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106 years of flight

On this day in 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful sustained flights in an airplane—Orville first, gliding 120 feet (36.6 metres) through the air in 12 seconds.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first aircraft engine in close collaboration with the brothers.


  • Simon

    Of course the Wrights weren’t alone at the beginning of aviation. Let’s not get into fights about who was first but there were other pioneers at the time who are often overshadowed. Every country sees to have their own. In NZ we had Richard Pearse:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Pearse

    Fascinating story. A complete nutter by the sounds of it. He kept crashing into hedges. He was a pioneer but nothing he did was published at the time. Years later they did go digging and find things he had built himself in rubbish dumps though.

  • Stunmonkey

    Article should read; “On this day in 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful viral marketing campaign.”

    Like Betsy Ross sewing the flag, this is a constantly repeated but documentably untrue story.

    This is MAKE:, how about a story on the real unsung pioneers of aviation who were there first?

    It is a remarkably interesting story, even if it does mean not all accomplishments were done by Americans first, and that some of the accomplishments that were done by Americans first were embarrassingly done by non-whites.

  • Phillip Torrone

    hey guys – write up the story of the unsung heros and send it along, we’ll post it up!

  • annaigart

    From wikipedia:
    In France Clément Ader built the steam-powered Eole and may have made a 50-meter flight near Paris in 1890, which would be the first self-propelled “long distance” flight in history. Ader then worked on a larger design which took five years to build. In a test for the French military, the Avion III reportedly managed to cover 300 meters at a very small height, crashing out of control.

    Another case of NIH….

    Without forgetting that at the same time, in different countries, people influenced by each other often work towards the same achievement. They compete and help each other through that competition.

  • chizz

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_George_Cayley

    Cambered wing flight models by 1793, that’s one hundred and sixteen years before the wright bros. If it had been possible for him to have some kind of an engine(not that he didn’t try), he could have provided air support for the battle of waterloo!

    From studying herons he surmised hollow structual members and dihedral wing planes.
    He also invented bicycle spokes, tracked vehicles, prosthetics and self righting lifeboats.
    Now THAT was a maker!

  • ziboskwitz

    Obviously there were many people working on the problem of flight before the Wright Brothers. Some claim to have flown before them. People were making that claim at the time. Many more have done so afterward. In fact, it took five years (1908) before the international community believed the Wright Brothers did fly in 1903. But you know how they proved that they had done what they claimed to have done? They continued to fly longer and farther than anyone else.

    People didn’t accept that they flew in Dec 1903 because they had a movie of it or tons of witnesses. Or because they were Americans. It was because when they were called upon to fly again, they were able to do it. And do so repeatedly.

    True science is not being able to do something once. It is being able to do it repeatedly and on cue.

    None of the earlier pioneers mentioned above could back up their early claims with later flights. The Wright Brothers did.

  • Volkemon

    @ziboskwitz-

    VERY well said.

  • amasci.com

    Confusion arises because nobody makes clear what the Wrights actually did. They weren’t first to fly, or first with powered flight. Usually it’s described as “first controlled powered flight” with much talk of wing-warping. Their competitors were flying in straight lines. The Wrights essentially achieved a modern aircraft which could be steered as desired.

    Hey, did the phrase “flying circles around the competition” arise from the Wright era, or was it something later?

    • Stunmonkey

      @amasci.com

      Even the “first controlled powered” part doesn’t really work. You have to add a LOT more asterisks than that. The Wright brothers weren’t even the first to do this, or do it repeatedly as ziboskwitz posits.

      When you add things like “takeoff from land” to eliminate the guy who took off from water, or “takeoff from flat ground”, or “takeoff without assistance”, and half a dozen other caveats like “turned both directions during flight”, etc., you get the Wrights actual claim. With that many caveats, anybody could be the first at anything. They had to exclude a lot of other people.

      There were more capable craft, and developed earlier, but the Wrights had the market savvy to get themselves PR and funding to keep it going.
      They are much like their contemporary American genius Thomas Edison – his genius wasn’t based in inventing, it was marketing, PR, and showmanship.