Until a few months ago the name of Louis Pierre Mouillard was known to only a few deep students of aeronautics and to them he appeared as an elusive personality, a French student -- farmer -- poet -- who had lived in Egypt and had written a remarkable book upon bird flight. Of his life and the value of his work nothing definite was known. Two years ago, during the Heliopolis meet, somebody remembered that Mouillard had lived and died at Cairo and started an investigation, which ended with the finding of a boxful of papers of Mouillard in the cellars of the French Consulate, where they had been stored on the death of Mouillard. These papers were acquired by an officer of the Ligue Aerienne who undertook to edit them. From time to time since then the Ligue has advanced for Mouillard the claim of his having discovered the principle of wing warping. Because there were found among the Mouillard papers letters of Chanute showing that in their correspondence he and Mouillard had discussed the peculiarities of bird flight, and in particular a belief of Mouillard's that birds turn by creating a resistance at the tip of the wing upon the side toward which they wish to go, it has been sought to intimate that the principle of warping was revealed by Mouillard to Chanute, and by him was communicated to the Wrights These claims have never been advanced officially nor substantiated with proof. To clear this point for historical purposes, we asked the Wright brothers to define both Mouillard's place in history and the value of his contribution The following article by Wilbur Wright is made especially timely by the inaguration of a monument to Mouillard at Heliopolas, February 25, 1912. --EDITOR.
THE erection at Cario, Egypt, of a monument to L. P. Mouillard recalls attention to one of the greatest missionaries of the flying cause which the 19th century produced. Mouilard was a Frenchman who passed a large part of his life in Algeria and Egypt, where his attention was attracted by the wonderful soaring of vultures on fixed wings. His imagination was greatly excited by what he saw, and during the remainder of his life he was like a prophet crying in the wilderness, exhorting the world to repent of its unbelief in the possibility of human flight. In 1881 he published a book called "The Empire of the Air," which is one of the most remarkable pieces of aeronautical literature that has ever been published. In his introduction he says:
"If there be a domineering, tyrant thought it is the conception that the problem of flight may be solved by man. When once this idea has invaded the brain it possesses it exclusively. It is then a haunting thought, a walking nightmare, impossible to cast off. If now we consider the pitying contempt with which such a line of research is appreciated, we may somewhat conceive the unhappy lot of the poor investigator whose soul is thus possessed."
He deplores the incredulity of the world and exhorts it to cast aside its unbelief:
"O! blind humanity! open thine eyes and thou shalt see millions of birds and myriads-of insects cleaving the atmosphere. All these creatures are whirling through the air without the slightest float; many of them are gliding therein, without losing height, hour after hour, on pulseless wings without fatigue: and after beholding this demonstration, given by the source of all knowledge, thou wilt acknowledge that Aviation is the path to be followed"
His observations upon the habits of vultures led him to the conclusion that flight without motors was possible to man. and this idea he presented to his renders with an enthusiasm so inspiring and convincing that his book produced results of the greatest importance in the history of flight. The man was himself almost fanatical in his enthusiasm. Speaking of his first sight of a vulture in full soaring flight, he says:
"All my life shall I remember the first flight which I saw of the Gyps fulvus, the great tawny vultures of Africa. I was so impressed that all day long I could think of nothing else; and indeed there was good cause, for it was a practical, perfect demonstration of all my preconceived theories concerning the possibilities of artificial flight in a wind. Since then I have observed thousands of vultures. I have disturbed many of the vast flocks of these birds, and yet, even now, I cannot see one individual passing through the air without following him with my eves until he disappears in the distant horizon.
"The vulture's needs are few, and his strength is moderate. To earn his living he but needs to sight the dead animal from afar. And so what does he know? He knows how to rise. how to float aloft, to sweep the field with keen vision, to sail upon the wind without effort, till the carcass is seen, and then to descend slowly, after careful reconnaissance and assurance that he may alight without danger, that he will not be surprised. and compelled to precipitous and painful departure. And so he has evolved a peculiar mode of flight; he sails and spends no force, he never hurries, he uses the wind instead of his muscles, and the wing flap occasionally seen is meant to limber up rather than to hasten through the air. And so the true model to study is the vulture--the great vulture. Beside him the stork is as a wren, the kite a mere butterfly, the falcon a pin feather.
"Whoso has for five minutes had the fortune to see the oricou vulture in full sail through the air, and has not perceived the possibility of his imitation by man, is--I will not say of dull understanding, but certainly inapt to analyze and to appreciate."
Throughout the book are to be found passages of high literary quality, and the charm is so great that more than one cold-blooded reader has been incited to emulate the example of the birds. There is no doubt that the reading of this book was one of the main factors in inducing Mr. Chanute to undertake his experiments, and I know that it was one of the inspiring causes of the efforts of the Wright brothers. Compared with this book, which is devoted almost entirely to observations relating to birds, the ordinary books on ornithology are childish. With the possible exception of Lilienthal, none of the men who wrote on aviation in the 19th century possessed such power to draw recruits to a belief in the possibility of motorless human flight.
