"The New York Tribune carried an article in its October 11, 1897, [sic] issue concerning the craft which it reported Whitehead was going to test for soaring capabilities without the motor; the motor, it was reported, was a gasoline one. With it, he expected to be able to start from the ground, but the glider would have to take off from an elevation, he explained." (HbC, p.104)
"The young couple appear not to have remained in Buffalo. The New York World of March 3, 1898 [sic] carried an item from Baltimore, describing Whitehead's aircraft, and stating that Whitehead had flown it, apparently as a glider, starting from a height." (HbC, p.104)
Note that the absurd details of the "flight" are omitted from both paragraphs.
The WORLD article told its readers that 'Gus' Whitehead had "caught one of these birds that measured eighteen feet from tip to tip, and, training him, was able to to study his methods of flight and soaring abilities. This knowledge he has used to a great extent." It was "The machine of which he has the greatest hopes…"
One might wonder what became of this marvelous machine, spawned from the study of a trained captive condor and albatrosses, and capable, in Whitehead's mind, of flight in 1897-98. A New York Sun article of June 9, 1901, provides an answer, mentioning, in passing, that "A few years ago he [Whitehead] built a flying machine in New York which now lies rusting in innocuous desuetude somewhere in Spring street in that city going to decay, Mr. Whitehead says, because of failure to deliver a motor of a certain type which was ordered and never completed and about which there is now legal controversy." In little more than a dozen years, Whitehead would find himself on the other side of a similar legal controversy.
The WORLD told readers that Whitehead made a study of condors and albatrosses, to establish the ratio of body weight to wings. "I have watched for years the flight of the condor. And I have gone around the Horn to study the albatross. I have captured both of these great birds, measured their wings and weighed their bodies. My present airship is patterned after the condor." (See Article # 6, to be posted on this web site, for more on Whitehead's time in South America)
The WORLD also said that Whitehead had "caught one of these birds that measured eighteen feet from tip to tip, and, training him, was able to to study his methods of flight and soaring abilities. This knowledge he has used to a great extent.
'Gus' is quoted as saying "The wings of my machine, four by sixteen feet, are in the same proportion to the weight of my body, that the condor's wings are to the weight of their body." Apparently Whitehead chose or neglected, for whatever reason, to not include the weight of the machine - the flight apparatus - in his calculations.
A close examination of 'Gus' Whitehead's calculations is instructive.
First of all, we need to know what the wingspan of the condor was, that Whitehead studied. Whitehead tells us he captured an Andean Condor with a wingspan of "eighteen feet from tip to tip" - remarkable to say the least since the average wingspan of a male Andean Condor is some 2.9m (9.5 ft.), while the average wingspan of a California Condor is slightly shorter at about 2.8m (9.1 ft.).
At 5.5m (18 ft.), Whitehead's condor would have been in a category by itself, as having the single greatest wingspan of any condor yet known, about double the average spans of the Andean and California Condors, and fully 7 feet greater in span than that of the bird with the greatest wingspan, the Wandering Albatross, which can reach a span of some 11 ft. The statement by Whitehead that his captured condor had a wingspan of 18 feet can safely be termed "false."
The average weight of a male Andean Condor's body is about 13kg (28.5 lb) - and the average wingspan is 2.9m (9.5 ft), therefore the ratio of body weight to wingspan is 4.48 kilograms to 1 meter of wingspan. If we calculate based on that highly improbable condor wingspan of 5.5m (18 ft), and scale the average body weight accordingly, we would still, of course, have a ratio of 4.48 kilograms to each 1 meter of wingspan.
Whitehead was noted as weighing 74.8kg (165 lb), and Whitehead states each pair of his aerial machine's four wings (two sets of two wings) had a wingspan of 6.1m (20 ft). Doing simple calculations, the ratio of body weight to wingspan for Whitehead's machine (doubling the wingspan to allow for the two pair of wings) is about 6.13kg to each 1 meter of wingspan - a ratio of 6.13 to 1. For the second report of a 4.87m (16 ft) wingspan on Whitehead's machine, the ratio (allowing for the double wings) is 7.68kg to each 1 meter of wingspan.
Therefore, Whitehead's "Condor" machine was not built to the ratio of a condor's body weight to wingspan, as Whitehead stated. Adding in the weight of the machine itself, without providing a greater wingspan would, of course, make the ratio even greater and even more out of alignment with a condor's.
The Whitehead "Condor" machine's design went beyond an imitation of a condor's wing, or what Whitehead thought of as a condor's wing. He also designed the wings to be flappable. As seen in the drawing which accompanied the March 4, 1898, article, the "Condor" is an ornithopter. The wings are not fixed, they are linked in a framework, to be moved by a gasoline engine or an electric motor, to propel the machine and its occupant in flight, it was hoped - they are, as Whitehead says, "movable."
Before the steel-framed, flapping winged "Condor" was built, Whitehead was hired, in 1897, by the recently formed Boston Aeronautical Society, to build a glider. The first machine he built for the Society was a biplane glider - derived from the then well-known design of the Chanute-Herring biplane glider - with flapping winglets added, to be moved in a rowing motion by the glider's operator, for propulsion, it was hopefully announced. It failed to fly. The flapping winglet glider of 1897 is said, by some, to have been built in 1895, possibly with a view to establishing Whitehead's priority over the 1896 Chanute-Herring glider - but there is no doubt but that Whitehead's flapping winglet glider dates to 1897, after the Chanute-Herring's design was well known.
After the failure of the 1897 flapping winglet glider, Whitehead built a copy of the successful and proven Lilienthal "Normalsegelapparat" ("Normal soaring apparatus") glider for the Boston Aeronautical Society, with which gliding flights were made.
Despite 'Gus' Whitehead's high expectations for his pre-1898 "Condor" (the "machine of which he has the greatest hopes…"), after Whitehead read Octave Chanute's influential 1894 book "Progress In Flying Machines" (which he borrowed from the Buffalo, New York, Public Library and failed to return) he settled on Count Ferdinand D'Esterno's 1864 design for his next Whitehead flying machine, one which was to be powered by an engine he intended to build.
As for the claims made in the March 4, 1898, New York WORLD article, even Maj. Wm. J. O'Dwyer, one of Whitehead's most vociferous defenders and supporters, didn't dare to include all the details of the Whitehead "Condor" flapping-wing machine in "History by Contract," and made no mention of the 1897-98 "flight" of four and one-half miles - perhaps he knew such a claim was impossible to believe and would severely damage Whitehead's credibility. O'Dwyer certainly knew what the WORLD article said, as it can be found in his research files, Box 4, Series B, Sub-series I, Folder 8, labeled "New York World, March 1898".