In Response to Paul Jackson's Essay of 28 December 2014 "Wright Brothers 'Hijacked History'"

Paul Jackson Fails as an Aviation Historian
by Carroll F. Gray - Posted January 24, 2015

      One glaring, obvious and grievous error greets the reader on first glance at Mr. Jackson's essay… a photograph which he describes as

"Rare 'close-up' photograph of the Wright 'Flyer' at Kill Devil Hills, 1908. Note the inclined track for take off, even in 1908. Without the assistance of wind and gravity, the Wrights used a catapult, no doubt because the 'Flyer' was underpowered.."

      There are at least two remarkable errors… the first of which is that the photo depicts not "the Wright 'Flyer'" but the 1905 Wright Flyer (the "Flyer III") which was present at Kill Devil Hills in May of 1908. The mention of the track being "inclined" leads to the question of why the track was not laid farther up the hill, at a greater slope, if the desired result was to assist take off. Mr. Jackson also makes, at a minimum, an implication that a "catapult" was present at Kill Devil Hills, when one was not.

      This is not the first time Whitehead Advocates have erred with photos and dates - witness the thoroughly discredited and disproven assertion that a photo on display in 1906 showed Gustave Whitehead aloft in his flying machine in 1901 in Connecticut - a conclusion John Brown reached after a tortured mangling of a very blurry image which process Brown described as a "forensic photo analysis."

      In truth, that photo has been demonstrated to be of a John J. Montgomery glider, The California, on display at San Jose, California, on May 21, 1905.

(Read articles HERE about the matter of Whitehead and photos.)

      In addition, many fantastic things have been seen by Brown and others in enlargements of various photos, nearly all of which have been erroneous 'discoveries.'

      But back to Paul Jackson's essay…

      Paul Jackson, as he reminds all who pay attention, is the editor of Jane's All The World's Aircraft. This is a tricky situation for him since he chose in 2013 to wander down the primrose path of the Whitehead Myth, accompanying John Brown on his foray into a mishmash of half-truths and misconceptions, misinterpretations and outright errors.

      So, it is not surprising that after assuring that we know his essay "Wright Brothers 'Hijacked History'" is presented in his private capacity and not as "an Editor of one of the world's most prestigious aviation publications, 'Jane's All the World's Aircraft'," he begins his essay by stating :

"Almost two years ago, the present reassessment of Gustave Whitehead’s aeronautical achievements was publicly launched with editorial endorsement in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. This, Jane’s was pleased to do, because the methods of research and assessment of results accorded to time-honoured procedure which generations of its editors have attempted to implement."

      If he is trying to maintain a sliver of light between Jane's and his private person, he seems to be not too adamant about doing so.

      Moving on, Mr. Jackson wrongly states, that "The origin of the present dispute is in the 1940s when the Smithsonian Museum acquired what is described as the original, 1903 Wright Flyer." Indeed anyone with even the vaguest of knowledge about the Whitehead Affair knows that the "dispute" began in the mid 1930's, not the "1940's."

      Mr. Jackson then recites the wording of the plaque for the Wright 1903 Flyer, as it exists at the National Air & Space Museum, in Washington, D.C. :

“By original scientific research the Wright Brothers discovered the principles of human flight. As inventors, builders, and flyers they further developed the aeroplane, taught man to fly, and opened the era of aviation.”

      He then segues to this remarkable comment :

"This sweeping and absolute declaration leaves little room for Whitehead — or, indeed, for any of the other early pioneers mentioned in the aviation history books. However, both Wright claims may be demolished with nothing more potent than rational argument."

      One is left to wonder why any "room" ought to be left for Whitehead or anyone else on a plaque dedicated to the '03 Flyer.

      After assuring us that "… both Wright claims may be demolished with nothing more potent than rational argument." Mr. Jackson then proceeds to make a series of non-rational (I hesitate to call them "irrational") arguments which he presumes to believe make his case.

      With no sense of how absurd his comment is, he tells us that Orville and Wilbur "wrote that they were inspired to begin their quest for flight by the descriptions and photographs which were being published in the early 1890s of Otto Lilienthal’s gliding achievements." after which he then states "Taking credit for one’s mentor’s invention is poor form." This is a very odd statement for Mr. Jackson to make… he is saying that the Wrights both and at the same time give credit to Lilienthal and withhold credit from Lilienthal. It's clear that by expressing their inspiration drawn from the work of the Lilienthal brothers, in particular Otto Lilienthal's glides, the Wrights are giving due credit to Lilienthal. Is this the "rational argument" that Mr. Jackson promised us ?

      As for giving credit (contrary to Mr. Jackson's depiction of the Wrights as reluctant to give credit where credit is due) it's worth noting that the Wrights credited Octave Chanute for the box truss arrangement of the wing design they used in their designs.

