On June 22, 1896, Octave Chanute went to Miller Junction, IN, to pursue his dream of heavier-than-air flying machines. The civil engineer had designed the Chicago Stock Yards, the Kansas City Stock Yards and the first bridge to cross the Missouri River in Kansas City, MO. With Augustus Herring and William Avery, Chanute developed a multi-wing glider.
Chanute was born in Paris in 1832. He immigrated to America as a child in 1838. Naturalized, he considered himself to be a lifelong American. He worked in railroad engineering, deigning bridges and developing a method of treating wood with an antibiotic to preserve tracks. He developed a fascination with aviation after seeing a balloon flight in Peoria, IL, in 1856. In 1894, he collected aviation articles in the influential Progress in Flying Machines. While he encouraged pioneers to take out patents on their designs, he also promoted open distribution of the knowledge.
Too old to do the flying in 1896, he worked with Augustus Herring and William Avery. Herring was a 19th Century trustifarian whose Stevens Institute of Technology thesis “The Flying Machine as a Mechanical Engineering Problem” has been rejected. He continued experimenting with gliders. Avery was a carpenter and electrician who built their gliders in his shop. The crew’s glider designs based their designs on the work of German pioneer Otto “The Glider King” Lilienthal.
They arrived in Miller Junction (near the future Gary, IN) with a kite and two gliders. Over two weeks, they glided and adjusted designs. They refined the Katydid, a model with 5 pairs of wings in the front and one in back. On September 11, 1896, they returned for a 188-foot flight of the Katydid and a 256-foot flight with a new two-surface design. The next day, the double-decker achieved 359 feet.
Chanute maintained a friendship with the Wright Brothers, who made history with their December 17, 1903, powered flight. As an advocate of open discourse, he disproved of their tendency to initiate lawsuits. He passed away on November 23, 1910, after becoming the first president of the Aero Club of Illinois.