Dear writers in General Aviation News dated April 7, 2006: Meg Godlewski’s cover (Cessna’s 172 Skyhawk at 50 Years Young) and Thomas F. Norton (Pioneers of Aviation):
I found the article about the Cessna 172, known as the Skyhawk, to be either a little incomplete or a bit inaccurate because according to “The Legend of Cessna,” by Jeffrey L. Rodengen, Page 137, the first Skyhawks were introduced in 1961. Your article says “In 1961…we improved the main gear and added the baggage door,” while sources I have read say that they lowered the main gear 3 inches and raised the motor 3 inches to give the same prop clearance, and added the baggage door, put in the push button starter and apparently created a “hat rack” from the back seat to the rear of the cabin. According to what this article says, the Skyhawk will not have a 50-year anniversary until 2011. I have a 1961 Cessna 172 Skyhawk and really like these features, plus its 40° manual flaps — couldn’t you tell?
As to the article about the Pioneers of Aviation, I have been inclined to believe that knowledge of controlling the elevator and rudder were being used by others (which you likely mention). However, I have read information indicating that the Wright brothers had the concepts of wing warping to bank the airplane on their desks that had been designed by a Frenchman who committed suicide after giving the plans to a friend of his about 60 years earlier. I can’t remember his name but did read that he could not get money to build his plane and committed suicide. As I recall, the Wright brothers mostly contributed this knowledge, but of course they did put the concept into actual flight. Of course, J.J. Montgomery (wing warping in 1890, flew the Santa Clara glider in 1905) is known as the father of flight per the Internet site Floating.CalTech.edu.
I just started flying in 1995 at the age of 63 so I can’t remember much more about these early flights; it has certainly become a passion for me, too.
Note from Senior Editor Thomas F. Norton: All of our information for the Cessna 172 story was from The Cessna Co.
As for the Pioneers of Aviation story: There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet, not the least of which concerns the early years of aviation. In particular, a lot of it attempts to denigrate the Wright brothers by making unsubstantiated claims about prior flights or technical successes. For example, Montgomery did, indeed, fly gliders before the Wrights, as did Lilienthal. Both were killed in glider crashes, primarily because they couldn’t control their flights (but also because their lift calculations were faulty). Montgomery may have had the notion of wing warping but he never made it work. The Wrights did. If CalTech wishes to call Montgomery the father of flight that’s their business and their ignorance. He was a credible experimenter, but no more the father of flight than, say, Otto Lilienthal, who comes closer to deserving such a title. I’ve tried to substantiate the story about the Frenchman but can’t, even with help from a senior curator at the Air & Space Museum. I would welcome more information.