Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Harry Houdini Essay

Harry Houdini (1874-1926), whose real name was Ehrich Weiss, was one of the greatest American magicians, escapologists, illusionists, and stunt performers who has influenced generations of magicians around the world for almost a century. He was also an actor and film producer, although his career in the cinema was not as successful as his magic career (Harry Houdini). However, few people know, for example, that Harry Houdini, being fascinated with aviation and airplanes, was also one of the pioneer pilots in the world and became the first aviator to successfully make a controlled flight in Australia in the presence of nine witnesses, an event that was documented on film (An Aviation Timeline). Houdini’s fascination with airplanes Houdini’s interest in aviation began in 1909, at a time that was a crucial period in the history of world’s aviation. Six years earlier the Wright brothers demonstrated to the world that flights in airplanes with humans aboard were quite possible. Houdini, being a rich person, decided to buy his own aircraft for $5,000. It was a Voisin biplane with a sixty horsepower engine which weighed 1,350 lb (Mulvany). The aircraft resembled a huge version of a box kite with which a famous Australian aviator Lawrence Hargrave had experimented a dozen of years earlier (Early Australian Aviation). The great magician had his name painted on the plane’s tail and side panels (Harry Houdini). While performing escapology shows in Germany, Houdini was reported to be trained to pilot his biplane. During that training he crashed once and then succeeded in making his first flight on November 26, 1909 in Hamburg (Harry Houdini). The Australian Aerial League organizes a contest In 1909, Australia’s Aerial League on the part of the Australian government that planned to start using planes for military purposes was ready to offer ? 5,000 for an aircraft that would be made in Australia, would be able to fly at the speed of at least twenty miles an hour, and would also take off and land safely with two people aboard. The machines presented for the contest were all â€Å"Page # 2† declared as unsuitable by the government which considered importing overseas planes (Early Australian Aviation). As Houdini announced his plans to visit Australia to perform escapology shows there, the Aerial League decided to invite him to ship his plane with him. The Voisin biplane was dismantled and then brought to Australia where Houdini came for his Melbourne Season. An interesting fact: researchers such as Sloman and Kalush believe that Houdini did not bring his biplane to Australia simply for the record books. In fact, they suggest, he had another secret mission, namely, the promotion of the use of airplanes for the country’s defense (Barrell). Houdini also had two serious competitors that came to Australia approximately at the same time as he did. One of them was Ralph Banks from the United States who brought with him a Wilbur Right machine and claimed that he would beat Houdini in the air. Another competitor was Fred Custance with his Bleriot monoplane powered by a twenty-four horsepower rotary engine. It had been purchased by a local businessman who sought publicity for these machines because he planned to sell them in Australia (Early Australian Aviation). Houdini’s competitors fail Fred Custance made his flights in Bolivar, a small town situated nearby Adelaide. As far as we know, Custance had never flown an airplane before that. On March 17, 1910, he taxied his Berliot machine around a local paddock many times. Some witnesses reported that on one occasion Custance managed to successfully take off, made a short flight, and then landed safely. However, after making another attempt his monoplane crashed and seriously damaged the wheels, undercarriage, and propeller. The Berliot machine was brought back to Adelaide to be repaired where it was completely destroyed several months later when the garage where it was stored caught fire (Early Australian Aviation). The historic event in Australian aviation took place in early spring of 1910 nearby the Diggers Rest Railway Station situated just some twenty miles north of Melbourne. Two huge tents â€Å"Page # 3† erected on a paddock owned by Mr. Cook housed Houdini’s Voisin biplane manufactured in France by the Voisin Brothers, and a Wilbur Wright airplane piloted by Mr. Banks (Mulvany). Heavy winds made any attempts to try flights impossible for almost a month. However, Banks unwisely decided not to wait for better weather conditions and on March 1, 1910 he took off in his Wilbur Wright machine. His flight did not last long because shortly after he lifted his aircraft up into the air a strong gust of wind caused his machine to dive downwards and it crashed onto the ground after doing a somersault. Miraculously, Banks survived the crash without being seriously injured, but his Wilbur Wright machine was damaged to such an extent that it could not be used for further flying (Mulvany). Houdini the flying hero Being in love with the Voisin biplane and wishing to prevent its damage or destruction, Monsieur Antonio Brassac, the magician’s engineer, was reported to curse in French all the time because of the winds. He advised Harry Houdini to wait until weather conditions improved. When high winds stopped blowing, Houdini tried taking off several times but all of these attempts turned out unsuccessful as the pilot experienced some mechanical difficulty in controlling the aircraft (Mulvany). It all happened on March 18, 1910, when early in the morning Harry Houdini made three successful flights over Mr. Cook’s paddock (Mulvany). The speed at which Houdini’s Voisin biplane took off in his first flight was tremendous and allowed the machine to rise in around a hundred yards. Shortly after that, the onlookers got shocked when they saw the aircraft rushing straight at a huge gum tree. Disaster