By Frank Joseph Rowe & Craig Miner
Copyright 1994, The Wichita Eagle & Beacon Publishing Company
Chapter 1, The Whatchimacallits
The title of the first chapter (The Whatchimacallits) was coined to cover an era of imaginative but unworkable flying concepts defying description as aircraft. Just as in any process it is required to "crawl before one walks", the time period between 1890 – 1910 represented an "aeronautical wilderness" in Kansas in which trial and error led to some of the most rudimentary and interesting attempts at early experimental flight.
The few and isolated attempts at early flight in Kansas were based upon anything but an exact science. In some cases, concepts were opinions derived from observations and dissections of birds. True, the Wright Brothers flew in 1903, but much of their work was kept secret for patent protection (and not made largely available until about 1908).
Many of the early attempts from today’s perspective are downright laughable, but at the same time are irresistibly intriguing. The 1898 Gabbey Airship of Rossville , Ks was to propelled by revolving "screw parachutes" that mimic the stroke of a bird’s wing. A.V. Weingarten’s flying machine of Leon, Ks looked like a "flying grain auger" with a series vertical and horizontal conveyor-line sails. A.E. Hunt, a blacksmith from Jetmore, Ks developed an early helicopter that used cattle feed tanks as part of it’s lift system, but that vibrated itself to death. Perhaps most remarkable from a visual stand-point, was the creation of Henry L. Call of Girard, Ks (of the Aerial Navigation Company), who built a "woodpecker-headed" flying machine called "The Great Dream". Consisting of 2,000 square feet of canvas sail spread over a length of 50 feet and a height of 20 feet, Call also built his own engines.
While many of these endeavors proved to be short-lived oddities, there also emerged a gradual knowledge base that when linked to good old midwestern persistence set the stage for greater things.