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Interesting Facts About The Wright Brothers

Most of us will know that brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited with inventing and successfully flying the first powered, human controlled and heavier-than-air, airplane (called the Flyer). This flight took place on December 17, 1903 just south of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina and it lasted for 12 seconds at a total distance of just 36.5 m (120 ft). Interestingly, the first flight of the Flyer was shorter than the wingspan of a Boeing 707! Their achievements and theories of flight of the led to the development of the aviation industry that revolutionized transport forever. Let’s find out some more fun facts about these two amazing brothers.

Interesting facts about the Wright brothers
We know that Orville made the successful first flight in the Flyer, but it wasn’t meant to have happened this way. Wilbur won the coin toss to make the first attempt on December 14, but he stalled the airplane after taking off and crashed! After repairs the next attempt went to Orville who managed to make the successful flight. They took turns to make a total of 4 successful flights on December 17. The longest flight of the day lasted 59 seconds and reached 260 m (852 ft). Unfortunately, a strong gust of wind damaged the Flyer and it was never flown again.

The picture of the first flight was taken by John T. Daniels and this has become one of the most famous photographs of all time. Daniels later explained that he was so excited to see the machine fly that he almost forgot to take the photo! Coincidentally, Orville died on January 30, 1948 and Daniels died one day later. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912 at the age of 45.

The first flight did not create much media attention and was mostly ignored by the press. A telegraph operator leaked the message to a newspaper in Virginia, but the story was incorrectly reported.

The Flyer was built from Sitka spruce (Giant spruce). The engine was custom made by Charlie Taylor and used a chain drive (like a bicycle) to power two large propellers. It had a top speed of 48 km/h (30 mph). The pilot flew the plane by lying on his stomach and steered it with a cradle attached to the hips. The Flyer didn’t have wheels and was launched from a launching rail. The design of the Flyer was based on their most successful glider. The brothers tested a number of glider designs between 1900-1902.

For a considerable time after their first flight the Smithsonian Institution chose to credit the first aircraft heavier than air capable of flight to former secretary Samuel P. Langley. Orville learned that the Institution had made later modifications to Langley’s aircraft to prove it could fly and decided to loan the Flyer to the London Science Museum. It wasn’t until 1942 that they recanted this claim and gave credit to the Wright Brothers. The end of this dispute led to the return of the original Flyer to the U.S. and it is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

The brothers went on to build the Flyer II (1904) and III (1905), which both improved on the design of the original. Wilbur made a flight in the Flyer III in October 1905 which lasted almost 40 minutes. This one flight was longer than all of the flights in 1903 and 1904 combined!

After this long flight was completed they offered to sell their aircraft to the U.S. military. However, the military was not interested until 1907. Their contracts for producing aircraft required the carriage of a passenger so they modified the Flyer III with 2 seats. Charlie Furnas became the first passenger to fly in a fixed wing aircraft. Wilbur’s worst crash occurred on the same day when he moved the new control lever the wrong way and slammed into the sand at a speed of 64-80 km/h (40-50 mph) He suffered only bruises and a cut nose, but the aircraft never flew again.

Orville had his worst crash in 1905 and this led to many improvements of the controls in the Flyer III.

The Wright Company was created in 1909 with Wilbur as the president and Orville as the vice president. Their aircraft came under scrutiny in the U.S. Army after 11 fatal crashes between 1912 and 1913.

The brothers promised their father Milton Wright that they would never fly together to avoid a double tragedy. However, in 1910 they flew together for the first, and only, time after seeking permission from their father.

The Wright brothers were initially rejected for a patent for their invention and this wasn’t rectified until 1906. Despite this they couldn’t stop people circumventing their patent and ended up in a long legal battle with fellow aviator Glen Curtiss that caused much stress on the family and damaged the public reputation of the Wright brothers. Ironically, the Wright Aeronautical Corporation (the successor to the Wright Company) and the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company merged to form the Curtiss-Wright company in 1929!

The key to the success of the Wright brothers was their invention of the three-axis-control, which is still the method used in aircraft today.

The brothers were very worried about people stealing their ideas. Some historians believe that the failed flights of the Flyer II in 1904 were setup on purpose to reduce the amount of media attention.

Orville and Wilbur never married. They had 5 other siblings, including twins that died in infancy. The brothers started a printing business in 1889, a bicycle repair and sales shop in 1892 and began making their own bicycles 4 years later. Their success in this business helped to fund their interest in flying and meant that they didn’t required investors for their work.

Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio is named after the famous brothers. The logo of the university includes the Flyer.

In 1924 the Society of Automotive Engineers established the Wright Brothers Medal that is awarded to people that make important contributions to air and space vehicles.

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