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The First Flight

Here is an interesting article from the Book called “An Historical Meander” by Bill Bizley and Pat McKenzie.

The Flight Experiment of Uncle Goodie

This is one of Natal’s big misses in the ‘immortality’ stakes. The effort that has gone in to prove that Goodman Houshold (yes, that’s it: Houshold, not Household), son of a Karkloof farmer, actually anticipated the success of the Wright brothers is in direct proportion to the scantiness of the evidence. We will quote one of the more responsible summaries, from P.D. Jackson.

After studying a welter of documents, Jackson concludes: “It can be reasonably assumed that between 1871 and 1875 John Goodman Houshold made at least two successful flights from a ridge at Karkloof.” (This on the family farm called Den Magtenberg, which today is part of a massive timber estate owned by SAPPI and signposted DeMagdeberg.)

Aparently Goodman’s dream even in boyhood was to create “a flying machine heavier than air.” He obtained a hard, dry flat bull-hide and attached to it a long riem. This hide he put on top of a thorn tree, sat on it, then told his farm labourers to grab the riem and, at his command, run as hard as they could. “Needless to say, Goodman’s flying carpet did not become airborne….” (Jackson does not remark on Goodman’s peculiar choice of tree, nor the painful consequences of that choice…)

Houshold now began studying the flight of birds and especially the ratio of wingspan to weight. He shot a vulture, weighed it carefully, and measured its wingspan. From this he derived calculations that he submitted to Bishop Colenso, who was, amongst other things, a noted mathematician. The Bishop found Household’s calculations to be correct, but (says Jackson) added the rider: “this does not mean that man can fly.”

Houshold now prepared for his first adult flight:

……….. He used a glider made from wood and oiled paper or silk. The first few attempts with this glider were most likely failures, resulting in modifications and eventually in a flight of some 400 – 500 yards. We know from various sources that after this first success he was wildly enthusiastic and began work on a second machine. It is quite possible that he did order steel tubes and silk for this glider, and used the facilities at the blacksmith shop at Howick… On another successful flight ….. perhaps in his new glider, he hit a tree when coming in to land, because of an error of judgement or through lack of vision in the twilight. He was flung out of his seat and into the waters of a dam.

His foot was injured and his parents got to hear of his experiments. His mother made him promise never to attempt to fly again as long as she was alive, as she firmly believed that he was tampering with the powers of darkness. In fact even his friends branded him as utterly and irresponsibly mad……….

After the flying debacle, Goodman tried other innovations. More successfully, he went mining for gold in Zululand. In order to crush ore-bearing rocks he used a big boulder suspended from a pole stretched like a yoke across two oxen, who walked parallel but contra-wise around a circle. This seems to have worked, but it was an invention before its time, and – alas – brought no riches to Goodman Houshold.

A memorial stone has been erected on the SAPPI farm called Demagdeberg to remember Goodman Houshold’s first attempts at flying!

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