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Wright Brothers

Wright Brothers

Orville Wright

Born: August 19, 1871
Dayton, Ohio
Died: January 30, 1948
Dayton, Ohio

Wilbur Wright

Born: April 16, 1867
Millville, Indiana
Died: May 30, 1912
Dayton, Ohio

American aviators

The American aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first to accomplish manned, powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine.

Their early years

Wilbur and Orville Wright were the sons of Milton Wright, a bishop of the United Brethren in Christ. Wilbur was born on April 16, 1867, in Millville, Indiana. Orville was born on August 19, 1871, in Dayton, Ohio. Until the death of Wilbur in 1912, the two were inseparable. Their personalities were perfectly complementary (each provided what the other lacked). Orville was full of ideas and enthusiasms. Wilbur was more steady in his habits, more mature in his judgments, and more likely to see a project through.

While in high school, Wilbur intended to go to Yale and study to be a clergyman. However, he suffered a facial injury while playing hockey, which prevented him from continuing his education. For the next three years he continued his education informally through reading in his father's large library.

In their early years the two boys helped their father, who edited a journal called the Religious Telescope. Later, they began a paper of their own, West Side News. They went into business together as printers producing everything from religious handouts to commercial fliers. In 1892 they opened the Wright Cycle Shop in Dayton. This was the perfect occupation for the Wright brothers because it involved one of the exciting mechanical devices of the time: the bicycle. When the brothers took up the problems of flight, they had a solid grounding in practical mechanics (knowledge of how to build machines).

The exploits of one of the great glider pilots of the late nineteenth century, Otto Lilienthal, had attracted the attention of the Wright brothers as early as 1891, but it was not until the death of this famous aeronautical (having to do with the study of flying and the design of flying machines) engineer in 1896 that the two became interested in gliding experiments. They then decided to educate themselves in the theory and state of the art of flying.

Their beginnings in flight

The Wrights took up the problem of flight at a favorable time, for some of the fundamental, or basic, theories of aerodynamics were already known; a body of experimental data existed; and, most importantly, the recent development of the internal combustion engine made available a sufficient source of power for manned flight.

The Wright brothers began by accumulating and mastering all the important information on the subject, designed and tested their own models and gliders, built their own engine, and, when the experimental data they had inherited appeared to be inadequate or wrong, they conducted new and more thorough experiments. The Wrights decided that earlier attempts at flight were not successful because the plans for early airplanes required pilots to shift their bodies to control the plane. The brothers decided that it would be better to control a plane by moving its wings.

First trip to Kitty Hawk

The Wright brothers proceeded to fly double-winged kites and gliders in order to gain experience and to test the data they had. After consulting the U.S. Weather Bureau, they chose an area of sand dunes near the small town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, as the site of their experiments. In September 1900 they set up camp there.

The Wrights's first device failed to fly as a kite because it was unable to develop sufficient lift (upward force). Instead, they flew it as a free glider. They kept careful records of their failures as well as of their successes. Their own data showed conclusively that previous tables of information they had were greatly inaccurate.

Returning to Dayton in 1901, the Wright brothers built a wind tunnel (a tunnel wherein one can control the flow of wind in order to determine its effect on an object)the first in the United States. This is where they tested over two hundred models of wing surfaces in order to measure lift and drag (resistance) factors and to discover the most suitable design. They also discovered that although screw propellers had been used on ships for more than half a century, there was no reliable body of data on the subject and no theory that would allow them to design the proper propellers for their airship. They had to work the problem out for themselves mathematically.

The Wrights, by this time, not only had mastered the existing body of aeronautical science but also had added to it. They now built their third glider, incorporating their findings, and in the fall of 1902 they returned to Kitty Hawk. They made over one thousand gliding flights and were able to confirm their previous data and to demonstrate their ability to control motions of the glider. Having learned to build and to control an adequate air frame, they now determined to apply power to their machine.

Powered flight

The Wright brothers soon discovered, however, that no manufacturer would undertake to build an engine that would meet their specifications, so they had to build their own. They produced one that had four cylinders and developed 12 horsepower (a unit that describes the strength of an engine). When it was installed in the air frame, the entire machine weighed just 750 pounds and proved to be capable of traveling 31 miles per hour. They took this new airplane to Kitty Hawk in the fall of 1903 and on December 17 made the world's first manned, powered flight in a heavier-than-air craft.

