Wright Brothers – Invention Of The Airplane

Articles relating to the Wright Brothers’ invention of the airplane.

A reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer built by the Wright Experience (WE) made two successful flights at the Wrights Brothers National Memorial Park in December 1903. The flight on Nov. 20 marked the first time in 100 years that an authentic Wright Flyer successfully flew. The flight flew 97 feet into a 12-mph wind out of the north.

A second flight was successfully flown for 115 feet on Dec. 3rd. This flight had to cope with crosswind and upon landing with the left wing low, broke several ribs.

Several replicas of the 1903 Flyer have also flown. Replicas, however, differ in some respect such as materials, engine, and structure from the original Wright Flyer. Even the Flyer that hangs from the ceiling of the Air and Space Museum differs in some subtle respects from its original configuration.

Some of the teams that built replicas claimed that an authentic Flyer could not fly and it was dangerous to try.

The remains of the damaged original Flyer were badly damaged at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and stayed in crates in Dayton for 13 years. They were further abused when the crates were submerged in the great Dayton flood of 1913.

In 1916 Orville reconstructed the Flyer for the first time in thirteen years for display at a dedication of two new buildings at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Damaged parts and material were replaced at that time. The reconstruction was guided by Orville’s memory because no detailed engineering drawings were ever made. Precise accuracy was not required because the plane was being reconstructed for display and not for flight.

The Flyer underwent another reconstruction in 1925 in preparation for being sent to the Science Museum of London.

The Wright Experience (WE) conducted a detailed investigation into the construction of the original Flyer using photographs and existing artifacts. They found that there were subtle but significant changes between what they discovered and the Smithsonian drawings of the Flyer made in 1985. Those drawings were considered the most accurate at the time and were used in building many of the replicas.

The reproduction Flyer built by the WE reflects changes such as the shape of the canard and the placement of bracing wires.

The WE installed a digital onboard flight data recorder on their Flyer that allowed the acquisition of 15 channels of in-flight data during the evaluation flights. They also conducted 20-hours of simulated flight tests in the wind tunnel at Langley in Hampton, Va.

What follows next is an overall summary of what the WE learned about the behavior of the Flyer.

First of all they confirmed that the Flyer is flyable; however it takes considerable knowledge and experience to do it well. The Wrights said that stability depends on the skill of the pilot because the machine was not designed to have inherent stability. The WE team gained a tremendous respect for the competence of the Wrights as operators of their flying machines, “something that 100 years of flying has not improved upon.

Some of the WE technical findings are provided next.

The lower wing is nominally 2 feet above the ground during the takeoff roll. The resulting ground effect produces a substantial contribution to lift and a reduction in induced drag.

The wings, having an anhedral shape (10-inch droop), also provide a contribution to lift as well as facilitating level flight.

Controlled flight is possible at a few feet of altitude, so the ground effect plays a significant role throughout the flight profile.

The Flyer can only rotate 3.5 degrees on takeoff before the tail will strike the rail. At this point the target rotation speed is 26-mph.

The tail assembly is hinged so that a higher degree rotation does not necessarily result in damage to the plane.

As noted before, the Flyer is substantially unstable. The Wrights wanted it that way because they wanted to exercise control over the airplane in flight. The center-of-gravity of the machine is located 2-feet aft of the 6.5-foot leading edge of the wing. The camber of the wing is 5%. The location of the center of gravity is too far to the rear and is responsible for much of the instability that caused undulation during flight.

Because of the machine’s instability, it never flies strictly at trim. It will operate over the full range of canard travel and corresponding variations in the angle of attack.

To maintain control, the Flyer must be operated within a narrow range of warp deflections and sideslip angles. Yaw is affected by the propwash over the vertical tail.

There is large roll power available and that helps reduce the need for full deflection and thereby also reduces adverse yaw.

The flight on Dec. 3rd demonstrated the roll instability of the aircraft and its behavior in side slipping conditions. About one-second after takeoff, a left crosswind caused the airplane to roll right. The pilot, Kevin Kochersberger, compensated for the crosswind by holding a slight right warp during roll.

The right wingtip hit the sand. The airplane recovered and continued to fly, although the ground strike caused a strong left roll. The left wing then struck the sand resulting in terminating the 115-foot flight.

A crosswind complicates the takeoff because warp corrections held on the rail must be lessened immediately at rotation as the angle of attack increases.

