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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

And Ferber resumed his exhibition flights


I talked a lot,' said Wilbur Wright once, 'I should be like the parrot, which is the bird that speaks most and flies least.' That attitude is emblematic of the majority of the early fliers, and because of it the record of their achievements is incomplete to-day. Ferber, for instance, has left little from which to state what he did, and that little is scattered through various periodicals, scrappily enough. A French army officer, Captain Ferber was experimenting with monoplane and biplane gliders at the beginning of the century-his work was contemporary with that of the Wrights. He corresponded both with Chanute and with the Wrights, and in the end he was commissioned by the French Ministry of War to undertake the journey to America in order to negotiate with the Wright Brothers concerning French rights in the patents they had acquired, and to study their work at first hand.

Ferber's experiments in gliding began in 1899 at the Military School at Fountainebleau, with a canvas glider of some 80 square feet supporting surface, and weighing 65 lbs. Two years later he constructed a larger and more satisfactory machine, with which he made numerous excellent glides. Later, he constructed an apparatus which suspended a plane from a long arm which swung on a tower, in order that experiments might be carried out without risk to the experimenter, and it was not until 1905 that he attempted power-driven free flight. He took up the Voisin design of biplane

for his power-driven flights, and virtually devoted all his energies to the study of aeronautics. His book, Aviation, its Dawn and Development, is a work of scientific value--unlike many of his contemporaries, Ferber brought to the study of the problems of flight a trained mind, and he was concerned equally with the theoretical problems of aeronautics and the practical aspects of the subject.

After Bleriot's successful cross-Channel flight, it was proposed to offer a prize of L1,000 for the feat which C. S. Rolls subsequently accomplished (starting from the English side of the Channel), a flight from Boulogne to Dover and back; in place of this, however, an aviation week at Boulogne was organised, but, although numerous aviators were invited to compete, the condition of the flying grounds was such that no competitions took place. Ferber was virtually the only one to do any flying at Boulogne, and at the outset he had his first accident; after what was for those days a good flight, he made a series of circles with his machine, when it suddenly struck the ground, being partially wrecked. Repairs were carried out, and Ferber resumed his exhibition flights, carrying on up to Wednesday, September 22nd, 1909. On that day he remained in the air for half an hour, and, as he was about to land, the machine struck a mound of earth and overturned, pinning Ferber under the weight of the motor. After being extricated, Ferber seemed to show little concern at the accident, but in a few minutes he complained of great pain, when he was conveyed to the ambulance shed on the ground.

'I was foolish,' he told those who were with him there. 'I was flying too low. It was my own fault and it will be a severe lesson to me. I wanted to turn round, and was only five metres from the ground.' A little after this, he got up from the couch on which he had been placed, and almost immediately collapsed, dying five minutes later.

Ferber's chief contemporaries in France were Santos-Dumont, of airship fame, Henri and Maurice Farman, Hubert Latham, Ernest Archdeacon, and Delagrange. These are names that come at once to mind, as does that of Bleriot, who accomplished the second great feat of power-driven flight, but as a matter of fact the years 1903-10 are filled with a little host of investigators and experimenters, many of whom, although their names do not survive to any extent, are but a very little way behind those mentioned here in enthusiasm and devotion. Archdeacon and Gabriel Voisin, the former of whom took to heart the success achieved by the Wright Brothers, co-operated in experiments in gliding. Archdeacon constructed a glider in box-kite fashion, and Voisin experimented with it on the Seine, the glider being towed by a motorboat to attain the necessary speed. It was Archdeacon who offered a cup for the first straight flight of 200 metres, which was won by Santos-Dumont, and he also combined with Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe in giving the prize for the first circular flight of a mile, which was won by Henry Farman on January 13th, 1908.

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