      Dipping back into his role as an advocate for Jane's, Mr. Jackson tells us that Jane's is summoned as a 'near witness' to the era and the Wrights. For some reason Mr. Jackson believes that since the first edition of Jane's all the world's Airships was published in 1909, and according to his understanding (which is also erroneous) the Wrights "effectively appeared on the scene" in 1908, Jane's is therefore pertinent to the discussion of whether or not the Wrights flew first.

      He goes on to remark that since Jane's devoted very little to the Wright machine, we therefore should believe that the Wright machine had no special importance at that time. As Mr. Jackson states it :

"Their aircraft (and its licence-built copies) is treated in the body of the book with no greater reverence than any other machine…"

      What is interesting in this regard is not that Fred Jane missed the importance of the Wright machine, but that he seemed to include, in addition to actual machines that flew, every other possible aerial monstrosity then in existence… we find an impossible (non-flying) "gyroplane," wing-flapping machines, and a myriad of forgotten naive designs, the vast majority of which never felt air under their lifting surfaces (if, indeed, they even had lifting surfaces).

      It is telling that Mr. Jackson believes that the array of aerial equipment displayed in the 1909 Jane's is somehow a benchmark for the state of aerial design in 1908. It is more properly a collection of mostly dead-end eternally ground-bound designs. The Wright 1907 Model Flyer was, of course, an exception… it not only flew, it flew very well.

      Not surprisingly, considering Louis Bleriot's 1909 Channel-crossing flight - what Mr. Jackson calls "cross-Chanel" (sic) - the Bleriot XI monoplane is treated to a lengthy narrative in the 1909 Jane's.

      Several "straw-person" arguments intrude on Mr. Jackson's "rational argument" including such ditties as (in reference to the demonstrations of the Wright 1907 Model Flyer in France in 1908) "Creditably and without doubt, the Wrights had the best-performing aircraft at the show, but that is not quite the same as having the only aircraft." - who ever claimed that they had 'the only aircraft' in France in 1908 ?… another of Mr. Jackson's weird assertions… "The claim that the world of aviation was, at the time, divided into (1) Wright types and (2) no-hopers…" - who has made that claim ? - and that "Only the Wrights could have invented the aeroplane." - and who has made that claim ? Actually, anyone else could have invented the aeroplane, but only the Wrights did so.

      Mr. Jackson - perhaps blinded by the light of his association with Jane's - uses the 1909 and 1913 editions of Jane's as data, although that publication was not all-inclusive and deriving 'evidence' from it is therefore self-limited.

      Speaking of the 1913 edition of Jane's, Mr. Jackson notes - one can almost sense his reluctance - that "In the Foreword to the 1913 edition, Fred Jane credits the Wrights with being the first to fly an aeroplane." Looking at the 1913 edition of Jane's we can see another example of how loose Mr. Jackson is with facts… Fred Jane's recognition of the Wrights as first to fly came not in 1913, but in 1917.

      A "Foreword" does not exist in the 1913 edition of Jane's - a "Preface" does, however, which comments on the use of aeroplanes in wartime, but - no - Fred Jane doesn't mention the Wrights in the Preface. Instead, in the body of the 1913 Jane's on page 196 we find this statement by Fred Jane (which Mr. Jackson fails to mention)

"WRIGHT (1908). Two views of the machine with which Wilbur Wright startled all Europe from August, 1908 to April, 1909. First U.S. machine to fly."

      The narrative entry for "WRIGHTS (the)" in the 1913 Jane's reads

"WRIGHTS (the) (Orville and Wilbur), 7 Hawthorn Street, Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A. Chevs. Leg. d'Hon. In 1896 the Brothers Wright began to study aerial flight. In 1900 they were making glides. In 1903 they first fitted a motor, and on December 17th of that year made a power flight of about 250 yards. Reports of this were received with incredulity, and right up to July, 1908, when Wilbur Wright appeared in France, many people still regarded the Wrights as a myth. Wilbur Wright easily beat the French machines in circling, etc. He won the Michelin Cup, being up 2 h. 20 m. 23-1/3 sec. Distance 76½ miles official record. Actual, estimated at 93 miles. The exploits of Wilbur Wright put aviation on quite a new footing. Since 1908 the Wright type has been surpassed by others; but to the Wrights will always belong the credit of having made a decided step in the science. Wilbur died of typhoid, 1911."  (1911 is an error, Wilbur Wright died in 1912)

      Mr. Jackson asserts that there was some undefined linkage between Orville Wright publishing "How We Invented The Airplane" and Fred Jane's endorsement of the Wrights… and that is what people who ice skate term "very thin ice."

      It seems fair to expect that the editor of Jane's would be familiar with and make use of proper terms involving aeronautical matters, yet here we see Editor Jackson using inappropriate terminology and betraying a serious misunderstanding of the nature of the August 1908 event about which he is writing. In August 1908, there were no "air shows" as they had yet to be invented.

