History of Flight

A Wright Brothers Bicycle

So, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of planes.  My day job as an engineer and my love of science may have something to do with that…. that and having grown up near Dayton, Ohio – the self proclaimed birthplace of aviation.  Lots been said about Orville and Wilbur Wright and their Wright Flyer, but something I didn’t realize until recently is there was quite a competition between Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers (hat tip to American Genius on Netflix).  It was very bitter and that documentary does not paint a great picture of the personality and character of the Wright brothers (which you’d never really hear about in their hometown).  It actually paints Mr. Curiss as every bit the engineer/ scientist as the Wright Brothers if not more so.  Orville and Wilber were not too keen on sharing anything about their flying machine as it appears as though egos played a rather large role in those decisions (some things never change).

It’s quite cool to visit Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and walk the very grounds where the very first flight took place…. see the engraved landscape boulder marking the exact location of the flight.  It’s just a cool piece of American history spread over a huge chunk of sandy soil on the outer banks.

Anwho, it’s absolutely fascinating how far we’ve come.  From the days were it was an unbelievable to have flown a minute, or a few miles…. to now, where it’s world news for even the smallest crashes. According to the Air Transportation Action Group (ATAG), over 100,000 flights a day took place on average in 2014.  That is craaaaazy.

If you’ve never been to the Air Force museum, it has a very cool display featuring many of the earliest airplanes, with a model of the Wright Flyer as one of them.  It’s very interesting to see how the plane was designed with a substantial amount of cabling and wire to attempt to steer the craft.

It took quite a few attempts by both the Wrights and Curtiss to get something off the ground.  In fact it was Curtiss who appeared to have the upper hand in the race to fly the longest when he unfortunately met his fate when his plane crash landed.  That very flight was being watched by an important figure in the military, ready to spend, when what appeared to be a very successful test flight ended in tragedy. That unfotunate event ended the often contentious, but important, rivalry between the two parties. Like all ground breaking inventions, there is often times a person no one has ever heard of, pushing to get ahead.  That crash was the last significant event in early flight.  The Wrights and Curtiss pushed each other, brought the best (and worst) out of each other, and whether they’d ever admit to it or not, needed each other to keep pushing the envelope as to what was possible in the earliest days of flight.

One more note about the Wright flyer….. actually more like a very novice observation.  Having seen replicas of the Wright flyer several times, it’s very cool to see how long some of the design elements of their plane has lasted.  The most notable being the double wings.  Many small planes used double wings for half a century or more after the initial design of the Wright flyer, as the most well known may be the Red Baron.  It’s also worth noting that the Wright flyer steering mechanism was pretty much never seen again.  They got a lot right, just not everything!

In the next post I’ll get into the sights and sounds of commercial flight and hopefuly answer questions you never knew you had about all that noise!