Who invented the Plane

The Wright Brothers a fascinating story. Two Brothers who owned a bycycle factory and were interested in flying machines as a hobby were the first to build a working airplane.

Although there are a remarkable number of little known short uncontrolled powered flights that precede the Wright Brothers, and a few longer ones. Sustainable, controllable, powered flight begins at Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. The requirements for this achievement had been understood since 1799 when Sir George Cayley showed the first clear grasp of the principles of aviation. But 104 years later respected, well funded experimenters were still failing when two Brothers from Ohio at the cost of a few thousand dollars and a lot of hard work and research finally conquered the air.

Their achievement is, of course, built upon the efforts that preceded them. They took the biplane design from Octave Chanute through Otto Lilienthal. They took data and theory from Lawrence Hargrave in Australia and Lilienthal in Germany. They took the concept of a wind tunnel to test wing and propeller shapes from Hiram Maxim in England. And they were aware of the work being done by Samuel Langley. Through reading they gained an understanding of the science of flight as it then stood, and through practical experimentation, hard work, and discovering the errors in the existing body of knowledge they achieved their ultimate success.

Unfortunately they were slow to get the credit they deserved. So many claims had been made previously, and come to nothing that the world virtually ignored their accomplishments. Langley whose lavishly government funded experiments had failed miserably only days before the December 17 flight questioned their accomplishments, and refused them credit in their home country. Governments overseas refused to honor their patents, and the money they surely expected to make from such a great discovery was slow to come. Wilbur was in very low spirits when struck by food poisoning or typhoid (depending on whose account you read) and died in 1912

After Wilbur’s death the British parliament voted the Wrights 15,000 pounds sterling to compensate them for their patent infringements, but France and other European countries continued to deny them their due. True the Wright patent only covered their system of controlling the plane through wing warping and rudders which was primitive, and quickly out-moded, but theirs was the first plane that could fly, turn, and make a controlled landing. The first true aerial navigation, with all the other attempts comparing to aerial navigation as riding a barrel over Niagra Falls compares to skilled sailing. The other flyers were completely at the mercy of the whims of wind and nature.

Of course, Lilienthal and Pletcher controlled their gliders by shifting their weight, but they both died in glider crashes. Had they survived either of these two might have beaten the Wrights to the first real airplane, but it would have been steered like a hang glider. Had Langley’s planes been strong enough to survive his launch catapult his failures might well have been success, at least for straight line powered flight. In many ways the Wright Brothers were merely hobbyists seeking to be a part of the great new aviation discoveries, but in the end their efforts were the most systematic, best thought out, and most viable of any, well funded or not.

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