JF Ptak Science Books Post 2406
Percy Pilcher was a true aviation pioneer who met his end very early, during an event that probably shouldn't have happened, killed by in 30'-fall in 1899. He was creative, and figured out a way to address the knotty problem of lift vs. wing dimensions vs. weight, coming to a tri-plane design in 1898, but was killed before he could fly it in public. His death comes about two years after this appearance in Nature magazine, which tells a quietly dramatic and essentially sotto voce story about attempted soaring flight. It seems so extraordinary to me because--aside from needing a fit of genius to try to figure out the physics of flight, there was a lot that could be done with canvas, pipes, fishing line, and boy-power. When I read this account I could literally feel that soft breeze that he looked for on my teeth--few pieces of major histories of technology get this close to the "common person".
Someone made this nice, short video from the seven stills, perhaps making this one of the earliest "movies" of an human in flight:
"At the time of the flight here illustrated the wind was so light and variable in direction that an ascent from even the elevated position taken up was almost impossible. Means however were at hand by which one end of a thin fishing line 600 yards long could be attached to the machine while the other end passed through two blocks placed close together on the ground at a distance from the aero plane of about 550 yards. These blocks were so arranged that a movement of the aerial machine in the horizontal direction corresponded to a fifth of the movement of the boys pulling the line."
"The start was made at a given signal the line being pulled by three boys and Mr Pilcher gradually left the ground and soared gracefully into the air attaining a maximum height of about 70 feet... A safe and graceful landing was made at a distance of 250 yards from the starting point. The photographs illustrate that part of the flight previous to the attainment of the greatest height...if the machine had been fitted with a small engine or motor to give (this) amount of thrust by means of a screw or otherwise perhaps an equal or further distance would have been covered."
"Mr Pilcher now proposes to employ as soon as possible a small and light engine indicating about four horsepower this being considerably more than sufficient for flights of moderate length. It is however thought advisable to have rather too much than too little power to commence with as a factor of safety. With this improvement it is hoped that further distances will be covered and a nearer approximation to a flying machine will be attained."