The first flight was made by Orville and lasted only 12 seconds, during which the airplane flew 120 feet. That same day, however, on its fourth flight, with Wilbur at the controls, the plane stayed in the air for 59 seconds and traveled 852 feet. Then a gust of wind severely damaged the craft. The brothers returned to Dayton convinced of their success and determined to build another machine. In 1905 they abandoned their other activities and concentrated on the development of aviation. On May 22, 1906, they received a patent for their flying machine.

The next step

The brothers looked to the federal government for encouragement in their venture, and gradually interest was aroused in Washington, D.C. In 1907 the government asked for bids for an airplane that would meet certain requirements. Twenty-two bids were received, three were accepted, but only the Wright brothers finished their contract.

The brothers continued their experiments at Kitty Hawk, and in September 1908, while Wilbur was in France attempting to interest foreign backers in their machine, Orville successfully demonstrated their contract airplane. It was accepted by the government. The event was marred by a crash a week later in which Orville was injured and a passenger was killed.

Wilbur's trip to France proved to be a success. In 1909 the Wright brothers formed the American Wright Company, with Wilbur taking the lead in setting up and directing the business. His death in Dayton on May 30, 1912, left Orville feeling depressed and alone. In 1915 he sold his rights to the firm and gave up his interest in manufacturing in order to turn to experimental work. He had little taste for the busy activity of commercial life.

After his retirement, Orville lived quietly in Dayton, conducting experiments on mechanical problems of interest to him, none of which proved to be of major importance. His chief public activity was service on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the government agency that came before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA), of which he was a member from its organization by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 until his death in Dayton on January 30, 1948.

The Wright Brothers helped found modern aviation through their curiosity, their inventiveness, and their unwillingness to give up their vision.

For More Information

Culick, Fred E. C., and Spencer Dunmore. On Great White Wings: The Wright Brothers and the Race for Flight. Shrewsbury, England: Airlife, 2001.

Freedman, Russell. The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane. New York: Holiday House, 1991.

Howard, Fred. Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers. New York: Knopf, 1987.

Kelly, Fred C. The Wright Brothers: A Biography Authorized by Orville Wright. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1951. Reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1989.

Walsh, John Evangelist. One Day at Kitty Hawk: The Untold Story of the Wright Brothers and the Airplane. New York: Crowell, 1975.

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Wright Brothers

Wright brothers

The American aviation pioneers Wilbur (1867-1912) and Orville (1871-1948) Wright were the first to accomplish manned, powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were the sons of Milton Wright, a bishop of the United Brethren in Christ. Wilbur was born on April 16, 1867, in Millville, Ind.; Orville was born on Aug. 19, 1871, at Dayton, Ohio. Until the death of Wilbur in 1912, the two were inseparable. Their personalities were perfectly complementary: Orville was full of ideas and enthusiasms, an impetuous dreamer, while Wilbur was more steady in his habits, more mature in his judgments, and more likely to see a project through.

In their early years the two boys helped their father, who edited an evangelical journal called the Religious Telescope. Later, they began a paper of their own, West Side News. In 1892 they opened the Wright Cycle Shop in Dayton, which was the perfect occupation for the Wright brothers, involving one of the exciting mechanical devices of the time: the bicycle. When the brothers took up the problems of flight, they had a solid grounding in practical mechanics.

The exploits of one of the great glider pilots of the late 19th century, Otto Lilienthal, had attracted the attention of the Wright brothers as early as 1891, but it was not until the death of this famous aeronautical engineer in 1896 that the two became interested in gliding experiments. They then resolved to educate themselves systematically in the theory and state of the art of flying.

The Wrights took up the problem of flight at an auspicious time, for some of the fundamental theories of aerodynamics were already known; a body of experimental data existed; and most importantly, the recent development of the internal combustion engine made available a sufficient source of power for manned flight. Although they sometimes acted as scientists, the basic approach of the Wrights was that of the engineer. They had no formal training as either scientist or engineer, but they combined the instincts of both. They began by accumulating and mastering all the pertinent information on the subject, designed and tested their own models and gliders, built their own engine, and, when the experimental data they had inherited appeared to be inadequate or erroneous, they conducted new and more thorough experiments.

