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Lana antedated the modern propeller, and realised that the air would offer enough resistance to oars or paddle to impart motion to any vessel floating in it and propelled by these means, although he did not realise the amount of pressure on the air which would be necessary to accomplish propulsion. As a matter of fact, he foresaw and provided against practically all the difficulties that would be encountered in the working, as well as the making, of the aerial ship, finally coming up against what his religious training made an insuperable objection. This, again, is best told in his own words:—
There was never a more enthusiastic and consistent student of the problems of flight than Otto Lilienthal, who was born in 1848 at Anklam, Pomerania, and even from his early school-days dreamed and planned the conquest of the air. His practical experiments began when, at the age of thirteen, he and his brother Gustav made wings consisting of wooden framework covered with linen, which Otto attached to his arms, and then ran downhill flapping them. In consequence of possible derision on the part of other boys, Otto confined these experiments for the most part to moonlit nights, and gained from them some idea of the resistance offered by flat surfaces to the air. It was in 1867 that the two brothers began really practical work, experimenting with wings which, from their design, indicate some knowledge of Besnier and the history of his gliding experiments; these wings the brothers fastened to their backs, moving them with their legs after the fashion of one attempting to swim. Before they had achieved any real success in gliding the Franco-German war came as an interruption; both brothers served in this campaign, resuming their experiments in 1871 at the conclusion of hostilities.
With the multiple winged glider some two to three hundred glides were made without any accident either to the man or to the machine, and the action was found so effective, the principle so sound, that full plans were published for the benefit of any experimenters who might wish to improve on this apparatus. The American Aeronautical Annual for 1897 contains these plans; Chanute confessed that some movement on the part of the operator was still required to control the machine, but it was only a seventh or a sixth part of the movement required for control of the Lilienthal type.
‘During my work I had a few carping critics that I silenced by this standing offer: If they would deposit a thousand dollars I would cover it on this proposition.119 I would fasten a 150 pound sack of sand in the rider’s seat, make the necessary adjustments, and send up an aeroplane upside down with a balloon, the aeroplane to be liberated by a time fuse. If the aeroplane did not immediately right itself, make a flight, and come safely to the ground, the money was theirs.
‘The enormous screw-thrust started the engine so quickly that it nearly threw the engineers off their feet, and the machine bounded over the track at a great rate. Upon noticing a slight diminution in the steam pressure, I turned on more gas, when almost instantly the steam commenced to blow a steady blast from the small safety valve, showing that the pressure was at least 320 lbs. in the pipes supplying the engines with steam. Before starting on this run, the wheels that were to engage the upper track were painted, and it was the duty of one of my assistants to observe these wheels during the run, while another assistant watched the pressure gauges and dynagraphs. The first part of the track was up a slight incline, but the machine was lifted clear of the lower rails and all of the top wheels were fully engaged on the upper track when about 600 feet had been covered. The speed rapidly increased, and when 900 feet had been covered, one of the rear axle trees, which were of two-inch steel tubing, doubled up and set the131 rear end of the machine completely free. The pencils ran completely across the cylinders of the dynagraphs and caught on the underneath end. The rear end of the machine being set free, raised considerably above the track and swayed. At about 1,000 feet, the left forward wheel also got clear of the upper track, and shortly afterwards the right forward wheel tore up about 100 feet of the upper track. Steam was at once shut off and the machine sank directly to the earth, embedding the wheels in the soft turf without leaving any other marks, showing most conclusively that the machine was completely suspended in the air before it settled to the earth. In this accident, one of the pine timbers forming the upper track went completely through the lower framework of the machine and broke a number of the tubes, but no damage was done to the machinery except a slight injury to one of the screws.’
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