Odd thoughts about the Wright Flier

I saw a stand-up comedian on TV making fun of airline ads. Why brag about
mundane things like on-time statistics, or cushy seats or service or inflight
miovies. I this guy had an airline, his ads would just say "We can FLY!!!!"
I turned total airplane freak when I was maybe 13. Built at least 200 plastic
models of airplanes, and was especially fond of the earlier craft--lots of
World War II stuff. I thought they were neat because it showed that an
aircraft did not have to look like a standard airplane to fly. I also enjoyed
the very few and far between kits of pre-WW-I aircraft. What struck me as odd
was how there was only one kit of the Wright Flier, and that was in an odd 1/40
scale. I have one of those that I hope to build this week, if it gets warm
enough outside for me to spray paint the wings...
In researching "Rockets of the World" and "Retro Rockets" I spent a lot of time
in the National Air and Space Museum archives. The Air and Space museum is a
fantastic place, but you can only view the exhibits so many times. Still, it
was neat to go into the archives for a day's work, passing Apollo 11' Columbia,
Friendship 7, the X-15, the Goddard rockets, the Spirit of Saint Louis, and the
other amazing machines, the the Milestones of Flight gallery, or as I came to
see it, the lobby for the archives. After a long day of searching and
photocopying, In the days when the museum was open late, I would sit and rest
in a bench in front of the Wright Flier and admire it.
Now, it's not sleek, not shiny, not streamlined, but man, it is easy on the
eye. The gentle tan of the Pride of the West muslin wings and the varnished
wood struts were somehow calming. I cold lean back and think how a couple of
amateurs messing around in the shed could make a dream--not a dream THE
dream--come true, and make it possible to fly using wood, cloth and wire.
According to my wacky world view, there are three kinds of real magic in the
world. Everything else is sleight-or-hand, special effects, or out-and-out
lies. The real magic is music, astronomy, and flight. Now, if you've ever
gotten to ride in a hot air balloon, thank the Montgolfier brothers, and if
you've ridden a liquid fueled rocket, thank Dr. Goddard. But if you've flown
in an airplane, Wednesday is a special day. Take the time to at least build a
paper airplane. Or better yet a cheap toy rubber-powered plane.
Celebrate, because
We can FLY!!!!!!!!
Peter Alway
Saturn Press
PO Box 3709
Ann Arbor, MI 48106-3709
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Reply to
PeteAlway
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"The real magic is music, astronomy, and flight." - Peter Alway
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Reply to
Jerry Irvine
snipped-for-privacy@aol.com (PeteAlway) wrote in message
When celebrating flight, the Wright Bros. are two of the last people I think about. It might not be popular to disenchant the public about the myth of the 'inventors of the airplane', but I have no reservations when I say that Orville and Wilbur were not the inspired inventors, nor were they the innovators, that made human powered flight rise out of its infancy.
The real magic of modern society is in CREATING and SHARING knowledge, and in bringing USEFUL innovation into the hands of people. This is the power of science and engineering. The Wright Bros were, at best, ill-prepared dabblers in both, and at worse they were secretive, paranoid, revengeful businessmen. Anyone who has dared to look beyond the shallow textbook coverage of the history of human-powered flight has some sense of this. Historians who have done more than a cursory bit of research know this to be true.
In a society where truth, science, hard work, and innovation seem to have very little to do with the average individual's sense of reality, it is a nice sugar-coated myth to tell: A couple of good-old-boys from Ohio came up with this idea for a flying machine out of the blue and changed the world by demonstrating their invention to the public. This cannot be farther from the real story. They claimed the best ideas of others, kept their design a secret, received a ridiculously broad patent, got a judge to ignore legal challenges, and they refused to demonstrate or even show the plane publicly for many years while fighting off the real innovators in court and through the Press. The tactics used by the Wrights were a setback for the birth of aviation. If it weren't for a World War, the stalemate could have continued for years.
I recommend taking this opportunity, on the 100th anniversary of the Wrights' non-public claim to human powered flight, to go out and read some broader histories about the real innovators of aviation. Or wait until 2008 to celebrate their first public demonstration. And when you're on a plane, imagine what it would be like to require twisting the whole structure to maintain level flight! Then thank the inventor of the aileron, wheel brakes, retractable landing gear, and many other innovations... Glenn Curtiss, who did this work publicly while being discredited and forced into bankruptcy by the Wrights. His story and those of many others are worth celebrating this week and every day.
-John DeMar
Reply to
John DeMar
Interesting post.
Reply to
Jerry Irvine
Astronomy....I absolutely agree with that. I own 5 telescopes. It's not a hobby, but an addiction.
Reply to
Ed
Amen!
~ Duane Phillips.
out-and-out
Reply to
Duane Phillips
I wonder what this human urge is to destroy heroes. Whether they are real or fantasy, the image we build up in our minds is something that allows us to strive UPWARDS, not downwards. The image that is painted of the Wright Brothers is a positive one, not one meant to lower the spirits. If, in fact, they beat their wifes, cheated at cards, farted in public, and were bad businessmen, it does not detract from the belief in the image that has been created about them over the years.
All day long I've been hearing ads for an upcoming show about the Alamo on the History Channel. They're going to show what a scumbag Bowie was, how callous Davy Crocket was, etc.
Yeah, that's what we need. Whether the image is real or not, what we need is to tear down legendary figures so that us poor pitful folk will feel better...
David Erbas-White
Reply to
David Erbas-White
Thought provoking indeed.
~ Duane Phillips.
businessmen.
