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view their experiments in vain. Now they had to assume unwillingly the role of cautious business men if they were to reap the reward of their expenditures and sacrifices. They were not yet covered by the granting of patent claims, and hence they now adopted the policy of withholding details of their powered machine, or disclosing them sparingly. They were in a very difficult position. If they exhibited their machine and aerodynamic data too promptly, they might jeopardize their financial interests by assisting or stimulating rival aviators. On the other hand, by procrastination and concealment they might, in various ways, forfeit priority and scientific credit. Their own published experiments were being studied and repeated, and at any moment some lucky imitator might herald all their discoveries as his own, and rob them of the rewards of their amazing originality and courage.
However, the very indifference of the world at large, and their superiority to all other inventors sa ved them, and led to successful fruition of their plans.
No man is a prophet in his own country, and the Wrights were no exception to the rule. The publication in 1905, in a foreign aeronautical journal, of an enthusiastic account of the Wrights' flights from 1903 to 1905, aroused no enthusiasm in our War Depart
ment. But it aroused a big sensation in Europe, and started renewed experimentation there at a time when discouraged lethargy prevailed among continental dreamers of aerial locomotion. Nor did an official announcement by the Aero Club of America, after investigation and interviewing witnesses of flights inspire any official action by our government. The French authorities, however, were more keen and sent over a Major Bonel, who visited Dayton in 1906 and satisfied himself of the truth of the Wrights' statements.
Nor was Germany blind to the possibilities of the airplane, for in October 1906 Captain Hildebrandt, student of aeronautics, and author of works on the subject, investigated the claims of the Wrights. He expressed the opinion, in view of the secrecy maintained by the Wrights, that the machine itself was so simple that a purchaser could not be found at the price asked were it exhibited. "Furthermore, I am inclined to think it requires great skill to handle the machine. I am of the firm belief that a sum as high as $100,000 will not be required if we entrust German engineers and aeronauts with the solution of this problem. Surely we will not have to be behind the American inventors."
But this typically German and discouraging visitor was of indirect service. His visit was noticed by an
individual in private life, and in the course of time, as a result of his interest, the Board of Ordnance and Fortification deigned to address a letter to the Wrights asking them to submit a proposition. The Wrights asked what specifications would be required. The Board had nothing to suggest and its interest seemed rather perfunctory.
This apathy toward the airplane on the part of the Board of Ordnance and Fortification may have been partially excusable. It was not so long before that this Board and the War Department had been bitterly attacked in Congress for spending money on Langley's man-carrying flying machine (which smashed up two months before the first Kitty Hawk flights, although later Glenn Curtiss, another famous pioneer, repaired it and flew it successfully with some changes). Dr. Langley was characterized as "a professor wandering in his dreams," and these bitter attacks hastened his untimely death. While the Army and the Navy are now enthusiastic supporters of aviation, an apathetic attitude is noticeable in Congress to this day, and is allowing Europe to take a tremendous lead in commercial aviation of the very country in which the airplane had its birth.
In the winter of 1906, the Wrights were carrying on negotiations with foreign governments; and when, in 1907, these negotiations were successful, our military attachés in Europe brought them to the attention of the War Department, it showed real interest for the first time. When the Wrights had made earlier proposals to the Government, they had—with the true generosity of noble scientists offered to drop their patent applications and give all their inventions to the world for the relatively insignificant sum of $100,000. The indifference and financial hardships they had encountered in the meantime led them to withdraw this generous offer, and they now decided to deal with the Government on a business basis.
Finally, at the very end of the year 1907, as the result of an interview in Washington between Wilbur Wright and the Chief Signal Officer, General James Allen, public specifications were issued for the first time in history, and bids asked for a "gasless flying machine.” The requirements seemed at that time extremely severe, yet nothing serves better to illustrate the immense progress achieved since that time. The machine was to carry two men weighing 350 pounds, with sufficient fuel for 125 miles. Nowadays a machine may have to carry several tons of fuel and be capable of flying across the continent. The speed was to be 40 miles an hour. The American Army or Navy Air Service now consider 150 miles an hour the minimum speed required of a fast fighting plane. The airplane was to be steerable in all directions and at all rímes to be under perfect control. It was to be sufficiently simple to allow an intelligent man to become proficient in its use within a reasonable time.
In spite of the apparent severity of the conditions, twenty-two bids were received, but only three bids were accepted. The Wrights offered to build a biplane for $25,000, and included in their price the instruction of two men, and they alone completed the contract.
The Wrights now resumed their experiments at Kitty Hawk, making some wonderful flights-reported at great length by newspapers all over the country, although they now sought secrecy.
Immediately after the successful trials at Kitty Hawk, Wilbur Wright sailed to France, and it was left to Orville to demonstrate their contract machine with great success at Fort Myer, just across the Potomac from the National Capitol. He was lionized and given a semi-official celebration in Washington, where the crowd took for its slogan, “I'd rather be Wright than President.' On the morning of September 9th, just six days after the first flight with his new biplane, Orville Wright made fifty-seven complete circles over the drill field, at an altitude of 120 feet, remaining aloft one hour and two minutes, thus establishing several records on the same day.
Outside of their work in the field of the airplane, the Wrights led a quiet life. Their whole energy,