The Wright Brothers
Wilbur and Orville Wright were born to Bishop Milton Wright and his wife Susan. Wilbur, their third son, was born on a small farm near Millville, Indiana on April 16, 1867. Orville was born at 7 Hawthorn Street in Dayton, Ohio. The five Wright children grew up in a happy environment where they were always encouraged to pursue intellectual interests. The family was a very close one, even though Bishop Wright was a firm disciplinarian. In June of 1884, the family decided to move from Richmond, Indiana back to Dayton, the same month Wilbur was to have graduated from high school. Wilbur had to leave without a diploma, but he came back the next year to study further in Greek and trigonometry.
By carefully studying the works of those before them, The Wright Brothers began their efforts to build the first airplane. The Wright Brothers were very good at judging weather the many ideas they read were good or worthless. They slowly began putting together the bits and pieces of information that were scattered throughout the books they read.
The Wright Brothers employed Otto Lilienthal, a well-known German engineer’s findings on the lift and wing surfaces. Using this, they designed their 1900 glider. The Wrights patterned their aircraft after the Chanute-Herring biplane, a biplane glider that was sturdy and pretty successful. In 1900, when the brothers decided to try to build an airplane, they realized they needed a place where practice would be easy. Wilbur came up with a plan to build a 150-foot tower with a pulley at the top. A rope attached to the glider would pass over the pulley and be tied to the counterweight; this would support some of the weight of the aircraft. Wilbur thought this would allow the pilot to practice flying a plane which wasn’t yet airworthy; however, Octave Chanute, a famous author, who had done plane experiments himself, advised Wilbur to find a sandy place, with strong prevailing winds to lessen the problem of moving the glider from the point of landing back to the point of take off.
Wilbur found the perfect spot to practice flying near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. He felt it was important to find a remote place where their experiments could be done without a lot of people around. Chanute, while doing his experiments in the dunes of Indiana, had been bothered with spectators and media.
After carefully designing a biplane glider, Wilbur set out for Kitty Hawk, arriving on September 13,1900. Orville followed on September 27. Camped in a tent near Kitty Hawk, the two brothers began work on the biplane. It was finished in the first week of October. The biplane was first tested as a manned kite, with one of the brothers onboard manipulating the controls, while two others held the ropes. Later it was tested as an unmanned kite, with chains being used for ballast. The longest distance the plane glided was between 300 and 400 feet.
The Wright Brothers soon realized how expensive it would be to ship planes all the way to Kitty Hawk. So they developed a state-of-the-art wind tunnel. They tested between 80 and 200 different wing shapes in their wind tunnel. They also identified a highly efficient wing shape in their tunnel.
With the help of their wind tunnel, the brothers created the first effective heavier -than- aircraft, the 1902 glider. Although the glider only covered 662 feet on the ground, it was flying into a stiff wind, and was really flying a much larger distance in the air.
All the Wright brothers had left to do was build a engine for their glider. They built a 4-cylinder gasoline engine. After that they returned to their wind tunnel to test propeller shapes, and designed their 1903 craft.
With their invention of the airplane, the Wrights at first received wide acclaim for their invention; however, the aviation community was overcome with jealousy and greed. France and Germany refused to allow the Wrights to have a patent for controlling the lateral motion of airplanes by ailerons or wing warping. Without a patent, the Europeans were free to copy the Wrights ideas. They were also free from the embarrassing fact that the Wrights had invented something they had not. Most people today recognize the Wrights as the true inventers of the airplane. The prevalent attitude toward the Wrights however, is that they were just bicycle mechanics who by chance, invented the airplane.