      He calls this event an "air show" - which it wasn't in any familiar meaning of that term. The event at at Les Hunaudieres race course near Le Mans, France, was more in the form of gathering of high society elites to watch aeroplanes being demonstrated. Judging by the accounts of the time, very few expected to see what they witnessed when Wilbur Wright took to the air in a 1907 Model Flyer… as the Guardian newspaper account of August 14, 1908, put it, "The success of Mr Wilbur Wright's flying machine has been truly remarkable." and (aviator Leon) "Delagrange's terse comment 'We are beaten,' shows clearly the impression which they have made upon expert witnesses at Le Mans…" and "it cannot now be doubted that Mr Wright and his brother actually anticipated them (note: Henry Farman and Leon Delagrange), and have a higher degree of proficiency in either the construction or management of flying machines, or perhaps in both respects."

      As for the Wrights' reluctance to be totally public about their aerial experiments, while Jackson casts this in a negative light, the Guardian found it worthy of some praise, stating "One cannot but marvel at the self-restraint which has enabled these American brothers for so long to refrain from public demonstration of their unique accomplishment. For two or three years past they have said that they could fly, and they have said that they have flown, but such things are easily said, and hardly anybody believed them. Whilst others were winning the laurels of the pioneer they went on quietly practising and experimenting at home, content to be regarded as humbugs if the world chose to take that view of them."

      Paul Jackson manages to overlook a significant truth when he writes…

"Back in the USA, they went on to exert such a malign influence on their homeland’s aviation that the country that invented the aeroplane was forced to buy British and French aircraft when it entered the First World War a decade later, because its own were so far behind in technology. The Wrights, their business partners and their lawyers were responsible for this squandered legacy."

      The glaring truth is that the European powers provided very large supports and subsidies to their own young aeronautical industries, in anticipation of the coming war. The US, however, left the domestic aeronautical industry to struggle on its own, raising private capital, which accounts for the differences in aeronautical technical achievement between Europe and the US prior to The Great War, W.W.I.

      Also, it must be noted that despite Mr. Jackson saying so, a country did not invent the aeroplane, the US was not "the country that invented the aeroplane"… it was the Wrights who invented the aeroplane.

      Rather than seeing the larger picture, Mr. Jackson is content to blame much of early aviation's ills in the US on the "Wrights, their business partners and their lawyers." Mr. Jackson glosses over the simple fact that the Wrights had a US Patent to protect and they did so with forceful energies. This was not a matter of "malign influence" - it was more a matter of protecting their legal interests.

      In yet another display of his lack of knowledge of these matters, Mr. Jackson states that in 1913

"Were ‘the victors’ already writing their own history? Certainly, the Wrights were the first aviators to write articles telling the world they were the first aviators."

      Of course, anyone with a modicum of historical knowledge will know that Wilbur Wright passed away in May of 1912 and so would not have been around to write articles in 1913.

      Had Paul Jackson consulted the 1917 Jane's, he would have noted this explicit recognition of the Wrights as having been the first to fly a powered controlled aeroplane…

"WRIGHT (American). The first machine to achieve human flight. The machine left the ground and flew under control  on December 17th, 1903" "The first Wright machine to fly by engine power (December 17, 1903)."

      Mr. Jackson ends his essay by telling us that

"Wilbur and Orville had lost interest in the aeroplane by then."

      - by when ? after 1909 ? as noted Wilbur passed away in 1912, and had hardly lost interest prior to his death, and as for Orville, he conducted remarkable soaring experiments in 1911, which certainly demonstrates "interest."

      Mr. Jackson saves his best hyperbolic eccentricity for the very last, however, proclaiming

"The Wrights are claimed to have solved the mysteries of flight; still to be solved is the mystery of how they managed to stage the first air hijack -- of the history of aviation."

      Mr. Jackson casts Wilbur and Orville Wright as aerial criminals ?… aerial pirates ?… hijackers ?

      There is more afoot here in his essay than Mr. Jackson lets on. He put his foot deep into 'it' when he wrote the editorial supporting the discredited claims that Gustave Whitehead made the first flight. After seeing the Whitehead claim utterly demolished by factual arguments, perhaps what he's written reflects a deeper conflict.

      Having opened the bottle and released the Whitehead genie, he cannot gracefully withdraw and admit his error, so he has apparently decided to attack the Wrights, and by extension, finds himself attacking the very legacy left to us by Fred Jane, the founding editor of Jane's, for John Fredrick Thomas Jane certainly understood that Wilbur and Orville Wright had been the first humans to fly a powered controlled aerial machine, had accomplished a very great deal and had made monumental contributions to the aerial sciences - something which Mr. Jackson seems not to grasp.

(Paul Jackson's 28 December 2014 essay "Wright Brothers 'Hijacked History'" can be found here:  HERE)

(Commentary on Paul Jackson's 2013 Jane's editorial can be found here:  HERE)