Kevin found that a positive canard deflection of least 10 degrees is necessary to initiate flight. Once takeoff speed is reached, the Flyer requires significant positive canard to rotate.

While flying, the unstable machine requires the pilot to continually make adjustments to maintain pitch. Kevin reports that the Flyer has a soft feel to its handling in part caused by the lag between the canard movement and the pitch response.

In addition to the natural instability of the airplane, it is very flexible structurally which makes all control responses a little less crisp than what a pilot would prefer.

With the canard being repeatedly operated almost to its limits, there is a sense by the pilot that the airplane is being over controlled.

The pilots from the WE found that the arched shape of their body they had to assume for forward visibility was not comfortable for long periods of time. They also found that the placement of their elbows was awkward because of the location of the fuel mixture control and the fuel line.

A good grip on the canard actuator was needed to work the hip cradle that required 14 pounds of force (same force as the Wrights found). Otherwise, the pilot’s body moves but the cradle doesn’t.

Stanley Allyn, chief executive officer of the NCR, was with Orville Wright at Wright Field shortly before Orville’s death. They were observing a new airplane in flight test.

Allyn asked Orville how he would like to fly that one. He looked startled for a moment and then answered that he couldn’t begin to.

Orville continued, “Wilbur and I lay on our stomachs, our hips in a cradle which connected to the wing tips by cables. When we shifted our hips to left or right, the wings were warped and the plane banked accordingly. We had no instruments, and had to judge how hard to push by the pressure exerted on our bodies by the plane in flight. You might say the flier just felt his way along.”

And so it was in 2003 also.

Reference: “Flying Qualities of the Wright 1903 Flyer: From Simulation to Flight Test,” by Kevin Kochersberger, Ken Hyde and others, AIAA-2004-0105, 42nd AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting, Reno, NV, Jan. 5-8, 2004

A frustrated Wilbur exclaimed to Orville in August 1901, “Not in a thousand years will man ever fly.”

At the time they were on a train returning to Dayton after failing for the second year in a row to achieve the lift for their glider that their calculations predicted. Wilbur recorded in his diary, “Found lift of machine much less than Lilienthal’s tables would indicate, reaching only about 1/3 as much.”

After further thought, Wilbur was cheered by the conclusion that the data they were using might be in error. In a speech on September 18 to the Western Society of Engineers, Wilbur suggested that “the Lilienthal tables might themselves be somewhat in error.” He also questioned the accuracy of the Smeaton coefficient.

Both the Lilienthal data and the Smeaton coefficient are used in the formula for calculating lift.

Otto Lilienthal was a famous German glider experimenter who had published a table containing coefficients of lift in 1895. The coefficient of lift is a multiplying factor that takes into consideration the various angles a wing assumes with regard to the flow of air know as the “angle of attack.” The value of the lift coefficient also varies with the shape of the wing.

The Smeaton Coefficient was used in the calculation of lift at the time of the Wright Brothers. It is a constant number used as a “coefficient of air pressure.” It serves as a multiplying factor used to calculate the numerical value of lift in air, as compared to other mediums, such as water or oil.

John Smeaton, an engineer, determined the value of this coefficient was 0.005 in 1759, from his study of windmills. Engineers used this value for 150 years, although others questioned its value and thought it was too high, including the famous early aviation pioneer George Cayley in 1809.

Both Lilienthal, in Birdflight, and Octave Chanute, in Progress in Flying Machines, cited the 0.005 value in their books. This heavily influenced the Wrights in using the same value.

The Wrights would soon find that the 0.005 value was too high. The error was a major cause of their calculation of a lift value that was too high.

Note: The Smeaton coefficient is no longer used in modern aerodynamic problems. Problems are formulated differently. My son, who is a graduate aeronautical engineer, had never heard of Smeaton when I first asked him about it.

Smeaton wasn’t the only source of their discrepancy between actual lift and their calculated values. They incorrectly interpreted the Lilienthal tables by not understanding that the table only applied to the one wing shape that Lilienthal used in his study. The wings that the Wrights used in 1900 and 1901 had different aspect ratios as well as differences in the location of the maximum camber of the wing.

The aspect ratio is a measure of the relationship between the length of the wing to the cord (width). The aspect ratio affects the value of the lift coefficient. Lower values of aspect ratio give lower values of the lift coefficient and visa versa within limits.

