If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance
Orville Wright was born in Dayton, Ohio on this day in 1871. Today is the 141st anniversary of his birth.
Orville was the fourth of five children to Milton and Susan Wright. He was very close to his brother Wilbur, who was four years his senior. The Wrights grew up in Dayton and Iowa.
“We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.” [–Orville Wright/NASA.Gov]
When they wanted to find out how something mechanical worked they asked their mother. In matters of a religious or intellectual nature they asked their minister father. Their father bought the boys a toy “helicopter” made of paper and bamboo with a cork weight and a rubber band “motor.” The toy ignited their interest in flight.
Of the two, Orville was the mischievous one. While Wilbur was good at school and an earnest student, Orville preferred to hone his skills as a champion bicyclist. It seemed Wilbur was destined to go to college (Yale) but an accident while the boys were playing hockey left him injured. Some one lost control of their hockey stick and it flew out of their hands and struck Wilber, he fell and knocked out his front teeth. A few weeks later he began to have heart palpitations. He withdrew socially, and spent his days reading in the family’s extensive library. He also cared for his mother who was dying from TB.
Orville was able to bring his more bookish brother out of his funk. When Orville was 18 (and Wilbur was 22) the brothers started a printing firm with a press they built themselves out of used buggy parts and a damaged tombstone. They began to publish their own weekly paper. The brothers were both cyclist and they repaired bikes for friends. They opened their own bicycle shop, The Wright Cycle Exchange (which later became the Wright Cycle Company ), in 1893 and in 1896 made their own bikes called Van Cleves and St. Clairs.
When Orville came down with typhoid fever Wilber helped nurse him by reading articles about German and French attempts at aviation. The brothers were hooked. Wilber threw himself into research writing to the Smithsonian Institute requesting their information on aeronautical research. He studied all he could find about pitch, roll and yaw and designed a unique wing warping system. They contacted the US Weather Bureau and found out where the most windy regions of the country were. They settled on Kitty Hawk which had average wind speeds of 13 mph.
The brothers travelled to Kitty Hawk in 1900 and 1901 testing the glider. They constructed a wind tunnel to test different wing shapes. In October 1902 with a glider using a new wing design they glided over the sands of Kitty Hawk for 602 feet (a record). They went back to Ohio and worked on an engine propelled flying machine.
On December 14, 1903 the brothers tossed a coin to see who would take the Wright Flyer on its maiden flight. Wilbur won the coin toss. It lasted just 3 seconds and ended in a minor crash requiring some repairs. On December 17 the flyer was ready again. This time it was Orville’s turn. He flew for 12 seconds for about 120 feet. The brothers traded off twice more and by the fourth flight of the day Wilbur was able to fly for 59 seconds for 852 feet before the plane began to pitch and it hit the ground. None of the flights reached more than 10 feet in altitude that day, so Wilbur wasn’t really hurt.
The Wrights returned to Dayton and established an airfield in a cow pasture called Huffman Prairie. They spend the next two years perfecting their airplane design and flying skills. Eventually they won contracts from the US Signal Corp and the French Government. Their flying ability and engineering genius made them famous.
Wilbur died of typhoid fever at the Wright home in Dayton on May 20 1912.
Orville was a founding member of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the NACA). He served on its board for 28 years and was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1936. He died of a heart attack in 1948.
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