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The Aerodrome A

Albert Francis Zahm, The Smithsonian Report for 1914, 1915, Langley Aeroplane (Built 1898-1903) Ready for Launching at Hammondsport, N.Y., May 28, 1914.

Albert Francis Zahm, The Smithsonian Report for 1914, 1915, Langley Aeroplane (Built 1898-1903) Ready for Launching at Hammondsport, N.Y., May 28, 1914.

This image, from The first man-carrying aeroplane capable of sustained free flight: Langley's success as a pioneer in aviation, by A. F. Zahm, Publisher: Washington : G.P.O., 1915, depicts the Langley Aeroplane, ready for launching on May 28, 1914, six years after the death of Samuel Pierpont Langley.

The background history of this photograph is fascinating, highlighting the Smithsonian/Wright Brothers feud, as outlined on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) website:

Langley Aerodrome A

The remains of the Aerodrome A were left with the Smithsonian Institution by the War Department. In 1914, the Smithsonian contracted Glenn Curtiss, a prominent American aviation pioneer and aircraft manufacturer, to rebuild the Langley Aerodrome A and conduct further flight tests. With significant modifications and improvements, Curtiss was able to coax the Aerodrome A into the air for a number of brief, straight-line flights at Hammondsport, N.Y. After the tests, the airplane was returned to the Smithsonian, restored to its original unsuccessful 1903 configuration, and put on public display in 1918. Smithsonian officials misleadingly identified the Aerodrome A in its label text as the world's first airplane "capable of sustained free flight." The Aerodrome A had, indeed, existed before the Wright brothers' successful 1903 Flyer, but it only flew much later and even then in heavily modified form, making the Smithsonian claim inappropriate at best. This action was, partly, what prompted Orville Wright in 1928 to lend the 1903 Flyer to the Science Museum in London as a gesture of protest regarding the Smithsonian's seeming unwillingness to give him and his brother, Wilbur, full credit for having invented the airplane. The Smithsonian finally clarified the history of the Aerodrome A and its later flight testing in its 1942 annual report, satisfying Orville, and thereby clearing the way for the return of the Wright Flyer to the United States and its donation to the Smithsonian in 1948. The Aerodrome A continued to be displayed in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries building with a revised label until 1971, when it was removed from public exhibition and restored again by the NASM restoration staff.

History, made and revised.—Elizabeth Periale

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