The aspect ratio for the Wright 1900 glider was 3.5 and the 1901 glider was 3.3. These values were considerably lower than the aspect ratio of 6.8 for the Lilienthal test wing. In other words, the Lilienthal wing was longer and narrower compared to the Wrights’ wing. The lift coefficient from Lilienthal’s tables used by the Wrights should have been reduced by 19% to account for their use of a lower aspect ratio.

Their other problem of interpreting the Lilienthal table had to do with the location of the point of maximum camber (high point on the curved wing).

The Wrights located their maximum camber close to the leading edge of the wing. The Lilienthal test wing was a circular shaped wing with the maximum point located at the middle of the cord. Here again the value coefficient of lift read from the table should have been reduced to account for the difference in location of the maximum camber.

The cumulative impact of the above errors on the calculation of lift amounted to the 1/3 reduction in lift that Wilbur noted for the Kitty Hawk 1900 and 1901 glider flights.

The Wrights decided to take a different approach to the problem of calculating lift. Rather than further examining the existing data provided by others, they decided to compile their own. They built an instrumented wind tunnel and developed their own aerodynamic data by systematically testing some 200 airfoils of widely different shapes and configurations, going well beyond the Lilienthal table.

Shapes included squares, rectangles, and ellipses in configurations such as biplanes and triplanes. They included camber ratios ranging from 1/6 to 1/20 and maximum camber locations ranging from near the leading edge to the 1/2-chord position.

They found that the correct value of the Smeaton coefficient should be 0.003 and developed their own table of lift coefficients (and drag coefficients).

Their airfoil #12 was found to be the most aerodynamically efficient. Its camber was 1/20 and the aspect ratio was 6. This foil was used as a guide in designing their successful 1902 glider and ultimately the successful 1903 Flyer.

The 1902 glider had an AR of 6.7, about twice that of their previous gliders, and used camber ratios much shallower than Lilienthal test wing.

With his new knowledge and understanding, he wrote to Chanute in October 1901, “It would appear that Lilienthal is very much nearer the truth than we have heretofore been disposed to think.”

It turned out to be fortunate that the Wrights had problems with the determination of lift. It led them into doing research that propelled their knowledge far beyond anyone before them and established the Wright Brothers as the leading aeronautical engineers of their day.

Reference: A History of Aerodynamics by John D. Anderson

The age of flight dawned on the morning of December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, NC when the Wright Brothers’ engine-driven heavier-than-air Flyer lifted into the air and traveled 120 feet in 12 seconds. It was an extraordinary moment. The way that the press handled the event was far less than extraordinary.

That afternoon, after eating a leisurely lunch, the brothers set out about 2 o’clock to walk the four miles to the weather station office in Kitty Hawk. They sent a telegram of their success to their 74-year-old father in Dayton, Ohio. Three months earlier, while seeing his sons off in Dayton, Bishop Wright had given them a dollar to cover the cost of sending a telegram as soon as they made a successful flight. Now was the time.

There was no Western Union in Kitty Hawk, but Jim Dosher at the weather station had agreed to communicate with the weather bureau office in Norfolk who in turn would contact Western Union.

Dosher, however, was unable to deliver the news because of a break in the telegraph line. He telephoned Alpheus Drinkwater at another location on the Outer Banks who transmitted the coded message of the Wright Brothers’ successful flight to Norfolk. Drinkwater later said he was bit annoyed that he had to relay a few unimportant telegrams to the mainland.

(Note: The accuracy of the last paragraph involving the role of Drinkwater is in some dispute among historians. On the occasion of the dedication of the Wright Memorial in 1932, Orville Wright was asked who sent the first message – Drinkwater or Dozier? Orville stated: “The first message was sent by W. J. Dozier.” – News and Observer, Nov. 20, 1932 )

Orville wrote the message that was sent as follows:

“Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform press home Christmas. Orvevelle Wright”

An error in transmission cut two seconds off the longest flight time of 59 seconds and Orville’s name was misspelled. The wind speed of 21 mph is confusing. What Orville meant to say is that the wind was at least 21 mph during each of the four flights. The first successful flight was against a 27-mph wind.

The Norfolk operator sent a return message asking if he could share the news with a reporter at the “Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.” The Wrights gave an emphatic no! They wanted the first news of the event to be from Dayton.

