Original Document
Original Document
Alexander Graham Bell describes Samuel P. Langley's contributions to manned flight, December 13, 1906.

No one has contributed more to the modern revival of interest in flying machines of the heavier-than-air type than our own Professor Langley….

He also attempted to reduce his principles to practice, by the construction of a large model of an aerodrome driven through the air by a steam engine under the action of its own propellers. I was myself a witness of the memorable experiments made by Professor Langley on the 6th of May, 1896, with this large sized model, which had a spread of wing of about 14 feet. No one who witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of a steam engine flying with wings in the air, like a great soaring bird, could doubt for one moment the practicability of mechanical flight. I was fortunate in securing a photograph of this machine in full flight in the air, so that an automatic record of the achievement exists.

… [W]ith the aid of an appropriation from the War Department of the United States, Professor Langley actually constructed a full sized aerodrome, and found a man brave enough to risk his life in the apparatus – Mr. Manly, of Washington, D. C. Great public interest was aroused; but Professor Langley did not feel justified in giving information to the public, and therefore to foreign nations,… The correspondents flocked to the scene, and camped there for weeks at considerable expense to their papers. They watched the house-boat containing the aerodrome by day and by night; and, upon the least indication of activity within, newspaper reporters were on hand in boats. After long delay in hopes of securing privacy it was at last decided to try the apparatus; but newspaper representatives, embittered by the attempts to exclude them, were bringing the experiments into public contempt. They nicknamed the apparatus "The Buzzard," and were all ready to presage defeat.

Two experiments were made; but on both occasions the apparatus caught in the launching ways, and was precipitated into the water without having a chance to show what it could do in the air. The newspapers immediately announced to the world the failure of Professor Langley's machine, and ridiculed his efforts. The fact of the matter is, that the machine was never tried; and that there was no more reason for declaring it a failure than for deciding that a ship would not float that has never been launched. After having witnessed the successful flight of the large sized model of 1896, I have no doubt that Professor Langley's full sized aerodrome would have flown had it been safely launched into the air.

When the machine was for the second time precipitated into the water it was not much damaged by the accident. Professor Langley, of course, was more anxious about the fate of his intrepid assistant than of his machine, and followed Mr. Manly into the house-boat to ascertain his condition. During this temporary withdrawal from the scene of the catastrophe, the crew of a tug-boat grappled the frail framework of the submerged aerodrome; and in the absence of any one competent to direct their efforts, they broke the machine to pieces, thus ending the possibility of further experiments without the expenditure of much capital. The ridicule of the newspapers however effectually prevented Professor Langley from securing further financial aid; and, indeed, broke his heart. There can be little doubt that the unjust treatment to which he was exposed contributed materially to the production of the illness that caused his death.

Credit: Source: Alexander Graham Bell, "Aerial Locomotion," an address presented before the Washington Academy of Sciences on December 13, 1906, then published in Proceedings of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Vol. VIII (March 4, 1907), 409-412.
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