the Wanderling

"Initially the flight played out fairly well, picking up wind under the wings and maintaining the same two-story height advantage for some distance. Halfway across busy Arlington Street though, the craft began slowing and losing forward momentum. It began dropping altitude rapidly, eventually crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house across the way. Other than a few bruises and a wrecked machine, nothing was broken, although as it turned out, my dad wasn't nearly as proud of me as intended. I never forgot the thrill of that flight and carried that thrill and Leonardo's dreams into my adulthood."


Five years before the record breaking flight by the Wright Brothers, Otto Lilienthal had already made hundreds of successful flights over huge distances using a series of 18 creations of his own design, of which 15 were single-wing mono planes and 3 bi-planes. Even though through research it is possible to find all 18 of the Lilienthal craft he designed and flew given numbers such as Type 10, Type 11, etc., he himself did not number them. The number designations system that has come down to us was a product of a man named Gerhard Halle, the son-in-law of Lilienthal's brother Gustav.

As I have reported, the final pattern for the flying machine or glider as the case may be that my Uncle and I built, and I flew without his knowledge or authorization, was extrapolated almost exclusively from a Lilienthal design, more specifically a model designated as Type IX or Number 9.

In researching Lilienthal back in the 1948 era we are talking about here, my uncle and I were able to come up with a number of photographs of a number of his craft, but none specifically suitable for use to design one of our own from other than generally. In seeking an answer to our dilemma we ran into a man that informed us he had a solution that he was sure would solve our problem.

The man was from England and in pursuit of satisfying his smoking habit he preferred British cigarettes. It just so happened the brand that he liked the most was made by a company called Lambert & Butler, a company that had for years, as a sales promotion published and distributed a rather fine series of collectable trading cards similar to America's baseball cards, although in any manner of subjects.

One day in a smoke shop that catered almost exclusively toward the sale of British cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco that my uncle frequented on occasion, the man noticed a model of the glider I was carrying. When he commented on it I told him my uncle and I were building a life size one that I would be able to fly. Holding the model glider and looking it over carefully he said that what we were trying to accomplish seemed a noble and commendable venture, then questioned how far along we were in our endeavors. Listening intently to my tale of woe on how we had gone from a rather primitive glider based on one I saw in Tarzan and the Huntress to investigating Leonardo Da Vinci to Lilienthal and still were unable to come up with a successful craft. That is when the man said he might be able to help. Telling my uncle and me that he would be right back he took off running out of the shop.

A half and hour went by. Then 45 minutes. My uncle said we had to go and just as we were leaving the man came running in carrying what looked like a photo album. Inside was page after page of what looked almost like baseball trading cards, only larger, and the theme wasn't ball players but airplanes. The cards were part of a collection he had saved for years that were at one time distributed by the aforementioned British cigarette maker Lambert & Butler. He flipped through the pages and came across a trading card that depicted the most beautiful glider I had ever seen. If I would have been older I would have ejaculated all over myself on the spot. It was perfect. The man gave the card to my uncle and told him he could use it if we wanted to make our plans from. Which is exactly what we did. My uncle was somehow able to search down the wingspan of the actual craft and from that we upscaled the rest of the measurements from the card to life size.

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As it so happened, the one depicted on the trading card was Lilienthal's Type 9. Not knowing it was a Type 9 and, even though my uncle and I researched everything we could regarding the flying craft depicted on the trading card by comparing what few photographs and drawings we could find, most of our interest circulated around the physical specifics --- that is the dimensions of the wingspan like length and width for instance. So, taking the graphic on the trading card as being accurate, we duplicated the craft's length, width, etc. in real life. What we didn't know was that it was a No. 9 or No. 9s history, of which for the most part there wasn't any --- and for good reason. Glider No. 9 was the same model that Lilienthal had his most serious crash, that is, up until the one that resulted in his death. In flight, at 60 feet above the ground, the No 9 glider stalled, followed by a steep nose-dive burying the front end of the craft in the ground with the only thing saving him being a sort of bumper called a "rebound bow" he began using in his designs.

While it is true that during my attempt at flying I ended up crashing the glider, most of what I write about regarding the flight itself is fairly benign, usually referring the reader back to the original source as found on page 3 of ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds and of which, the flight results are shown in the opening quote at the top of the page. However, beyond that quote, in a place in my writings where I was trying to pinpoint the exact date the flight occurred, and in doing so, I presented somewhat more detailed specifics of the flight. If one reads that part of my story, it pretty much duplicates the results of Lilienthal's, with both of us experiencing nearly the same inflight problems. To wit, from the source so cited:

"It was only a short time after returning from the desert during the summer of 1948 --- and before school started --- that I removed the flying machine, mentioned previously above, from it's construction lair and hauled it up to the second story rooftop across the street, then, holding on for dear life, jumped off. The craft maintained the same two-story height advantage for quite some distance, but partway into the flight, instead of continuing in the direction I wanted, it began tipping lower on the right and turning. Without ailerons or maneuverable rudder controls and with inexperienced over-correcting on my part creating an adverse yaw followed by a sudden stall, the ensuing results ended with a somewhat dramatic drop, crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house diagonally across the way."(source)

In a slightly later work of mine, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT: The Code-O-Graphs, I touch lightly on the same subject with a tiny bit of added insight although admittedly a little redundant:

"One day I took the completed craft to the top of a nearby two story building and holding on for dear life, jumped off. At first the flying machine held fairly steady, maintaining altitude and covering a rather substantial distance. Then suddenly the craft stalled, I lost control and it dropped like a rock from a pretty good height, crashing into the front porch and through the windows of neighbor's house across the street. The machine escaped any real major damage and so did I.

