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The Octave Chanute Pages

Reprinted from 
NOVEMBER 18, 1898

A. M. Herring's motorized flight at St. Joseph, Michigan

A Flying Machine


M.C.Arnot of this City is Interested.



A St. Joseph, Mich, special correspondent of the CHICAGO RECORD, in a recent letter to that newspaper, says: 
  Although this neighborhood has been the scene of some recent experiments of possibly world-wide interest in their results, so ostentatiously have these experiments been conducted that outside of a few dwellers in the neighborhood, perhaps fewer than half a dozen persons know that the south bathing pavilion has been converted into an experimental shop, in which has been built a new flying machine; moving by reason of the power of its own engines and supporting not only the weight of the machine, but that of a full-grown man besides. These experiments are conducted by Professor A. M. Herring of New York city, a scientist of national reputation and an extensive writer on aeronautical subjects.

  When the RECORD correspondent presented himself at the pavilion a few days ago he found the professor in overalls, working over a small gasoline engine, which, he explained, operated the air compressor that supplied the storage tanks of the flying machine. Of greater interest, however, is the flying machine itself, which hung suspended by four wires from the ceiling. It consisted of two long surfaces or aerocurves, which resemble broad, shallow gutters turned upside down and spaced one above the other about a yard apart. These surfaces in themselves are marvels of construction. They are of the thinnest china silk, stretched over very light curved wooden ribs, and varnished with a transparent shrinking varnish, which stretches the silk without a single wrinkle, to the tightness of a drumhead. These surfaces are then trussed together, one above and one below by a number of upright posts. Then diagonal steel wires make the machine resemble a miniature bridge which by its extreme rigidity and lightness shows the highest skill of the mechanical engineer.

  Just above the lower surface of this is a small two-cylinder engine, weighing perhaps a dozen pounds, but which, if necessary, can develop four or five horse power. This engine turns two five-foot propellers, set parallel and situated one at the front and one at the rear of the machine. Below the engine is a small tank six or seven inches in diameter and about two feet long. This is filled with compressed air at a pressure of 500 pounds to the square inch, furnishing power to the engines. Even with the tank, about twenty inches below the bottom surface, are two small horizontal bars which in flight carry the operator's weight. Further out on each side and extending still farther down are four small upright posts which support the machine on skids. At the back of the whole machine are two surfaces intersecting at right angles and which are joined to the main apparatus to act as an automatic regulative mechanism.

  In a few minutes everything was in readiness for flight. The big door of the pavilion was raised and the machine, separated from the sail, was carried to the outside at the south end of the building. Here it was coupled to a brass tube from the air compressor and inside the gasoline engine was started. At first its action sounded like a number of pistol shots. These increased in rapidity until the exhausts turned into a deafening roar which continued about a quarter of an hour., when the required pressure was obtained in the tank. The tube was then uncoupled and the machine, with sail attached, was moved out into the open stretch, where it faced a twenty-five-mile wind.

  The propellers were now turning at a furious rate by force of the wind. Mr. Herring crawled underneath the apparatus and raised it so easily that it seemed to possess no weight at all. A few forward steps were made the engines shrieked and the machine leaped forward, an instant later sailing in free air, with the skids nearly a yard above the sand and the operator's legs drawn up in a bunch near the tank.

  It was really flying - already the machine covered a distance of fifty or sixty feet when the speed perceptibly slacked and a little farther on the apparatus came gently to rest on the sand. The distance covered was afterward measured at seventy-three feet and the time of flight was estimated by Herring at eight to ten seconds. He explained, however, that though this represents a speed of only five or six miles over ground, the real speed of the machine was more nearly thirty miles an hour, and it was advancing against a twenty-five mile wind. A second trial was attempted, but, as something went wrong with the compressor, it was abandoned for the day, and for the rest of the season.

  Mr. Herring expresses himself as well pleased with the results so far obtained and he expects to continue experiments with a machine capable of much longer flight next season. He feels that this experiment leaves little question of the possibility of building a machine which will fly and carry its operator. He considers it unlikely, however, that flying machines will ever carry freight or more than one or two persons at a time.

  "Though my struggles with the problem have been long in the time consumed, much of them can be told in a few words," said Mr. Herring. "I had always felt that the problem held no difficulty which engineering skill could not meet., and I began work on it, building some models which would fly."

  "In 1894, at a time when my means warranted, I began building steam models and experimenting in earnest to overcome difficulties, at first, not even suspected, but which proved more and more formidable as time went on. The work was expensive and became so absorbing as to cause neglect of other interests. This necessitated the abandonment, for a time, of all experiment and my working for a living. Later, my interests in the subject led me to take service with other experimenters, whose ideas differed radically from my own. I cast about in many directions for aid to continue my own experiments and met, as is usual in such cases, many disappointments. One newspaper even had my plans investigated by an expert, who reported them feasible, but nothing was done."

  The construction of the present machine and the furthering of these experiments, which may have brought the world within sight of a practical solution of a 2,000-year-old problem, Mr. Herring modestly says, are more largely due to M. C. Arnot of Elmira, N.Y., than to himself.

Newspaper and Eyewitness Accounts

1896 1897 1898
June 24 - Chicago Tribune
August 2 - Chicago Tribune September 5 - Times-Herald November 11 - Elmira, NY 
Daily Advertiser
September 8 - Chicago Tribune September 8 - Times-Herald
September 11 - Chicago Chronicle September 12 - Times-Herald
September 12 - Chicago Tribune
September 28 - Chicago Record
October 3 - Westchester Tribune