The Secret of Flight

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Inventing The Airplane

Since ancient times mankind has looked up to view birds flying and dreamed of flying.

The Wright brothers were no different. They often rode their bicycles to a popular picnic area south of Dayton called the “Pinnacles” to observe the many birds that flew there. Early on they decided that practical flight was possible by man using soaring large birds as their model.

The Pinnacles consisted of a gorge with a river flowing through it and unique large boulders created during the ice age on its slopes. The updraft created by the terrain attracted soaring birds. The Wright brothers regularly observed birds there from 1897 to 1899.

The Wrights developed their wing warping theory in the summer of 1899 after observing the buzzards at Pinnacle Hill twisting the tips of their wings as they soared into the wind.

The Wrights made the right decision by focusing on large birds. It turns out that small birds don’t change the shape of their wings when flying, rather they change the speed of their flapping wings. For example, to start a left turn, the right wing is flapped more vigorously.

To turn right the speed of flapping is changed to the other wing.

To fly straight, both wings are flapped at the same speed.

Incidentally, the technique is the same for creatures from fruit flies and moths to hummingbirds and cockatoos.

These findings were found through research with high-speed video of seven species at the universities of Delaware and North Carolina.

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