Armed with this information, the Wright brothers proceeded to fly double-winged kites and gliders in order to gain experience and to test data. After consulting the U.S. Weather Bureau, they chose an area of sand dunes near the small town of Kitty Hawk, N.C., as the site of their experiments. In September 1900 they set up camp there and began the work that culminated three years later in success.

Their first device failed to fly as a kite because it was unable to develop sufficient lift. Instead, they flew it as a free glider and learned a great deal from their experience, partly because of the careful records they kept of their failures as well as of their successes. Their own data showed conclusively that previous tables of information were greatly inaccurate.

Returning to Dayton in 1901, the Wright brothers built a wind tunnel, the first in the United States, and here they tested over 200 models of wing surfaces in order to measure lift and drag factors and to discover the most suitable design. They also discovered that although screw propellers had been used on ships for more than half a century, there was no reliable body of data on the subject and no theory that would allow them to design the proper propellers for their airship. They had to work the problem out for themselves, mathematically.

The Wrights, by this time, not only had mastered the existing body of aeronautical science but also had added to it. They now built their third glider, incorporating their findings, and in the fall of 1902 they returned to Kitty Hawk. They made over 1,000 gliding flights and were able to confirm their previous data and to demonstrate their ability to control the three axes of motion of the glider. Having learned to build and to control an adequate air frame, they now determined to apply power to their machine.

The Wright brothers soon discovered, however, that no manufacturer would undertake to build an engine that would meet their specifications, so they had to build their own. They produced one that had four cylinders and developed 12 horsepower. When it was installed in the air frame, the entire machine weighed just 750 pounds and proved to be capable of traveling 31 miles per hour. They took this new airplane to Kitty Hawk in the fall of 1903 and on December 17 made the world's first manned, powered flight in a heavier-than-air craft.

The first flight was made by Orville and lasted only 12 seconds, during which the airplane flew 120 feet. That same day, however, on its fourth flight, with Wilbur at the controls, the plane stayed in the air for 59 seconds and traveled 852 feet. Then a gust of wind severely damaged the craft, and the brothers returned to Dayton convinced of their success and determined to build another machine. In 1905 they abandoned their other activities and concentrated on the development of aviation. On May 22, 1906, they received a patent for their flying machine.

The brothers looked to the Federal government for encouragement in their venture, and gradually interest was aroused in Washington. In 1907 bids were asked for an airplane that would meet government requirements—22 bids were received, three were accepted, but only the Wright brothers finished their contract. They continued their experiments at Kitty Hawk, and in September 1908, while Wilbur was in France attempting to interest foreign backers in their machine, Orville successfully demonstrated their contract airplane. It was accepted by the government, although the event was marred by a crash a week later in which Orville was injured and a passenger was killed.

Wilbur's trip to France proved to be a success also, and in 1909 the Wright brothers formed the American Wright Company, with Wilbur taking the lead in setting up and directing the business. His death in Dayton on May 30, 1912, left Orville in a state of desolate isolation. In 1915 he sold his rights to the firm and gave up his interest in manufacturing in order to turn to experimental work. He had little taste for the bustle of commercial life.

After his retirement, Orville lived quietly in Dayton, conducting experiments on mechanical problems of interest to him, none of which proved to be of major importance. His chief public activity was service on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor agency of NASA), of which he was a member from its organization by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 until his death in Dayton on Jan. 30, 1948.

Further Reading

The letters and papers of the Wright brothers are available in Fred C. Kelly, ed., Miracle at Kitty Hawk: The Letters of Wilbur and Orville Wright (1951), and Marvin W. McFarland, ed., ThePapers of Wilbur and Orville Wright (2 vols., 1953). Fred C. Kelly, The Wright Brothers (1943), is a biography authorized by Orville Wright. Other recommended studies are Elsbeth E. Freudenthal, Flight into History: The Wright Brothers and the Air Age (1949), and, for young people, Quentin J. Reynolds, The Wright Brothers: Pioneers of American Aviation (1950). □

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Wright brothers

Wright brothers, American airplane inventors and aviation pioneers. Orville Wright 1871–1948, was born in Dayton, Ohio, and Wilbur Wright, 1867–1912, near New Castle, Ind. Their interest in aviation was aroused in the 1890s by the German engineer Otto Lilienthal's glider flights. Both excellent mechanics, the Wrights used the facilities of the bicycle repair shop and factory which they operated (1892–1904) at Dayton for the construction of their early aircraft. By experimenting with movable portions of the wing assembly, rather than shifts in bodily weight, as a means of correcting the aircraft's position in flight they made an important improvement in aircraft design. During this period they drew up valuable tables of wind pressure and drift. Orville designed an engine, which they constructed and attached to their improved glider.

