In the summer of 1896 French-born American Octave Chanute, a wealthy railroad engineer who had published a history of flight experiments, camped out on the windswept shore of Lake Michigan, determined to turn his theory into practice. In his mid-60s, Chanute was too old to fly himself, but he was accompanied by young
engineer August Moore Herring, who served as his assistant and test pilot.
The biplane glider was t he second machine Chanute and Herring tested that summer, and it was by far the most successful. Its outstanding feature was the use of vertical struts and wire cross-bracing to make the wing Structure a rigid, open “box-girder”. Cleverly adapted by Chanute from the Pratt truss used in railway bridges, this system combined strength and lightness so effectively that it has remained standard for biplanes ever since.
The pilot hung on parallel bars under his armpits, controlling the glider by moving his body. Gliding down sandhills, Augustus Herring flew for up to 253ft in the machine’s first trials; in a fresh wind on 11 September 1896 he succeeded in covering 359ft in 14 seconds. The biplane was so safe that, the following year. Herring allowed journalists to sample the joys of gliding flight.