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Lawrence Hargrave
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Lawrence Hargrave (1850-1915)


Australian aviation pioneer, inventor, explorer, mason and astronomer.

"If there be one man, more than another, who deserves to succeed in flying through the air, that man is Mr. Laurence Hargrave, of Sydney, New South Wales. He has now constructed with his own hands no less than 18 flying machines of increasing size, all of which fly, and as a result of his many experiments (of which ,an account is about to be given) he now says, in a private letter to the writer, that: "I know that success is dead sure to come." (Octave Chanute, 1893)

Lawrence Hargrave was born in Greenwich England on January 29, 1850 and educated in England at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland. In 1872 he came to Australia in search of gold, but the ship chartered by the group of adventurers was wrecked off the Queensland coast. In the 1870's after exploring in the hinterland behind Port Moresby, in June 1877 he decided to settle down and elected a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales.

In 1878 he was appointed an assistant astronomical observer at Sydney Observatory, a post which he held until 1883, when he retired to devote the remainder of his life to research work into problems connected with human flight.

Flying Machine No.6, 1888 Single cylinder, compressed-air engine No. 12, 1890

In 1884 and 1892 he experimented with monoplane models, and in 1889 he constructed a rotary airplane engine, driven by compressed air.

Article on Lawrence Hargrave

Hargrave with his Engine No.35, single-cylinder two-stroke petrol engine driving twin 'flappers', 1908

Hargrave compressed air powered 'quadraplane'

In 1892 Hargrave discovered that a curved wing surface appeared to give a greater lift than a flat supporting surface. Then he turned his attention to research into the behaviour of various types of kites. During the course of his experiments he found out that a curved surface had twice the lift as a flat one, and next he discovered that a kite with two separated "cells" or double planes, had the greatest stability and oaring power.

Man-carrying glider, 1893

While the Wright brothers denied that they owed anything to Hargrave, his discovery of the cellular kite and his investigations into the superiority of curved wing surfaces played an important part in European experimental work which culminated in the first public flight by Santos-Dumont in France in 1906. His son and fellow experimenter, Geoffrey Lewis Hargrave, was killed at Gallipoli in May 1915, and this terrible news caused him to become seriously ill, and he died in a hospital on July 6, 1915.