Wright Brothers

Today’s aviation industry is a result of many historical efforts. Early aviation pioneers worked round the clock to develop the foundation of aviation. Some significant pioneers include Montgolfier Brother and George Cayley. However, the invention made by Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright (Wright Brothers) in 1903 is somewhat extra ordinary – the first successful controlled powered aircraft heavier than air. Their experimental and engineering skills, creativity and problem solving techniques laid the most important foundation of the aviation industry.

Early Life

Wright Brothers first became interested about flying in 1886 when they saw the German Glider King, Otto Lilienthal, quotation: “to invent an airplane is nothing, to build one is something, but to fly is everything”(Jakab, 1990 1). Wright Brothers’ young age became the time of learning and carrying out research about aircraft using theories of predecessors, such as Alphonse Pénaud.

Attempts to Fly

During this research the Wright Brothers recognized the problems of control and maneuverability of previous attempts to fly. To address these issues they carried out experiments using a set of wings and propeller in order to create lift which is strong enough to lift off the flying machine as well as a man. The challenges were to develop a light machine of high power-to-weight ratio and to control it during the flight (Kelly, 1953 2).

The control problem was sorted out by developing a three-axis control, which enabled them to steer the machine and maintain its balance. With the help of George Cayley’s discoveries related to lift, drag, weight and thrust, and inclusion of their own theory of wing wrapping, the Wright brothers eventually designed a flying machine that had pulleys and cables to control the directions. This enabled them to perform pitching and yawing maneuvers.

First Successful Flight

Wright Brothers were helped by Octave Chanute, a skilled engineer; to build an aircraft with several wings stacked together creating extra lift. They also were helped by the engineer Charles Edward Taylor to build an engine with twelve horsepower. Subsequently, on 17 December, 1903, they flew Wright Flyer I, powered with the first engine, for 853 feet for 59 seconds marking the history of first successful controlled powered aircraft.

However, during the test flight they recognized that engines with propeller would create more lift. Thus, they made few changes to their model and produced two prototypes namely Flyer II and Flyer III. On the December 1904, Flyer II, with 16 horsepower engine, made a flying time of 5 minutes and 8 seconds. The following year, with additional improvements, Flyer III was more stable and controllable and flew for 38 minutes and 3 seconds, covering 24 miles.

(Video embedded from YouTube on 29/Jan/2009)

The Victory

The Wright Brothers’ technology attracted the public interest. They carried out some demonstrations and started marketing and selling their aircraft. They sold a machine to Italy and trained the fliers. They also trained some army officers in U.S. In 1909 they opened an official business namely The Wright Company. They also opened two flying schools for pilots. These two schools trained over 100,000 pilots who fought in the World War II (Lawrence, 2003 3).

The Wright Brothers skills and wisdom had a great impact on aviation industry. Their invention of controlled powered airplanes created a base for aviation industry today. Till today, Wright brother’s principles of three-axis, maneuverability and control are widely used. These efforts they put round the clock made them remarkable figures in aviation history.

1. JAKAB PL (1990). Visions of a flying machine: The Wright Brothers and the process of invention. Smithsonian Institute Press (Washighton, USA), 1990.
2. KELLY CF (1953). How we invented the airplane. Van Rees Press (New York, USA), 1953.
3. LAWRENCE B (2003). The birth of flight control: An engineering analysis of Wright Brothers 1902 glider. The Aeronautical Journal 2003, vol 12, pp 717-718.

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Wright Brothers
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