Airplanes In The Twentieth Century

History Of Airplanes

Maligning the Wright Legacy

The Early History Of Airplanes

Airplanes In The Twentieth Century

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After the first historical flight on 17th December 1903 at Kitty Hawk, aircraft technology literally took off. The speed at which development proceeded has been unequalled by any other invention before or since except, perhaps, the computer. 

After their successful flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers realized they still had more work to do. While the Flyer could indeed fly, it did not have enough power and was extremely difficult to control. They established a test flight center at Huffman Prairie, northeast of Dayton. For the next two years the Wright brothers made continuous changes to their Flyer. They worked on bettering the controls, the engine, propellers, and configuration of their airplane. 

In July 1904 the Wrights got their first patent. In September 1904 Wilbur Wright flew the first ever circle in an airplane. It was finally in June 1905 that the Wrights built the world’s first practical airplane – Flyer III. By the end of 1905 the Wrights had covered a distance of 24 miles in 38 minutes, landing only when their fuel tank ran empty. They could now do figure eights in air and fly for over half hour at a time. 

At the same time the rest of the world was also waking up to the endless possibilities opened up by the airplane. In March 1904, Ernest Archdeacon put up a prize of 25,000 francs for the Grand Prix d’Aviation, which required an airplane to record a circular flight of one kilometer. In 1905 Robert Esnault-Peltrie substituted ailerons for the wing warping system invented by the Wrights. Subsequently, aviators used this method to get around the Wright’s patents. 

Europe caught up with the Wright brothers only two years later when Albertos Santos-Dumont from France flew 722 feet in his 14-Bis. This was Europe’s first successful powered aircraft flight.

The Wright brothers had already moved forward by then and convinced the American government of the utility of airplanes. In late 1907 the U.S. Army Signal corps bought their first aircraft. The second aircraft was bought by a syndicate of French businessmen in early 1908. Both buyers wanted the aircraft to be able to carry passengers. This led to the adaptation of the 1905 Flyer to include two seats and a more powerful engine. 

In 1908 and 1909 the Wright brothers conquered hearts world over. While Wilbur demonstrated the Wright airplanes all over Europe, Orville gave demonstrations in Virginia. Unfortunately, Orville also went down in history for the loss of the first passenger in an air crash in 1908 – Lt. Thomas Selfridge. At the same time, Wilbur broke record after record in Europe and the popularity of the Wright brothers increased.

Joined by Orville and their sister Kate, Wilbur continued to give excellent performances. When they returned home to Dayton they were given a heroes welcome. Thus, the Wright brothers became the first real celebrities of the twentieth century.

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