As a missionary, Mouillard stood at the very top along with Lilienthal and Chanute. As a scientific student of the laws and principles of aerodynamics he is not to be mentioned in the same class with such men as Cayley, Whenham, Penaud, Langley, Lilienthal, Chanute and Maxim. He was a careful observer of birds, and possessed a genius for expressing his thoughts and feelings in words, but beyond that he was mediocre. He made a few feeble attempts to construct soaring machines, but their design and construction were so crude that he failed to surpass the futile attempts at gliding made by Cayley and Wenham who long antedated him. It remained for Lilienthal to definitely employ this mode of experiment, and thereby win for himself a glory which the world will never forget.
It is most unfortunate that the project of erecting a monument to a man well worthy of the thanks and the remembrance of the world should have become entangled with an unworthy attempt to seek to add to the glory of France by filching the credit justly due to Lilienthal, and by falsely accusing Mr. Chanute, the benefactor of Mouillard, of having stolen the latter's secrets and transmitted them to the Wright brothers. There is in France a little group of misguided individuals who bring disgrace upon their country by their too zealous attempts to add to its glory. Fortunately they do not represent the real France, which has shown by numerous manifestations of various kinds its high appreciation of the work of foreigners, including even Lilienthal, a native of a country greatly disliked by French people.
This group some years ago formed a society known as the "Ligue Aerienne" and made it their purpose to convince themselves and the world that France was the birthplace of human flight. To begin with they hailed Santos Dumont as the "father of aviation," because of his flights in 1906. When it was proved that flights had been made outside of France long before that, they then fell back on Ader and hailed him as the "father of aviation," on account of a mythical flight in 1897. But when the Minister of War permitted the publication of the official report on the trial of this machine, which showed that it kind never left the ground, but kind been wrecked while running along the track with only a small part of the power turned on, this indefatigable group went on back to Mouillard and proceeded to erect a monument to him as the "father of aviation" If they had been content with this, their activity might have been passed with a smile, but when in addition they attempted to pervert history and accuse Mr. Chanute of dishonestly getting from Mouillard the secret of warping the wings to control lateral balance, and transmitting it to the Wright brothers, it is well to expose their errors.
The position of Lilienthal as the founder of gliding experiments is too fully established to make it necessary to defend it here. The facts are well known.
The fact that the Wright brothers had been using wing warping several years before Mr. Chanute became acquainted with them, effectually disposes of the part of the story accusing Mr. Chanute of transmitting any of Mouillard's secret to them. The fact that Mouillard never had the idea of warping the wings to control lateral balance, and never communicated such an idea to Mr. Chanute, is also sufficient of itself to refute the charge.
It only remains to discuss that part accusing Mr. Chanute of having received from Mouillard the manuscript of a proposed book and, after reading it, of having dishonestly advised him to suppress it. It is quite clear that the men who manufactured this shameful attack on the memory of a dead man kind never rend Mr. Chanute's book, "Progress in Flying Machines" published in 1898. This book contains the fullest and most appreciative account of Mouillard which is to be found in the literature of flying. It discusses not only his book, "The Empire of the Air," and his attempts to construct apparatus, but also makes copious extracts, with full credit to Mouillard, from the manuscript which these ignoramuses accuse him of trying to keep from the knowledge of the world. Not only that, but Mr. Chanute, learning that Mouillard was an invalid and without funds, furnished the money to secure a United States patent on his invention, and gave him a considerable sum of money in addition. The patent issued and was published in 1897. Mr. Chanute never received a cent of benefit from it. In this patent, Mouillard proposed to make the right and left rear corners of the wings double so that one or the other could be distorted to create a resistance in order to turn the machine to right or left. No vertical tail was to be used. The subject of lateral balance was not even mentioned.
The Mouillard patent was cited by the defendants in the case of The Wright Company- vs. Louis Paulhan, and Judge Hand in his decision refers specifically to it and says, "In no one of the nineteen claims is there anything which in any way even foreshadows the patent [of the Wright brothers] in suit." Mr. Chanute's book and the patent clearly show that he made every effort to spread the fame and improve the finances of Mouillard.
The memory of Mouillard is well deserving of perpetuation by a monument, but it is a pity that it should have been used by a self-constituted group of pretended champions of French glory, in a disgraceful Chauvinistic campaign of slander and detraction not approved by the mass of the French people.
The following excerpt from the Mouillard patent, No. 582,757, of 1897, which was owned jointly by Mouillard and Octave Chanute, fully elucidates the foregoing article by Mr. Wilbur Wright--Editor
"In order to provide for the horizontal steering of the apparatus-that is, the guiding it to the right or left--I substitute for the ordinary rudder a novel and more effective arrangement. A portion (J) of the fabric at the rear of each wing is free from the frame at its outer edge and at the sides. It is stiffened with suitable blades or slats (N), of flexible material, and normally rests up against the netting. Cords (O) are attached to the rear edge of the portion (J') and pass forward to rings (P), where they unite and run to the handles (Q) near the inner ends of the wings. A pull upon one of these handles causes the portion (J') to curve downward (as shown in fig. 10), and thus catch the air, increasing the resistance upon that side of the apparatus and causing it to turn in that direction. Any other equivalent device for creating at will an additional resistance to the air on either side of the apparatus may be employed, and I do not limit myself to the one shown and described....
"The horizontal steering is effected by the downwardly movable rear portion (J') of the fabric in the manner already described. When both sides are pulled down together, they serve as an effective brake to cheek the speed."
Originally appeared in Aero Club of America Bulletin, 1, April, 1912, 3-4