Some Aeronautical Experiments

identifier: 2014031 WRIGHT AND BADEN-POWELL

Some Aeronautical Experiments, by Wilbur Wright. Introduction by Octave Canute. 16 pages plus four (numbered) plates of the Wright Brothers’ gliders (one on each side of two leaves) featuring 8 photographs. Published Washington: Smithsonian 1903.


Recent Aeronautical Progress, an essay by Lord Baden-Powell. 12 printed pages. Published Washington: Smithsonian 1903.

Newly bound in hard covers, cover size: 157 x 235mm.

I find it difficult to write about the early experiments of the Wright Brothers without sounding overly portentous. It seems impossible to overestimate the achievements of these two methodical, determined and self-funded bicycle-makers, who swapped wheels for wings. And it seems ironic that this reprint appeared in the Report of the Smithsonian Institution (published in 1903), which at that time was behind the hugely expensive work (financed by the United States War Department) of Samuel Pierpont Langley, Secretary of the Institution, whose full-size Aerodrome would twice fail on launching, that same year.

It’s fascinating to read Wilbur’s account of the brothers’ initial gliding experiments, written some two years before their first historic powered flight, in a printing that also pre-dates their December 1903 triumph. Always calm and serious in public, we learn of the brothers’ private excitement in their attempts to record their achievements. Wilbur mentions one of the illustrations, commenting: ‘looking at this picture you will readily understand that the excitement of gliding experiments does not entirely cease with the breaking up of camp. In the photographic darkroom at home we pass moments of thrilling interest as any in the field, when the image begins to appear on the plate and it is yet an open question whether we have a picture of a flying machine or merely a path of open sky.’ He predicts: ‘It is probably that an engine of 6 horsepower, weighing 100 pounds, would answer the purpose. Such an engine is entirely practicable.’ In the event, their first engine weighed 170 lbs, giving 12 hp.

There are some basic equations that most readers will skip, and quite a lot about centers of pressure and angles of incidence, but the technical jargon – it seems that “rudder” refers to what we now call an elevator – is mostly accessible, and doesn’t limit this text to the specialist.

Baden-Powell’s article reviews current progress in both balloons and gliding, anticipating the potential of the powered aeroplane. ‘Primarily, it would form an incalculably valuable engine of war’ – with comments on how such a machine would have been used for reconnaissance in the recent Boer War. ‘If the dropping of explosives on the heads of an enemy is not now considered “fair play” … yet there are many more uses to which the aerial fighter might be put.’ Baden-Powell recognizes the sacrifices that have been made, and will be made, in this dangerous new activity: ‘Perils and dangers loom before us as a skeleton contaminating and haunting our castle in the air.’

The Wright paper first appeared in print in: Journal of the Western Society of Engineers. Chicago.

Octave Chanute ordered 300 offprints of Wilbur Wright’s paper, which he sent to interested parties. (An example of this offprint was estimated at US$30,000-50,000 at a Bonhams sale. Lot 106, The Story of the 20th Century, New York 4 Jun 2014, Auction 21652. )

Wright’s 1901 paper was reprinted in the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1902. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1903. It seems that there were also offprints of this version of the Wright paper. Also in the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution was the essay by Baden-Powell, Recent Aeronautical Progress. (A lot comprising both articles, extracted from the Annual report (not offprints), was estimated at US$500-700, also at Bonhams. The Space History Sale, New York, 26 Apr 2012, Auction 19632, Lot 1004).

I think I’ve got all that right, but don’t quote me.

So…..What’s being offered here is another example of the same printing as the Bonhams Auction 19632, Lot 1004 – i.e. extracted pages from the Annual Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution … For the Year Ending June 30, 1902. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903., Wilbur Wright—Some Aeronautical Experiments, together with The Baden Powell essay Recent Aeronautical Progress – here without the Report’s general title page, but also without library stamps on the plates, which were present on the Bonhams Lot 1004 example. The leaves of both articles have had centre guard strips pasted on, and the signatures sewn into boards covered with black bookcloth.

Good examples of these two early papers – one by Wilbur Wright and one by Baden-Powell – bound together (in the order of the original pagination, Baden-Powell first), providing an opportunity to own a 1903 printing of Wilbur’s hugely important report at a very affordable price.

£48.00 plus postage.Contact:


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