The Norfolk operator, Jim Gray, ignored the negative answer and provided the information to a friend, H. P. Moore, at the paper. Having little information other than that provided in the telegram, the “Virginian-Pilot” fabricated a fanciful and inaccurate story that was published the next morning with the headline:

“Flying Machine Soars 3 Miles in Teeth of High Wind Over Sand Hills and Waves at Kitty Hawk on Carolina Coast.”

They also offered the story to the Associated Press (AP) and when they declined the story, offered the story to twenty-one newspapers.

Meanwhile Orville’s telegram arrived at 5:25 that evening. The Wrights’ father, Milton Wright, instructed daughter Katharine to walk over to her brother Lorin’s house and ask him to take the telegram to the local newspaper office for publication.

Lorin went downtown to the offices of the “Dayton Journal” and spoke to Frank Tunison, local representative of the Associated Press. Tunison was unimpressed with the telegram saying, “If it had been 57 minutes then it might have been a news item.”

Two other Dayton papers did publish an account the next day in the afternoon editions. The account in “The Dayton Daily News” gave a reasonably accurate account except that it made a big mistake in indicating that the Wrights were imitators of the world famous Alberto Santos-Dumont. The headline read “DAYTON BOYS EMULATE GREAT SANTOS-DUMONT.”

Santos-Dumont was a Brazilian who pursued aviation in France. In 1901, he had dazzled the French public by rigging an engine to a hot-air balloon and flew around the Eiffel Tower. The Dayton news-editor didn’t recognize the vast difference between balloons and airplanes.

The account in “The Dayton Evening Herald” under the heading of “Dayton Boys Fly Airship,” was a 350-word rehash of the fabricated story that had earlier appeared in the “Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.” The AP, the day after the first flight, had sent out an abbreviated version of the Norfolk piece.

The story was full of errors. “The machine flew for three miles — and then gracefully descended to earth at a spot selected by the man in the navigator’s car —.” “Preparatory to flight the machine was placed on a platform on a high sand hill —.” “When the end of the incline was reached the machine gradually arose until it obtained an altitude of sixty feet —.” “There are two six-blade propellers, one arranged just below the frame so as to exert an upward force when in motion and the other extends horizontally to the rear from the center of the car, furnishing the forward impetus.” Orville had run around shouting, “Eureka!”

The Wrights, mystified how a short low-keyed message in a telegram could have gone so wrong, prepared a correct story on January 5th of their successful flights and gave it to the AP with a request that it be printed. It appeared in a majority of the AP newspapers the next day.

Exactly one month after the historic flight, the New York Herald still had it wrong and published an article showing a picture with two “six-bladed” propellers and an engine beneath the airplane to provide lift.

Wilbur and Orville gave no details about their airplane. It was their invention, developed at their own expense, and they did not yet intend to provide any pictures or detailed descriptions of their Flyer.

A Beautiful Body

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Inventing The Airplane

The Wrights’ flying machine had to be structurally strong, but light enough to fly. The task was made more difficult because in order to implement their wing warping system of flight control, the wings, in addition to being structurally sound, had to be flexible.

Just nine days before the Wrights’ successful first powered flight, the issue of structural integrity was dramatically highlighted when Langley’s highly touted aerodrome broke-up during launching. Post mortem analysis revealed inadequate structural analysis and design.

The Wrights, on the other hand, conducted careful stress analysis using engineering handbooks available at the time to estimate structural loadings on the wing spars and struts and to size and select materials.

The Wrights were concerned about safety from the very beginning, as was their father. In order to calm his fears, Wilbur wrote to their father in 1900 that “I am constructing my machine to sustain about five times my weight and am testing every piece.”

The Railroad Truss

The Wrights adopted a trussed biplane design as their basic approach. The concept was adopted from their friend Octave Chanute, a retired railroad bridge builder, who had adapted a “Pratt truss” design used on railroad bridges to a biplane glider he built in 1896.

Using the Pratt truss concept, the Wrights’ designed a bi-wing structure in which the upper and lower wings were trussed one above the other with struts and cross wires to form light, sturdy wing modules. Most builders of airplanes adopted this configuration for the next two decades.

