Michigan Aviation Pioneer Augustus Herring: First in Flight?
December 17, 2013
110 years ago on December 17, 1903, Orville & Wilbur Wright made aviation history with four flights of the Wright Flyer.
Seeking Michigan has a feature by Roger Rosentreter from Michigan History Magazine titled First in Flight? It tells the story of Augustus Herring, who followed his dream in St. Joseph and became one of this country’s aviation pioneers perhaps even pre-dating the Wright Brothers in powered flight:
Herring worked with other aviation pioneers, especially in experimenting with gliders. Finally, he put a gasoline-powered engine on a two-winged glider that had a wingspan of nineteen feet. The 2.5-horsepower engine (smaller than most of today’s lawnmower engines) gave the “pilot” power for about fifteen seconds In October 1898, Herring “flew” this contraption on the Lake Michigan beach at St. Joseph, Michigan. On a second flight, according to one eyewitness, the airplane stayed in the air for ten seconds and went seventy-three feet.
Herring had problems. His airplane was difficult to control, and he needed a lighter-weight engine to keep the plane flying longer, but none existed. Finally, the photographer who had been on the beach that day failed to capture Herring’s plane in the air. There was no visual proof that he had flown.
…Historians have mixed reviews for Herring. One labeled his work as “insignificant,” while another said, “one cannot deny that Herring flew or was very close to having flown.” As for Augustus Herring, he never claimed to be the first to fly. He knew his engine-powered glider was not a practical airplane. But he argued that his work proved that powered flight was “solvable.” That claim is undisputed.