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From childhood the Wright brothers were fascinated by the idea of flight.

They
dedicated a major part of their lives making the flying machine a reality. After many
years of trial and error they succeeded in human flight, which many thought was
impossible. The invention of the airplane revolutionized travel, warfare, and created
globalization. Few inventions have changed the world as Wilbur and Orville Wrights
flying machine.
The brothers were first exposed to the idea of flight in their early childhood, when
Milton Wright, the father of the boys, had brought back a small toy. This toy known as
the helicoptre was made of cork, bamboo, rubber bands, paper, and a few screws.
Milton threw the toy in the air and what happened amazed the two boys. Instead of
falling to the floor, as we expected, it flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where
it fluttered awhile, and finally sank to the floor.1 This toy inspired Orville and Wilbur to
create their own versions of the helicoptre. They made each model bigger and bigger
and found that the larger it was, the less it flew. As well as building these small toys
Orville and Wilbur gained an interest in kite flying and were known as experts, but as
they became older they lost interest believing that flying kites was childish.
During the brothers high school years the Wright family had moved causing the
two to not finish their requirements for graduation. Although Orville and Wilbur did not
graduate high school, they in no way saw it as a failure. Both were excellent self-learners
and excelled in math and science. Their parents had an extensive library and encouraged
the boys to pursue reading and self-study. Many saw the brothers as dropouts, but this
did not stop them from achieving their many accomplishments.
1 Wright, Orville and Wilbur, The Century Magazine: The Wright Brothers Areoplane,
http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wright_brothers/info_packet/century_magazine.p
df (accessed December 5, 2015), para. 1.

After the Wright brothers teen years, they opened their own successful
businesses. They owned a bicycle shop and edited their own newspaper. The brothers
were intrigued by bicycles and manufactured them in the store. As well as the bike store
Orville and Wilbur created and edited their own newspaper with a printing press. This
newspaper was known as West Side News2, and included articles about events happening
locally and globally as well as coupons for local businesses.
Between 1885 and 1900 the people thought that man would accomplish human
flight, but after scientists such as Maxim, Chanute, and many others had given up on the
machine, many thought that human flight was unobtainable. Other scientists known as
Pilcher and Lilienthal had died during experiments. When the brothers heard about
Lilienthals death they became interested in flight once again. Wilbur sent a letter to the
Smithsonian asking if he could have access to Mareys and Jamiesons books published
by Appletons and various magazines and cyclopaedic articles. 3 They began studying
scientists papers and recordings. Orville and Wilbur believed that they could invent a
flying machine.
There were two sides to flight that others had experimented with. One side was a
glider, which was a soaring flight. The other was a motor, which was more of a powered
flight.4 The brothers decided to begin experimenting with gliders first. Orville and
Wilbur used ideas from scientists who experimented with soaring flight such as
2 Unknown, West Side News 1889, http://www.loc.gov/item/wright002755,
(accessed December 5, 2015).
3 Wright, Wilbur, Letter Dated May 30, 1899,
http://siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/stories/letter-dated-may-301899, (accessed December 5, 2015).
4 Wright, Orville and Wilbur. The Century Magazine: The Wright Brothers Areoplane,
para. 4.
2

Lilienthal, Mouillard, and Chanute. Some scientists thought that they should place the
center of gravity below the wings. Others thought that more success was gained when
arranging the wings in the shape of a broad with the tips elevated. The brothers decided to
go with a completely different approach and would arrange the machines so that it
would not tend to right itself. We would make it as inert as possible to the effects of
change of direction or speed, and thus reduce the effects of wind-gusts to a minimum. 5
The brothers, with help from Mr. Chanute, began to create a glider based on their design
and started experiments in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in October of 1901.
At first the machine was supposed to be flown like a kite with a man on board for
the experiments, but the brothers found that stronger winds were needed to do this, so
they began with unmanned flights. At first they had problems with the balance of the
machine, but after a few trials were able to successfully fly 300 feet. During these test
flights, Orville and Wilbur realized that when the wind blew heavier on one wing it made
the other wing tilt down, causing the plane to turn in the opposite direction that a kite
would. The brothers had drawn great conclusions from these observations and found that
other scientists data was inconsistent. They decided to rely only on their own
experiments and observations.

Later on two more testing machines were built. The primary change added to the
two machines were the ability for the operator to change the shape of the wings to
compensate for external forces like wind gusts. Changing the wing shape was a great
idea that the brothers described in detail when patenting their invention, proclaiming,
5 Wright, Orville and Wilbur, The Century Magazine: The Wright Brothers Areoplane,
para. 8.
3

"The provision which we just describe enables the operator to meet this difficulty and
preserve the lateral balance of the machine."6 The Wright bothers were well on their way
to solving the problem of keeping the machine in balance even when external forces
change. These two machines would be tested next season. In October of 1902 about 1000
test flights were done, some going over 600 feet and lasting around a minute. The
brothers felt that they had perfected the glider machine and decided it was time to move
on to powered flight.
Wilbur and Orville Wright created their first powered machine that weighed about 600
pounds and included an eight-horse powered motor. After completing the model the
brothers realized that the motor had enough power to allow the machine to hold an extra
150 pounds. With this extra 150 pounds the brothers added parts to strengthen the wings
and components supporting the engines. Creating the wings for this powered machine
was the easy part. The brothers had a difficult time coming up with a propeller that
would be efficient for this model.

