ABSTRACT

EDWARD C. HUFFAKER'S UNPUBLISHED LETTERS,
CONTAINING THE EARLIEST APPLICATION OF BERNOULLI'S PRINCIPLE
TO ACCOUNT FOR AERODYNAMIC LIFT:
A STORYTELLING APPROACH TO AVIATION HISTORY

by

Steven Virgil Hensley and Julia Dye Hensley

Edward Chalmers Huffaker (1856-1937), a civil engineer from east Tennessee, appears to have made the earliest application of Bernoulli's principle to curved wing surfaces, to explain how birds and airplanes gain lift. His measurements of the wings of large soaring birds led him in 1892 to write of his theory to secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel P. Langley. Hired by the Smithsonian in 1895, Huffaker helped design, build, and successfully test the half-scale, unmanned, engine-powered models No. 5 and 6 of Langley's glider, the Aerodrome. Leaving that institution in 1898, Huffaker contracted with Octave Chanute to build a manned glider, which two of Chanute's other protégés-the Wright brothers-were to test-fly in August 1901. A storm at Kitty Hawk destroyed Huffaker's glider, however, before it could be tested.

Ignoring Huffaker's advice in the critical matter of designing a launch system, Langley suffered failure in both launchings (1903) of his full-sized and potentially flyable Aerodrome, then withdrew from the race for the first mechanically propelled heavier-than-air flight to carry a pilot-only 9 days before the Wright brothers attained that goal.

During the Wright brothers' lawsuit (1909-1917) against Glenn Curtiss's aircraft company for patent infringement, Huffaker testified in 1915 on the airworthiness of the Aerodrome, for which Curtiss's lawyers claimed priority of success over the Wright's 1903 Flyer. Huffaker continued to pioneer designs for more stable and controlled flight, but died in 1937 having never flown in an airplane. Aviation history rarely mentions him, except as an unwelcome assistant to the Wright brothers.

A co-author of this joint thesis discovered a trunk containing over 500 Huffaker family letters in a dilapidated barn near Chuckey, Tennessee, in 1957. When transcribed, these told a more complete story of an aviation pioneer whom history forgot.

The authors' goals are (a) to introduce the rich legacy of Edward Huffaker, a Tennessee pioneer in aviation whose work has remained largely unpublished and unrecognized, and (b) to present Huffaker's accomplishments in the form of a tandem (two-person) story that will both entertain students and instruct them in the scientific principles and technical vocabulary of natural and artificial flight.

To this end, the authors transcribed Huffaker's unpublished letters into electronic form and visited research libraries, university archives, genealogical collections, and aviation museums to bridge the gaps left in the personal letters. Woven around excerpts from Huffaker's writings, this thesis portrays an intelligent, disciplined, and creative thinker and writer who solved problems crucial to artificial flight a decade before the Wright brothers, but whose name has been forgotten.

Appendices to this thesis include:

©1998 Steve Hensley
Unauthorized copying or
reproduction of this material
is srtictly prohibited and
punishable by law.