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Wrights Brothers: Orville and Wilbur

Introduction

The two Americans who are credited with discovering and building the world’s first airplane are the Wright Brothers (Orville and Wilbur) from Ohio, United States of America. This was on a very cold and windy day, the December 17th 1903 that the brothers finally managed to lift the aircraft off the ground; a fit that had been termed as flying a ‘heavier-than-air’ aircraft. Historically, this was the first controlled, powered and sustained airborne flight despite the attempts by previous innovators before the two brothers.

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A major contribution that is fundamentally vital in this technological advancement is the1485 sketches that provided ‘blueprints’ for a ‘lighter-than-air’ prototype machine by Leonardo da Vinci. However, the successfulness on that momentous day at the Kitty Hawks Northern Carolina sand beaches was the hallmark of a series of failed flights attempts[1].

The first, according to the spectator was considered more than modest as it was a 12 seconds 3 metres high flight covering a ground distance of over 36meterrs. After a series of other improved flight attempts the last trial that day covered 260 meters lasting 59 seconds. Although the greatest achievement by the brothers seems as the first attempt for man to be airborne in aviation history, other people had had flown engineless gliders and others piloting hot-air balloons.

Life of the Wright Brothers

In 1867 the luckiest couple that had tied the knot two years before and were blessed with their fourth born child Wilbur, who compared to the other children, was an ordinary son. Four years later Milton (1828–1917) and Catherine (1831–1889) were twice honored with another ‘ordinary’ son at home after they moved back to 7 Hawthorn Street in Dayton, Ohio[2]. The two brothers exhibited exceptional ability out of seven children that were born to the Wrights.

Wilbur’s vigor and ability in athletics was brought to a halt by a hockey stick during an ice-skating game in 1886. This tragedy affected his ability to freely mingle with others kids and drastically denied him a chance at Yale as expected. On his side, Orville proceeded to school while Wilbur took care of his parents, especially his mother who was terminally ill. Unexpectedly, Orville dropped out of high school at the end of his junior year and entered in the print business[3].

In 1892, the brothers opened a shop that dealt in repairs and sale of bicycle parts. The Wright Cycle Exchange (later Wright Cycle Company) acted as a catapult to the life-long vision of aviation industry. The company not only provided the funding required in the build-up process but the initial technology of flying an aircraft used bicycle parts. Their achievements though, deservingly belonging to the two brothers was shared among everyone involved in the invention.

According to James Tobin, it was impossible to imagine Orville as bright as he was, contributing the most important force in the final success, while cramped in a back room of a store in Ohio[4]. The numerous conferences and symposiums that were attended by presidents, kings, and capitalists did not seem to have been prepared in an isolated back room of a store, because an achievement of the sort ought to have been undertaken in a state-of-the-art laboratory.

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Generally, the lives of the two brothers was filled sessions of failed attempts but later crowned by successful achievements. The challenges that faced them were worsened by a sickly mother and the challenges their father was experiencing at the church. As if to counter the force man was exerting on the technological arena, Wilber died at an early age of 45 died on 30th May 1912 from typhoid fever. His bishop father also died in 1917 at 89. On January 30th, 36 years after Wilber’s demise, Orville died at home at the age of 77 from stroke.

The impact on civil aviation

When a plane zooms above our heads and vanishes into the sky, many people do not consider the fact that planes two centuries ago never ruled the skies. The brothers’ impact on civilization was dramatic and included a number of discoveries and inventions, although in 1900, the brothers acknowledged flying as the “standard of impossibility”. In Otto Lilienthal view, the challenge was not in the discovery of flight. It was neither in the design or building an aircraft itself. But the greatest challenge was flying an aircraft.

The German aircraft pioneer Otto attributed great honor and appreciation to the two brothers for their achievements in what he saw as an impossible phenomenon. The innovator later died on August 9th when he was involved in a gliding accident outside Berlin. For the Wrights, their first attempt toward flight was in 1899 by after they discovered that wing-warping would aid the aircraft gain more flight and rise[5]. Consequently, the first manned gliding experiment in 1900 took place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

After this attempt, a desire to understand the gliders begun, although it only seemed as a modification of Chanute-Herring biplane features that worked well in 1896 experiments. The need for a tail in aiding an aircraft change direction was not clear to Wilbur. According to him, he believed a tail was not important because the first two of their gliders managed to glide without tails. There are postulations by Wright biographers claiming that because Wilber was the older of the two, he personally commanded all the gliding until 1902.

