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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Pioneer Profile

    Octave Chanute (1832-1910)

    Octave-ChanuteBorn at Paris, France, 18 February 1832.
    Died 23 November 1910.

    Octave Alexandré Chanute began his career in railroad construction at the Hudson River Railroad in Ossining, New York. A self-taught engineer, he became a legend for his novel designs and construction of complex bridges and railroad terminals. Experiments in material preservation led to his invention of the system for pressure treating rail ties and telephone poles with cresote, techniques still in use worldwide.

    In 1889, at age 57, he began his second career and devoted himself to the solution of the problems of flight. In typical Chanute fashion of step-by-step investigation, his first act was to assemble all known data on the science into a single synthesis and to catalogue its problems. Initial objectives were the elimination of the errors of experimentalists and to advance the science of flight by making known both their successes and failures through his publication of the classic book, "Progress in Flying Machines." In 1894, he gave the world its first compendium on flight, and earned himself the title of the world's first aero historian.

    Chanute believed the advancement of flight science must be the work of many. He corresponded internationally and encouraged the pioneers: Voisin, Blériot, Farman, and the Wright Brothers, of whom he was a special friend and mentor. He sought no patents on his inventions, and gave his findings openly to all. His sponsorship of the term "aviation" resulted in its common use.

    Gliding experiments on the shores of Lake Michigan in the 1890's contributed much to flight science in the areas of control systems and stability, efficiency of materials, aircraft structural integrity and strength. In utilizing his knowledge of braced-box-structure in bridge construction, he invented the familiar strut-wire-braced wing structure still employed in biplane aircraft. Wilbur Wright, in his 1911 eulogy of Chanute, said, "His labors had vast influence in bringing about the era of human flight."

    Visit the France Profile for more information on French pioneers.

    Provided to the AIAA for the sole purpose of its Evolution of Flight Campaign.

    Biography Courtesy of AeroFiles