Early Aviation Research

The Skonkwerks library consists of over five thousand original aviation artifacts. The extensive early aviation (1786-1913) collection was amassed over time from individual purchases during research. In some cases, particular artifacts were only located after extensive worldwide searches; and to date, several searches are still on going.
The information contained in original artifacts is not a copy, it does not come off the internet, does not contain modern day biases, it has not been re-written, re-purposed, re-dated or otherwise corrupted.
The collection consists of original 1st. edition books, photos, awards, essays, medals, and other memorabilia. In many cases the information contained within the artifact pales in comparison to information about the artifact, as evidenced in the story below.

The book was written by Dr. John Jeffries, the lead defense witness in the Boston Massacre trial. After Jeffries’s testimony in court, John Adams secured a not guilty verdict for all but two of the British soldiers. Dr. Jeffries felt the two soldiers were sacrificial lambs used to appease the populace and was appalled when they were sentenced to have their hands branded with two red hot plates of steel. When the punishment was meted out, it forever removed any feeling from the hands that held the rifles and the fingers that pulled the triggers. After the trial, Dr. Jeffries, disgruntled with his fellow American countrymen, exiled himself to England, where he met Jean-Pierre Blanchard.

Blanchard, the son of a pauper, grew up an inventive rascal with a keen eye on profit. Thrilled by birds and anything that flew, Blanchard started aerial experiments at the early age of twelve. After several failed attempts to build a proper aeroplane he called a “bird glider,” he finally settled on gas bags or balloons as more promising endeavors.

Spurred by early successes in both hydrogen production and gas bag design, he succeeded in making several hops of a few feet. As Blanchard gained experience, his flights became longer and longer. Funded by Dr. Jeffries, Jeffries and Blanchard made a flight from London to Kent in November of 1784. Three months later, in January 1785, Jeffries again funded a flight, but this time it was to be across the English Channel.

During the epoch flight from England to France, Blanchard experimented with lightweight fabric covered frames. Much like a rudder on a boat, it was his contention that larger frames could be deployed to direct the craft up or down or tilt and turn it from side to side. In addition to his aerial experiments, the duo also carried with them a bag containing Royal Post mail. After a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Dover, they landed in the Forêt de Guiness, a forest just south of Calais. When they crawled out of the basket, they were treated as royalty, despite the fact they had thrown most of their clothes overboard to lighten the load, thus avoiding a splashdown in the English Channel. Near naked but standing tall and proud amongst the trees in the forest, they were the first international air travelers, and they delivered the first international air mail.

Jean-Pierre Blanchard had become bored in England and by January 1793 found his way to the American capital city of Philadelphia. It was from here, in the Walnut Street prison yard, that the first flight in America would be made. Free from prying eyes and guarded from the blustering wind, Blanchard worked most of the day, filling the gas bag with the extremely volatile hydrogen gas that he generated from mixing iron filings and acid.

He had befriended a French-speaking prison guard, Moses Fales, who appreciated Blanchard’s French pronunciation of his name in two syllables: Fal-es. He lent a hand and soon became the unofficial helper and interpreter of the balloonist who spoke only French. Blanchard shared stories of his adventures, and Fales was haunted by one account of a landing in a farm field.

“It was in the fall,” Blanchard had said, “and I was attacked by pitchfork wielding farmers. It seems their Christian ideals got in the way of their common sense. After watching me float from the heavens and gently land in their field, their reaction was completely opposite of what I would have thought. It seems bearing witness to a huge round orb coming out of the sky conjured unpleasant thoughts in the peasant’s minds. They were convinced I had ascended from hell and was the devil incarnate; it took me over an hour to talk them out of doing away with me on the spot.”

The balloon ascension had been advertised for weeks, and today, a cannon was fired from outside the prison yard every hour to alert the public. When President George Washington and other dignitaries arrived, the balloon was almost ready to launch. Moses was surprised when President Washington walked over and stood not three feet away observing the preparations. Moses had fought in Maryland and still wore his old regiment pin. He had seen General Washington years earlier during the war. He had ridden through the camp on a gleaming white horse. Moses remembered him as a proud and overwhelming presence. He reached deep and summoned every bit of courage before he turned and faced the President of the United States of America.

“Mr. President,” he said, “may I have a word?” Moses was stunned when President Washington smiled and studied him with soft and watery eyes.

“Of course, you can.” The voice was gentle and lilting, nothing at all what Moses would have expected. “How may I be of service to you?” President Washington put his hand on the old soldier’s shoulder and steered him away a short distance for privacy.

“Mr. Washington, sir,” Moses jumped in with both feet, “Mons. Blanchard told me a story about him landing in a field in France and the farmers almost killed him because they thought he was evil. He talked them out of it… but here in America, sir, well he doesn’t speak English and he won’t be able to talk his way out of nut’n here, sir.” Nervous, Moses finished with a salute before adding, “General Washington, sir!”

The smile and reassuring look that President Washington returned set Moses completely at ease. “Hm, I see your point, perhaps a note of passage would be in order.”

Several hours later, following Blanchard’s directions, Moses stood ready to let go of the last rope. Blanchard motioned Moses closer, showing him a single piece of paper, and said, “Thanks to you, President Washington gave me a very nice pass-port signed and written in his own hand. Before the unknown of every flight, I like to thank all…” Blanchard’s thoughts were cut short as the knot in the last rope slipped and the tethered balloon transitioned to an aerial vehicle. Moses grabbed the rope and with little difficulty held the balloon in place. “Thank you for all your help Moses, I have something here for you.” Blanchard worked quickly with pen in hand and tossed a book five or six feet down to Moses before releasing one of the many twenty-five-pound sandbag ballasts. Moses released the rope and the balloon lifted gently over the prison walls as Blanchard waved to the crowd of cheering people. On the front page of the book Blanchard had hurriedly scrawled “To Moses Fales.”

An excerpt from AeronautS The Struggle to Fly with the authors permission.

Complete library inventory under construction.

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