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In Flight

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On March 26th at the Archives building in Montgomery, there is going to be a symposium entitled, "Celebrating a Century of Flight: the Wright Brothers and Aviation in Alabama".

The Wright brothers' connection to Alabama is that they came to Montgomery in 1910 to start a flying school in the middle of what was a cotton plantation - it was the first one in the country to train civilians, although it only lasted a few months. Today the airstrip is Maxwell Field (Maxwell Air Force Base). And on March 27 & 28, they're going to have an air show with the Thunderbirds to honor 100 years of flight in Alabama. There's more about it here.

The airshow's press release reads in part:



Of the Wright brothers’ five students, one went on to take a president of the United States aloft for the first time; another became the Wrights’ first flight instructor; and a third became the man who taught then-lieutenant Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold how to fly, Mr. Cully said.

In fact, a flying replica of the Wrights’ aircraft is slated to perform a short demonstration flight, according to Colonel Mahan.


...but many people here in Alabama think that the Wright brothers weren't the first in flight - that it was really Dr. Lewis Archer Boswell. In 1874 he wrote to the Patent Office for his 'Improvement in Aerial Propeller-Wheels', and they granted him a patent that same year.

In 1900 he wrote the Secretary of War asking for a loan of $1000 to put a three cylinder gasoline engine on his "kite" - that the government needed a 'flying machine'. He got a letter back saying that someone at the Smithsonian was working on air navigation and until he was done they had no interest in anything else. Dr. Boswell kept working on his invention.

(this is in the free domain)

In 1901 he applied for a patent for his 'Steering Mechanism for Dirigible Air-Ships' and received it from the Patent Office in 1903. His application went in a year and a half before the Wrights sent for theirs. In the end, though, he was unable to secure the financial backing he needed to do the kind of building and testing he needed to (unlike the Wrights, who were well-backed by investors including Vanderbilt and were able to amass one million in capital by 1909). There's much more about this in the book Old Free State.

Oh - and the flying machine that Dr. Boswell appeared with for exhibition was called 'The Missionary'.

The last time we were in Talladega, we found the historic marker for him in the Confederate section of the cemetery there:

Dr. L. A. Boswell, Inventor of Flying Machine in 1890s

Dr. L. A. Boswell, Inventor of Flying Machine in 1890s

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Oh, and since I'm all trivia-girl today, Delta Airline got started in the 1920s - in the Delta (of course) here in the South - by crop dusting for boll weevils.

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