Wright Brothers

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, an appropriate time to review How Airplanes Fly.  There is a widely held notion that the brothers were just a couple of bicycle mechanics who tinkered with a few airplane ideas, one of which flew.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Wright Brothers clearly possessed true genius.  They researched all of the information they could find, built and methodically tested their ideas, conceived the notion of flight control and invented the means to achieve it. When the information from Lilienthal's glider testing  appeared deficient, they designed and built the world's first wind tunnel and ran a series of tests to obtain the information needed.  When they found that ship propellers lacked adequate performance for their needs, they developed propeller theory, designed and built propellers, using their wind tunnel data, with efficiency equal to the current state of the art.  When they realized that there were no engines available that were light-weight enough, they designed and built an adequate one utilizing the craftsmanship of their shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor.  Following their successful first flight 100 years ago, they knew their airplane needed significant improvements to be marketable.  The design needed a great deal of work and they accomplished it in just two years of intense development and flight testing near their home in Dayton, Ohio.  A truly remarkable achievement! At the time, the Wright Brothers were by far the most advanced in aeronautics of anyone in the world.  They were truly the world's first aeronautical engineers.

It is not actually known how much the Wright Brothers knew about the fundamentals of flight.  Wilbur had planned to write a book about their work but most unfortunately died of typhoid.  Since it was derived in 1738, they may have known about Bernoulli's theorem, which states that an increase in fluid velocity is associated with a decrease in pressure, and visa versa.  But it is doubtful that they were aware of why the velocity is faster on the top of a wing than on the bottom, since that understanding was just being evolved in the early 1900's and not fully understood until 1918.