Introduction: The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright
“Late in the autumn of 1878 our father came into the house late one evening with some object partly concealed in his hands, and before we could see what it was, he tossed it into the air. 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.”
The toy the Wright Brothers were referring to was a helicopter!
Orville and Wilbur Wright are qualified to write about The Early History of the Airplane because they are credited with inventing it. For many years, they dabbled in aviation. However, they became serious after the death of the King of Glider, Otto Lilienthal in 1896. To study the subject of flying, Orville and Wilbur Wright studied the work of others:
- Octave Chanute’s Progress in Flying Machines
- Samuel Pierpont Langley’s Experiments in Aerodynamics
- Aeronautical Annuals of 1905, 1906, and 1907
- Several pamphlets published by the Smithsonian Institution – especially articles by Otto Lilienthal and extracts from Louis Pierre Mouillard’s Empire of the Air.
After reading what was written, the Wright Brothers understood the problems with flying, and decided to follow the path of soaring flight, which Lilienthal, Mouillard, and Chanute followed, instead of power flight, which Professor Langley and Sir Hiram Maxim followed. The Wright Brothers first designed their machine to be flown as a kite, with a man on board. After relentless testing, they were ready to build a power-flyer.
After using the information from the work of others in their experimentation in flight, the Wright Brothers had to acknowledge that a lot of the information was incorrect. They were discouraged, but didn’t give up, and instead decided to rely on their own experimentations. They couldn’t distinguish between what was true and what was false. However, they agreed that the two years were not wasted because now they had a thorough knowledge of the subject of aviation.
As the Wright Brothers take you along their journey to inventing the airplane, you get to see that it was not an easy path. There were many setbacks along the way, but they kept at it. The brothers were one of a few folks who were contracted by the US Government to build a flyer capable of carrying two men and sufficient fuel supplies for a flight of 125 miles, with a speed of 40 miles an hour, and the only contractors to deliver a working product.
What makes The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright such a great book, and one that is an excellent mentor, is not so much what is in the book. The content is important, but the book teaches the reader how to think, how to solve a problem, and the process to manage a project from start to finish. In life, we will never have all the information we need to make a decision, solve a problem, or move ahead, however, we have to step up and make intelligent assumptions based on what we already know. Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright were very good at that.
The Wright Brothers documented the actions they took while building the flyer, so they were always able to go back and review their work. They were open to suggestions, and would question things. Building an aircraft was important to them, even if it meant that they had to build parts themselves. In life, we have many different skills and experiences, and at some point our lives come together. The Wright Brothers depended on reading books or other information to understand the field of aviation, but their background in building bicycles, was helpful to them when building the aircraft.
Pearls of Wisdom from the Wright Brothers
- Study and build on the work of others.
- Do not be afraid to try something different.
- Never give up, and do not listen to naysayers. After initial spectacular failures, the public believed that flight was beyond man.
- View failure as lessons learned.
- Break down large projects into manageable stages and test each stage to ensure that it works. The Wright Brothers first designed their machine to be flown as a kite, with a man on board. Then later they added the engine.
- The road to success is paved with many failures.
- Learn by experimentation.
Final Thoughts: The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright
I recommend that you read The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright, but when you are reading the book, focus more on the process, than on the content, and you will get far more from the book. You can download a copy of The Early History of the Airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright from Gutenberg.org.