The Rainbow Chasers

IF happy little bluebirds fly above the rainbow, why, oh,
why can't I? (— Judy Garland in "The Wizard of OZ")

In April 1909 Carl S Bates became the leader of a small group of Chicago inventors building machines of many types. Bates, James F Scott, Horace B Wild, and Edward E Harbert worked together on problems common to all, but pursued entirely independent experiments. Ray Harroun worked with Bates, assisting him with the construction of new airplanes. Other inventors designed various types of flying apparatuses, though they did not actually build them: George H Benedict, August E Mueller, and Sidney S Williams developed plans for "aeroplanes," and Ewald E Steinhaus devised a "dirigible flying machine."

    About 1905 James Scott, a scenic artist, began experimenting with aeronautical devices and in the next five years built at least three machines. First he designed a multiplane, an apparatus with three or more sets of wings. In January 1908, in response to an advertisement by the War Department for bids on a heavier-than-air flying machine, Scott hurriedly submitted, at almost the last minute, specifications for a multiplane that he agreed to build for $1,000 and deliver to Fort Myer VA for tests within 185 days after the award of a contract.

    He realized that the price would cover only a small part of the construction costs, but he could not ask more because of the requirement that a 10 per cent deposit accompany each bid. He had been unable to raise more than $100 on such short notice. When accepted from 41 applicants, among which were the Wright brothers and Herring, Scott confidently expected to raise the needed funds and hoped to offset his loss through the sale of additional machines. However, a month later he had to ask that the contract be canceled.

    Although unable to fill the contract, Scott built a multiplane, possibly the one he had designed for the Army. In a shop near Lawrenceburg IN, he constructed it as an experiment for "working out the proposition of assembling into a controllable apparatus the fundamentals of mechanical flight, power, weight, and the area of carrying surfaces."

    When completed in April 1909, this machine consisted of five sets of wings, two sets in the front and three sets as a tail. The front ones were divided into several separate sections, each "independently deflectable." The rear ones were designed to enable the operator to adjust them to a wide range of angles of incidence. The complete machine weighed 650# and contained 558 sqft of lifting surface. A two-bladed "screw fan" driven by a 40hp engine supplied the motive power. If Scott flew this machine, it was not recorded; however, its lack of stabilizing devices and frail construction would have made flight dangerous if not impossible.

Later that year Scott moved to Utah. In August, he was reportedly constructing a multiplane on a "testing ground" between Salt Lake City and Saltair Beach. Although he did not release an exact description of the machine, he did state that it contained a multiplicity of planes and various propellers "set along the fore and aft line ... rather than along the front face." Again the results of his work are unknown.

    In the summer of 1910 he came back in Chicago and built a helicopter with 16 disks. When moved up and down by a lightweight engine, the disks were supposed to lift and sustain the machine in the air. A full-sized craft completed in September failed to fly although it had been patterned after a model which did "all sorts of stunts." One observer caustically remarked that Scott's helicopter would at least take first prize as the most fantastic flying machine in Chicago at that time.

    A balloonist of more than 20 years' experience, Horace Wild built and flew dirigibles and experimented with airplanes. In May 1907, as a charter member of the newly formed Aero Club of Chicago, Wild boasted of having performed flights in an airplane employing "gyroscopes revolving at the rate of 6,000 rpm." The accuracy of the statement is questionable, for he had a habit of exaggerating or fabricating stories about his own achievements.

    However, by October 1908, according to a reputable authority, he was actually building an airplane and the following month joined Bates, Harroun, Harbert, and Scott, who with the aid of influential newspapers secured permission from the South Park Board to use portions of Washington Park for testing machines. Less than two years later Wild apparently owned an airplane, for he announced that he was planning to fly to Louisville KY in conjunction with exhibitions there by Curtiss and other aviators. However, Wild's flight was later canceled after he reported a bad accident while making a final test in preparation for the trip. (— Howard L Scamehorn, "Balloons to Jets")