Reply to
Duane Phillips
There is value in truth, isn't there? And isn't it uplifting to find real heros hidden behind the fake ones? Perpetuating whole misrepresentations because it somehow makes everyone feel better does nothing to inspire youth to be rewarded by true innovation, hard work, and ethical practices.
-John
Reply to
John DeMar
Well said.
Reply to
Kurt Kesler
In researching "Rockets of the World" and "Retro Rockets" I spent a lot of time in the National Air and Space Museum archives. The Air and Space museum is a fantastic place, but you can only view the exhibits so many times. Still, it was neat to go into the archives for a day's work, passing Apollo 11' Columbia, Friendship 7, the X-15, the Goddard rockets, the Spirit of Saint Louis, and the other amazing machines, the the Milestones of Flight gallery, or as I came to see it, the lobby for the archives. After a long day of searching and photocopying, In the days when the museum was open late, I would sit and rest in a bench in front of the Wright Flier and admire it.
Now, it's not sleek, not shiny, not streamlined, but man, it is easy on the eye. The gentle tan of the Pride of the West muslin wings and the varnished wood struts were somehow calming. I cold lean back and think how a couple of amateurs messing around in the shed could make a dream--not a dream THE dream--come true, and make it possible to fly using wood, cloth and wire.
According to my wacky world view, there are three kinds of real magic in the world. Everything else is sleight-or-hand, special effects, or out-and-out lies. The real magic is music, astronomy, and flight. Now, if you've ever gotten to ride in a hot air balloon, thank the Montgolfier brothers, and if you've ridden a liquid fueled rocket, thank Dr. Goddard. But if you've flown in an airplane, Wednesday is a special day. Take the time to at least build a paper airplane. Or better yet a cheap toy rubber-powered plane.
Reply to
GCGassaway
John,
I think the Wrights were outstanding scientists and engineers for part of their lives. Their propellors were perfectly decent, even by modern standards, they were the only people with valid airfoil lift coefficients, and they were the only people to understand the importance of three axis control.
By 1910, the Wrights had been bypassed by other developers. They clung to dead-end technology like wing warping. After Wilbur's death, Orville, as noted, seems to have done little but pursue lawsuits. Who knows -- maybe Wilbur was the brains behind the operation and Orville and Katherine just provided the necessary conditions.
Still, there was one decade of extraordinary genius and creativity. It would be unfair to expect anyone to sustain that for a lifetime. Even though we might have found Orville more likable if he had died along with Wilbut, I'm glad he lived long enough to receive the acclaim and honors that he deserved, based on the Wright's one great, shining decade.
Paul
Reply to
Paul Hamilton
Are these our words and ideas, John, or were you quoting?
Either way, I respectfully disagree with the overall conclusions, though not with every point.
1. Yes, the Wrights drew on former art; as do almost all inventors or innovators (there is a difference). However, they also proved wrong and promptly replaced a great deal of that former art. They also introduced what would today be called a "systems approach" where they tackled lift, thrust, and control simultaneously. Their predecessors , for instance, rarely considered control, let alone codifying the three-axis concept.
2. Yes, the Wrights handled their business afairs in an almost 21st century manner, which WAS out of steps with the dawn of the 20th - and it DID bite them in the end. Today, if they demonstrated a product of such commercial potential without solidly establishing their rights, they'd be considered lunatics.
At the time, protecting the fruits of their real innovation (and years of hard work) was certainly unpopular - as many wanted to take it, run with it (and yes, improve it) to their own profit.
I believe the Wrights are every bit the heroes they are currently being painted. I also believe you give the general public too little credit - anyone who has any interest at all in aviation knows very well the Flyer didn't miraculously spring complete from the brother's foreheads.
To quote another, "You can't railroad before it's time to railroad." At the very, very least the Wrights showed the world that it could be done - and that's the single most valuable contribution one can make to engineering.
-- Scott Schuckert
Reply to
Scott Schuckert
That's THE milestone. Uncontrolled flight is not particularly useful.
Reply to
Steven P. McNicoll
In a recent Invention and Technology Magazine the Wright Brothers were featured both for the invention of flight and for their bungling of the opportunity to bring their machine to the masses.
Luckily we can all read the first article "The Wright Brothers: How They Flew," for free at:
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The second article titled, "The Wright Brothers: How They Failed" is not available online.
The magazine pays hommage to both sets of feelings given in this thread.
Reply to
Norman Dziedzic
I would underscore your last bit. Very true.
~ Duane Phillips.
Reply to
Duane Phillips
Well said. I might add as well, that Lindbergs's historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean would not have been so great if others had not attempted it first and failed. The Wright brothers may not have been scientists, or world class buisnessmen, but they were certainly over achievers.
Alan
Inovation certainly did not stop with the Wright brothers. I'm not sure how or when those patent challenges, wing warping vs. ailerons was ultimately resolved. What is interesting is that modern technology is taking us back toward wing warping and conformal airframes.
Glenn Curtiss was also an aviation pioneer worthy of celebration, but let's let the Wright brothers have thier day. Glenn Curtiss was famous for motorcycle engines, etc., which he quickly adapted for aviation use. They probably should have partnered up early on, but no...
Alan
Reply to
Alan Jones
(much snipped)
Wow. Poetry, Peter. Thanks for sharing...
James _____________________
James Duffy snipped-for-privacy@mac.com
Reply to
James Duffy
Excuse me. but today we are RETURNING to wing warping. it is superior. they just did not have the technology to make it REALLY nice like we do today with Experimental wings that can warp and change shape to alter flight more effeciently.
Chris Taylor
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Reply to
Chris Taylor Jr

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