Chesterton Tribune

Origin of flight is Indiana Dunes story historians learn

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“Origin of Flight in Dune Country” presented by National Park Ranger Cliff Goins took members and guests of the Duneland Historical Society through a brief history of flight and the story of Octave Chanute at the society’s November meeting at the Library Service Center.

Man’s dream of flying goes back to Greek mythology and will be celebrated with the centennial of the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.

But before powered flight many men had experimented with gliders. Octave Chanute chose the Indiana dunes as the place for his tests. He was living in Chicago and the dunes offered steady winds, a place where a glider could be launched in any direction, and sand for soft landings.

Chanute was born in Paris in 1832 and came to the United States with his father in 1838. He was educated in New York schools and became a civil engineer, designing the Chicago stockyards and supervising the construction of railroads.

In 1894 he published “Progress in Flying Machines” and in 1896 began his glider tests in the dunes. He brought his gliders from Chicago by train and assembled them on site. From June 22-July 4, 1896 he and his partners were at the beach in Miller. After some disappointing trials, they returned to Chicago and worked on their gliders before coming to Dune Park (now the site of Midwest Steel) on August 21, 1896 where they remained until September 25. Using a biplane design, his companions William Avery and Augustus Herring made repeated flights of more than 200 feet. Their glider “Katydid” made a record 369-foot flight in 13 seconds and for the moment it was the most successful heavier-than-air flying machine in the world.

Among Goins’ pictures were shots of a glider with Herring as passenger and of the group’s camp at Dune Park.

On May 13, 1900 Wilbur Wright wrote to Chanute about his research and the men exchanged hundreds of letters before Chanute’s death in 1910. Chanute visited Kitty Hawk during some of the Wrights’ early tests but was not there for the successful flight.

It was recalled that the late Howard Johnson, who was a DHS member, told of hearing from his grandfather, Charles Bradley, that Chanute would bring glider parts to Bradley’s shop for repairs.

Officers for 2004 for the Duneland Historical Society were elected. They are Betty Canright, president; Eva Hopkins, first vice-president; Joan Costello, vice-president/program; Fran Meyer, recording secretary; Audrey Lipinski, corresponding secretary; Marilyn Cook, treasurer; and Nancy Hokanson, Ascher Yates, Bertha Still, Dorothy Weidman Mayers, Nancy Vaillancourt, Rita Newman and Jane Walsh-Brown, board members.

The next meeting will be February 19, 2004.


Posted 11/24/2003