Wright Brothers: Makers of First Flying Machine

Wilbur and Orville, born in Indiana and Ohio on April 16, 1867 and August 19, 1871, respectively, were among seven children born to Milton Wright, the bishop of a Protestant denomination whose work took him, and his family, from place to place.

In 1884, the family moved to its permanent home in Dayton. In 1878, Wright Sr brought a helicopter toy based on an invention by Alpjonse Penaud.The brothers, then in school, played with the toy, broke and then repaired it on their own. The process kindled their interest in aviation.

Learning Skills

Around 1886, Wilbur, who had earlier planned to attend Yale, became homebound, caring for his ailing mother and reading books in his father’s library. Meanwhile, Orville also dropped out of school to launch a printing business.

In 1889, both brothers built their own printing press and opened a shop. They also began a weekly newspaper named The West Side News. Later, they focused on commercial printing. In 1892, Wright brothers opened a repair and sales shop. After a few years of experience, they began a manufacturing unit called Wright Cycle Company.

Wing Warping Technique

In 1899, the brothers began experimenting with aeronautics. The same year, Wilbur even wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institution, requesting more information on the subject. The Wrights followed the German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal’s idea of flying, but pointed out that his way of balance and control by shifting body weight was a flawed one.

Later, Wilbur observed how birds controlled the direction in which they flew by manipulating the edges of their wings. Struggling to achieve the same effect, they finally discovered a ‘Wing Warping’ technique in which they used a chain and set of pulleys to tilt the edges of the wings.

They made a biplane with a 1.5-m wingspan for testing. During its trial, the warping wings, produced an unequal lift. As they were controlled by four cords, they eventually changed the plane’s direction.

Finally flying

In 1900, the Wright brothers began conducting gliding trials. Wilbur was aboard when the glider flew like a kite. Later they tested unmanned gliders too using sandbags or chains used as ballast. Between 1901 and 1902, they built an improved glider with larger wings and made a number of trial flights of about 15 to 122 m.They noted the calculations which helped them in building Wright Flyer, the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft made using spruce wood and muslin fabric.

The Wright Flyer’s 12-housepower gasoline engine was fabricated by their employee, Charlie Taylor. On December 13, 1903, the brothers were ready for a powered trial flight. To decide who would be the pilot, they did a toss, Wilbur won and flew the pioneering craft for three seconds. This sudden stall caused minor damages.

On December 17, after repairs, Orville took off and flew 37 m in 12 seconds at a speed of 10.9 km/hour. In the next two flights the brothers, recorded an altitude of 3 m and covered a distance of 53 m to 61 m.

Interesting Facts:

1.Since Wright Sr. was afraid that he may lose the duo in a flight, the brothers promised him that they won’t fly together. They kept the promise, except for one day in 1910 when they both flew a 6-minute flight in Dayton.

2.In 1910, the Wright brothers opened the world’s first flight training school in Montgomery, Alabama (US). However, the facility was short-lived due to mechanical and weather-related problems.

3.Both Wilbur and Orville never got married. Wilbur had once remarked that he did not have the time for both wife and an aeroplane. Their years of low-key, methodical research however, paid the duo off.

4.In 1969, when Apollo 11 successfully landed on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became first man to do so, he took a piece of muslin fabric and wood from the left wing of the real Wright Flyer with him.

5.In 1906, the patent for their invention was granted after three years and their flying machine entered the records as an aeroplane. Their patent stated ‘new and useful improvement in Flying Machines.’

Sources: Wikipedia and media reports

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