Dayton, June 21, 1904
Your letter of June 17th received. You are quite right in thinking our Kitty Hawk grounds possess advantages not found at our present location, but we must learn to accommodate ourselves to circumstances. At Kitty Hawk we had unlimited space and wind enough to make starting easy with a short track. If the wind was very light we could utilize the hills if necessary in getting the initial velocity. Here we must depend on a long track, and light winds or even dead calms. We are in a large meadow of about 100 acres. It is skirted on the west and north by trees. This not only shuts off the wind somewhat but also probably gives a slight downtrend However, this matter we do not consider anything serious. The greater troubles are the facts that in addition to cattle there have been a dozen or more horses in the pasture and as it is surrounded by barbwire fencing we have been at much trouble to get them safely away before making trials. Also the ground is an old swamp and is filled with grassy hummocks some six inches high so that it resembles a prairie dog town. This makes the tracklaying slow work. While we are getting ready the favorable opportunities slip away, and we are usually up against a rainstorm, a dead calm, or a wind blowing at right angles to the track. Today we had our first decent chance, but as the margin was very small, we were not skillful enough to really get started. The first two flights were for distance of a little more than a hundred feet and the third two hundred and twenty five feet. On this one Orville almost got away, but after about 200 ft. he allowed the machine to turn up a little too much and it stalled it.1 He had a speed of about 18 miles on leaving the track, but the rise necessary to gain a little room for maneuvering reduced this to about 16 miles, and as the wind was blowing only 8 miles, and unsteady at that, the resistance was too high to permit rapid acceleration, owing to the great angle of incidence required. To get started under such conditions requires perfect management. We are a little rusty. With a little more track and a little more practice we hope to get a real start before long and then we will see what the machine can really do in the way of flying. The machine landed nicely each time without any injury at all.
We have about concluded to enter the St. Louis contest but are reluctant to do this formally, until we are certain of being ready in time. We have one machine finished, another approaching completion, and a third well started.2 As these are built to measure, the parts are interchangeable, and even a rather serious accident would not necessarily throw us out of the contest. If the Exposition people will hold the door open till we get ready, there is yet hope that there may be a real contest for the grand prize. If there is an intention to set a definite limit to the acceptance of entries we would be glad of ample warning of the limit set. It is true that the tortoise beat the hare in a great historic race, but if the hare can open its eyes a little sooner next time or keep from breaking its legs or neck, it might turn the tables on the tortoise next time in a rather surprising way.3 In a light wind we ought to cover the course in eighteen or twenty minutes easily.
1 This appears to be the first use by the Wrights of the term "stall" in its modem connotation.
2 Cf. Orville Wright's Diary, 1904, Jan. 7: "Will began work on hinges for 3 machines" and Jan. 11: "Spent morning . . . getting castings for cylinders and pistons for 3 engines." The three machines were: the 1904, the 1905, and the so called 1907; the last was shipped to France in 1907 but was never used until Wilbur flew it at Le Mans and at Pau in 1908 and 1909. The 1905 and 1907 machines were of course not completed until long after the period of this letter and both underwent many modifications. See vol. 2, Appendix V, Aeroplanes and Motors.
3 The tortoise, of course, was Santos Dumont, and the hare the Wrights.
Octave Chanute to Wilbur Wright,
June 25, 1904