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The Octave Chanute Pages

Reprinted From
SEPTEMBER 11, 1896
pages 1 & 2 with some parts unavoidably missing.


Aeronauts Conduct a Successful Test at Millers, Ind.
Four of the Party Take an Involuntary Ride in Space
Flying Apparatus Carries Heavy Weight for Some Distance
Monster Contrivance of Inventor Paul Is to Be Launched Today
Owner Expects to Navigate the Device With Ease and Precision
Airship Test a Success - Huge Machine Flies

   Octave Chanute and his party of scientists who are experimenting with machines intended to overcome the law of gravitation and to support their operators in the air, conducted gratifying experiments yesterday at their camp a few miles south of Miller's, Ind. on the lake shore. The flying machine, or, more scientifically, the aeroplane, which has been invented by Mr. Chanute proved itself perfectly capable not only of floating in the air, but also of carrying with it a weight several times as great as it was designed to support. Although the machine has carried men before, under favorable circumstances, a much greater distance then it passed over yesterday, the experiment was one of the most satisfactory which has yet been accomplished.
   The conditions under which it was made, were most unfavorable and yet the machine surpassed the most sanguine expectations of its inventor.
   For several days the scientists at Miller's have been waiting for strong wind. It came yesterday, but was exactly opposite the direction to that which was desired. It was consequently with a feeling of surprise that his assistants heard Mr. Chanute order them to prepare his seven-winged machine for a test. Profiting by experts, however, they obeyed his orders implicitly and within a few minutes of long, the unwieldy appearing machine was hanging on a tree where the wind could catch it.


   As the breeze was blowing from the wrong direction, Mr. Chanute did not deem it advisable for any person to risk life or man(?) by becoming entangled in its meshes and he consequently had provided a huge bag of sand, which acted as ballast. Although the wind was strong, Mr. Chanute, determined to make the experiment, ordered rapes with which the flyer was secured, to be loosed. All the ropes were fastened by running slip knots, which were easily thrown off, but as soon as they were free of their anchors a most remarkable thing happened.
   Mr. Chanute, who was holding one corner of the airship by means of a long rope, was lifted into the air and Dr. Ricketts, Mr. Herring and Mr. Paul seemed quite likely to accompany him on a flight through the air. All four were dragged from the ground and carried a slight distance as the machine rose as majestically as a huge sea gull. The combined weight of the four scientists, however, soon brought it again to the ground, when it was speedily passed under control by furling the wings weighting down the framework and otherwise disabling it.
   After they had been rescued from their unexpected and perilous positions and after the machine which was the cause of the trouble had been safely continued, they made merry over the ludicrous positions in which they had seen each other.


   All were more than satisfied with the machine and it was with light hearts that they carried the imitation albatross, which has been constructed with careful reference to the anatomy of the South American bird, back to comp. The party then sat down to dinner and concluded to wait until a favorable wind prevails before trying to elaborate the machine of Mr. Paul. This will probably be given its first trial today unless the breeze is decidedly unfavorable. All of the party expect that Mr. Paul's machine will be the most successful of the three and the greatest interest is attached to its initial trip.
   The machine is provided with four corners, which will rest upon a chute erected on a sand hill. The upper end of the chute is ninety feet from the ground, while the lower end is seventy-seven feet from the lake level. The entire structure is 450 feet from the lake and it is confidentially expected that the aeronaut who rides in it, probably Mr. Paul Himself, will secure a good bath in Lake Michigan before he comes to the end of his journey. Mr. Paul is confident of success and his trial today will be witnessed by many who are neither scientists or newspaper men.


Three Models Used.
   The three machines which the party at Miller's is now experimenting with are the result of many years of careful study. Mr. Chanute has been greatly interested in the subject of air navigation for a considerable part of his life, and his main work since quitting railroad engineering, to which most of his professional attention has been given, has been a study of the problem as to whether a contrivance can be made which shall be supported by wind currents, without any artificial motor power. Mr. Chanute does not claim that his machine will be of any practical value, per se, however, that as soon as a device shall be successful in resisting the law of gravitation a great step toward successful air navigation will have been accomplished.
"Once let a machine be constructed," he says, "which will float in the air and the adding of the necessary motive power will be an easy matter."
   The first, and it may be added, one of the best of the machines which Mr. Chanute has constructed, is modeled closely upon the famous Lilienthal machine, by experimenting with which the well-known German aeronaut recently lost his life. For the first week that the campers have been making their outdoor experiments, the trials were confined to this machine. It is constructed on the same principle as a bat, the wings being exact imitations of the propelling instruments used by the proverbially blind animal. After several trials under more or less favorable conditions, it was determined that the machine could never be so regulated as to be safe and the second of the ideas was tried.


