Wright Brothers Take Flight: Onwards and Upwards

512px-Wright_Flyer_Test_Flights_at_Fort_Myer,_VA_-_GPN-2002-000124The invention of an aircraft with both a tail and wings, designed to make the most of air turbulence, saw the creation of the Wright brothers’ now famous Flyer aircraft in 1903.

Determined to give their plane every chance of success, the brothers not only built the craft itself, but also a special downhill track way to help it launch properly. After two attempts to fly this machine (one of which resulted in a minor crash), on 17th December 1903, Orville Wright took the Flyer for a 12-second flight. This was the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history.

After almost another year of making improvements to the aircraft, on 9th November 1904, The Flyer mark II, also known as The Flying Machine, was flown by Wilbur Wright for more than five minutes.

This incredible achievement paved the way for an acceleration in the development of air flight, and a transport revolution that is still continuing more than a century later. A revolution that became official with the patenting of their “Flying Machine” with a motor on May 22nd, 1906.

It was only four years later that the Wright brothers moved on from single-piloted vehicles to carrying passengers. The first passenger flight they attempted took place on 14th May 1908. Watched by a fascinated world, the brothers continued to improve and develop their Flying Machine, but on 17th September 1908, they suffered a major disaster, with the first fatal air crash occurred.

This doomed flight had been piloted by Orville Wright himself. He survived the crash, but his passenger, Signal Corps Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, was killed.

Rather than be deterred by this disaster, the Wright brothers kept going, and in 1909 the U.S. Government bought its first airplane, as the potential of aircraft in the military was recognized.

The first passenger flight and the first military aircraft were just two in a long series of the Wright brother’s successes that have had an impact on the world we live in today. Without the Orville and Wilbur’s incredible achievements, all born out of a fascination with, and an observation of, birds in flight, others wouldn’t have been inspired to invent flying machines of their own.

If the Wright brothers had never followed their dream to make man fly, we may not have yet witnessed jet aircraft, passenger or package flights (and therefore enjoyed package holidays), and arguably, there may never have been a space race.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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