On Dec. 17, 1903, they made near Kitty Hawk, N.C., the first controlled, sustained flights in a power-driven airplane. Of their four flights on that day, the first, made by Orville, lasted 12 sec, and the fourth, by Wilbur, covered 852 ft (259 m) in 59 sec. The brothers continued their experiments at Dayton and built several biplanes. Record-breaking flights in 1908 by Orville in the United States and by Wilbur in France brought them worldwide fame. In 1909 the U.S. government accepted the Wright machine for army use, and the brothers established the Wright Company. The house where Orville was born and the bicycle-shop laboratory have been restored and were moved to Greenfield Village, Mich.

See their papers, ed. by M. W. McFarland (2 vol., 1953); bibliography ed. by A. G. Renstrom (1968); C. P. Graves, The Wright Brothers (1973); P. Degan and L. Wescott, Wind and Sand (1983); F. Howard, Wilbur and Orville (1988); L. E. Tise, Conquering the Sky (2009).

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Wright brothers

Wright brothers Wilbur (1867–1912) and Orville (1871–1948), US aviation pioneers. They assembled their first aircraft in their bicycle factory. In 1903, Orville made the first piloted flight in a power-driven plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This flight lasted just 12 seconds, and attracted little attention. In 1908, Wilbur made longer and higher flights in France, and Orville was equally successful in the USA. The brothers eventually convinced military authorities and manufacturers to invest in powered aircraft.

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Wright Brothers

Wright Brothers

Wilbur Wright (1867–1948) and Orville Wright (1871–1912) were brothers whose lives were entwined until death. Pioneers in aviation , their flying machines and first successful flight in 1903 ensured their place in the history books.

The Wright brothers were quite different, but their personalities balanced each other. Both men were intelligent—Wilbur had an amazing memory, while Orville was always coming up with new ideas and inventions. The two brothers together accomplished more than either of them likely could have as individuals. Where Wilbur used his analytical skills to figure out technical problems during the invention of the airplane, Orville's positive outlook and enthusiasm kept the pair from losing hope.

Early years

Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, in Millville, Indiana . He excelled in his school studies. In his senior year of high school, Wilbur and his family moved to Dayton, Ohio . Wilbur did not graduate. He took preparatory classes at a high school in Dayton with the plan of studying at Yale and becoming a teacher.

In 1885 the young Wilbur sustained a serious injury during an ice hockey game. He was left with digestive disorders and a heart condition that would linger throughout his life. Wilbur became a withdrawn and depressed man. He gave up his plans for Yale and isolated himself from the world. He spent most of his time caring for his sick mother, who was dying from tuberculosis, a common bacterial infection. He remained devoted to her until her death in 1889.

Orville was born on August 19, 1871. Even as a young child he would take apart toys and machines in an effort to find out how they worked. Unlike Wilbur, Orville was impulsive, not given to thinking things through before jumping in. Accounts portray him as a perfect example of the nutty inventor, with several projects going on at once and ideas striking him in the middle of the night.

He also differed from his brother in how well he performed in school. Although his mind was every bit as sharp as Wilbur's, Orville was unable to focus on school work. He frequently got into mischief, and teachers complained that he did not apply himself to his full ability. Orville never graduated from high school. Neither brother suffered from their lack of formal education. They both spent much of their life in private study.

Newspapers and bicycles

The Wright brothers lived together and pursued printing as their first serious career endeavor. In 1889 they established their own weekly newspaper. In 1893 they sold their printing business to embark on a new career journey: they opened a bicycle rental and repair shop in Dayton. American consumers had developed an interest in bicycles in the late 1880s. At the peak of the bike craze in the 1890s, more than three hundred bicycle companies were manufacturing more than one million bicycles a year. The brothers were able to make a good living with their shop, and they became known throughout the community as trustworthy businessmen.

