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The Octave Chanute Pages

Reprinted from 
THE CHICAGO TIMES-HERALD, Vol.17, 
Wednesday Morning, September 8, 1897 
Page 2


HOW IT FEELS TO FLY

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REPORTER TRIES AN AEROCURVE

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With One of A. M. Herring's Flying Machines He Soars 
110 Feet on the First Trial -- Description of His Experience.


   Any man endowed with an average amount of nerve, a cool head and a quick eye and a fair muscular development, can soar through the air nowadays, provided he is equipped with a ma-chine like the one being used by A. M. Herring among the sand dunes near Dune Park, Ind. All that is necessary for him to do is to seize the machine with a firm grasp, say a prayer, take a running jump into space and trust to luck for finding a soft place when he alights. His chances of getting hurt are about one in a thousand in his favor, while having more sport to the second than he ever dreamed possible.

   Mr. Herring has been making flights with his machine for more than a week. Last year with a machine almost identical in construction he made daily experiments in flying for over a month. He made several hundred ventures into the air, ranging over distances from 100 to 600 feet, and in none of them did he receive as much as a scratch. William A. Avery, who was one of the party to which Mr. Herring belonged, took the same risk fully as many times, and he, too, has yet to spend a cent for arnica or court plaster as a result of his seeming recklessness.

Reporter Takes a Flight

  
With all these arguments before him in favor of the docility of the flying machine, a reporter for Time TIMES-HERALD persuaded himself yesterday afternoon that he would like to hitch himself to the airy steed and try conclusions with a fish eagle that circled over his head a mile or so. He had witnessed the success of Mr. Herring half a dozen times. It looked so very easy. Just a little jump off the end of a plank, and then a swift glide downward for 200 or 300 feet in the space of five seconds, a gentle drop on the soft sand, and it was all over. It was a thousand per cent better fun to look at than shooting the chutes.

   It was not a good day for coasting on the air, although Mr. Herring had found the conditions suitable for several very interesting and successful demonstrations of the merits of the machine. The wind was blowing from the south at the rate of eighteen or twenty miles an hour, but it blew irregularly. This was unfavorable to the making of any long flights, and the best he could do was to fly about 300 feet from his starting point on the crest of a sand hall. He was about to conclude his experiments for the day when the feasibility of a greenhorn making a flight was suggested, and the machine was placed in the hands of the young man who made the suggestion.

Getting Ready to Start

   One will never know what it is to sail through the air at a speed of thirty or forty miles an hour, sometimes at a height of ten feet and at the next moment three times as high, until he has tackled the aerocurve, or gliding machine. The first step is to get under the apparatus, and, after all, this is the most difficult part of the performance. The machine weighs only twenty-three pounds, but it is as big as the bay window of a cottage and has an alarming tendency to topple over on a man's head at a critical moment. With but two small upright sticks to grasp and a frail wooden bar under each arm on which to support the weight of the body one is not deeply impressed with the stability of the machine on coming into actual contact.

   Once underneath the machine one finds himself standing on a wide plank which rests on the sloping side of a sand hill. The hill is about 100 feet high and steep enough to test the lungs and legs of the strongest man. You face the wind as squarely as possible and shift the machine to and fro until you feel that it is balanced fairly on your arms. You are suddenly aware that the broad expanse of varnished silk above your head is pulling on your arms and trying to get away from you with each gust of the freshening wind. At the same time you remember the caution to keep the front edge of the machine depressed until the instant of your departure from earth

Hard Work to Start

   It becomes necessary to start, of course, if one wants to fly. Just at this time, when one finds himself starting down the side of a steep hill and sees a stump sticking out of the sand at the bottom, he wonders whether he will hit or miss it in his downward flight . He sees a small tree, and shudders at the thought of landing in its top. One of his friends about half way down the hill suddenly comes within the range of his vision, and his cautioned to move a half mile to the side. In the meantime a sickening fear comes over one that he may lose his balance and plow a long and deep furrow in the sand with his nose. 

   The wind grows stronger, and blows with surprising steadiness. Somebody -- one can't turn his head to see who it is -- mutters that the wind is just right, and that it is a good time to start. Grasping the uprights with a grim determination to never let loose, and drawing a deep breath, one takes four or five running steps down the plank and jumps off, expecting to drop like a stone to the sand. To his surprise and pleasure he experiences about the same sensations felt by a man when taking his first ascension in an elevator. There is the same queer feeling of being lifted from beneath and a corresponding exhilaration as the sense of motion is realized.

   As the machine mounts in the air one sees the ground sinking beneath. He imagines he is a hundred feet in the air, and begins to wonder if he will ever come down and be able to see his folks again in this world.

Ups and Downs of Flying

   The thought no sooner comes when the machine suddenly begins to descend with lightning speed. The wind rushes in the face of the operator like a hurricane and hums through the network of fine wire that forms part of the framework with a high, shrill note. There is a rustling sound, as of sand rushing over the white silk surfaces that sustain the machine in the air. All of these things are noted in a moment of dread, for the earth is rising all the time, as though to strike one.

   Just as one stretches his legs out expecting to plant his feet on something solid, the wind suddenly lifts the machine again toward the sky. As it mounts upward one's confidence returns. It is not so dangerous after all, just as Mr. Chanute and Mr. Herring and Mr. Avery said, and the possibility of flying across the valley and returning to the starting point is mentally revolved. Then the bottom of every-thing seems to have dropped out, and one realizes that the wind is not blowing at all. The machine settles down slowly and steadily, and to the disappointment of the operator his feet strike the sand. His experience in the air is over.

   He turns around and looks up the side of the hill, feeling that he has traveled at least a thousand yards. When the tapeline is brought out, however, he is somewhat disgusted to find that he is only 110 feet away from his starting point. He wonders how this can be, when he was up in the air at least ten minutes. Then he receives another shock, when he is told that his flight lasted just five seconds. He still fails to understand, knowing positively that he was at least 100 feet up in the air, but some  of the observers tell him that he was never more than thirty feet above the earth. This is the funny part of coasting on the air when one is beginning. It's different when you know how.

   Mr. Herring expects to break camp to-day and return to the city. He is satisfied that nothing more can be accomplished for the benefit of science by continuing the experiments with the machine which he and Octave Chanute have jointly invented. He expects before many months, however, to make a practical test of a motor in connection with the machine. If it works, Mr. Herring says, the problem of mechanical flight will be solved.

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