North Carolina Centennial of Flight

Daniel Asbury

Dr. Daniel Asbury, a native of Taylorsville, Anson County, was a successful inventor with a special interest in physics. In the 1860s, Asbury worked on a type of artillery shell that would produce a double explosion, but he never completed the project. He then began studying properties of heat and methods of drying. After the Civil War, he started experimenting with the practical uses of burning, and in 1877, he invented a brick kiln. His interest in thermodynamics led him to pursue steam-driven aircraft design, and Asbury spent years constructing a steamer. His airplane had the round body of a bird, wings spanning thirty feet, and a basket attached to the ship's underside that housed the pilot and engine. Asbury's daughter later described the craft as "an exact prototype of the Bleriot plane of the present day" (Parramore, 56).

The steamer project received much fanfare from the Charlotte Observer, and Asbury's airplane quickly became the subject of ridicule. In 1881, the newspaper announced the first attempted flight of Asbury's steamer, to take off from the inventor's farm, seven miles west of Charlotte. The trial was postponed for two months, but nothing was heard of the Asbury steamer for several more years. Dr. Daniel Asbury died of pneumonia in 1882, and his associates dismantled the steamer. Asbury's steamer was one of only two full-sized airplanes built in North Carolina in the nineteenth century. The other belonged to James Henry Gatling.