The THREE Who Flew At Kitty Hawk: Charles E. Taylor and the Wright Brothers’ Engines

Presentation given in 1999 by Rubin Battino, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Wright State University.

It is little known aside from historians of early flight that the Wright Brothers did not build their own engines. They hired a mechanician named Charles E. Taylor in 1901 to build and repair bicycles, and to tend their shop while they were away at Kitty Hawk testing their gliders. In fact, they left for Kitty Hawk just a few weeks after they hired Taylor. After they tried unsuccessfully to get someone to build an engine to their specifications, they turned to Charlie (who had never built an engine before) and asked him if he could build one for them. Charlie said "Yes." The engine that powered the Kitty Hawk was built by Taylor in just thirty working days (six weeks) using only a four-jaw chucked lathe and a drill press as power tools. He did not even own a micrometer at the time! This talk is about Taylor, his life, and his family. Technical details are given about the engine design, construction, and performance. The talk is illustrated with overhead transparencies of many wonderful old photographs. This talk includes a short side-talk on the flight of the Vin Fiz: the first transcontinental flight of the U.S. There will be a short video clip of Taylor himself and of a working full-scale replica engine (built at the San Diego Aerospace Museum). Also available will be props showing how the crankshaft was machined, and a one-third scale casting of the engine with some relevant parts.

The Genius of the Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, had three careers: as printers, as bicycle makers, and as the inventors of the first controlled powered man-carrying flying machine. Their family history starts the talk. (A diversion is made to pay homage to Richard Pearse’s contributions.) The talk emphasizes the research and development approach of the Wright Brothers in designing, building, and testing their flying apparati. They were systematic, and tested everything. When it turned out that Liliethal’s lift tables were incorrect, for example, they built a wind tunnel and tested hundred of airfoil designs. They started their work at Kitty Hawk by testing large kites. Their main interest was always in the aerodynamics of controlled flight—you might consider them to be the world’s first "control" freaks. When they turned to powered flight, they first had to solve the problem of propeller design (with no help from the literature). The talk is illustrated with many overhead transparencies of original photographs in the possession of the Wright State University Archives.

Professor Rubin Battino

Brief CV

Professor Battino is a retired Professor of Chemistry, and is currently visiting New Zealand as the Eskline Fellow at Canterbury University. He is lecturing in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, and will be in New Zealand till June 1999. He has visited New Zealand several times previously, most recently in 1995.

Professor Battino has a very impressive academic background, and as well has many other interests. He has published numerous technical papers, and is an accomplished speaker. He has a strong interest in the history of early flight, particularly the Wright Brothers. He has collaborated in the preparation of an biography and an oral history of Charles E Taylor, the Wright Brothers mechanician.

His other interests include Chemical education, psychotherapy and counselling. He is a licensed Professional Clinical Councillor in the State of Ohio, and has taught Neurolinguistic Programming. He is also a leader of groups based on the philosophy of Dr Bernie Siegel for people who have life threatening illnesses. He has also written 14 plays and a book on Haiku. One of his plays; ‘Die Already!’ Was produced in Christchurch in 1988.

Rubin Battino is the editor of An Oral History of Charles E. Taylor: The Wright Brothers’ Mechanician.
He can be reached via E-mail at:

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