Langley Memorial Plaque
Elements of the plaque
The objects depicted in the plaque are symbols of the workings of Langley’s mind.
Langley’s model flying machine, with its double set of wings, is visible in the upper left corner of the plaque. This tandem-wing craft, with a span of fifteen feet, was powered by a lightweight steam engine. Between 1886 and 1896, Langley designed, built, and tested a series of flying machines. On May 6, 1896, Aerodrome #5, flew a distance of 3,000 feet before landing gently on the Potomac River.
BIRDS IN FLIGHT
The birds depicted in the plaque are a reminder of Langley’s lifelong interest with natural flight. As he recalled later in life : The lying down as a child in a New England pasture and looking at the mysterious soaring of a hen hawk far above in the sky has led me to give many years of my mature life to the study of the subject of traveling through air.
The books stacked in front of Langley represent his three major treatises on the subject of flight. In Experiments in Aerodynamics, first published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1891, Langley suggested the possibility of human flight. The Internal Work of the Wind, a paper read before the National Academy of Sciences in 1893, recorded Langley’s measurements of the wind. Mechanical Flight was written by Langley and his assistant Charles Manly to record their progress on Aerodrome #5.
PORTRAIT OF LANGLEY
Langley’s placement in the composition, seated in profile outdoors with his arm resting on a railing, creates a contemplative feeling enhanced by the void of space before him. The artist emphasized Langley’s use of observation and wonder as the ultimate building blocks for knowledge and accomplishment by depicting him intently focused on the flight of the birds and his aerodrome above.