Griffith Brewer

Griffith Brewer

Pioneer English balloonist and aviator, who made his first balloon flight in 1891. Brewer met Wilbur Wright in Pau, France, in 1908, and became a very close friend and supporter of the Wrights. He hade 30 trips to the U.S. to visit them, earning his pilots license in 1914

This article appeared in Flight magazine on September 3, 1910. Griffith Brewer was a member of the Royal Aero Club. He met the Wright Brothers while they were in Europe, they took a liking to him, and invited him to visit them in Dayton, Ohio. Brewer wrote this account of his visit for his fellow Englishmen. It is chatty, somewhat rambling, but it offers a firsthand account of the Wright brothers at home and at work. In it, he refers to some of the events that had affected the English aviation community. Foremost among these was the death of aviator Charles Rolls (co-owner of Rolls-Royce) in a French-built Wright aircraft. Rolls was the first Englishman to fly the English Channel, a darling of English society, and his crash put the Wright aircraft under the microscope.

With the Wrights in America

By Griffith Brewer

ApologiaWhen I accepted the hospitality of the Wright Brothers, I had no idea of publishing the observations of a private visit, nor did I give any hint to them of such a possibility. It was only after waving farewell at Dayton Railway Station that the thought developed of giving to my fellow members of the Royal Aero Club some small idea of what is being done at Dayton, so that when the pioneers of flight have an opportunity to return to England, we in the Royal Aero Club may not have followed the general lead like a flock of sheep, and have shown by our actions and our talk in their absence, that out of sight from England means also out of mind. I therefore crave indulgence if the writing of this account is indiscreet, and I fear it must be so, because it was the only work that could be found for my hands to do on the voyage back on the " Baltic."

We are apt to forget in our desire to see flying in general, that we owe everything to these two American scientists. If it had not been for their discarding the then accepted scientific data and starting at the beginning and building up their own tables and diagrams, they might still have been floundering in endless experiments together with others who have since been successful. It is no use deceiving ourselves into the belief that it was the introduction of the petrol engine that gave the Wrights the opportunity that was denied to others, because when they flew they carried sufficient margin of power to have flown with the power available twenty years earlier. In 1892 Maxim built a machine with sufficient power to fly, but all the modern petrol engines in the world would not be able to coax that machine to go up in the air today. I am as confident that we should not be flying to-day were it not for the Wrights as I am that the pneumatic tire would still be unknown to the world were it not for Dunlop. I am also confident that if we can get these pioneers of aviation to spare us some of their attention that the cause of flight in England will be considerably enhanced. It is therefore with a feeling of pleasant anticipation that we may look forward to a visit from our American friends towards the end of the present year. Griffith Brewer at the Wright Flight School. The First Mechanical FlightsI never thoroughly realized the absurdity of the so-called mystery of the early flights made by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, until this August, when I visited the first flying field. I knew before that the field was surrounded by a fence, and this fence, with its suggestion of secrecy, naturally implied a high palisade such as we call fences in England. Instead, however, of the convert|6|ft|m|abbr=on. split-oak palisading to obstruct the view, I found nothing but a row of low posts, supporting four rows of wires, to keep the farmer and other wayfarers from looking their fill as they traveled down the main road between Springfield and Dayton, both towns of over 100,000 inhabitants. Moreover, if one main road bounding one side of the ground were not sufficient, then a cross-road bounding another side of the land afforded equal facilities ; whilst three electric railway cars per hour also passed along the track adjoining the main road, and allowed their fifty occupants to view the whole ground, and if sufficiently interested to alight at " Simms" station, which abuts directly on one corner of the land rented by the brothers for their early experiments in 1904, and now used by them to-day as a school for their pupils.

Newspapers have always been accustomed to receive voluminous copy from those experimenting with so-called flying machines, the necessity of giving a full report seeming to most experimenters to be of greater importance than the accomplishment of something to report on; so when the two quiet young men squabbled amongst themselves over the theories of flight during their leisure at home, and put their differences of opinion to the test outdoors in their vacation, it was natural for the newspapers to regard these holiday pranks of no serious importance. As it was in 1905 to 1906, so it is today. The work of building machines and testing alterations is proceeding in the same methodical manner as the development of a motor launch, and those genial brothers are getting as much fun out of it as Tom Thornycroft gets in making himself hot and dirty down on the "Enchantress." Wright airplane above the Interurban that ran past the Wright Flight School.

The Wright flying field from the air.