Each wing was composed of eight such cross-braced modules. The trailing edge of the outer two modules on each end was not cross-braced to allow flexibility for wing warping. In this manner they had ingeniously solved the problem of how to twist the wings tips and still retain structural integrity.

The ribs of the wings were constructed of thin strips of ash that were bent to the desired camber. Blocks of wood were glued between the two strips and glued into position. The result was a strong, lightweight rib.

Bending the wings and the wingtips to the proper curvature was farmed-out to a local firm that made parts for the carriage industry. The Wrights didn’t have the necessary equipment for steaming the ash wood and then bending it to the proper camber. The wing tips were made from off-the-shelf carriage bows.

The ribs were attached to spars of kiln dried spruce. The spruce for the spars was procured from a local lumberyard. It was ordered cut into pieces of approximate length and shape. The Wrights then shaped the pieces using draw knives and spoke shaves.

All the wood pieces were painted with several coats of varnish to protect them from the high moisture environment of Kitty Hawk.

The fabric, made of Pride of the West Muslin procured from Rike-Kumler Co., a local department store located in downtown Dayton in the same block as one of their bike shops. The muslin was cut into strips and then machine-sewed with bias so that it would fit on the ribs on a 45 degree diagonal. It was then stretched over both the top and bottom sides of the spars and ribs, with each rib fitted into a sewed-in pocket. The design provided for strength as well as maintaining wing camber under stress in flight.

The wooden structure was assembled using waxed linen cord instead of nuts, bolts or screws. This design created a flexible joint that could withstand hard landings without breaking.

Orville commented that “these I believe, were the first double-surfaced airplanes ever designed or built.”

Seventy-inch spruce struts supported the upper and lower wings. The Wrights realized that a vertical column of this length would require a substantial cross-section to withstand the compression load without bending and possibly breaking. This had the potential of adding considerable unneeded weight and drag.

The Wrights solved the problem by adding a horizontal wire passing through the center of the highly loaded struts in order to prevent them from bending. By this means the cross-section of the struts could be reduced and still retain structural integrity. The proof that it worked is that none of the struts failed in wings gusts of over 27 mph during their first flights on December 17, 1903.

Back To The Future

As airplanes got faster and heavier, wing warping was replaced by the use of ailerons because of structural problems. The uses of ailerons, however, do have a down side. They increase drag and weight and therefore reduce fuel efficiency and overall performance.

Because of this performance degradation, NASA, the Air Force and Boeing are working on a $41 million project to modify an F/A-18A Hornet fighter jet with a twistable wing. The purpose of the project, Active Aeroelastic Wing, is to demonstrate that subtly twisting a wing a few degrees (up to five) can control its roll with less need for big control surfaces on the wings and horizontal tail. They hope to demonstrate that the lighter-weight flexible wings will improve the maneuverability of high-performance aircraft.

The project leaders envision that the benefits of this wing warping could apply to both military and commercial airplanes.

A traditional rollout ceremony was held on March 27, 2002 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research center. The official Centennial of Flight logo in commemoration of the Wright Brothers first powered flight in 1903 was prominently displayed on the aircraft.

The ideas of Orville and Wilbur are still fresh after 100 years.

The Power to Fly

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Inventing The Airplane

Flight is impossible unless there is enough thrust to maintain the flying speed of an airplane. A key factor in determining whether the 1903 Wright Flyer could sustain flight is to know the thrust required to overcome aerodynamic resistance known as drag. Once drag is known, the horsepower required of the engine can be determined.

What follows is an analysis similar to what the Wrights did to answer the question of how much power was required.

Drag is generated by two different surfaces on an airplane as it moves through the air. One is caused by the lifting effect on the wings and the other by the wind resistance caused by the frontal surface area of the airplane. The first is referred to as induced drag and the latter as frictional drag.


The formula the Wrights used to determine drag is very similar to the formula they used to determine lift. The only difference is that the coefficient of drag (CD) replaces the coefficient of lift (CL) in the formula. The basic formula is as follows:

D = k x S x V² x CD where
D = Drag (pounds)
k = pressure coefficient of air
S = wing area (square feet)
V = relative velocity of air over the wing (mph)
CD = coefficient of drag

For the 1903 Wright Flyer:

k = 0.0033 (Wrights derived from their wind tunnel experiments)
S = 512 (wing area of 1903 Flyer)
V = 30.8 (The wind ranged from 20 mph to gusts of 27 mph at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903. I used an average wind of 24 mph on Dec. 17, 1903 plus ground speed of 6.8 mph. Wilbur, running at the right wing tip, had no trouble keeping up with the Flyer as it moved down the starting rail to takeoff.)