The Wright Cycle Company operated out of five separate locations throughout Dayton between 1893 and 1897. Competition was stiff. The brothers began designing and building their own line of bicycles, which they offered to the public in 1896. Unlike the competition, the Wrights built their bicycles by hand, with the help of Ed Sines, who had assisted them in the day-to-day operations of their previous printing business. This traditional means of production gave the Wrights' bikes a certain appeal the other, more “modern” manufactured bikes lacked.

In their peak years of production between 1896 and 1900, the Wrights built three hundred bicycles a year, earning between $2,000 and $3,000 annually. Today, only five bikes built by the Wright Cycle Company are known to exist.

Researching flight

Given the brothers' mechanical ability, curiosity, and unceasing quest for knowledge, it should not be surprising that they began experimenting with aeronautics. Beginning in 1899 they used their bike shop to build and research aircraft. Although the men have been credited with genius for their invention, researchers and scientists through the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries have been in awe not only of the result (the first airplane) but also of the research process the brothers implemented. Their research and evaluation methods remain an important part of the aeronautical industry.

Based on their research, Orville and Wilbur decided to test their ideas using full-sized gliders. By studying how aerodynamics would affect such a simple machine, they figured they could slowly develop their design, step by step. It would prove to be an excellent decision.

When complete, the glider weighed 52 pounds (24 kilograms) and had a wing span of 17 feet (5.2 meters). The Wrights wanted to build part of the wings with spruce, but they had to settle for pine, a soft, light wood not ideal for aircraft structure, because that is what was available. The framework was covered with a sateen fabric (a midweight, strong material).

Taking flight

To test the glider the brothers needed a place with wide open spaces and steady winds. They settled on a small fishing village in North Carolina called Kitty Hawk. Wilbur and Orville took turns piloting the glider during the test flights in 1900 at Kitty Hawk. This gave them both much-needed experience manning the craft. Repeated flights gave them the information necessary to take back to the drawing table when it came time to make the next new-and-improved aircraft. They built and tested two more gliders in 1901 and 1902.

They spent most of 1903 researching ideas for a powered plane, designing one with wooden propellers and a specially made gasoline engine. They returned to Kitty Hawk in September. Almost immediately, things started to go wrong, making the men question the reality of their plan to take to the air. The weather was exceptionally bad, and they were experiencing technical difficulties with the airplane. They forged ahead, and on December 14 set out to test the 152-pound (69-kilogram) plane.

They flipped a coin to determine who would fly first. Wilbur climbed aboard. The plane was airborne for just 3½ seconds before it crashed into the sand.

Three days later, the damage was repaired and the brothers set out to test the plane again. Orville sat in the pilot's seat this time. He kept the plane in the air for twelve seconds before it came to rest in the sand. It had flown a distance of 120 feet (37 meters). History had been made: a human had maintained flight for a significant amount of time that did not land in a crash.

They made three more flights that day. Wilbur made the longest flight on the final run. The plane was in the air for 59 seconds and flew 852 feet (260 meters). The world of aviation and aeronautics was changed forever.

Just after that final flight, a gust of wind caused the plane to roll over. It was so seriously damaged that it never flew again. After initially being rejected, on May 22, 1906, the Wrights were granted U.S. Patent 821,393. Owing to a mix-up, the patent was given to the 1902 glider rather than the 1903 airplane. This would cause many patent infringements (violation of owners' rights) in the future.

The Wright brothers achieved their goal of inventing the first powered airplane, but it was not a practical plane. If they were to sell their planes, they had to design and build crafts that could be used in terrains other than wide, sandy spaces. So they set to work and built two more airplanes. By 1905 they were done building experimental aircraft. On October 5 Wilbur flew their latest plane for thirty-nine minutes. He circled a field thirty times and flew a distance of 24.5 miles (39.4 kilometers).

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever (a bacterial disease concentrated in the bloodstream) in 1912. He was forty-five years old. Orville sold the Wright Company in 1916 and returned to the business of inventing. He built himself an aeronautics lab and became a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). He remained a member for twenty-eight years, until his death from a heart attack in 1948. Ten years later, NACA became National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.