The hangar at the Wright flying field. Manufacturing FacilitiesI had expected to find the Wright Co. installed in an up-to-date factory adjoining the flying ground, and Wilbur and Orville Wright sleeping on beds up amongst the rafters of the shed, and cooking tasty meals between whiles. Instead I found them living with their father and sister in the wooden house they had grown up in from the time when they were all children. The workshop where they make their engines is within a quarter of a mile, and is the same where six years ago they were turning out the Wright bicycles which hold their own to-day. Even closer to the house is the little printing works, where before making bicycles, they expended their unlimited energy and ingenuity not only in printing a newspaper, but in making the printing machine, which they constructed out of pieces of wood and bits of string. This Robinson Crusoe printing press was only designed for home use, for it invariably refused to go unless one of the brothers were looking on.

The factory where the flying machines are built is three miles (5 km) away on the other side of the city, and there in a large airy ground floor building some six machines were in various stages of construction. One machine just on completion attracted my attention, as it enabled me to compare the tail used by the Wright Brothers in America with the tail fitted by Mr. Rolls to his French-built Wright machine just before his fatal accident. The differences in construction were very considerable, the American pattern being considerably stronger than the French pattern, whilst a clearance of convert|11|in|mm between the propellers and the tail frame showed a considerable increase in the margin of safety compared, with a 3 in clearance on the French designed tail. The maximum working strain that can be brought on to the tail is less than 70 pounds and this tail took the strain of Wilbur Wright's weight and my own, or over 250 pounds dead weight on its outer end without bending more than an inch out of line. The breaking of the tail-frame under wind pressure would, therefore, be impossible in the American-built machine, and although the French construction was weaker, it is extremely improbable that the tail on Mr. Rolls' machine collapsed under wind pressure. The assembly room at the Wright Company Factory. Mr. Rolls’ AccidentThe propellers probably fouled the frame of the rail and cut through the lower members, but how the frame approached sufficiently to take up the three inches (76 mm) clearance, whether by bending or disconnecting, will never be known. Although it is certain that the tail frame broke in the air, it is by no means certain that this was the cause of the main accident, The wind was blowing towards the grand stand, and would be rising in a wave over it, and in commencing the dive towards the target the machine would be running down at an angle in a rising current. Most of the weight of the machine is between the main planes, and when the machine entered the lower strata of air this would be travelling horizontally, and would catch the elevating front planes on their upper side, thus tending to still further increase the downward angle of travel, irrespective of the angle at which they might then be set. The inertia of the weight, would, however, maintain the forward direction of the heaviest part, and assist the completion of the vertical movement. Rolls attempted a daring maneuver, just as a hundred times previously he had dared some feat in motoring or ballooning, but on this occasion the risk he took prevailed. The fact that the Wright Brothers neither designed nor authorized the tail fitted to Mr. Rolls' machine does not therefore appear to he of much importance, because, no matter what machine had been flown and brought into that diving position in the wind wave before the grandstand, the result must have been the same. Charles S. Rolls with some of his passions. Pupils Learning to FlyThe flying ground used by the Wright Brothers is situated about eight miles (13 km) west of the city of Dayton, at a small station called "Simms " on an electric car line between Dayton and Springfield. The cars, which are as large as Pullmans, leave the main street in Dayton on the ordinary city tram rails every half-hour, and in twenty minutes drop their crowd of aviators and spectators on the main road which runs alongside the rough weed-grown field. Every morning at breakfast the telephone used to ring, and the same answer suited all inquirers, "Well, you are as likely to see a flight today as any other day. The Wright Brothers don't know themselves whether there will be any flying," and this explanation was literally true. They never knew, any more than other inventors, what stage of the designing, testing, or experimenting they would reach that day. After the first day's visits to the factory and the workshop I generally remained at home, until Wilbur or Orville came running in to say they were going out, to Simms on the next car. If the weather was fine, then we had to fight our way on to the car, Orville generally riding on the step because of the crowd going out to see the "airship proposition." Why does the man in the street muddle the "airship" with the "aeroplane?" He does not muddle a lifebelt which enables him to float in the water with a pair of skates for gliding on the surface; but perhaps he did make this mistake when skates were first invented.

