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Octave Chanute

First Aero Historian

Early U.S. Flight Experimentalist

Born Paris, France

Feb. 18, 1832—Nov. 23, 1910

Octave Alexandre Chanute began his successful career in railroad construction at the Hudson River Railroad in Ossining, New York. A self-taught engineer, he became a legend for his novel designs and construction of complex bridges, railroad terminals, and construction materials. His work on preservation of material, led to his invention of the system for pressure treating rail ties and telephone poles with cresote, a techniques still in use throughout the world.

In 1889, at age 57, when most successful men have rested on their laurels, he began his second career and devoted himself to the solution of the problems of flight. In typical Chanute fashion of step by step investigation, his first act was to assemble all known data on the science into a single synthesis and to catalogue its problems. His initial objectives were the elimination of the errors of experimentalists and to advance the science of flight by making known both their successes and failures. His publication of the classic book Progress in Flying Machines in 1894, gave the world its first compendium on flight, and earned him the title of first aero historian.

Chanute believed the advancement of flight science must be the work of many. He corresponded internationally, and encouraged the pioneers: Voisin, Bleriot, Farman and the Wright Brothers of whom he was a special friend and mentor. He sought no patents on his inventions and gave his findings openly to all. His sponsorship of the term "aviation" resulted in its common use.

His gliding experiments on the shores of Lake Michigan in the 1890's contributed much to flight science in the areas of control systems and stability, efficiency of materials, aircraft structural integrity and strength. In utilizing his knowledge of braced box structure in bridge construction, he invented the familiar strut-wire braced wing structure still employed in biplane aircraft. Wilbur Wright in his 1911 eulogy of Chanute said, "his labors had vast influence in bringing about the era of human flight."

Invested 1974 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984


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