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How We Invented the Airplane

How We Invented the Airplane

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Published by: skunkwerk on Sep 26, 2011
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How~
InventedheAirplane------
by
ORVILLEWRIGHT
O
URFIRSTINTEREST
[intheproblemofflight]beganwhenwewerechildren.Fatherbroughthometousasmalltoyactuatedbyarubberstringwhichwouldliftitselfintotheair.Webuiltanumberofcopiesofthistoy,whichflewsuccessfully....Butwhenweundertooktobuildatoyonamuchlargerscaleitfailedtoworksowell.Thereasonforthiswasnotunder-stoodbyusatthetime,sowefinallyabandonedtheexperiments.In1896wereadinthedailypapers,orinsomeofthemagazines,oftheex-perimentsofOttoLilienthal,whowasmakingsomeglidingflightsfromthetopofasmallhillinGermany.Hisdeathafewmonthslaterwhilemakingaglideoffahillincreasedourinterestinthesubject,andwebeganlookingforbooksper-tainingtoflight.WefoundaworkwrittenbyProfessorMareyonanimalmechanismwhichtreatedofthebirdmechanismasappliedtoflight,butotherthanthis,sofarasIcanremember,wefoundlittle.Inthespringof1899ourinterestinthesubjectwasagainarousedthroughthereadingofabookonornithology.Wecouldnotunderstandthattherewasanythingaboutabirdthatwouldenableittoflythatcouldnotbebuiltonalargerscaleandusedbyman.Atthistimeourthoughtper-tainedmoreparticularlytoglidingflightandsoar-ing.
If
thebird'swingswouldsustainitintheairwithouttheuseofanymusculareffort,wedidnotseewhymancouldnotbesustainedbythesamemeans.WeknewthattheSmithsonianInstitutionhadbeeninterestedinsomeworkontheproblemofflight,and,accordingly,onthe30thofMay1899,mybrotherWilburwrotealettertotheSmithsonianinquiringaboutpublica-tionsonthesubject.Severaldayslaterwere-ceivedalettersignedbyR.Rathbun,assistantsecretary.AmongthereprintsoftheSmithsoniansenttousandmentionedintheletterwasthe
ProblemofFlyingandPracticalExperimentsinSoaring,
byOttoLilienthal;
StoryofExperimentsinMecham-calFlight,
byS.P.Langley;and,Ithink,apaperbyPettigrew,aswellasacopyofMouillard's
EmpireoftheAir.
WesentforcopiesofChanute's
ProgressinFlyingMachines,
Langley's
Experi-mentsinAerodynamics,
andtheAeronautical
 
