year among the members of the New York Junior Aero Club. Many elaborate trophies will be contended for during 1910 by the junior aeronauts of the county. A handsome silver cup of special design has been presented by Mr. Leo Stevens, and a second by Mr. Sidney Bowman, while similar trophies are offered by Commodore Marshall, O. Chanute, and others." This book went through several editions, the last being 1941. In addition, Francis Collins also published [The Second Boys' Book of Model Aeroplanes, The Century Co., 1911]. This book also included how-to information and "rules for conducting model aeroplane contests." 1.6 HISTORICAL NOTES REGARDING MODELING IN ENGLAND - return to top Wide interest in aviation started when the Wright brothers brought their "Model A" flier to Europe in 1908. Two other events that popularized the airplane were Bleriot's crossing of the English Channel and the air meet at Rheims in 1909. >From about 1909 some of the airminded started to make scale models of the aircraft of the day but they did not fly well. This led to non-scale models designed for performance. The T-frame and A-frame pushers were the most effective types developed. (As noted in the United States at 1.5 above) Later, the development of models similar to full size counterparts and the tractor configuration emerged. In 1914 trophies such as the Farrow Shield, Sir John Shelly Cup, Pilcher Cup and the Gamage Cup were competed for. In addition to these trophies Sir Charles Wakefield had already presented a cup for rubber-driven model airplanes. After World War 1 interest in model aviation greatly increased. After World War 2, the small compression-ignition (diesel) engine had been perfected - it was designed by the French "Micron" company as a prime mover for electrical generators for use by the Resistance movement. As an engine for a model aircraft it proved eminently suitable. Heavy ignition equipment was unnecessary. Later Bill Atwood in the United States invented the glow plug, which also eliminated the need for the heavy batteries, coil and condenser associated with spark ignition. For additional details see: Go to the essay - Reading and District Model Aircraft Club. 1.7 LOUIS H. HERTZ'S BOOK - 1967 - return to top [The Complete Book of Model Aircraft Spacecraft and Rockets, Louis H. Hertz, Bonanza Books, New York, 1967] This book is a key documentation milestone on the path of progress in the design of flying machines that was referred to at 1.0. It is highly recommended. 1.7.1 In Chapter 9 entitled, "The Story of Model Aircraft" Hertz takes us through the Cayley to Wright Brothers period of pioneer experimentation. The Dawn of the American Model Flying Machine begins on page 212. Some excerpts from the following pages: 1909 - The White Aeroplane Co. (later called the Wading River Mfg. Co.) offered for sale kits, materials and accessories as well as assembled (RTF) scale flying models. 1910 - The Chicago Aeronautical Supply Co. sold model airplane plans. 1911 to 1945 - The Ideal Aeroplane and Supply Co. sold model airplane kits and parts during this time. This Hertz book chapter contains a list of more than twenty manufacturers that were active during this period. 1.7.2 ABOUT MODEL AERO CLUBS: - return to top Hertz says, "The earliest history of model airplane clubs in the United States remains a bit obscure and even somewhat contradictory." Some say the first emerged in 1907, by 1916 there were at least twenty-five model airplane clubs active in the United States." The following two organizations serve to illustrate the impact that clubs had at the time. THE NEW YORK MODEL AERO CLUB "H. Walter Maass, the first Secretary-Treasurer of the club places the date (of the formation of the club) as late 1909. Some accounts cite 1910." "The main spring (to the establishment of the club) was Edward Durant. He was connected with the Junior Aero Club of America by 1910, at about the same time he was launching the New York Model Aero Club." This club had many notable members who went on to become pioneers not only of model flight but of full size aviation as well." THE ILLINOIS MODEL AERO CLUB (IMAC) "The Illinois Model Aero Club was based in Chicago, founded in 1911, it is the oldest (current) model club in the United States." "Its members dominated most of the events in organized model aviation, roughly from World War 1 until 1930. When the parent organization, the Aero Club of Illinois, was unable to continue to finance the member's trips to various distant competitions, three men, Charles Dickenson, Joseph J. Lucas and Walter L. Brock are said to have contributed to the club's success." Dickenson financed many aeronautical activities. He sparkplugged the Aero Club of Illinois and, in turn, the Illinois Model Aero Club. Joseph J. Lucas promoted and publicized the club. He published many of the club's member's designs in Boys Life Magazine. The book [Flying High, Franklin K. Mathiews, Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1930] was written in association with the Boy Scouts. It contained six plans and articles written by Lucas. Two were reprints of Boys Life articles. Four were about models designed by IMAC members. Of the six, four were A-frame twin pushers and two were tractors. Walter L. Brock was a mechanical engineer. "He acted at Mr. Dickenson's request to devote himself to working with and teaching the boys and young men of the IMAC, with the result that the club members were accumulating a seemingly unaccountable number of model airplane championship records." I am pleased to report that one of Brock's protégés, Don Lockwood, remains a member of the IMAC at the time of writing. Ed Mate, president of IMAC writes the following: "Lockwood relates, by 1927 Mr. Brock had me competing in weekly duration events using tractors similar to today's long stick models. In thermal weather I could beat the IMAC old guard's best twin pushers. Mr. Brock kept me on experiments to be sure that I would take the Mulvihill and Wakefield Trophys in the 30s." "The IMACs held thirty-six world records between 1925 and 1930. Don held thirteen of them at age fifteen." (Note to clubs worldwide: We must record the oral histories of members such as this before it is too late.) 1.7.3 CHARLES HAMPSON GRANT - return to top In the 1930s a long series of articles by Grant in the magazine Model Airplane News is said to have made tractor models, including scale flying models, practical. Grant says, "This data I correlated and published in article form in Model Airplane News while I was editor, 1931 to 1943. Later I put these articles in book form, which was published in 1941." The book is: [Model Airplane Design and Theory of Flight, Charles Hampson Grant, Air Age Inc., New York, 1941]

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Copyright 2005, Robert S. Munson. All Rights Reserved