MATTHEW BACON SELLERS, II
(Mar. 29, 1869-Apr. 5, 1932)
Pioneer in aerodynamics, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Matthew Bacon Sellers, I and Annie Leathers (Lewis) Sellers.
He was educated under private tutors and at private schools. Just when his interest in the dynamics of the air had its inception, the studies he undertook at the University of Gottingen in Germany seem to indicate that his interest in the subject came early in life. He spent a year at Evreux, France, and returned to the United States to study at Harvard University where his two other brothers studied also. His younger brother Harvey died at the age of 18 at Harvard from Gastroentronitis. Matthew received his law degree in 1892. He later took courses at the Lawrence Scientific School (Harvard), and the Drexel Institute, Philadelphia.
He began his active research work in aerodynamics in 1900, and continued to pursue it throughout his life, even while practicing as a patent lawyer and aerodynamic consulting engineer in New York City.
President Taft appointed him to the Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission, created in 1912, and in July 1915 President Wilson, on the recommendation of the secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels, appointed him to serve as one of two representatives of the Aeronautical Society of America on the newly formed Naval Consulting Board. He resigned from the Board in 1918 to become its technical assistant, and resigned from that position in 1919 to resume his membership on it.
Much of the work done by the Board in connection with aircraft investigation devolved upon him, his independence of thought and critical abilities rendering his assistance of high value. The problems of the helicopter particularly interested him since he felt that the basic idea was probably the oldest of all "heavier-than-air machines."
His theoretical research work led him to build an efficient quadroplane in 1908 for experimental purposes and he demonstrated its possibilities in actual flight. The invention and construction of the lightest aeroplane flying with the least power is attributed to him. He acted as his own pilot and thus was able fully to appreciate the technical difficulties to be encountered. Kentucky's first powered flight was December 28th, 2008. A day Kentuckians will never forget. He invented the retractable landing gear in 1908, which was patented in 1911. They were on his first powered flight that day.
He constructed a wind tunnel for testing propellers and airfoil shapes for discovering their aerodynamic possibilities. Five patents were issued to him: one for aerial apparatus in 1908, for an aeroplane in 1909, for his quadroplane in 1911, and two in 1914 were issued for improvements in steering and running gear on aeroplanes.
While technical editor of Aeronautics from 1911 he aided others in presenting to the public the results of their work, reviewed books on aeronautics, and carried on a series of answers to questions involving the principles and experimental data of aerodynamics. His most prolific period of publication was from 1909 to 1916. The results of his experimental work appeared in aeronautical periodicals of the day and included his studies of arched surfaces, wings, propellers, wind tunnels, gyroscopic forces, lateral balance, the aerodynamic resistance of solid bodies, and all kindred subjects. He proved the lift and drift of arched surfaces and this was in Scientific American as a supplement. He also held a copyright on this article.
On June 18, 1918, he was married to Ethel Clark, who was half his age. She and their two sons and one daughter survived him when he died of a pulmonary embolism while recovering from pneumonia at his home at Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY.
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