The claim further attaches Wilbur’s luck of know-how to the notion that he protected his young brother from harm. In an effort to increase the lift, the brothers built a glider with even a larger wing area. Although it was no as a successful as they had anticipated, they made adjustments in the lift equation (Lilienthal’s) which had been in existence for more than a century[6].

Their knowledge initially was founded on the extensive know-how they had with bicycle mechanism. From such mind boggling experiments like the Smithsonian Institution Secretary eventual flight of an unmanned steam-powered model aircraft, the brothers ensured that theirs would only stop when they were airborne for a longer time than had already been achieved. In an experiment that brought together various men to test the ability of a glider at the sand dune on Lake Michigan shores, several casualties were reported from those attempting to fly a glider, including Lilienthal, who was killed in the glider’s plunge.

Such and other minor cases convinced the brothers that their efforts were to substitute for the lives that had been lost in the struggle to get the aircraft in the air. After according the due respect to everyone that contributed toward the ultimate goal of flying; including Leonardo da Vinci, the brothers decided it was time to settle on the primary aim; flying the aircraft[7].

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Lilienthal’s achievements about control could not follow him to the grave, as the brothers embraced his strategy in when attempting to master the art of control. This, according to the brothers was a compulsory condition before attempting the motor-driven flight. To further substantiate on the need for a reliable method of pilot control was necessary was through the death of a Percy Pilcher in 1899 from Britain. While categorizing the problems that hindered their works, the brothers termed the control problems as the third portion of “the flying problem”. Other practitioners were not in agreement with the brothers concerning the need for an engine and wings for any form of flying.

The innovators believed in engine power more than they need for wings and therefore built powerful engines[8]. To these, they attached frames without which a mathematically proved computations that grant them the ability to be controlled when airborne. Up to that point, Lilienthal’s body shifting of body weight was the best they could experiment with. However, that was not satisfactorily enough for them and hence decided to dig deeper for a better formula.

From Wilbur’s observation of the way birds in flight changed their angle gave him a better idea of the control problem[9]. The concept was primarily related to the way control on a moving bicycle was achieved; their vast experience with bicycles gave them an overhead understanding of how the concept would be further modified to favor the flight problem. Despite the fact that they had yet to put the model into practice, they hoped that in a case of lateral balance – a situation whereby the wind turns the machine to the different side from which the pilot intends. As a result, after a series of brainstorming sessions, the brothers decided that warping in the wings could solve the problem of lateral balance.

Although some aeronautical investigators thought of the flight to be similar ass surface locomotion, the brothers perceived every aspect of the flight depending on the phenomenon behind its functioning. Thus the suggestion that control of an aircraft by merely leaning sideways made no sense to the aeronautics, whose extensive research was pinned on such concrete evidence as the operation of the ship or the train.

Further, their argument was based on the belief that while in flight, a pilot would not be fast enough to react to the changing wind directions and use mechanical controls to maintain the situation. That way, the brothers opted for the idea that the pilot ought to have full control[10].

Fundamental, among their discoveries was the engine which is now seen as the greatest single-handed leap toward lifting the aircraft off the ground. This was named the powered Wright Flyer I which they successful flew in December 1903. When it was put to test, the aircraft finally attained a time of 59 seconds with a ground distance of 852 feet. The next was Flight II, built-in 1904, whose experiment was conducted in Huffman Prairie, which failed to deliver due to the environmental factors at the open fields[11]. This paved way for the 1905 Flyer III that came with improved drooping wings (anhedral); which was important for the pilot’s ability to control the plane when airborne. Although the wings system seemed unstable, they were at the same time likely to counter the effects of gusty side winds.

The brothers’ risky attempts in the experimental phases attracted the authorities, and this resulted in their being grounded in 1906 and 1907, without which little contribution was made to improve the aircraft. The problem was the permission that the government had not seen reason to grant them; but later on managed to acquire it[12].

In conclusion, the Wright brothers are seen to achieve more than just the aircraft that has been airborne for such a long time that man seems to overrule the unbelievable fact that once the plane wasn’t in the air at all. First, among the brothers’ solution to solving the problem of enormous complexity was dealing with the “unsolvable” problem. This was challenged intellectually that had God intended for man to fly, he would have allowed for wings to sprout from their shoulders.

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This was made worse by the rate at which those working on the problem gave up. This was the highest point of the brother’s achievement as they solved a complex problem that the genius of the day could not accomplish. Secondly, was the fact that they are credited to have successfully done, the brothers literally did every bit of the work with the help of a few assistants. For instance, a pilot’s manual was purely the work of their own hands, despite the presence of intellectuals and other aviation researchers of that time[13].

