Samuel Pierpont Langley

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Samuel Pierpont Langley (August 22, 1834, Roxbury, Massachusetts – February 27, 1906, Aiken, South Carolina) was an American astronomer, physicist, inventor of the bolometer and pioneer of aviation. He attended Boston Latin School, graduated from The English High School, was an assistant in the Harvard College Observatory, then became chair of mathematics at the United States Naval Academy. In 1867, he became the director of the Allegheny Observatory and a professor of astronomy at the Western University of Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pittsburgh, a post he kept until 1891 even while he became the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1887. Langley was the founder of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

In 1886, Langley received the Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences for his contributions to solar physics. His publication in 1890 of infrared observations at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh together with Frank Washington Very was used by Svante Arrhenius to make the first calculations on the greenhouse effect.


Aviation work

Langley attempted to make a working piloted heavier-than-air aircraft. His models flew, but his two attempts at piloted flight were not successful. Langley began experimenting with rubber-band powered models and gliders in 1887. (According to one book, he was not able to reproduce Alphonse Pénaud's time aloft with rubber power but persisted anyway.) He built a rotating arm (functioning similar to a wind tunnel) and made larger flying models powered by miniature steam engines.

His first success came on May 6, 1896 when his Number 5 unpiloted model flew nearly 3/4 of a mile after a catapult launch from a boat on the Potomac River. The distance was ten times longer than any previous experiment with a heavier-than-air flying machine,[1] demonstrating that stability and sufficient lift could be achieved in such craft. On November 11 that year his Number 6 model flew more than 5000 feet.

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