AERIAL TRANSIT COMPANY. By Permission of the Patentees this Engraving of the First Carriage, the "Ariel", is respectfully inscribed to the Directors of the Aerial Transit Company. [London], W.L. Walton lith. and Day & Jaghe, Lithrs. To the Queen, .
Original lithography, c 235 x 320 mm; upper outer corner lightly smudged and with a few folds; lower margin cropped.
Extremely rare 'incunable' of heavier than air flight, published 60 years before Kitty Hawk took off. The Aerial Transit Company had been founded by businessman William Samuel Henson and the inventor-engineer John Stringfellow. 'They established the world’s first airline company - though they were armed with little more than an English patent awarded for their aircraft design, which was untested. At the time, only balloon flight could hope to carry passengers to a distant destination by air, even if that was unpredictable, challenging and slow. With visions of supplementing their income with flights that carried cargo and mail, as well as passengers to distant places - as far away as China, spanning the entire British Empire - the partners were true visionaries' (Historic Wings, online).
'Their monoplane design featured a wing with a proper airfoil and covered surfaces top and bottom. A hollow main spar with leading and trailing edge boards, were held together by a series of wing ribs to establish a proper airfoil. As well, wires affixed to posts gave further support to the wing as it was foreseen that the forces of aerodynamics could be significant and that this allowed overall lightening of the airframe. Even the methods of holding spars and ribs together were defined and finely researched. A tricycle gear configuration was pioneered for take off and landing as well as a launch rail that would allow the plane to maintain a heading as it accelerated to flying speed' (ibid.).
Of course, the weight of the steam engine was the problem; only models of various sizes had been produced and tested. However, the design, especially of the wings and the propellor arrangement were truly pioneering and successfully applied in the designs of Rumpler, Blériot and others. The advertisement campaign for raising funds produced a few images of the aircraft, this particular one, with the aircraft over London, bridges packed with spectators and St Paul's in the background seems to be unknown, apart from a much smaller version of the image.