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Gallaudet Aircraft

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The honor of organizing the first aircraft factory in the United States may belong to Edson Gallaudet, who, in 1908, organized the first aircraft engineering office, which the modern General Dynamics Corporation claims as its ancestor. In 1910, he established Gallaudet Engineering Company to build planes under contract. He reorganized as the Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation in 1917. Its first mass production craft was the 1918 production of Curtiss floatplanes. The DB-1 and DB-1B, built after the war and planned as day bombers, never reached the production stage. The company was sold to Major Reuben Fleet of the newly formed Consolidated Aircraft in 1923.


Edson Fessenden Gallaudet

1871 - 1945

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Edson F. Gallaudet

Edson Fessenden Gallaudet

Edson F. Gallaudet was inspired to pursue aeronautical matters by the work of Samuel P. Langley, whose Aerodromes had been widely publicized. Gallaudet received a doctorate degree in 1896, and became a physics instructor at Yale University in 1897. The following year, 1898, Gallaudet designed and built a large biplane kite with tapered warping wings, which were controlled by a system of gears and rods. His stated purpose for the warping wings (set at a dihedral angle) was to provide a means of "... controlling the lateral position of the machine in the air..." The Gallaudet "Hydro-Bike" kite also was fitted with a single surface tail and two pontoon-type floats. The kite had a wingspan of about 11 1/2 feet, and a length of just over 8 feet. His preliminary tests of the kite were to be the final tests, for he was told by his superiors at Yale that as a physics instructor at Yale he should not be experimenting with aeronautical devices.

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Edson F. Gallaudet's Hydro-Bike Edson F. Gallaudet's Hydro-Bike
Front-view photograph of Edson F. Gallaudet's "Hydro-Bike" - 1898


End-view photograph of Edson F. Gallaudet's "Hydro-Bike" showing opposed warping
of opposite outer wing panels for lateral control- 1898


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A-1 Bullet 1912 = 1pOmwM; 100hp Gnôme twin-row rotary pusher; span: 31'11" length: 20'7" v: 125. Streamlined, four-sided, wood fuselage with a three-bladed prop mounted on the tail, driven by extended crankshaft from the fully-enclosed motor. It was twice as fast as biplanes of the era.

A-2 Bullet 1912 = Evolution of A-1 with a round, stringer-formed fuselage and variable-incidence wing with single-tube main spar and ribs made of aluminum tubing. POP: 1, crashed during a speed run of 110mph on 7/24/12.

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Edson F. Gallaudet - ca. 1920

Edson F. Gallaudet - ca. 1920

Edson Gallaudet did not patent his system of wing warping for lateral control of flying machines and so the wing warping method of lateral control was open for subsequent investigators. Had he patented the notion of wing warping for lateral control, and sought to enforce his patent, it would have presented a serious impediment to Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright's use of wing warping on their machines. The Gallaudet "Hydro-Bike" of 1898 is currently on exhibit in the Early Flight Gallery at the National Air & Space Museum.

Edson F. Gallaudet was very active early during the pre-WWI period, and designed, built and flew a number of very interesting aeroplanes, including the legendary Gallaudet Bullet.

Edson F. Gallaudet was a contemporary of the Wright brothers who was investigating aerodynamics during the late 1890s. Probably his greatest contribution to the field was the development of "wing warping" which he applied to kites he was experimenting with in 1898. Those familiar with the Wright brothers work will recall that wing warping was used in their early designs for lateral control. In essence, the outer portion of the wings were twisted to change the angles of attack thereby changing the lift to bank the aircraft. Thus, wing warping was an early version of the ailerons used on modern aircraft. From what I've read, it sounds like the Wright brothers did not develop this idea themselves, but I could find no solid proof that Gallaudet's research was their inspiration.

What Gallaudet did over the next decade is unclear, but he formed his own company based in Rhode Island in 1908. Named Gallaudet Engineering, the company's focus was to design and build aircraft. Indeed, the company officially became the Gallaudet Aircraft Company in 1917. Gallaudet was primarily involved in the manufacture of seaplanes for the US Navy, but the company also license built some designs from Curtiss and Dayton-Wright. Some of the more notable aircraft produced by Gallaudet include:


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PW-4 CO-1 DB-1

A-1 Bullet: (c. 1912) A streamlined monoplane with a pusher propeller, rather advanced considering it was built before World War I, it was reportedly "twice as fast as biplanes of the era" but appears to have been an experimental design only.

A-2 Bullet: (c. 1912) Improved A-1 with metal used for major structural components, clocked at 110 mph (178 km/h)!

Flying boat: (c. 1913) Seaplane version of the Bullet.

C-2: (c. 1915) A pilot trainer used at the Gallaudet Aviation School.

D-1: (c. 1915) US Navy seaplane that entered service as the A-59, was unusual in that the engines were buried in the fuselage behind the cockpit with a propeller rotating around the fuselage.

D-4: (c. 1916) US Navy seaplane that entered service as the AH-63, similar to D-1 but with more powerful engines.

PW-4: (c. 1922) Remarkable for the fact that it was of all-metal construction in an age of wood and canvas, only one built and probably never flown.

CO-1: (c. 1923) An observation aircraft for the US Army also of all-metal construction, only one built before order was cancelled.

DB-1: (c. 1923) A daytime bomber for the US Army, but first DB-1 built was so heavy that it could only be used for ground tests. An improved DB-1B did fly but had such poor flight characteristics that it was rejected.

By the early 1920s, E. Gallaudet seems to have disappeared from the scene and Reuben H. Fleet became general manager of the Gallaudet Aircraft Company. Fleet was well known as an early pioneer of military aviation and the Air Mail Service. He had proposed purchasing Dayton-Wright from General Motors but was unable to interest other Gallaudet executives in the deal. Undeterred, Fleet started his own company named Consolidated in 1923. He then bought out both Dayton-Wright and Gallaudet. Consolidated went on to produce such famous aircraft as the B-24 Liberator bomber and Catalina flying boat before itself being merged into General Dynamics and later Lockheed. Thus, some small part of Edson Gallaudet's legacy still lives on today.



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