Before Batman, the Batplane (or, Batgyro), and the Batarang flew through the skies of Gotham City (ca. 1939), another bat-like craft, in 1901, sailed the skies of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Sharp-eyed readers will recall from aviation history, the Wright Brothers flew from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, surely then this Connecticut craft must've been a glider. On the contrary, this event in 1901 was for a supposed heavier-than-air powered flight conducted by Gustave Whitehead. And so begins the saga of Gustave Whitehead.
Gustave Whitehead or Gustav Weisskopf (as he was named in Germany) was born in Leutershausen, Germany in 1874. Following a brief seafaring career, young Whitehead immigrated to the United States in 1894. He arrived in Bridgeport, Connecticut via a Pittsburgh mining job in 1900. It was during his life in Bridgeport that the beginning of Whitehead's controversial flight experiments took wing.
In the summer of 1901, Whitehead built and flew a bat-winged aeroplane that he named (numbered) No. 21. No there aren't any photographs of this flight, nor is there any good hard evidence that this contraption could fly. All that exists for supporting the Whitehead claim(s) is a fistful of signed "eyewitness" affidavits that are of dubious veracity. Oddly enough, Whitehead was able to take two known photographs of himself and his infant daughter posing next to the infamous No. 21--on the ground, but not in flight. Additionally, there are no known photographs of the inside of this craft or its revolutionary 10 hp + 20 hp dual engines.
Granted, the Wright brothers inaugural flight in their 1903 Flyer has been extremely difficult to reproduce today, but there are photographs, as well as other corroborated evidence that supports their claim in history. Conversely, Whitehead's flights (yes, he claims more than one) are not only undocumented, they are also ridiculous in their alleged performance specifications. According to Whitehead, he claimed in 1902 that he had made four flights on August 14, 1901 at a maximum distance of one and one half miles and an airspeed of 70 miles per hour (in fact, quoting Whitehead from a 1902 letter to American Inventor, he said, "I believe that if wanted, it would fly 100 miles an hour."). The Wrights, on the other hand, made four flights on December 17, 1903 at a maximum distance of 852 feet and a measured ground speed of 10.3 miles per hour.
Fast forward to today and there are two Whitehead No. 21 reproductions that have been flown in Bridgeport, Connecticut and Leutershausen, Germany (ironically, dubbed No. 21A and No. 21B, respectively). Unfortunately, these Whitehead reproductions required structural modifications for accommodating the twin ultralight two-stroke engines that were used for propulsion--making them less of a "reproduction" and more of an "historically-inspired adaptation."
Now you can judge the airworthiness of this craft for yourself by building a reproduction of the Whitehead No. 21.
While the Wright Flyer's structure is familiar to most modelers, the shape of the Whitehead No. 21 is a conundrum. In fact, on a three-view drawing of Whitehead's aeroplane that can be found in the National Air & Space Museum's archive, marginal notes attributed to Dr. Paul Garber query about a Langley influence on the propulsion system and a Lilienthal influence on the wing shape. Furthermore, you might speculate that the No. 21's fuselage/hull shape is a derivative of Whitehead's seafaring experiences. Regardless of the origin of the Whitehead No. 21 design, you will find three construction challenges: fuselage/hull, motor system, and adding wing lift (refer to line drawings for construction details).
You can elect to build your No. 21 in either a static or an operable model configuration. The biggest difference between these two configurations focuses on the motor propulsion system. In this case, you'd use the smaller propellers for an operable model and the larger ones for a static version. Furthermore, you will have to adjust the installation of the motor for enabling the propellers to clear the fuselage and wings during operation.
The model can either be built as a plastic skeletal frame or covered with tissue. Begin covering the model with tissue by using a glue stick (Elmer's "Goes on Purple Dries Clear" School Glue Stick is recommended) to apply a thin layer of adhesive to the plastic frame. Lay the tissue on the frame and gently pull it tight. Trim the excess tissue with a sharp hobby knife. Once the glue has dried, the tissue should be shrunken to its final surface finish smoothness by dampening the tissue with water.
When building the motor, elastic thread is used for the drive belts that move between the pulleys. Furthermore, thrust bearings and thrust washers (or beads) need to be added between the plastic bearing blocks and the moving pulleys. Finally, axles for the pulleys and rubber hooks for the propellers must be shaped from .032 music wire.
Finally, the completed model can be rigged with thread and needle (e.g., button/carpet thread is recommended). Small holes have been incorporated into the wing ribs and tail surface support boom that serve as glue points for holding the thread taut. Small brass washers should be used for collecting each wing's upper and lower surface rigging together prior to attachment to the main mast and the underside of the hull, respectively.
The line drawing of Whitehead (weiss.jpg) can be 3D printed as a lithophane by loading the image into the open source slicing/printing program Cura. Change the printing height (Z layer) to 4 mm and keep the other parameters at the default settings.
A recommended source for tissue, thrust bearings, washers, beads, and flying model airplane rubber is Peck-Polymers at http://www.peck-polymers.com