Samuel Langley, born in 1834 is often compared with the Wright brothers because they were aiming for the same goal at around the same time. However, Langley never really achieved the fame that the Wright Brothers had. Although Langley, unlike the Wrights
was well educated, had ample funding, and had great support.
Langley, as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution had great credibility. He built many unmanned aerodomes, and in particular, his aerodome No. 6 was a great success. This craft was propelled by a small steam engine and was uncontrollable. It was dynamically stable however, due to the positioning of the wings. On November 28, 1896 his No. 6 flew 4,200 feet at 30 mph.
Because of this success, Langley was able to secure a $50,000 contribution from the Department of Defense (then known as the War Department) to build a flying machine that would carry a person. At that time a man named Charles Manley had developed the cylinder internal combustion engine. Although this was a new engine, Langley still employed his trusted method of launching his aerodom
es from a catapult.
Since Langley thought that a crash landing in the water would be safest, so he decided to catapult his aerodome from the water. The problem was that the craft was to be propelled from a dead stop to 60 mph within 70 feet. The force of the catapult was more than enough to destroy the aerodome made of wood and fabric. Late 1903, both attempts failed miserably, leading to the public humi
liation and criticism of Langley.
Soon afterwards, the War Department closed the Langley project with a grim conclusion that the objective was still far far away. The contribution Langley made to aerodynamics were his aerodomes that flew in 1896. In 1906, Langley died a disappointed man,
criticized and ridiculed.