On arriving at. Simms we cross a plank bridge over a ditch, pass through a little wicket gate and enter the back of the shed where two machines are standing. One is on skids and the other has auxiliary pairs of wheels attached to the skids. Mr. Coffyn is in charge of the school, and his other pupils, Messrs. Brookins and Johnstone, are tinkering with the machines preparatory to making trial flights. Both machines have adjustable tail planes attached, and one has had the two front planes removed and the "blinkers" have been nailed temporarily to the front framing. This frontless machine is the first to be taken out and we pull it out on to the smoothest part of the rough ground, where weeds as still and high as young willows cover most: of the land. Then the engine is started up, and before I know what is about to happen there is Orville riding up in the air on the machine without its bridle. "They'll be going up soon on the engine alone with half a propeller," remarks the man who hands back my cap across the fence where it has been blown by the wind from the propellers. After a short three minutes' flight Orville is down again to make some adjustments, and then in another -seven minutes is up for a second trial. They have a simple homemade range-finder al Simms composed of a wooden yardstick and a little metal slide on it having two pairs of prongs projecting from it at 1 inch. and ½ inch apart respectively. You point the stick and sight it at the machine as it flies overhead, and run the slide out until the prongs enclose the wings exactly. Knowing the wings to be about convert|40|ft|m|abbr=on. wide, and assuming the convert|1|in|mm|sing=on prongs fit at 10 inches distance down the stick, the height of the machine is approximately convert|400|ft|m. One of the first flights that I saw measured by Wilbur in this way gave Orville a height of convert|1200|ft|m|abbr=on. Orville and some of his first student pilots.

Brokkins, Coffyn, and Johnstone clowning around.

Brewer in the cockpit of a Wright airplane with a student pilot. More Flights and "Stunts"My second visit to Simms was a pupils’ day, commencing with Brookins going up and doing "stunts " for my benefit. He turned many circles in less than ten seconds each, and the banking angle to which the machine was brought in these quick turns was 45 degrees at the least. On expressing surprise at these quick revolutions, I am told that he has turned a complete circle in less than seven seconds, but has been instructed not to do so quick a turn again before the strains brought onto the machine, and which exceed twice the ordinary flying strain, have been accurately figured out. This Brookins is a promising kind of pupil, and holds the world's record for height, having flown under official observation convert|6175|ft|m. This was done early in July at Atlantic City when he won 1,000-English-pound prize [$2500] for beating all officially certified high flights. Brookins seemed too daring, and I told him that I for one would not care to experience the exhilaration of a flying trip with him.

A new pupil is to be taken up for the first time, and Orville decides to take him instead of leaving him to Brookins. "I guess he was afraid I'd scare him too much for a first trip," says Brookins as they fly overhead, the novice squeezing the sap out of the upright, to use the parlance of the expert flyers of two months standing. It is well to notice here that Brookins, who had never seen a flying machine three or four months ago, has found no difficulty in mastering the "complicated Wright Flyer" and capturing a world's record on it. Before I left ten days later, the novice, Parmalee, was using both levers, and told his instructor that he thought he had nearly got the hang of that "double-jointed lever." After this lesson Johnstone was sent up for a practice flight of an hour, sufficient petrol being put into the tank to cover the hour, but insufficient to tempt him to make a record for endurance- At the end of an hour and thirty-four minutes he came down with the petrol finished. The day terminated by Coffyn making two 2-minute flights, the second being terminated by signal, so that we might all catch the next tram home. This time I stood on the step and Wilbur and Orville got jammed somewhere in the vestibule. Brookins and Johnstone hung on to the buffer and cowcatcher outside, whilst the spectators sat it out comfortably on the seats.

And so the days flew by. Crammed full of interest from the time of eating the cantaloupes in the morning, to the sitting out on the veranda after dinner at night, when the brothers talked horse-power and wind surfaces, while I watched the fire-flies and got in the way of the arguments as little as I could. And I don't think the pleasure was all on my side. All the Wright family seemed out for fun, and each member worked hard to get it. Even Bishop Wright at the age of 82 wants his share, and when Orville took his venerable father for a ride aloft, he had to mount to many hundreds of feet in compliance with his passenger's requests to go up higher. This enthusiasm also struck others, for the lighthouse keeper at Kitty Hawk said he had never seen men work so hard for fun before. Launching a Wright airplane.

Crowds watching the flights at the Wright flying field.

