109 Years Ago

The Wrights had their first controlled flight of a heavier-than-aircraft on this date in 1903. I had three separate pieces on the event back on the hundredth anniversary, which was also the day that SpaceShipOne first flew supersonic.

[Late evening update, after all the kvetching in comments]

Jeez, Looeeze, people.

OK, first controlled flight of a powered heavier-than-aircraft. Happy now?

5 thoughts on “109 Years Ago”

  1. Strictly speaking, they had their first flights of what would eventually become a controlled heavier-than-air aircraft. The 1903 Kitty Hawk flights were not effectively controlled, and the Wrights themselves did not consider them anything worth bragging about – but unlike everyone else trying to build airplanes at the time, they at least knew why their plane couldn’t go a minute without crashing, and they knew how to fix it.

    1. John,

      Actually that would be the glider flights of 1902, including the glider flight of October 8, 1902 which they made the first controlled turn in. The difference in 1903 was they had added the engine to their glider, so it was the first successful flight of a controlled heavier-than-air powered aircraft.

      The power was the key element as it eliminated the need for wind which they required for their tethered test flights. That was why they had to go to Kitty Hawk in the first place. After they demonstrated power flight they could test fly from Huffman Prairie near Dayton, accelerating their development schedule.

      1. Well if we were talking about gliders George Cayley and Otto Lilienthal were working on the issues much earlier. Some people like Clement Ader allegedly made powered flights but they were using steam engines so the power to weight ratio just was not there. The Wright Brothers eventually made a viable powered heavier-than-air aircraft so that is what they are remembered for.

        They also nearly killed the US aviation industry in the crib with patent litigation but let’s just gloss over that.

        1. Godzilla,

          True, but even more importantly the Wright Brothers also invented the wind tunnel and used the wind tunnel to test their glider airfoil designs in the off season. The also used it to design the propeller, again by systematically applying what their learned about airfoil cross sections to it. In short, they not only design the first working aircraft, they understood the principles that enabled to work.

          Yes, they did stall the progress of the industry with their patent lawsuits, which brings us around to NASA, or actually NACA, which was created to close the gap and help resolve the problems the patent fight had created for U.S. aviation.

      2. The glider and the airplane are two different vehicles; even if much of the airframe was recycled, the addition of an engine was a transformative change. One which resulted, in 1903, in a pitch-unstable crashoplane incapable of controlled flight, and after some tweaking in 1904, actual controlled flight of the first working aeroplane.

        This might seem a trivial nit, but there are no shortage of people who will compare the enthusiastically but IMO prematurely celebrated hops of the 1903 Flyer with various crashoplanes built by e.g. Langley or Whitehead and claim that the Wrights didn’t do anything special, or first. And they are to some extent right, in that it is hard to prove conclusively that the 1903 flights were fundamentally new or unprecedented.

        It is easy to show that what the Wrights were doing in 1904 was far beyond what anyone else in the world had even a clue how to accomplish even in 1908.

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