Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Unlocking the Sky": missing a few facts?

Seth Shulman, who wrote a book "Owning the Future," took on the saga of the Wright Brothers in "Unlocking the Sky." (629.130092 for those in Dewey).

Shulman is no fan of the Wrights. On page 43, we have

Today, nearly a century into the age of aviation, the Wright Brothers have become a part of our collective mythology--lone inventors who single-handedly turned a fantastic dream into a practical reality. Of course, the myth captures a truly monumental achievement. But it also willfully ignores half of the Wright Brothers' story, obscuring the role the Wrights played once their invention took flight.

Now largely forgotten, the Wrights made no secret of the fact that they sought a monopoly on production of the airplane comparable to the one Alexander Graham Bell had won for the telephone. After all, monopoly was the hallmark of the Wright brothers' era--the Gilded Age...

Shulman does not appreciate that the Wrights' invention was directed to three-dimensional control, and argues that the underlying principle of wing-warping was well-known for as many as fifty years before the Wrights. (p. 45).

Although Shulman talks about how Wrights' lawyers "write" in the patent [p. 46], the patent application of the Wrights (filed months before Dec. 1903) was written by the Wrights, not lawyers. The Wrights did not contact a lawyer until AFTER Dec. 1903, when THE WRIGHTS were threatened by a patent interference by the later-partner of Glenn Curtiss (Augustus Herring, a fact not discussed by Shulman).

At page 46, Shulman begins his "reconstruction" of the reconstruction of the Langley Aerodrome. Shulman misses an important point right off the bat in not noting that the Langley Aerodrome had NOTHING to do with the three-dimensional control system of the Wrights. This was purely evocative stuff.

Griffith Brewer appears on page 47. Shulman seems to think that the added presence of a carburetor in the reconstructed Aerodrom is petty.

Amos Root appears at page 52, but Shulman neglects to mention that Root's account of the Wright Brothers' flying was REJECTED by Scientific American (for unknown reasons). This renders Shulman's reference to "an obscure publication" truly silly.
Scientific American had a manuscript in hand, and decided not to publish it.

Although Shulman talks about secrecy as if it were paranoia on page 53, he neglects to mention how the French copied the Wrights' earlier plans.

Octave Chanute shows up on page 54. At page 55, Shulman neglects to mention that some of Chanute's designs had been tested at Kitty Hawk.

At page 58, Shulman talks about a patent lawyer asserting that the Wrights' case was overblown. Although Monroe Wheeler is quoted on page 159, Shulman does not mention that Curtiss et al, through Wheeler, asserted the presence of prior patents which would defeat the Wrights, an assertion that was without foundation. Page 207 discusses the prodigious stream of inventions of Curtiss.


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