   This, although quite elaborate in construction, is simple in action and longer glides have been made with it than with any other air ship which modern times have produced. It may be possible that the ship would prove practical is a motor were attached to it, but Mr. Chanute is still unsatisfied.
   No person inexperienced in aeronautics would take the second airship for what it is. It is nearly, if not quite, six feet high, as many wide, and is perhaps four feet from back to front. In all it is provided with seven pairs of wings. Five of these pair are ranged above the other in perpendicular tiers at the front of the machine. The frame work upon which they are stretched is made of spruce and bamboo, is two and one-half feet long and a little more than fifteen inches wide.
   Behind the wings is an elaborately contrived frame work in which the person operating the machine is supposed to stand erect. Still farther back and a little lower than the center of the machine are the two sets of wings which act as rudders, and which may be used by cords attached to arms or legs. The entire structure weighs less than sixty pounds.
   While operating this airship, as indeed is the case with all of Mr. Chanute's inventions, the operator is expected to stand. This machine is so balanced that any considerable inclination toward the rear or front will pitch the person inside of it headlong to the front. It is this fault which Mr. Chanute is now developing his scientific resources to overcome. While no serious accidents has occurred in his experiments he is fearful that a sudden puff of wind or abatement of the breeze may cause a serious mishap, and for that reason he has been most careful about the experiments which he has so far made. Although he is too modest and cautious to say as much , it is evident that he regards this machine as the most perfect which he has invented since that of the Perugian Dante, and that he hopes in a short time to perfect it so that it will be practical to use with a motor.


   The third and by far the most elaborate machine of them all is not the invention of Mr. Chanute, but was devised by a young civil engineer who has been acting as an assistant to the older aeronaut. Like the other members of the party, he is a Chicagoan, and although a much younger man than his companions, has been experimenting with aerial navigation almost as long. He is William Paul and is regarded as an expert engineer by those who have had occasion to notice his work. Mr. Paul has some reason to be confident of success as his model has soared successfully with ballast for several minutes.
   In appearance his machine resembles the common idea of an airship much more closely than do either of Mr. Chanute's inventions. The machine looks like a huge canvas boat with an immense rudder and a flat roof. The framework, as in other airships, is spruce, although bamboo will probably be used in case the ship justifies the opinion formed from the actions of the model. Bamboo is much stronger as well as considerably lighter than the other wood and a framework made of it would require much smaller sails.
   Mr. Paul's ship consists of a boat 8 to 10 feet long, 31/2 feet wide and 4 feet deep. Two immense wings are attached to it by a framework six feet high and a rudder, which consists of a single sail, four feet long and half as wide, completes the fixture. The sails, as in the case of Mr. Chanute's machine are immovable, the rudder being the only part of the contrivance the position of which is not fixed.
   Like the other machines, the airship constructed by Mr. Paul is provided with no motor and will be managed, at least until wind and atmospheric pressure shall prove sufficient to support the framework and canvas, simply by natural air currents. If these prove sufficient for the purpose, almost any kind of a motor may be used, and by slightly enlarging the machine two, three or perhaps even four people may be carried. The ship, at present constructed for one man, weighs 180 pounds, nearly three times as much as any similar machine ever invented.


(ed.: 2 paragraphs missing.)

The town consists of a railroad station, twenty-two houses, a little school building, a general store and two saloons. There is not a sidewalk in the plAce and the two streets of the village are completely buried in sand.
   People in Miller have a vague idea that somebody, somewhere, is preparing a flying machine. Who, they do not know, where, they do not care, what sort of a machine, they do not know. They have agreed that the campers are crazy and give them no thought.


(ed.: 2 paragraphs missing.)

   The six tents are pitched in a valley protected on their side by immense sand piles 100 or more feet in height. Two of the machines, that of Paul's and the seven-winged affair of Chanute's, are exposed to view, while the third is anchored under a canvass tent.
As the visitor approaches, he is met by an erect and white haired gentlemen dressed in a suit of blue, with his handsome white locks covered with a yachting cap of the same shade. His eyes scan his visitor in a doubtful manner and he says nothing until the intruder breaks the ice.
"Professor Chanute, I presume?"  says the visitor.


"My name is Chanute," replies the man of science, "But I am not a professor. I am simply a student."
several paragraphs missing.
    Besides Mr. Chanute, the scientific party consists of two young civil engineers, F. O. Paul and H. T. Herring, and of Dr. Howard T. Ricketts of the Chicago Medical College, who will act as a surgeon to the party. All of them are scientifically educated, and none is a wild-eyed and one sided crank, such as are usually associated in the minds of most people with flying machines.


(ed.: several paragraphs missing.)

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