Langley Aerodrome


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Langley Aerodrome

After success with various unmanned rubber, steam and petrol-powered model aircraft, US inventor Samuel Pierpont Langley progressed to a full-size man-carrying machine he called the 'Aerodrome'. Feeling it was safer to fly over water, Langley spent half the project cost (supplied by the War Department) on a houseboat fitted with a catapult launcher. He assembled his Aerodrome on the roof.

His first attempt ended in collapse when the catapult force overstressed the airframe. On 8 December 1903 he tried again. The Aerodrome broke up and fell in the Potomac River. Nine days later the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. As secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Langley did all he could to promote his achievements and belittle the Wrights', leading to a long-lasting feud.


Despite the perceived greater safety of flying over water, the Aerodtome had no floats or other gear for landing on either land on water.

Unlike the Wright Brothers, Langley had not appreciated the problems of control, and the Aerodrome had no ailerons or other method of steering except a rudder.

The Aerodrome was launched with the aid of a catapult, which would have ruled it out as the first self-powered manned flying machine, even if it had flown successfully.

 MODELAerodrome A
 ENGINE1 x 52hp Manly radial piston engine
  Take-off weight340 kg750 lb
  Wingspan14.60 m48 ft 11 in
  Length16.00 m53 ft 6 in
  Height3.50 m12 ft 6 in

BHH, 30.12.2012 22:24

Sounds like the good Mr. Langley would writhe in agony to see the special place the Smithsonian reserves for the Wright Flyer. ;)


Terrence I. Murphy, e-mail, 18.02.2012 02:38

Langley's unmanned steam-driven model "number 5" did make a successful 90-second flight of over half a mile about 25 miles an hour at a height of 80 to 100 feet on May 6, 1896. In November model "number six" flew more than 5,000 feet. Both aircraft were launched by "catapult" from a houseboat in the Potomac River near Quantico, Virginia, south of Washington, D.C. But when he added the weight of a man, it wouldn't fly.


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