Thursday, December 16, 2010

First Flight - Powered by Wright

First Flight – Powered by Wright: Today, 17 December back in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew a heavier than air vehicle powered by an engine. The two brothers operated a bicycle business in Dayton Ohio and were both skilled machinists. Their life hobby of kite flying led them to a Kitty Hawk North Carolina beach with a hand built man-sized kite or glider that would evolve into the powered Wright Flyer.

From their workshop in Dayton their in-house Engineer custom built the engine that would be used in the Wright Flyer because engines of the day did not have the power to weight ratio required for “heavier-than-air” flight. They used spruce wood in the construction of the vehicle for strength and its workability. They would have to “sweat” parts into shape. This is a process of using forms and steam to press the wood into shapes other than straight. They also crafted their own geared sprockets to transfer the power from the motor to the two propellers that would push the vehicle. The wings were covered in “Pride of the West” muslin that was mostly used in women’s undergarments.

Their observations of their kite and glider flying led them to question some fundamental precepts of aeronautics such as they were back in 1903. The two men constructed miniature airfoils representing wings and propellers (more than 200 in fact) and tested them in a hand build Wind Tunnel.
Picture Above: This is a replica of the wind tunnel that the Wright Brothers built and used to test airfoil designs. Their precise calculations and measurements led to new understanding of lift and airfoil shapes and to control of those shapes during flight. Picture from the Virgina Air and Space Muesum in Hampton Virgina.

Doing so, they re-wrote the book on lift and their new designs were vastly superior to others of the day. This led to successful flights of a manned glider and eventually the Wright Flyer.

Picture to right: This is the 1902 Wright Glider with Wilbur suspended in the middle of the frame. They used a crude trapase contraption to "warp" the wings and shift the balance of weight or Center of Gravity to manuver the aircraft. This glider was produced directly from the research conducted by the Brothers using their wind tunnel. It proved the design and the men moved towards adding power to the airframe. Picture taken from Wikipedia, source unknown.

Moreover, their analysis led them directly to discovery of control mechanisms to be used while airborne for the turning of the aircraft, control of assent and of course decent as well. These were important touches; many others were flirting at the time with flight in heavier-than-air machines. But it was the Wright Brothers who pioneered controlled flight in a heavier-than-air machine.

Both men were self taught in both business and aeronautics, neither attended college nor did either have official credit for finishing High School. They would operate several aviation business building aircraft and a Flying School. One of those early students was a fledgling pilot by the name of Henry “Hap” Arnold who would rise to the rank of 5-star General in the U.S. Army commanding the Army Air Corps during World War II and who would eventually be the first head of the U.S. Air Force.
Picture Above: First flight at Kitty Hawk with Orville at the controls. That is Wilbur running along side. This first flight was a mere 120 feet and lasted 12 seconds. The Brothers would fly three more times that day before a wind gust destroyed the aircraft. Library of Congress Photo orginally taken by John T. Daniels (US Coast Guard).

Their original companies survive today as part of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation which is still producing cutting edge avionics and aerospace products. Humble men they were, neither ever married and today are celebrated as pioneers of a remarkable industry.

Ride in any aircraft today except for a Hot Air Balloon and you are a direct beneficiary of the hard work of the Wright Brothers.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

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