The value of the coefficient of drag (CD) in the equation is a little more complicated to determine because the Wrights did not directly measure CD in their wind tunnel tests conducted November 22 through December 7, 1901. Instead, they measured the drag/lift ratio (CD/CL) from which the value of CD can be derived.

The Wrights measured the coefficient of lift (CL) as 0.515 and the drag/lift ratio (CD/CL) as 0.105 in their wind tunnel tests using airfoil #12 and an angle of attack of 5 degrees.

The geometry of airfoil #12 closely resembles the geometry of the wings on the 1903 Flyer. The angle of attack of 5 degrees approximates the angle of attack of the Flyer.

The coefficient of drag is calculated in the following manner:
CD = CL x CD/CL = 0.515 x 0.105 = 0.054

Substituting the appropriate values in the equation for drag:
D = (0.0033) x (512) x (30.8)² x (0.054) = 86.6 pounds

Total Drag

The drag of 86.6 pounds is for the drag attributed to the wings. To determine the total drag of the Flyer, the drag attributed to the wings (D) must be added to the drag generated by the frontal surface area of the airplane (Df).

The Wrights purposely assumed the horizontal position on the wing while piloting their machine to reduce drag. They estimated that the remaining frontal surface area of the Flyer was 20 square feet. Substituting this value in the drag equation:

Df = (0.0033) x (20) x (30.8)² x (0.054) = 3.4 pounds

The total drag (Dt) is therefore:

Dt = D + Df = 86.6 + 3.4 = 90 pounds

On November 23, 1903 from Kitty Hawk, Orville wrote Charles Taylor, their employee who built the engine following the design of the Wrights:

“After a few minutes to get adjustments, and to burn out the surplus oil, the engine speeded the propellers up to 351 rev. per min. with a thrust of 132 pounds. Stock went up like a sky rocket, and is now at the highest figure in its history. We have made some allowance at nearly every point in our calculations, so that with the increase of weight we expect to be a little over 90 pounds, but of course that is coming down to our closest figures.”


Power is force times speed. The power required to overcome drag can now be found by multiplying total drag by velocity:

P = Dt x V = 90 x 30.8 = 2772 pound-miles/hour
Converting this number to horsepower, the power is 7.3

The engine for the 1903 Wright Flyer produced about 12 horsepower. It would reach 16 hp when started, but drop off to 12 hp after a few seconds. While the horsepower of the engine (12) appears to be sufficient to overcome the drag (7.3), there will be additional loss of horsepower attributed to the chain drives that transmit the power from the engine to the propellers. Also, there will be loss of power attributed to the propellers. The propellers had an efficiency of 66%.

The Wrights knew it was going to be a close call. On November 15, Orville wrote home to his father and sister:

“Mr. Chanute says that no one before has ever tried to build a machine on such close margins as we have done to our calculations.” (Octave Chanute was a friend and an aviation historian and experimenter.)

The question as to whether they had sufficient power was answered on that fateful day in December. They made four flights on the 17th, the longest flight going 852 feet.

The following year back in Dayton, they were not so fortunate even though they had more horsepower. The 1904 Flyer had trouble getting off the ground. Dayton didn’t have the wind of Kitty Hawk and the air pressure was less because of the higher elevation.

The 1904 Flyer was little changed from the Kitty Hawk Flyer although they did improve the engine so that it produced 15-16 hp. Wilbur wrote to Chanute on August 8, 1904:

“We have found great difficulty in getting sufficient initial velocity to get real starts. While the new machine lifts at a speed of about 23 miles, it is only after the speed reaches 27 or 28 miles that the resistance falls below the thrust.”

They solved the problem by employing a catapult launch system to give the Flyer a boost on takeoff.

The initial Wright engines were crude, but they did the job. They didn’t need a lot of horsepower because the Wrights had designed an efficient aerodynamic flying machine.

In contrast, Dr. Samuel Langley, Director of the Smithsonian Institution, employed a sophisticated engine that generated a whopping 50 hp, but his Aerodrome was poorly designed. It crashed on takeoff nine days before the Wright’s successful first flight.