"Even though the flight ended not as smoothly as I hoped, primarily because of lack of experience on my part, or as the case may be, none at all, and as I discovered, perhaps the lack of any sort of actual flight control mechanisms as well, I considered my attempt a success --- especially so because of the distance covered before I lost control."

The thing is, the day I jumped off the two story building it never even entered my mind that I might need a landing spot or anything else for that matter. Even though I knew Cheetah the Chimp's glider crashed in the movie and Leonardo's did in the comic book, I just expected my glider, which was much more sophisticated, to continue staying afloat in the air until I decided to set it down. For all I knew, at least in how I viewed things in my then ten year old mind, I could have flown the thing clear to the Pacific Ocean some 15 to 20 miles to the west.

In the book Air Transportation by Robert M. Kane (1967), Chapter 3, Kane, in discussing the crash of No. 9, gives the following quote in Lilienthal's own words as to what happened:

"During a gliding flight taken from great height the center of gravity lay too much in the back; at the same time I was unable, owing to great fatigue, to draw the upper part of my body again toward the front."

Kane, continuing in the main text, goes on to say:

Overloaded at the rear the machine shot skyward, stalled and then nose-dived toward the earth from a height of more than 60 feet. The prellbugel splintered as it buried itself in the ground, but it absorbed the shock of impact and Lilienthal escaped with minor injuries.(see)

Although I didn't know it at the time, and have only since found out through recent research, as you can see by what I have written above almost the exact same results happened to me when I attempted to fly the craft my uncle and I built. If it was caused by something inherent in the design or simply a coincidence between Lilienthal's flying ability and mine is something I will never know. He never flew the Type 9 again and, even though I wish I had flown mine again --- like Leonardo Da Vinci always moving on to other things --- neither did I.

When I reached my mid-high school years I met a man that I call my Mentor in all my writings. My mentor, who was a U.S. born American citizen, had fought for the British as a fighter pilot in World War I in the Royal Flying Corps. At age 16 he crossed into Canada and joined the British fighting forces by fudging about his age well before the U.S. entered the war. I always felt we strengthened our bonds as friends initially because of his interest in flying and my early childhood attempt at manned-flight, re the following at the source so cited:

"Although I never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that, my mentor loved the story, and I think it was an early key to our initial philosophical bond."(source)

There is a slight caveat to my "never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that" found in the above quote. That caveat circulates around the word "similar." I did have two clearly defined attempts at human powered flight after the one described above --- one successful, the other ending in another crash. The second attempt occurred 17 years after the first as found in Washoe Zephyr and the third occurred 30 years after the first as found in The Zen Man Flies.






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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.

"When my uncle and I first started looking into the possibility of a glider-like flying machine, after a quick mock-up and test of a near replica of a Tarzan and the Huntress version, although I loved it, we almost instantly discarded it for a more sophisticated less primitive type."

Although I had been known from very early age to jump off one-story porches, garages, and roof tops with a bed sheet made into a parachute or flaring behind my back tied to my wrists and ankles a la Captain Midnight's glider chute on more than one occasion, my very, very first serious attempt to build a functional airplane-like craft that would carry me in flight was based almost exclusively on a glider I saw as a young boy in the 1947 black and white movie Tarzan and the Huntress as seen above, except for a few slight modifications.

When I first came home after seeing the movie all jacked up about building a flying craft capable of carrying me, initially my uncle just sort of played along, offering a few suggestions such as wider wings and a longer wingspan. My uncle was sure for a duplicate of the movie glider to even coming close to working, even though the movie showed Johnny Sheffield, the actor who played Boy, holding the glider it never showed him using the glider (only Cheetah). It was quite clear relative to Sheffield's weight the wingspan and wing width was wrong --- even for me, being a ten year old boy and probably half Sheffield's weight. It was only after my uncle saw how serious I was that we began researching Leonardo Da Vinci and eventually moving to a Lilienthal design, most notedly his Type IX. With Lilienthal's ideas in our hands and a valid design to work from the following happened:

"My uncle drew a life size outline of the craft on the floor of the studio and from that the machine grew into an over fifteen-foot wingspan glider capable of supporting a man like Lilienthal's, or a ten year old boy like myself, in flight. I am not sure what his exact plan for the machine was, but one day without my uncle's knowledge a friend of mine and I hauled it out of the studio and up to the top of the second story apartments across the compound, and hanging on for dear life, launched it."(source)