A problem that was most difficult for the brothers to solve was the design of the
propeller. At first the brothers thought about using a screw propeller from marine
engineers but realized that the calculations used in making this part wouldnt match up.
The Wright Brothers didnt want to do a lot of experiments to find the perfect propeller so
they based their work on calculations. There were many components to consider when
6 Wright, Orville and Wilbur, Patents--By Wright Brothers--USA--filed 23 March 1903,
patented 22 May 1906, http://www.loc.gov/resource/mwright.04135/?st=gallery
(accessed December 5, 2015).

designing the propeller such as the wind, the movement of the plane, and how the
propeller would turn. Orville and Wilbur argued and debated on different designs and
finally were able to come up with a propeller that would successfully work. The
propeller that was designed would only work for their machine. After building this part
the brothers took the machine to be tested in late 1903.
During the experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1903, there were four tests that were
recorded in a diary entry. During these tests the speed of the wind, the speed of the motor
airplane, the height it reached, and the time that the machine was in the air were all
recorded. During the first trial the rudder of the machine was having problems. These
problems caused the motor airplane to start to fall toward the ground but then pick back
up. At about twelve seconds the machine crashed into the ground and the brothers started
making repairs. The second and third trials were similar to the first but the machine
stayed in the air for a longer period of time than the first trial. Will took a picture of my
third flight just before the gust struck the machine.7 The fourth and final trial had more
success and flew more evenly compared to the other trials. It travelled a further distance
before crashing to the ground and damaging the front rudder frame. As the brothers and
Mr. Daniels walked back from the testing area some wind blew the machine over causing
it to land on top of Mr. Daniels as he attempted to save it. He was lucky enough to
escape with only some bruises and scratches. Although this day of tests had a lot of

7 Wright, Orville, Orville Wrights December 17,1903 Diary Entry,


http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wright_brothers/info_packet/orville_diary_entry.p
hp, (accessed October 13, 2015).

failures and someone got hurt, the brothers now better understood problems that needed
to be solved.
In early 1904 Mr. Torrence Huffman lent the brothers a shed located in Dayton,
Ohio. Here the brothers continued testing a stronger and more powerful motor powered
machine. During the first trial in Dayton many reporters were called to come witness the
flight. Unfortunately the wind was only blowing a few miles per hour and was not
enough to lift the machine into the air. Since so many people had come to see the test the
brothers decided to try and launch the airplane. The next day the reporters returned in
hope that there would be enough wind to lift the machine. Although there was enough
wind, the motor started to fail causing the machine to only fly 60 feet before falling to the
ground. Orville and Wilbur decided to stop these tests until the motor was repaired.
About a year after repairing the motor the machine began making longer flights.
Orville and Wilbur opened the flying grounds to the public so they could watch the test
flights. This of course attracted many people who were curious to see if the idea of
human flight had finally been accomplished. These flights would reach about 50 feet
from the ground. During one of these trials the wing had gotten damaged when it struck
a tree. The brothers had to fix this problem and didnt start flying again until September
of 1905 after finally resolving all the technicalities.
As soon as the invention was complete and safe enough for regular flight, the
brothers discussed its usefulness to the American Government. Since the technology of
course could advance warfare, the brothers and the U.S. Signal Corps made an
agreement. Within this agreement was listed certain requirements for the machine. It had

to have specific parts, requirements, it would cost about $25,000, as well as all the parts
had to be inspected before the machine was used.8 This airplane had to be able to hold
two people with enough fuel to travel 125 miles at 40 miles an hour. The brothers added
a seat for a passenger in the airplane and made the fuel capacity larger. Orville and
Wilbur successfully tested this machine, resulting in a first sale to the U.S. Signal Corps.
Overall the invention was a long and difficult process that started from the
brothers childhood. Many scientists were hurt and some even died trying to invent a
machine that could accomplish human flight. Although the Wright Brothers only saw
flying as sport, they were eventually dragged into the science aspect as well. In the end,
they were able to create a machine that made human flight, which many thought
impossible, a reality. Their creation benefited the American Army and revolutionized
warfare. Wilbur and Orville Wright invented an amazing flying contraption that changed
the way humans travel, and in the process made the world a smaller place.

8 Unknown, U.S. Signal Corps Agreement and Specifications for a Heavier-Than-AirFlying-Machine,


http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wright_brothers/info_packet/signal_corps.php
(accessed December 5, 2015).

Bibliography:
Jakob, Peter, L. Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of
Invention. Unknown: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Many Authors. West Side News 1889. http://www.loc.gov/item/wright002755
(accessed December 5, 2015).
Wright, Orville. Orville Wrights December 17, 1903 Diary Entry.
http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wright_brothers/info_packet/orville_diary
_entry.php (accessed December 5, 2015)
Wright, Orville and Wilbur. The Century Magazine: The Wright Brothers Areoplane.
http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wright_brothers/info_packet/century_mag
azine.pdf (accessed December 5, 2015)
Unknown. U.S. Signal Corps Agreement and Specifications for a Heavier-Than-AirFlying-Machine.
http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wright_brothers/info_packet/signal_corps.
php(accessed December 5, 2015)
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Wright, Wilbur. Wilbur Wrights Letter to the Smithsonian Institution.


http://siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/stories/letter-dated-may-30-1899 (accessed
December 5, 2015)
Wright, Orville and Wilbur. Patents--By Wright Brothers--USA--filed 23 March 1903,
patented 22 May 1906. http://www.loc.gov/resource/mwright.04135/?st=gallery
(accessed December 5, 2015)