A Ride on the Wright FlyerThose who have been favored with a ride with Wilbur or Orville have never had previous warning. The simple question, "Are you ready for a ride?" has now been put to several, and I have never yet heard of its being refused. At Le Mans, when Wilbur rewarded the " "English bunch" for their enthusiastic patience, he took all four of us up one after the other, these Aero Club members all having instantly answered "Yes" to this welcome invitation. So when Orville put the same gratifying question to me at Simms I stifled my determination to keep out of the way so as to let them get on with their work, and took my place on the central seat next to the engine. This time we were to fly with one elevator plane detached, and with the right-hand blinker only. We also tried the experiment of running through the long weeds before the wind; but, although we succeeded in decorating the machine with green, and taking on board a cargo of grasshoppers, we made the first and only false start. My weight has gone up since my last trip, but it is still below that of one of my rival butterflies at Le Mans. A second attempt, in the opposite direction was more successful, and we began to climb up stepless stairs as we went round the field. Out of consideration for my novice feelings Orville refrained from anything in the way of "stunts," although he look the machine round some beautiful curves, and up to about convert|400|ft|m|abbr=on., where the air was delightfully warm as distinct from the damper air near the ground. Then we slowed the engine down to walking pace, and slid down an elastic slope to the level of the tree-tops, when we quickened up and ran through the weeds, collecting their tops on the skid-stays without the wheels or skids touching the ground. Perhaps they'll add a scissors attachment below the machine, and use it as a reaper later on. Brewer flying with Orville. A "Hole in the Air"Up into the air again, waving a greeting in return from those at the shed, and later at the other end of the field we ran into the "hole in the air" that has been referred to by many aviators. Mr. Paulhan told me that in his flight to Manchester he encountered such a hole, and the machine fell some convert|30|ft|m|abbr=on. before recovering its airy support. My experience was mild compared to this. We were running quite smoothly when the seat seemed to give way, and it was quite an appreciable moment before I felt I could sit on anything solid. Looking to Orville on my left, I met his reassuring smile, and we went smoothly on to inspect neighboring cornfields and cut a few eights as a fitting termination to a 23-minute flight. They say the particular spot where we had the "little drop" is in a corner of the field where it is quite usual to encounter similar whirls or disturbances. The machine did not pitch or oscillate, but simply went down bodily about two feet. Banking the airplane over the flying field. More Pupils and Workshop ObservationsAlter my own flight, other flights seemed to be of less consequence, but they went on just the same. Each pupil did his "stunt," and each instructor reflected how green he must have been a month before when he was only a pupil. The days when we did not go out to Simms brought in a report from Coffvn giving a list of flights by the various pupils, and the brothers went on in their leisurely, get-there way, designing, thinking, making and testing — not testing to find out, but testing to prove conclusions already arrived at. At the works one morning I noticed an engine running by itself and turning an arm giving similar resistance to a pair of propellers. This engine, which seemed to have been forgotten, was still running later in the afternoon when I went there again, so I inquired, and found that it had been started at 8 a.m., and with the exception of the lunch hour, it had been running all day without attention and would run like that. till 5:30. Why do we have such engine troubles in Europe, and why can’t we get our engines to run like they invariably do in America. Is it because: the Americans slave to work so much harder across the Atlantic, and that their engines out of sheer force of example do the same?

And so they go on day after day, gaining the love and respect of their pupils and all with whom they come in contact. Just as it was at Le Mans and Pan, where their influence was more far-reaching than in the cause of flight alone. Testing a new engine installed in the wing section of an aircraft. The Wright Patent LitigationBefore closing, let me say a few words to explain the present situation of the Wright patents. Both in America and England the courts have power to issue an interim injunction restraining infringement of a patent, in which it is shown to the satisfaction of the Court, that infringement is taking place and that damage will be incurred if the continued infringement is not restrained. It is, however, extremely rare that such a power is exercised before the hearing of the trial, when the witnesses are examined. The validity of the patent was not disputed, and the judge, after consideration of the documents in the case, decided that the infringement was so obvious that he granted the interim injunction. The defendant appealed, and filed additional documents, and the Wright Co. considering the new documents to be unimportant, did not apply to refer the new documents to the first court, but, in order to save time, went directly to the Court of Appeal. The latter held that they could only consider the judgment of the court below, and they could not go into the merits of the case as affected by new document. In view, therefore, of the fact that the new documents were now on the record, but had not been before the first court, the Appeals Court could not support, the injunction on the unconsidered documents, and, therefore, the interim injunction must be quashed. There can be no doubt that the Wright Co. will win their action, seeing that their case was strong enough to enable them to obtain an injunction in the same Court before. The parties are now in the same position as if the injunction had never been obtained, and the trial in the first court will come on for hearing at the end of the year in the ordinary way.

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