Wright Brothers – Biographies, Notable Inventions & Accomplishments
The legendary “Wright Brothers” were Wilbur Wright and his younger brother Orville Wright. They are famously known as American aviation enthusiasts who invented, built, and flew the world’s first successful powered airplane.
In the article below, WHE explores the lives, notable facts and major achievements of the Wright Brothers.
Major Accomplishments of the Wright Brothers
Right from childhood, the Wright brothers had talents for independent thinking. Their firm belief in their abilities was what sustained them in difficult times. These characteristics, coupled with their exceptional technical skills, contributed to their success as innovators – one of America’s greatest innovators for that matter.
They began their careers in printing machine design and later ventured into bicycle manufacturing, which provided engineering knowledge and enabled them to fund their early aircraft design efforts. As aviation pioneers, they eventually achieved many milestones and developed several notable innovations, including:
The first to embark on a controlled, continuous flight
On December 17, 1903, they invented the “Wright Flyer,” which made the first continuous air flight by a piloted heavier-than-air driven and controlled aircraft. They then flew it four times over the “Kill Devil Hills”, a town in Dare County, North Carolina, United States. The Wright Flyer’s invention was a pioneer in using control systems in aircraft. It was later preserved and is currently on display in Washington, D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum.
During the “Apollo 11” mission in 1969, famous American astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012) used parts of the original wood and fabric of the “Wright Flyer” to make his favorite gear that he donned on the lunar mission.
The Wright Brothers invented the first functional airplane
The Wright brothers invented the world’s earliest functional flying machine, the “1905 Wright flyer.” In its design, they found the solution to the pitching problem that plagued their 1903 and 1904 aircrafts. By 1905, the aircraft could fly over fifty feet above the ground for around thirty minutes, travel approximately forty kilometers, executing turns and twists. It culminated in their six-year experimental period beginning in 1900. By 1906, they had a functioning operational plane and marketed it to the US War Department.
The aircraft’s fuel tank and radiator were relocated to the front strut, as they were on the 1903 aircraft. Compared to the earlier Wright aircraft, its fuel tank was enlarged. Another very innovative thing was that the total weight of the aircraft was further decreased by removing the 70-pound ballast. Accordingly, the “1905 Wright flyer” had a gross weight of approximately 860 pounds with a pilot inside.
They came out with complex and accurate gliders
In the summer of 1902, they planned, designed, and built the legendary “Wright glider of 1902” biplane glider. It was then put to test during the winter of 1902 and at Kill Devil Hills in the United States in 1903. The aircraft was proof that the brothers had solved the main problems and calculations to overcome the key obstacles of operating the “heavier than air” flight.
Between September and October 1902, the Wrights flew the glider about 1,000 times. Their control system was validated, and their wind-tunnel data generated correct performance calculations. Indeed, the Wright glider of 1902 was so crucial that the fundamental “Wright Patent” protected a glider with the 1902 control mechanism rather than their powered airplanes. During the winter of 1902, they kept the glider in a garage at the “Kill Devil Hills,” and rebuilt it upon their return in September 1903. They later made almost 100 additional gliders.
Built the US military’s first airplane
In August 1909, the United States Army embarked on its earliest aviation adventure when the brothers delivered the first military aircraft to the Signal Corps. The plane was the “Wright A Flyer,” purchased for $30,000 from the Wright brothers by the US military. It was officially named “Signal Corps No. 1” but often referred to as the “Wright Military Flyer.”
The military’s flying program soon began and was located at a large field in Maryland’s College Park. However, the Wrights began teaching several soldiers how to fly planes in October 1909, including Fred Humphreys, who became the first US Army officer to fly alone.
The Wright Brothers had a successful airplane business
The famous “Wright Company” was founded in November 1909, with the brothers as its highest executives and a board of trustees comprising some of America’s finest businessmen. They also established a flight school in “Huffman Prairie” and opened a manufacturing plant in Dayton. As a matter of fact, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton owe a lot of credit to the incredible aviation works made by the Wright Brothers.
In March 1910, they founded the “Wright Exhibition Company” with Roy Knabenshue (1876 – 1960), an accomplished American aeronautical engineer, airship and balloon pilot. They had realized that by forming an exhibition team, they would be able to supplement their revenue generated from aircraft sales, flight training, and license payments. Soon, they began instructing the pilots for their exhibition team in Montgomery, Alabama, and proceeded to “Huffman Prairie.” Finally, in June 1910, the exhibiting team made its debut in Indianapolis, and it operated commercially until November 1911.
Their younger sister, Katharine Wright, increased commercial revenue from their inventions. She was a key figure in promoting the brothers’ inventions throughout Europe, where she was regarded as a dynamic and outgoing businesswoman.
Did you know?
- It’s been said that the Wright Brothers’ lifelong interests in flying and aviation in general were inspired by a gift they received from their father. An 11-year-old Wilbur and 7-year-old Orville received a helicopter-like toy from their father. The toy, which was inspired by model aircrafts designed by 19th-century French pioneer of aviation designer and engineer Alphonse Pénaud (1850 – 1880), was made of bamboo and paper.
- After coming out with the first power-driven airplane, the Wright Brothers used a coin toss to determine who would fly first. The older brother, Wilbur, won the toss only for his first attempt to end in failure. Wilbur then took the sticks and managed to secure a 12-second flight. By the close of the day, Wilbur would achieve a whopping 59 seconds in flight, covering about 850 feet in distance.
- Not only was Dayton, Ohio the location of their first flight facilities, but it was also the place where the Wright Brothers lived all their lives.
Awards & Honors
The brothers were awarded the French “Legion of Honor.” However, Orville Wright solely earned the “1913 Collier Trophy” for constructing an automated stabilizer for aircraft.
The Wright brothers were also highly celebrated people, earning honorary degrees and prizes from institutions and organizations across the United States and Europe.
After Wilbur’s death, Orville remained active in aeronautics, serving on the “National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics” from 1920 until 1948. He also led various aeronautic organizations, including the council responsible for developing aeronautics through the “Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Fund.”
Other notable facts about the Wright Brothers
- Orville Wright was born in Dayton, Ohio, while Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Indiana. They were the children of Milton Wright, an ordained preacher, and Susan Catherine Koerner Wright.
- Wilbur’s aspirations to attend college were thwarted when he was crippled in a hockey accident sometime between 1885 and 1886, while Orville only learned the printing business and trade for several years. However, they attended high school but were the only Wright siblings who did not enroll in college nor get married.
- Orville Wright died of a heart attack, aged 76, on January 30, 1948, and Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever, aged 45, on May 30, 1912.