Dayton, December 28, 1903
Your telegram of congratulation and the Christmas remembrances have reached us, and, of course, we are deeply gratified at your kindness.
The axles for which we were waiting when you visited us, did not arrive for one whole week after your departure. We spent part of this time in installing a new system of operating the wing tips and rear rudder, as the old system did not seem quite satisfactory. We then spent three days putting the axles in place again, and giving the machine the final touches. When ready for trial a three days' storm kept us penned up so that another week was lost. We however made some indoor tests of the thrust of the propellers and found that we would have plenty of power as the transmission only cost 5 or 10 percent apparently, instead of the thirty percent you had estimated. The thrust of the screw came within three or four pounds of our calculations of what it would do in a fixed position. But as we were concluding these experiments a peculiar feeling led to an investigation which revealed the fact that one of the axles was giving way. Accordingly we removed both of them and Orville went home to make new ones. He was gone two weeks more, so that by the time everything was ready again, five weeks had elapsed since the trouble with the axles began. We accordingly determined to try the machine at the earliest opportunity instead of waiting for the conditions we desired. So on the 14th inst., although the wind was only 2 to 3 meters a second, thus making it necessary to use the hill in starting, we got the machine out and made the first trial. It rose from the track and soon reached a point as high as the starting point but as this was done too suddenly it lost speed somewhat so that it was no longer fully supported. In turning down to regain speed the rudder was moved too far, and the machine darted down and touched ground before it could be turned up again. The time was only 3 1/2 seconds and the distance a little more than a hundred feet. The landing was made with the propellers still going, and with the machine sidling somewhat. The lower struts of the front rudder frame sank into the sand and as it was braced only at the ends the side pressure of the sand broke one of them, and it in turn twisted off one of the upper struts. The main machine and the skids under it, of which we were so fearful, stood the test perfectly, although the landing was made at a speed of more than twenty miles an hour.
Our next flights were on Thursday, Dec. 17th, on which occasion the flights were all made from a level spot about 200 feet, west of our buildings. The wind had a velocity of 24 to 27 miles an hour according to the Kitty Hawk anemometer which was almost directly to windward of us, but our measurement made with the English anemometer at a height of 4 ft. from ground was only 20 1/2 miles. The conditions were very unfavorable as we had a cold gusty north wind blowing almost a gale. Nevertheless as we had set our minds on being home by Christmas, we determined to go ahead. Four flights were made, the first lasting about 12 seconds and the last 59 seconds. The "Junction Railroad" worked perfectly and a good start was obtained every time. The machine would run along the track about 40 ft. propelled by the screws alone, as we did not feel it safe to have strangers touch the machine. It would then rise and fly directly against the wind at a speed of about 10 miles an hour. The first flight was of about 12 seconds' duration and the last 59 seconds. The controlling mechanisms operated more powerfully than in our old machine so that we nearly always turned the rudders more than was really necessary and thus kept up a somewhat undulating course especially in the first flights. Under the prevailing conditions we did not feel it safe to rise far from the ground and this was the cause of our flights being no longer than they were, for we did not have sufficient room to maneuver in such a gusty gale. Consequently we were frequently on the point of touching the ground and once scratched it deeply but rose again and continued the flight. Those who understand the real significance of the conditions under which we worked will be surprised rather at the length than the shortness of the flights made with an unfamiliar machine after less than one minute's practice. The machine possesses greater capacity of being controlled than any of our former machines.
One of the most gratifying features of the trials was the fact that all our calculations were shown to have worked out with absolute exactness so far as we can see, though we have not yet made our final computations on the performance of the machine.
Orville and I alternated in the flights according to our usual custom.
With wishes for a Happy New Year, [&c.]
Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute, January 8, 1904