Thirdly, was the speed at which they accomplished every aspect of the phenomenon which no other duo could have attempted[14]. Considering that from the time of Da Vinci, any other person trying to solve this problem of flying could not have achieved the work that the brother’s 50 month-part-time schedule delivered. Fourth, the brothers redefined time and distance, creating in the world a new intimacy and urgency new and unheard of in the numerous discoveries that had preceded the Wright’s works.

Fifthly the whole generation begun to adopt a new concept of aviation; because prior to their achievements the aviation was a theory that was only seen in books and maybe the toys that their father had bought them when they were young. Henceforth, the aviation era took over, with every aspect of the advancing world looking at aviation as a necessary aspect than they viewed it a few decades before.

A look at the complexity involved in the ability to propel an aircraft into the air, calls for the need to have a detailed understanding of various academic terminology. However, the fact that the brothers were out of school at a tender age means that they had to go to extremes in order for their work to be accepted as right. Pressure against the brothers’ concept of heavier-than-air powered flight was from engineers and trained scientists. The brothers would easily be classified as self-propelling aviators that overtook the knowledge that other qualified scientists had laid a foundation for them.

As a challenge to their ability to prosper, financial support from outside sources was not sufficient. Since the time of the Wright cycle company, the brothers’ invention became the greatest return on investment ever[15].

Sixth was the effect the invention had on culture. Life was in effect transformed in the 20th century by breaking a psychological bond. Seventh, their effect was global from the frustration they got in US, and to Europe where a series off demonstration changed the perception US had toward the invention. Economically, the invention reduced the time it took for people and even goods took to travel from one place to the other. As a first initiative, the government’s take on this innovation begun in the post office in 1911, although it has been concluded that the military were the first to take up the idea. The first airmail stamps were expensive at the time because of the newly adopted technology[16].

Last but not least is the fact that in all their experiments, no other person’s life was exposed to danger. Historically, many lies had been lost with gliders taking up a greater percentage. One instance involving Orville shattered his hip, fractured his ribs and tibia, and caused scalp wounds leaving him with concussions. In all these, the brothers remained focused not hindered by the frequent deaths by other aviators, with Orville becoming the first casualty from an airplane crash.

Comparing the accomplishment of the brothers with what historically has been achieved, very few other feats can compare with the Wright’s handy-work. The survival by Orville at the sight of death from the accident that almost cost him his career and life meant that once an idea has been planted in one’s mind, it has to come to pass; no matter the preconditions that seem to hamper its successful attainment.

Bibliography

Anderson, John, D. Inventing Flight: The Wright Brothers and Their Predecessors. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Combs, Harry, with Martin Caidin. Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers. Denver, CO: Turnstyle Press Ltd, 1979.

Crouch, Tom D. The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003.

Howard, Fred, Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

Jakab, Peter L. Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention (Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight Series). Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1997.

Kelly, Fred C., ed. Miracle at Kitty Hawk, The Letters of Wilbur & Orville Wright. New York: Da Capo Press, 2002.

Kelly, Fred C. The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, originally published in 1943, 1989.

McFarland, Marvin W., ed. The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: Including the Chanute-Wright Letters and the Papers of Octave Chanute. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001, originally published in 1953.

Tobin, James. To Conquer The Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Wright, Orville. How We Invented the Airplane. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1988.

Walsh, John E. One Day at Kitty Hawk: The Untold Story of the Wright Brothers. New York: Ty Crowell Co, 1975.

  1. Combs, Harry, with Martin Caidin. Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers. Denver, CO: Turnstyle Press Ltd, 1979.
  2. Walsh, John E. One Day at Kitty Hawk: The Untold Story of the Wright Brothers. New York: Ty Crowell Co, 1975.
  3. Howard, Fred, Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Kelly, Fred C. The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, originally published in 1943, 1989.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Wright, Orville. How We Invented the Airplane. Minnesota, NY: Dover Publications, 1988.
  8. McFarland, Marvin W., ed. The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: Including the Chanute-Wright Letters and the Papers of Octave Chanute. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001, originally published in 1953.
  9. Kelly, Fred C. The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, originally published in 1943, 1989.
  10. Walsh, John E. One Day at Kitty Hawk: The Untold Story of the Wright Brothers. New York: Ty Crowell Co, 1975.
  11. Kelly, Fred C. The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, originally published in 1943, 1989.
  12. Ibid..
  13. Tobin, James. To Conquer The Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
  14. Jakab, Peter L. Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention (Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight Series). Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1997.
  15. McFarland, Marvin W., ed. The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: Including the Chanute-Wright Letters and the Papers of Octave Chanute. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001, originally published in 1953.

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