In 1899, after
Wilbur Wright had written a letter of request to the Smithsonian Institution
for information about flight experiments, the Wright Brothers designed
their first aircraft: a small, biplane glider flown as a kite to test their
solution for controlling the craft by wing warping. Wing warping is a method
of arching the wingtips slightly to control the aircraft's rolling motion
spent a great deal of time observing birds in flight. They noticed that
birds soared into the wind and that the air flowing over the curved surface
of their wings created lift. Birds change the shape of their wings to turn
and maneuver. They believed that they could use this technique to obtain
roll control by warping, or changing the shape, of a portion of the wing.
Over the next
three years, Wilbur and his brother Orville would design a series of gliders
which would be flown in both unmanned (as kites) and piloted flights. They
read about the works of Cayley,
and Langley, and the hang-gliding flights
of Otto Lilienthal. They corresponded
with Octave Chanute concerning
some of their ideas. They recognized that control of the flying aircraft
would be the most crucial and hardest problem to solve.
successful glider test, the Wrights built and tested a full-size glider.
They selected Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as their test site because of
its wind, sand, hilly terrain and remote location.
In 1900, the
Wrights successfully tested their new 50-pound biplane glider with its
17-foot wingspan and wing-warping mechanism at Kitty Hawk, in both unmanned
and piloted flights. In fact, it was the first piloted glider. Based upon
the results, the Wright Brothers planned to refine the controls and landing
gear, and build a bigger glider.
1901, at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers flew the
largest glider ever flown, with a 22-foot wingspan, a weight of nearly
100 pounds and skids for landing. However, many problems occurred: the
wings did not have enough lifting power; forward elevator was not effective
in controlling the pitch; and the wing-warping mechanism occasionally caused
the airplane to spin out of control. In their disappointment, they predicted
that man will probably not fly in their lifetime.
In spite of
the problems with their last attempts at flight, the Wrights reviewed their
test results and determined that the calculations they had used were not
reliable. They decided to build a wind tunnel to test a variety of wing
shapes and their effect on lift. Based upon these tests, the inventors
had a greater understanding of how an airfoil (wing) works and could calculate
with greater accuracy how well a particular wing design would fly. They
planned to design a new glider with a 32-foot wingspan and a tail to help
the brothers flew numerous test glides using their new glider. Their studies
showed that a movable tail would help balance the craft and the Wright
Brothers connected a movable tail to the wing-warping wires to coordinate
turns. With successful glides to verify their wind tunnel tests, the inventors
planned to build a powered aircraft.
of studying how propellers work the Wright Brothers designed a motor and
a new aircraft sturdy enough to accommodate the motor's weight and vibrations.
The craft weighed 700 pounds and came to be known as the Flyer.
built a movable track to help launch the Flyer. This downhill track would
help the aircraft gain enough airspeed to fly. After two attempts to fly
this machine, one of which resulted in a minor crash, Orville Wright took
the Flyer for a 12-second, sustained flight on December 17, 1903. This
was the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history.
In 1904, the
first flight lasting more than five minutes took place on November 9. The
Flyer II was flown by Wilbur Wright.
1908, passenger flight took a turn for the worse when the first fatal air
crash occurred on September 17. Orville Wright was piloting the plane.
Orville Wright survived the crash, but his passenger, Signal Corps Lieutenant
Thomas Selfridge, did not. The Wright Brothers had been allowing passengers
to fly with them since May 14, 1908.
In 1909, the
U.S. Government bought its first airplane, a Wright Brothers biplane, on
July 30. The airplane sold for $25,000 plus a bonus of $5,000 because it
exceeded 40 mph.
1911, the Wrights' Vin Fiz was the first airplane to cross the United States.
The flight took 84 days, stopping 70 times. It crash-landed so many times
that little of its original building materials were still on the plane
when it arrived in California. The Vin Fiz was named after a grape soda
made by the Armour Packing Company.
In 1912, a
Wright Brothers plane, the first airplane armed with a machine gun was
flown at an airport in College Park, Maryland. The airport had existed
since 1909 when the Wright Brothers took their government-purchased airplane
there to teach Army officers to fly.
On July 18,
1914, an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps (part of the Army) was established.
Its flying unit contained airplanes made by the Wright Brothers as well
as some made by their chief competitor, Glenn Curtiss.
That same year,
the U.S. Court has decided in favor of the Wright Brothers in a patent
suit against Glenn Curtiss. The issue concerned lateral control of aircraft,
for which the Wrights maintained they held patents.
invention, ailerons (French for "little wing"), was far different from
the Wrights' wing-warping mechanism, the Court determined that use of lateral
controls by others was "unauthorized" by patent law.
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