seemed imminent. However, the great escapologist perfectly controlled his machine and by moving the elevating lever he flew over the obstacle like a bird. He performed a circle over the paddock at the speed of fifty miles per hour and then descended and landed gracefully and with apparent ease. After that followed another successful and quite confident flight (Mulvany; Wacks). â€Å"Page # 4† In the process of making the third flight which was the longest one, Houdini covered a distance of around two miles. Brassac started the Voisin by twisting the eight foot propeller behind the pilot. Houdini left boldly the paddock and succeeded in achieving an altitude of approximately a hundred feet, and then flew away over the neighboring stone fences and rocky areas. He performed a great circle moving in curves and leaning over from time to time, and then by confidently straightening his plane, Houdini descended faultlessly and landed safely. His machine came to rest not far away from the place where he had taken off. That faultless flight lasted for around three and a half minutes (Mulvany). Houdini made his first three flights in the presence of a small group of witnesses who signed and issued a short statement to the press in which they testified to the magician’s successful flights, their heights and duration (Mulvany). Houdini made a much longer flight on March 20, 1910, during which he covered approximately four miles in the presence of a larger group of witnesses which included around 120 persons. On the next day, a large photograph showing Houdini’s Voisin biplane up in the air and spectators beneath was published in â€Å"The Argus†, a local newspaper, making the aviator more popular in Australia. Among the spectators that witnessed Houdini’s flights at the Diggers Rest Railway Station, was Harry Hawker who rose to prominence just a few years later and was one of the greatest figures in the history of world’s aviation (Mulvany). On March 21, 1910, Houdini added to his records another successful flight in his Voisin biplane at Diggers Rest which lasted seven and a half minutes. During that flight he reached an altitude of about a hundred feet and covered around six miles. Made in the presence of thirty witnesses, this flight excelled the magician’s previous flying performances and constituted the Australia record (Harry Houdini). Houdini the newsmaker In an interview that he gave in Melbourne after his flights, Harry Houdini, not hiding his fascination with airplanes, compared his Voisin with a gracious swan calling it a dandy. He also â€Å"Page # 5† said that as an aviator he was quite confident of his control of the machine and felt relaxed, free, and exhilarated while making the flights. When asked why he had not disclosed his plans about making the flights before his performances, Houdini replied that he did not like to be compared with a parrot which â€Å"talks best and flies worst†, but wanted performances first and fame later (Mulvany). Harry Houdini was aware of the importance of publicity which was integral to his success. Before making his famous flights, he was already known thanks to his fantastic escapology shows. While Custance’s attempts at flying received little publicity, Houdini’s achievements at the Diggers Rest Railway Station were widely reported in local newspapers. Houdini received good training in Germany and, without a doubt, was able to pilot an airplane in controlled flight. Although his Voisin biplane was not as advanced and complex as Custance’s Bleriot machine, it flew a considerable number of hours in Europe and was capable of flying steadily when piloted by an experienced aviator (Early Australian Aviation). Interesting facts In Australia the great magician decided to teach himself how to drive a motor car which he used to go to and from the airfield. After his extended tour there he never flew a plane nor drove a car again (The life and times of America’s greatest magician). Houdini admitted the Bleriot monoplane’s technical superiority over his Voisin biplane and on one occasion he emphasized that in these matters a lot depended on a pilot’s experience and skills. He confessed that it was possible to do much more with the Bleriot machine than with his own aircraft on condition that an aviator had learned enough how to handle it. Did Houdini mean by that remark that Custance might have been able to beat him if he had been better prepared for flights? Perhaps, but we do not know it for sure (Mulvany). Some researchers and aviation experts still debate about whether it is Harry Houdini who should be considered as the first aviator to have successfully flied an aircraft over Australia or Custance who made his first flight in the Bleriot monoplane a day earlier in Adelaide (Mulvany). BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1. An Aviation Timeline. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ctie. monash. edu. au/hargrave/timeline5. html 2. Barrell, T. (2006, July 30). And For My Last Trick. The Sunday Times. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www. timesonline. co. uk/tol/life_and_style/article690366. ece? token=null&offset=0 3. Early Australian Aviation. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www. aarg. com. au/Aviation-EarlyAustralian. htm 4. Harry Houdini. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Harry_Houdini 5. Mulvany, M. Harry Houdini Flies near Melbourne. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://member. melbpc. org. au/~mulvany/mulv2. html 6. The life and times of America’s greatest magician. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www. magictricks. com/houdini/bio. htm 7. Wacks, M. Aviation Centennial Coin Series Honors Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Houdini. Retrieved March 27, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www. pandaamerica. com/NEWS_aviation_centennial_12_16_03. ASP

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