TAKING TO THE SKIES: THE WRIGHT BROTHERS AND THE BIRTH OF AVIATION
Wright was born on April 16, 1867 in Millville, Indiana; Orville was born
August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. Their father, Milton Wright, was a bishop
of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Their mother, Susan Catherine
Koerner, had a technical bent and was the inventor of many practical household
items. Although both brothers completed high school courses, neither formally
graduated. Orville later wrote of his childhood,
Throughout their youth, Orville and Wilbur Wright eagerly followed the gliding experiments of the German engineer, Otto Lilienthal. After Lilienthal's tragic death in 1896, the Wright brothers thought of taking up gliding where Lilienthal left off. The Wright brothers believed that the principles behind riding a bicycle and maintaining balance were analogous to flying. Their experience in designing and building lightweight, precision machines of wood, wire and metal tubing was ideal preparation for the construction of flying machines. The brothers realized that a successful airplane would require wings to generate lift, a propulsion system to move it through the air, and a system to control the craft in flight. They worked hard to develop a flying machine that had the right combination of wing shape, design and surface area coupled with the right kind of lightweight engine.
Also, as experienced cyclists, the Wrights preferred to place complete control of their machine in the hands of the operator. After carefully studying bird flight, the Wright brothers became aware of the inefficiency of Lilienthal's methods of seeking balance and control solely by body movements. The brothers were determined to control their machine through the precise manipulation of the center of pressure on the wings. Wilbur thought of a practical way of achieving better control of the machine by twisting or warping the wings in order to present different angles to the wind. The resulting increase in lift on one side and decrease on the other would enable the pilot to raise or lower either wing tip at will. The brothers tested this theory by building and flying a small kite-like glider with superposed surfaces. The glider showed that their system of control was effective and the brothers planned a man-carrying glider. Using "wing warping", the pilot could cause the glider to climb, dive and bank to the right or left.
checking with the United States Weather Bureau, the Wright brothers determined
that Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, was suitable for testing their glider.
Kitty Hawk had high, steady winds and sand dunes, free
Because the results did not correspond to the estimated values in Lilienthal's tables of air pressure, the Wright brothers wondered if the accepted information was wrong. They decided to experiment with miniature wings in a six-foot wind tunnel, testing more than 200 types of wings set at different angles. They measured monoplane, biplane and triplane models as well as staggered-wing models. They measured the lift produced by different aspect ratios as well as wing curvature and thickness. Among other things, these experiments proved the undesirability of a sharp edge at the front of the wing. The Wright brothers also learned that having one wing directly above another results in a loss of lift.
experiments marked a turning point in man's attempts to fly. Using the
knowledge gained from their wind tunnel experiments, the Wrights could
now design an aircraft capable of flying. Their 1902 glider had a wingspan
of 32 feet, 10 feet more than the one built in 1901, but the most noticeable
change was the addition of a tail with twin vertical vanes. The tail provided
balance and stability. They could now glide more than 600 feet and on
a smaller angle of descent, closer to the horizontal. When they built
their first powered aircraft the following year, they felt certain it
December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers were the first men in history to
make powered, sustained and controlled flights in an airplane. The machine,
engine and propellers were all of their own design and construction. It
was bitterly cold that morning and a gusty 27 mile-per-hour wind scoured
the sand dunes. It seemed unsafe to try their flying machine but Orville
and Wilbur Wright decided to start from the level ground before their
camp. As was typical of all of their efforts, the Wright brothers carefully
and methodically made their preparations.
Slowly, the world's first airplane rose against the wind under full control. The centuries old dream of flight had finally come true. Orville Wright was in the air 12 seconds and flew over 120 feet at 31 miles per hour. Orville and Wilbur flew several times that day. At noon, Wilbur made the record flight of the day. He was in the air 59 seconds and flew 852 feet. Through careful scientific research and persistent effort, the Wright brothers had finally succeeded in flying.
K. McCutcheon, National Postal Museum Library, Smithsonian Institution
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Flight: the Wright Brothers and Their Predecessors.
Amateurs: An Appreciation of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
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Wright Brothers Legacy: Orville and Wilbur Wright and Their Aeroplanes.
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a History of Aviation from Kites to Wright Brothers to Space Age.
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Wright Brothers and Other Pioneers of Flight.
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Hawk: The Flight of the Wright Brothers.
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Flight: The Story of the Wright Brothers.
Wright's Flights in France.
Flight: The Story of the Wright Brothers.
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Brothers: Orville and Wilbur.
Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers.
Wright Brothers and Aviation.
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Brothers, Pioneers of American Aviation.
Wright Brothers: Inventors of the Airplane.
Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.
First Flight: The Story of the Wright Brothers.
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