Herring Lilienthal monoplane
Herring preparatory to making a glide
In December, 1895, Mr. Chanute secured the services of Mr. A. M. Herring, a civil and mechanical engineer, who had for some years been making experiments in Aviation, this being the recent name given to attempts to imitate the birds.
Chanute selected the sand dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan as the perfect place to test his creations. The area was close to Chicago. The little train station at Miller, Indiana served as an entry point into Dune country. The area offered a number of other important advantages, including steady winds, dunes from which a glider could be launched in any direction, an abundance of sand for soft landings, and, Chanute hoped, relative isolation.
Chanute and his four assistants pitched their tents on a spot within the present city limits of Gary, Indiana, on June 22, 1896. Augustus Herring, the most experienced member of the group, had brought a glider based on the standard Lilienthal monoplane design. William Avery, a Chicago carpenter, had constructed a multi-wing glider designed by Chanute, while William Butusov would attempt to launch his own glider, the Albatross, down a wooden ramp. Dr. James Ricketts, a Chicago physician with "a slack practice and a taste for aeronautics," would cook for the group and provide emergency medical service as required. Chanute's dogs, Rags and Tatters, rounded out the party.
Herring and Avery did most of the flying.
Herring rebuilt a machine, previously tested by him in New York, somewhat similar to that of Lilienthal, so that the known should be tested before passing to the unknown. With these two machines Mr. Chanute and Mr. Herring, and two assistants (Mr. Avery and Mr. Butusov), went in June, 1896, to the desert sand dunes at the south end of Lake Michigan, north of Miller Station, about thirty miles from Chicago. The Lilienthal-like machine was the first tested.
The machine spread 168 square feet of sustaining surface, was equipped with a double rudder, and weighed thirty-six pounds. With this about 100 glides were made, the longest being 116 feet. It proved from the outset an awkward machine to handle. Lilienthal, whose skill had been developed by four or five years of practice, obtained valuable and safe results with it, but it was otherwise with novices. Its operation involved a struggle with the wind before it could be brought under control, and this continued after the flight had begun.
Gliding a short height over the ground was practiced to avoid untoward accidents, for the winds experimented in, of 12 to 17 miles per hour, constantly varied the position of the center of pressure so far and so rapidly through their fluctuations, that the operator had to shift his position as actively as a tight-rope dancer, but to greater distances, to avoid being overturned. The body had to be moved at times some 15 or 18 inches, and not infrequently in landing the apparatus was broken. This involved less personal risk than might be supposed because the radiating ribs curve downward, so that they first come into contact with the ground when an awkward landing is made, and save the operator from harm.
The Lilienthal glider proved to be a disappointment. At last, after having been broken and mended a number of times, was finally discarded altogether. After abandoning this first form of machine, the experimenters in the sand dunes next tested the machine built after the fashion of the ladder kite which had proven so steady in the air.