M.Goodall, A.Tagg British Aircraft before the Great War (Schiffer)
Deleted by request of (c)Schiffer Publishing
A.Andrews. The Flying Machine: Its Evolution through the Ages (Putnam)
With his friend John Stringfellow, an engineer who was also in the lace industry at Chard, W. S. Henson built a model of Ariel with a 20ft wing-span and an ingenious little steam engine refined by Stringfellow. Before the tests were complete, the money ran out. At this stage, three years after the moral collapse of the Aerial Steam Carriage, Henson wrote to Sir George Cayley asking for aid:
You probably imagined that I had long since given it up as a failure, and you will no doubt be pleased to hear that I have, in conjunction with my friend Mr Stringfellow, been [working] more or less ever since 1843 towards the accomplishment of Aerial Navigation, and that we feel very sanguine as to the result of our endeavour and consider that we have arrived at that stage of proceedings which justifies us in obtaining that pecuniary assistance necessary to carry on our efforts upon an enlarged scale and with increased energy. We therefore resolved to apply to you as the Father of Aerial Navigation to ascertain whether you would like to have anything to do in the matter or not.
It is perhaps a little disconcerting to realise that the reason why Cayley was given the title of Father of Aerial Navigation, which everyone since has confirmed rather than challenged, was because he was being addressed by a man who wanted some money from him. But there is no reason to believe that Henson was just flattering him.
In any case the ploy did not work. In a kind but firm letter - very fatherly, indeed - Cayley encouraged Henson, and invited him to London to demonstrate ‘any experimental proof of mechanical flight maintainable for a sufficient time by mechanical power’. He ended his letter with a moving and dignified acceptance of the ugly truth that many aeronautical inventors have had to stomach - that their best hope for support depends on their value as a circus attraction, and that this value is enhanced by the occurrence of death in their aeronautical sphere and the likelihood of the death of the enthusiast himself. Yet these deaths might be necessary:
Though I have not any weight of capital to apply to such matters, I perhaps might be able to aid you in some manner by my experience in connection with other mechanical persons. I do not however think that any money, excepting by exhibition of a novelty, can be made by it. A hundred necks have to be broken before all the sources of accident can be ascertained and guarded against.
Henson continued for a little time to experiment with his model, unsupported by Cayley or other ‘mechanical persons’ except Stringfellow, but he lost heart, left Chard, married, and in 1849 emigrated to America. Stringfellow remained. He redesigned Henson’s model with a tiny steam engine driving four-bladed pusher propellers, and demonstrated it in an empty factory building in Chard and at the Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea - the showman’s exhibition that Cayley had prophesied they must accept. The working model aircraft was launched from an overhead wire in the correct attitude of flight. For many years it was said that it genuinely flew, and that this was therefore the first instance of mechanical flight (with an unmanned model) in history. This claim is no longer believed. In any case Stringfellow made no money from the exploit, and decided to cut his losses. He, too, went to the United States, but he returned: 20 years later, in 1868, when he was almost 70, Stringfellow exhibited at the historic first exhibition of the Aeronautical Society a model steam-powered triplane resolving the main criticism by Cayley in 1843 of the Aerial Steam Carriage with which he had been connected. This model, which also did not fly, again caught the public imagination by its appearance as the older Ariel had once done; and because it was often illustrated, it kept the multiplane structure within the vision of the designers, and led to the shape of the first practical biplane.