Edson Gallaudet


Though I'd never heard the name before, a little research turned up some interesting facts about this early aviation pioneer. I couldn't find much on the man himself other than some tidbits about his engineering accomplishments and his company. Edson F. Gallaudet was a contemporary of the Wright brothers who was investigating aerodynamics during the late 1890s. Probably his greatest contribution to the field was the development of "wing warping" which he applied to kites he was experimenting with in 1898. Those familiar with the Wright brothers work will recall that wing warping was used in their early designs for lateral control. In essence, the outer portion of the wings were twisted to change the angles of attack thereby changing the lift to bank the aircraft. Thus, wing warping was an early version of the ailerons used on modern aircraft. From what I've read, it sounds like the Wright brothers did not develop this idea themselves, but I could find no solid proof that Gallaudet's research was their inspiration.

What Gallaudet did over the next decade is unclear, but he formed his own company based in Rhode Island in 1908. Named Gallaudet Engineering, the company's focus was to design and build aircraft. Indeed, the company officially became the Gallaudet Aircraft Company in 1917. Gallaudet was primarily involved in the manufacture of seaplanes for the US Navy, but the company also license built some designs from Curtiss and Dayton-Wright. Some of the more notable aircraft produced by Gallaudet include:

By the early 1920s, E. Gallaudet seems to have disappeared from the scene and Reuben H. Fleet became general manager of the Gallaudet Aircraft Company. Fleet was well known as an early pioneer of military aviation and the Air Mail Service. He had proposed purchasing Dayton-Wright from General Motors but was unable to interest other Gallaudet executives in the deal. Undeterred, Fleet started his own company named Consolidated in 1923. He then bought out both Dayton-Wright and Gallaudet. Consolidated went on to produce such famous aircraft as the B-24 Liberator bomber and Catalina flying boat before itself being merged into General Dynamics and later Lockheed. Thus, some small part of Edson Gallaudet's legacy still lives on today.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 19 November 2000


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