Annualsof1895,1896,and1897.Onreadingthedifferentworksonthesubjectweweremuchimpressedwiththegreatnumberofpeoplewhohadgiventhoughttoit-amongthesesomeofthegreatestmindstheworldhasproduced.Butwefoundthattheexperimentsofoneafteran-otherhadfailed.AmongthesewhohadworkedontheproblemImaymentionLeonardodaVinci,oneofthegreatestartistsandengineersofalltime;SirGeorgeCayley,whowasamongthefirstoftheinventorsoftheinternal-combustionengine;SirHiramMaxim,inventoroftheMaximrapid-firegun;Parsons,theinventorofthetur-binesteamengine;AlexanderGrahamBell,in-ventorofthetelephone;HoratioPhillips,awell-knownEnglishengineer;OttoLilienthal,theinventorofinstrumentsusedinnavigationandawell-knownengineer;ThomasA.Edison;andDr.S.P.Langley,secretaryandheadoftheSmithsonianInstitution.Besidesthesetherewereagreatnumberofothermenofabilitywhohadworkedontheproblem.Butthesubjecthadbeenbroughtintodisreputebyanumberofmenoflesserabilitywhohadhopedtosolvetheproblemthroughdevicesoftheirowninventionwhichhadallofthemfailed,untilfinallythepublicwasledtobelievethatflyingwasasim-possibleasperpetualmotion.
In
factscientistsofthestandingofGuy-Lussac,thegreatFrenchscientistandengineer,andProfessorSimonNewcomb,oneofthegreatestoftheAmericanscientistsandmathematicians,hadattemptedtoprovethatitwouldbeimpossibletobuildafly-ingmachinethatwouldcarryaman.AdmiralMelville,chiefengineerintheUnitedStatesNavy,alittlelater,in1901,or1902,publishedanarticleinwhichhepointedoutthedifficultiesofbuildingaflyingmachinetocarryaman,andstatedthatthefirstflyingmachinewouldbemoreexpensivethanthemostcostlybattleship.AfterreadingthepamphletssenttousbytheSmithsonianwebecamehighlyenthusiasticwiththeideaofglidingasasport.WefoundthatLil-ienthalhadbeenkilledthroughhisinabilitytoproperlybalancehismachineintheair.Pilcher,anEnglishexperimenter,hadmetwithalikefate.Wefoundthatbothoftheseexperimentershadattemptedtomaintainbalancemerelybytheshiftingoftheweightoftheirbodies.Chanute,andIbelievealltheotherexperimentersbefore1900,usedthissamemethodofmaintainingtheequilibriuminglidingflight.Weatoncesettoworktodeviseamoreefficientmeansofmain-tainingtheequilibrium....Thefirstmethodthatoccurredtousformain-tainingthelateralequilibriumwasthatofpivot-ingthewingsontherightandleftsidesonshaftscarryinggearsatthecenterofthemachine,which,beinginmesh,wouldcauseonewingtoturnup-wardinfrontwhentheotherwingwasturneddownward.Bythismethodwethoughtitwouldbepossibletogetagreaterliftononesidethanontheother,sothattheshiftingofweightwouldnotbenecessaryforthemaintenanceofbalance.However,wedidnotseeanymethodofbuildingthisdevicesufficientlystrongandatthesametimelightenoughtoenableustouseit.Ashorttimeafterward,oneeveningwhenIreturnedhomewithmysisterandMissHarrietSilliman,whowasatthattimeaguestofmysister'sinourhome,Wilburshowedmeamethodofgettingthesameresultsaswehadcontem-platedinourfirstideawithoutthestructuralde-fectsoftheoriginal.Hedemonstratedthemethodbymeansofasmallpasteboardbox,whichhad...theoppositeendsremoved.Byholdingthetopforwardcornerandtherearlowercornerofoneendoftheboxbetweenhisthumbandfore-fingerandtherearuppercornerandthelowerforwardcorneroftheotherendoftheboxinthelikemanner,andbypressingthecornerstogether,theupperandlowersurfaceoftheboxweregivenahelicoidal
[spiral]
twist,presentingthetopandbottomsurfacesoftheboxatdifferentanglesontherightandleftsides.FromthisitwasapparentthatthewingsofamachineoftheChanutedouble-decktype,withthefore-and-afttrussingremoved,couldbewarpedinlikemanner,sothat,inflying,thewingsontherightandleftsidescouldbewarpedsoastopresenttheirsurfacestotheairatdif-ferentanglesofincidenceandthussecureun-equalliftsonthetwosides....'Webegantheconstructionofamodelembody-ingtheprincipledemonstratedwiththepaperboxwithinadayortwo.Thismodelconsistedof
'CourtshaveheldthattheWrights,aspioneers,hadpriorityon
any
methodforpresentingtherightandleftwingsatdifferentangles.Theyhaddiscoveredtheaileronprinciple.
 
