MUSINGS 2009 2007
Below is something from an
informal e-mail I had with Canadian kite historian, organizer and avid flyer -
Bob White. It was in response to ongoing discussions we have been having
regarding Dr Alexander Graham Bell's work with kites. This was not written
for publication so Bob of course would probably want to work with it more, and
no doubt he will in future work. But for now, is serves to prepare the
Here is Bob:
In addition, Bell was involved with Samuel Langley, the founder of the
Smithsonian Institution's Astrophysical lab and was influenced by him on matters
Langley was quite a scientist. Incidentally he made
infrared temperature observations of the upper atmosphere in 1890 that were the
basis for the first paper in the world (by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius in
1900) to identify the potential for a phenomenon known
as the "greenhouse effect": -how's that for being on the leading edge of
Langley's secondary passion was in aeronautics. He began
working diligently on practical aviation research in 1887 with the goal of
developing a powered aerodrome.
Langley was quite advanced in his work and was convinced
that building models of his concepts was the path to success. He was well ahead
of the Wrights in his thinking and designs at one point.
Langley spoke and visited frequently with Bell during
the winters in Washington. Mabel and Alex had him visit Beinn Bhreagh in the
summer of 1894 and again in 1901. During both visits extensive time was spent on
discussing the emerging principles and issues of controlled flight.
These discussions and the sharing of knowledge on the
emerging science of aeronautics greatly added to Bell's knowledge and commitment
to understand flight.
Many of Langleys' models were rubber band powered, but
the larger ones ran on captive steam.
Among the many issues that Langley and his staff worked
on was the matter of propeller design (pitch, radius, materials, etc.) as that
area was a great unknown and was of ultimate importance to successful flight as
Finally, after many successes with small models, a
large model (No.5) was put to the test on May 6, 1896. Flying under steam power,
launched from a small catapult on a boat the device was a huge success and flew
for a distance of 3/4 mile. In November his model aerodrome #6 flew successfully
for 5000 feet over the Potomac.
Bell was called upon to witness, photograph and document
by writing about the tests, which he did. Bell's international stature as a man
of science was important to Langley.
Langley had been heavily funded in his work by men of
science in Washington. Bell himself provided $5000 in 1891 as part of Langely's
fund raising efforts.
As a result of the successful flight of his large model,
photographed for documentation by Bell, the US War Department granted him
$50,000 and the Smithsonian provided $20,000 to have him develop piloted
versions of his flying machines. In all, Langley had over $85,000 for his aerial
work, a huge sum in that era.
Two attempts were made with full scale piloted version
of Langley's designs. Both were witnessed by Bell. Both failed, likely due to
faults with the catapult launch system. These two attempts were made on Oct. 7th
and Dec. 8th 1903.
Langley's pilot, Charles Manly, escaped both crashes due
to "soft" landings in the water of the Potomac River. This had a huge impact on
Bell's view regarding the safety of pilots.
The newspapers lambasted Langley's folly on Dec. 9 and
10, 1908 decrying the excessive waste of government funds and ridiculing
Langley. This too had a huge impression on Bell when he saw the press shape
public opinion to damage, almost irreparably, the reputation of a solid man of
Ironically, nine days after Manly splashed into the
water on board Langley's ill-fated aerodrome, the Wright brothers catapulted
their airplane to successful powered flights at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina
on Dec. 17, 1908.
Now, for your second question: how and when did Bell
become interested in flight?
Bell stated in a paper in 1914 that his interest in
flight began in 1874. He would have been 27 at the time.
In Mabel's writings about her courtship and again during
their honeymoon, she noted that Alex would marvel at the flight of gulls and
that he would talk to her about their wings and his observations of their
flight. She also remarked that he sometimes jotted notes about his observations.
Watson, Bell's associate on the telephone work recounted
that from the very beginning of their association Bell would discuss the
possibility of constructing a machine to fly like a bird and that once his work
would allow it, he would focus on that project. Watson also noted that Bell
studied birds to gain insight into flight and tha one one occasion when they
were walking Bell picked up a dead bird to take wing measurements and make note
I will date the Mabel Bell and Watson comments when I
get back to my library on Sunday.
Best regards - always great fun!
Sincerely, Bob White
PLEASE CHECK OUT MORE ABOUT BOB'S WORK AT:
Quote of the Day - "To have more - desire less."
May - Started off the month with a delightful visit to a home school in London
where we reviewed kite history and then had a kite fly.
That weekend, thanks to Bruce Crozier, MPP, Ontario's Minister of Culture was
kind enough to share Opening Day for the second season.
Proudly added more South American kites this year, and still looking for more.
We are working on arrangements for the Pelee Island
Monarch ButterFLY A KITE Weekend, September 12.
the Day: A
person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
Jean de La Fontaine, Famous French Poet
NEW EXHIBIT for 2009
(well known as Zeca das Pipas) pictured below.
2009 will feature more than a dozen handcrafted Brazilian kites by a man known
the world over as "Zeca", who very generously donated examples of the design and
skill of himself and his beautiful country of Brazil.
Since the early 70's Zeca das Pipas has been promoting
events trying to rescue one of the most popular Brazilian's entertainment form.
The partnership with mayors, shopping centers and culture foundations, helps him
to carry workshops and kite flying for many cities in Brazil.
It's very grateful see people's integration. Children and adults looking to so
many wonderful coloured forms at the sky: butterflies, boats, fishes, stars...
Sometimes made by themselves.
Please visit him at:
Feel free to email us if you have questions.