While all of us recently celebrated the International Civil Aviation Day, more festivities are coming! And no – we’re not talking about Christmas. Today, on the 17th of December the world commemorates the Wright Brothers and their first powered flight. To celebrate, we will take a look into their past and the impact on aviation today, as we present the top 5 most interesting facts about the Wright Brothers!
Even though the brothers did not finish high school because of different reasons (Wilbur decided to take care of their terminally ill mother, while Orville opened up a business), they were both very interested in opening up businesses and making the most out of the opportunities provided. Orville opened up a print shop in 1889 after he designed and built a printing press by himself. Wilbur joined him on this adventure and they launched a weekly newspaper. After the United States went through a bicycle craze, the Wright Brothers opened up a bike shop in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers called it the Wright Cycle Exchange. In 1909, the Wrights sold the company to W.F. Meyers, so that they could focus on aviation. Wilbur Wright in a bike shop
Both states are taking credit for the inventions of the Wright Brothers. The Wright Brothers were born in Ohio. They also built and designed their aircraft in Dayton, Ohio. However, Orville and Wilbur tested their aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. So, the states decided to partake in a cheeky rivalry – Ohio has the slogan “Birthplace Of Aviation” on their license plate. Meanwhile, North Carolina uses the slogan “First In Flight”. The rivalry was so “intense”, that the Brothers’ bicycle shop and home were moved from Dayton to Greenfield Village. Wright Brothers museum in Dayton, Ohio.
As Wilbur had passed away before World War 1 started and Orville was too old to serve in both The Great War and World War 2, Orville fought a patent war. In 1906 they were granted a patent for their flying machine, which was a glider. The patent was important because it described a way on how to build a mechanism that would control an aircraft. To bypass the patent, various early aviators, namely Glenn Curtiss, built ailerons to control pitch. After Curtiss successfully flew his AEA June Bug, the Wrights’ warned him not profit from flying or selling aircraft. He refused to comply and made a profit by selling an aircraft equipped with ailerons. In 1906 the legal war began between the two sides. Wright Brothers earned a victory in 1913, but the Curtiss Company appealed the decision. In a wild twist of fate, the Wright Aeronautical Corporation and Curtiss Aeroplane merged into one company to form Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which exists to this day! The XF-87 Blackhawk. The last aircraft built by the Curtiss-Wright company.
To be honest, it isn‘t as black and white as it seems. The flyer was at first donated to the London Science Museum because the Smithsonian Institution (which owns the National Air and Space Museum) refused to acknowledge that the Flyer was the first aircraft capable of a powered flight. The Institution thought that their own secretary, Samuel Pierpont Langley was the first person to build and fly an aircraft that was heavier than air. When in fact, the public regarded Samuel's tests as a failure. After years of bad blood between the two sides, the Smithsonian finally gave in. Fred C. Kelly, the biographer of the Wright Brothers encouraged them, as Orville had already passed away. So the original Flyer returned to the United States in 1948 and the Smithsonian Institution bought it for 1 dollar. But, the sale contract had very harsh terms on how to display the Flyer. The agreement outlines that no one in the United States could display an aircraft, that was capable of a manned powered flight, that preceded the Flyer.
And while it might be nothing new, the fact is that the Wright Brothers are the people who helped shape aviation into what it is today. The Flyer, dubbed “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.” was powered by a 12 horse-power engine, delivering a maximum speed of 48 km/h, while being able to have a maximum load of 338 kg on takeoff. The first successful flight took place on the 17th of December, 1903. The total covered distance was 37 meters and lasted 12 seconds. To illustrate, the wingspan of the Airbus A380 is 80 meters – double the distance covered by the Wrights’ flyer.
And although their name might carry some controversy, nobody doubts their contribution to aviation. They were and are heroes of everyone, who has ever stepped inside an aircraft.