It's a well-known milestone of history that on a windy day in December 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright became the first men to achieve sustained, powered flight. It's less well-known that without the help of aircraft mechanic and engine-builder Charles Taylor that famous flight into history at Kitty Hawk, NC, would not have happened.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University plans to give Taylor, who was born in 1868 and died in 1956, the recognition he deserves. The school will celebrate Taylor's 137th birthday on May 24 by naming one of its oldest and most-established units the Charles Taylor Department of Aviation Maintenance Science (AMS).
"Charles Taylor is the man who put the 'power' in powered flight," says AMS Chairman Fred Mirgle. "When the carmakers of the day couldn't supply an engine, the Wright brothers turned to Taylor, the manager of their bicycle shop in Dayton, OH. In just six weeks he designed and built a 13-horsepower engine weighing 150 pounds. And he did it using only hand tools, a lathe, and a drill press."
Embry-Riddle's events on May 24 will begin with a luncheon for AMS students. At a dinner and dedication ceremony that evening, a bronze bust of Charles Taylor by artist Virginia Hess will be unveiled. Also on display will be three original pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Score Sr., a Deltona, FL, mechanic, depicting Charles Taylor, the engine he built, and the Wright Flyer. The after-dinner speaker will be Charles Taylor II, the great-grandson and namesake of Charles Taylor. Howard DuFour, author of the 1997 book "Charles E. Taylor: The Wright Brothers Mechanician," will make brief remarks.
Charles Taylor II, who has held a private pilot license for 18 years, will fly to Daytona Beach in his Cessna 172 Skyhawk along with passenger DuFour. Taylor owns Taylor Microcomputer Consulting in Chicago.
"What I admire most about my great-grandfather," he says, "is his superb engineering skills, his ability to figure out a problem using the most basic equipment, his dedication to his job, and his dedication to Orville and Wilbur Wright. He worked long, hard hours for many years, for just a simple paycheck."
More than two decades ago, Charles Taylor II compiled information on his great-grandfather for a high school report that ended up at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) headquarters in Washington, D.C., DuFour found the report there many years later while researching his book on Charles Taylor.
DuFour, a master machinist and the retired supervisor of the engineering shop at Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, says Taylor's "life history was so close to mine that he felt like a kindred spirit." With a $10,000 grant from WSU, DuFour not only wrote a book on Taylor but also made a duplicate of Taylor's engine on his original lathe at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.
Artist Virginia Hess, a friend of DuFour and, like him, a resident of the Dayton area, was inspired by DuFour's book to create a bust of Taylor. "I studied the photos in Howard's book," she said. "Charles Taylor was a down-to- earth man, not a flashy dresser at all, so I gave him a natural look." Similar projects usually take her about six months, but the Taylor bust was ready for the foundry in only six weeks.
AMS Chairman Fred Mirgle says the bust and artifacts that illustrate Taylor's contribution to the first powered flight will be displayed in Embry- Riddle's AMS building. "We'd like to include a mockup of the first engine or a running version donated or built by our students and staff," he says. "And someday when we acquire a new building, we plan to use the Taylor display as the centerpiece in a circular lobby with a timeline of aviation maintenance history on the walls."