superposedplaneseachmeasuringfivefeetfromtiptotipandaboutthirteeninchesfromfronttorear.Themodelwasbuiltand,asIrememberit,wastestedinthelatterpartofJuly1899....Iwasnotmyselfpresent....
[Experimentswiththisjive-footapparatus,more
a
modelgliderthanakite,wereconfinedtooneday.]
AccordingtoWilbur'saccountofthetests,themodelworkedverysuccessfully.Itrespondedpromptlytothewarping
of
thesurfaces,alwaysliftingthewingthathadthelargerangle.Sev-eraltimes...whenheshiftedtheuppersurfacebackwardbythemanipulationofthesticksat-tachedtoflyingcords,thenoseofthemachineturneddownwardaswasintended,butindivingdownwarditcreatedaslackintheflyingcords,sothathewasnotabletocontrolitfurther.Themodelmadesucharapiddivetothegroundthatthesmallboyspresentfellontheirfacestoavoidbeinghit,nothavingtimetorun....Wefeltthatthemodelhaddemonstratedtheefficiencyofoursystemofcontrol.Afteralittletimewedecidedtoexperimentwithaman-carry-ingmachineembodyingtheprincipleoflateralcontrolusedinthekitemodelalreadyflown.FromthetablesofLilienthalwecalculatedthatamachinehavinganareaofalittleover150squarefeetwouldsupportamanwhenflowninawindofsixteenmilesanhour.Weexpectedtoflythemachineasakiteandinthiswaywethoughtwewouldbeabletostayintheairforhoursatatime,gettinginthiswayamaximumofpracticewithaminimumofeffort.InSeptem-berof1900wewenttoKittyHawk,"NorthCarolina,andthereassembledthemachine,mostofthepartsofwhichwehadmadeatDayton.FromtheUnitedStatesWeatherBureaure-portswehadfoundthatKittyHawkwasoneofthewindiestplacesinthecountry,andthatdur-ingthemonthofSeptemberithadanaveragewindintheneighborhoodof16milesanhour.WewrotetotheWeatherBureaumanattheKittyHawkstation,tellinghimofthenatureof
lNativesaroundKittyHawkshowedonlymildinterestintheWrights'hopesofflying,buttheybecamemuchexcitedwhentheylearnedthatthebrothershadsenttoElizabethCity,fiftymilesaway,forabarrelofgasolineandintendedtokeepthehighlyexplosivestuffrightintheirtent.Didn'tthesemenknowhowdangerousitwas?Motherscautionedtheirchildrennottogonearthetent.TheWrightswantedthegasolinenotforamotorbutfortheircookstove.
It
wasthefirstgasolineevertakentotheKittyHawkarea.
theexperimentswewishedtoconductandask-inghiminregardtothesuitabilityofthegroundinthatneighborhood.Wereceivedaveryfavor-ablereportfromhim,andalsofromthepost-masteratKittyHawk,towhomhehadshownourletter.[Themachine]hadtwosuperposedsurfacesmeasuringeighteenfeetfromtiptotipandaboutfivefeetfromfronttorear.Thesurfaceswerespacedfivefeetapartandwereconnectedattheextremeforwardedgebysixuprightposts,andataboutonefootfromtherearedgebyanotherrowofuprightsorstruts.Thestrutswerecon-nectedtothesurfacesbymeansofflexiblejoints.Theribsweremadeofthinstripsofash,slightlybentneartheirforwardextremities.Theseribswereboundtotheforwardsparonthespar'supperside,sothatthesparandcurvaturegiventotheribsproduceda[wing]curvatureofaboutone-eighteenthtoone-twentiethofthechord[thestraight-linedistancefromfronttorearedgeofwing).Thesparswereenclosedinasheathformedbysewingastripofclothoverthem,re-sultingintheeliminationofallsharpanglesorcorners.Theribswereenclosedlikewise.BoththeforwardandtherearrowsofuprightsweretrussedbywiresmuchliketheChanuteglider.Themachinethushadtwosystemsofrigidtrusseslaterally;but,unliketheChanutemachine,itwasnotrigidlytrussedfromfronttorear.Onthecontrary,aflexiblecablewascon-nectedtotheuppersurfaceattheextremeouteruprightintherear,passeddiagonallydownwardthroughapulleyonthelowersurfaceattheouter-mostforwardupright,thenceacrosstoapulleyinacorrespondingpositiononthelowerplaneontheoppositesideofthemachine,andthendiagonallyupwardtoaconnectiontotheuppersurfaceattheoutermostrearupright.Anotherflexiblecablewasattachedtotheuppersurfaceatitsforwardedgeattheoutermostuprightontheoneside,passeddiagonallydownwardandbackwardandcrossingthefirst-mentionedflex-iblecabletoapulleyattherearofthelowersur-face,thenacrosstoapulleyattherearofthelowersurfaceattheoppositeside,andthenuptotheconnectionoftheforwarduprighttotheuppersurface.Acradleinwhichtheoperatorlaywasconnectedtothecablerunningalongthefor-wardedgeofthelowersurface,sothatwhenthe

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