A self-taught engineer (and a very good one), Chanute designed the first railroad bridge over the Missouri River, as well as the Union Stockyards in Chicago and Kansas City. When his interest in aviation blossomed, it rapidly grew into an obsession. Chanute became a tireless and selfless champion of the invention of the airplane. He collected aviation research and made it available to all who requested it. In 1894, he published a compendium of early aviation experiments that served to inspire, among others, Orville and Wilbur Wright.
- Chanute published his classic book Progress in Flying Machines in 1894.
- In 1896 he began to search for automatic flight control by designing and building a series of gliders which flew successfully.
- He was the individual who made Europe aware of the success of the Wright Brothers.
Chanute had attained an outstanding reputation as civil engineer when, in 1875, he visited Europe and learned of the extensive efforts being made there, particularly by F.H. Wenham in England, to develop mechanical flight.
Not until he retired from his engineering business in 1889 did Chanute have opportunity for personal study and experiment in aeronautics. With the same analytical persistence that had made him a successful engineer he undertook to learn what had gone before. The result was his groundbreaking book, Progress in Flying Machines, published in 1894.
In 1896 at Dune Park, Indiana, about 60 miles from his home in Chicago, he began experiments with gliders, three of which were of his own design and two designed by others. Chanute’s advanced age prevented him from piloting them himself but his scientific observations of the glides by his assistants, and his generous sharing of the results broadened interest and advanced the art.
Not satisfied just to record the achievements of others, Chanute began in 1896 to search for automatic flight control by designing and building a series of gliders which an assistant successfully flew along Lake Michigan’s shore. In 1901 he visited the Wright Brothers and encouraged them in their gliding experiments, typifying his role as a collector and disseminator of aeronautical information and demonstrating his faith in the ultimate success of man to achieve powered flight.
To Octave Chanute, for outstanding contributions to aviation through his compilation of the aeronautical accomplishments of the pioneers of flight, his demonstration of successful man-carrying gliders, and his valuable counsel to others engaged in flight research, this award is most solemnly and respectfully dedicated.
Octave Chanute died on November 23rd, 1910.
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