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Volume 46 | Issue 1 | January 2004

Research Roundup


Flying without feathers

By Curtis Peebles
Dryden History Office

Throughout human history, there have been a few far-sighted individuals who have looked to the horizon and seen the future. Then there are these people. . .

"What can you conceive more silly and extravagant than to suppose a man racking his brains, and studying night and day how to fly."

William Law, "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life," 1728

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."

Lord Kelvin, English Scientist, 1895

"The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which man shall fly long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be."

Simon Newcomb, Astronomer 1901

"Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible."

Simon Newcomb, 1902

"The example of the bird does not prove that man can fly. Imagine the proud possessor of the aeroplane darting through the air at a speed of several hundred feet per second. It is the speed alone that sustains him. How is he ever going to stop?"

Simon Newcomb, October 22, 1903

"We are still far from the ultimate goal, and it would seem as if years of constant work and study by experts, together with the expenditure of thousands of dollars, would still be necessary before we can hope to produce an apparatus of practical utility on these lines."

U.S. War Department final report on Professor Langley's attempts to build an airplane, 1903

"Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind starting from Level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds (sic) inform Press home Christmas."

Orville Wright, December 17, 1903