The Most Successful Pre-Wright Glider
Octave Chanute and fellow flying enthusiasts went to wind-swept Miller Beach on Lake Michigan in 1896 to test three new glider designs. The type seen above was actually built as a tri-plane. Early flights revealed to Chanute and co-designer Augustus Herring that the three-winged machine had too much lift -- which made it unstable. With the bottom wing removed, it not only outperformed the other designs, but proved to be the most successful glider ever built -- with hundreds of controlled flights of up to 359 feet (107 m), for as long as 14 seconds. Its rigid, truss-supported biplane design became the basis for the Wright brothers' gliders.
Although slightly longer and heavier than the original 1896, this accurate reproduction glider was built by Boeing engineer and hang glider pilot Paul Dees for the 100th anniversary of the 1896 flights.
Octave Alexander Chanute (1832-1910)
Chanute was born in France and immigrated to the United States at age six. As one of America's leading civil engineers, he designed railroads and bridges before showing an interest in flight. Beyond his experiments with manned gliders, Chanute is important because he collected and studied a wealth of information on flight -- from the ancients to the latest aeronautical experimenters of the day. With this knowledge, he encouraged would-be fliers around the world in articles and lectures, and gave many experimenters financial and technical assistance.