The Wright Flyer made its first successful flight in 1903. It was the very first powered flying machine which carried a crew that could control it to some extent. Who would have imagined that a couple of rickety flights would eventually result in the foundation of the aviation industry, let alone flying to space only 58 years afterward?
Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright from Dayton, Ohio, showed their passion for flying at an early age. While they were children, they used to play with rubber-powered aircraft and kites. What greatly helped them make their eventful departure at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on December 17, 1903, were major innovations in the field of self-propelling and flight control. They are both essential for preventing an airplane from crashing.
The Design of the Plane
As the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum discloses, Wright brothers became actively interested in flying when Otto Lilienthal, a glider pioneer, died in 1896. To construct the first functional airplane, both the Wrights and Lilienthal initially experimented with the structure of kites and gliders.
Back in the past, to steer the gliders, pilots had to use the entire weight of their bodies. However, the brothers invented a much more graceful solution. Namely, they warped or wrenched the plane’s wings in opposite directions to alter the flow of air above the wings. The twists would then generate various extents of lift on every wing, making the plane lean to one side. To control the twisting of the plane’s wings, a pilot had to use wires attached to the hip cradle. That further implies the pilot was able to steer the Wright Flyer by moving his hips from one side to another.
What enabled the construction of the Wright Flyer were specific improvements that were made in the previous two years. Namely, the autumn of 1901 saw some wind tunnel experiments, whereas, in 1902, a large number of gliding experiments were carried out. All these tests and trials resulted in the construction of an airplane that had an improved lift and the front elevator that tilted the plane’s nose up and down. Also, a tail rudder enabled a more efficient control of flying. All these innovations paved the way for the Wright Flyer that was about to take off in 1903.
The Flyer’s Technicalities
To construct a flying machine which could actually fly and not only glide, the Wright brothers had to design functional airplane propellers. They conceived the propeller as a plane wing located on the aircraft’s side. To provide the flow necessary for the horizontal lift, i.e., the force that would drive the plane forward, the propeller would spin around.
The brothers produced the engine whose capacity amounted to 12 horsepower. It was supposed to supply two propellers installed behind the aircraft’s wings. Chains and sprockets were used to connect the engine and propellers.
The Wright Flyer had a wooden framework made of spruce and ash. It was covered with muslin. The aircraft was 21ft (6.4m) long and 9ft 3in (2.8m) high. Its wingspan amounted to 40ft 4in (12.3m), and it was 605lbs (274kg) heavy.
The Sky Is Not the Limit
The day has finally come. On December 17, 1903, the Wright Flyer took off for the very first time. The momentous flight lasted 12 seconds, after which three more followed. The last one lasted even 59 seconds and passed the distance of 852ft (255.6m). The era of powered flights and powered airplanes had finally started.
The landmarks of flying that followed the 1903 flight are numerous. The Smithsonian Institution lists the following as the most significant ones:
- The landing of the first aircraft carrier (1911);
- The first refueling in the air (1923);
- The first crossing of the Atlantic in a team (1919);
- The first flight using only the instruments (1929);
- The first breaking of the noise barrier (1947).
Ever since, aircraft have been continually improving. Nowadays, airplanes are much safer and quieter. Also, they waste a lot less fuel. What’s more, drones have replaced aircraft and their pilots on hazardous missions during wars or natural disasters.
The Space Age
The launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957 marked the beginning of the Space Age. Then, 1961 saw another major landmark — Yuri Gagarin was the first man launched into space. Although spaceflights are not as ordinary as aircraft flights, it does not mean that they won’t become one day. During only a few decades, space explorers have gained significant experience in carrying out complicated spacewalks and scientific explorations at ISS, even spending a year or more in space.