Passionate from the early age of 10!
Born in Iowa, Laurence Jerome Lesh was only 10 years old when he developed a passion for aeronautics, experimenting with kites, with the idea of building a glider. Around 1906, while living in Chicago, Lesh made contact with Octave Chanute, the famous aviation theorist and mentor of the Wright brothers. The teenager returned home with his hands full of plans and the bonus incentive of a $50 cheque. Immediately getting to work on various prototypes, Lesh made his first successful glides in June 1907. A month later, his family moved to Montréal.
Impressed by Lesh’s rapid progress, Chanute wrote to the Wright brothers to tell them about a young prodigy who “displays quite extraordinary aptitude for aeronautics”. Chanute also tried to secure his protégé a position within the Wright organization in anticipation of their next tour of France, but the project didn’t materialize.
24 minutes above the river!
In August 1907, at the young age of 14, Lesh made the country’s first flights in Montréal, flying a self-made biplane glider . . . pulled by a galloping horse! A few days later, the boy set a world record for a 24-minute flight over the Saint Lawrence River, this time pulled for ten kilometres by a motorboat. The flight was rather eventful, as the ropes holding the seat broke in flight and the glider was destroyed during its recovery from the water.
Lesh began construction of a second, more evolved glider, which he used to make about fifty flights, pulled by a horse. While most aircraft of the time used wing warping to turn, Lesh was the first in North America to introduce the use of ailerons, in addition to experimenting with various automatic stabilization devices. Lesh published his results in 1907 and 1908 in various influential magazines such as Scientific American, Aeronautics and American Magazine of Aeronautics.