Who is Orville Wright?
Orville Wright (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur Wright (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were American aviation pioneers generally credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first successful motor-operated airplane. They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft with the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, 4 mi (6 km) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, at what is now known as Kill Devil Hills. The brothers were also the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.
In 1904–1905, the Wright brothers developed their flying machine to make longer-running and more aerodynamic flights with the Wright Flyer II, followed by the first truly practical fixed-wing aircraft, the Wright Flyer III. The brothers’ breakthrough was their creation of a three-axis control system, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, Wilbur and Orville focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving “the flying problem”. This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines. Using a small home-built wind tunnel, the Wrights also collected more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design more efficient wings and propellers. Their first U.S. patent did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather a system of aerodynamic control that manipulated a flying machine’s surfaces.
The brothers gained the mechanical skills essential to their success by working for years in their Dayton, Ohio-based shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles, in particular, influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle such as a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. This was a trend, as many other aviation pioneers were also dedicated cyclists and involved in the bicycle business in various ways. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, the brothers conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their shop mechanic Charles Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first airplane engine in close collaboration with the brothers.
The Wright brothers’ status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators. Edward Roach, historian for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, argues that they were excellent self-taught engineers who could run a small company, but they did not have the business skills or temperament to dominate the growing aviation industry.
I’ve always been impressed by the reality that inventing an airplane required that someone fly an airplane without any training. Gravity might be the explanation for why the secret of flight remained a secret for so long.
A decade after the Wright Brothers flew their plane, airplanes were used during WOrld War 1. Sixty-six years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, men walked on the moon. Air travel has been incomprehensibly consequential.
Here is some footage of their early flights: