Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/469

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

THE LANGLEY AERODROME

465

obvious that this plan could not be followed in the large surfaces on account of the necessity, already alluded to, of making them relatively lighter than the small ones, which were already very light. After the most painstaking construction, and tests of various sizes and thicknesses of hollow square, hollow round, I-beam, channel, and many other types of ribs. I finally devised a type which consisted of a hollow box form, having its sides of tapering thickness, with the thickest part at the point midway between contiguous sides and with small partitions placed inside every few inches in somewhat the same way that nature places them in the bamboo. These various parts of the rib (corresponding to the quill in a wing) were then glued and clamped together, and after drying were reduced to the proper dimensions and the ribs covered with several coats of a special marine varnish, which it had been found protected the glued joints from softening, even when they were immersed in water for twenty-four hours.

Comparative measurements were made between these large cross ribs, 11 feet long, and a large quill from the wing of a harpy eagle, which is probably one of the greatest wonders that nature has produced in the way of strength for weight. These measurements showed that the large, 11-foot ribs ("quills") for the sustaining surfaces of the large machine were equally as strong, weight for weight, as the quill of the eagle; but much time was consumed in various constructions and tests before such a result was finally obtained.

During this time a model of the large machine, one fourth of its linear dimensions, was constructed, and a second contract was made for an engine for it. The delay with the large engine was repeated with the small one, and in the spring of 1900 it was found that both contract engines were failures for the purpose for which they were intended, as neither one developed half of the power required for the allotted weight.

I accordingly again searched all over this country, and, finally, accompanied by an engineer (Mr. Manly), whose services I had engaged, went to Europe, and there personally visited large builders of engines for automobiles, and attempted to get them to undertake the construction of such an engine as was required. This search, however, was fruitless, as all of the foreign builders, as well as those of this country, believed it impossible to construct an engine of the necessary power and as light as I required (less than 10 pounds to the horsepower without fuel or water). I was, therefore, forced to return to this country and to consent most reluctantly, even at this late date, to have the work of constructing suitable engines undertaken in the shops of the Smithsonian Institution, since, as I have explained, the aerodrome frame and wings were already constructed. This work