History Who Really Invented the Airplane Part 4

About the controversy in history over who invented the airplane. A look at support for the various claims.




Controversy still rages over who really invented the first airplane because it's not just a matter of who devised a craft that got off the ground. It depends on how one defines flight. Which of these inventions, if any, took off from the ground and stayed in the air under its own mechanical power rather than depending on forces such as momentum or wind? In order to be considered true flight, did it have to be sustained and well controlled? Does 10 sec. in the air count as much as 10 min.? If the machine lost power and crashed, does that count as much as a three-point landing? Finally, based on modern-day knowledge, were any of these machines compatible with proven theories of aeronautical design?


Ader's claims are often attacked because of his lack of qualified witnesses, but the Wright brothers in 1903 had only five witnesses, none of whom was a qualified aeronautical engineer. In fact, one of the Wrights' witnesses, A. W. Drinkwater, stated in an interview in the early 1950s that the Wrights had not achieved powered flight but only a powered glide in 1903. They had launched their plane into a strong headwind, down a sand dune, using their monorail undercarriage system; all the engine did was power the plane as a glider once it was airborne. Compared to this, Ader had the testimony of General Mensier of the French Army General Staff, who at one point in time stated that at Satory in 1897 Avion III took off by itself from the ground.

Another argument against Ader is that he did not achieve sustained or controlled flight. Ader's supporters counter that any number of qualifications can be added to the definition of flight and that although Ader's machines lacked sophisticated controls and never flew great distances, they still satisfied the basic requirement of taking off under their own power.

Later investigation showed that Ader's steam engine was a highly efficient mechanism, powerful but amazingly light. Some experts, including certain of Ader's detractors, contend that his engine was far more suitable for flight than the engine used by the Wright brothers.

Ader's proponents maintain that, although his flights were largely uncontrolled and brief, he successfully flew at least six years before the Wright brothers.

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