A Lesson From the Wright Brothers
Why Did the Wright Brothers Succeed where Others Failed?
Before the Wright Brothers successfully demonstrated the feasibility of manned, powered flight at 10:35 in the morning 108 years ago it is but fitting to take into consideration that they were just two of the many people that tried to do it centuries before. Of those people 'disillusioned' with the quest for flight, 7 out of 10 plunged to their deaths in exchange for a split moment of glory when they luckily met rising air currents allowing them a taste of flight while strapped on their flimsy gliders. Ironically, two known inventors before the Wrights, Sir Hiram Maxim (popularly recognized as the inventor of the machine gun) spent $200,000 in 1894 on a 4 ton aircraft design that failed and just 8 days before the Wright brothers successfully launched their flight, the highly distinguished Prof. Samuel Langley tried his second aircraft design under US government support that crashed on its launching pad by the Potomac River.
Scientific Approach – Faith is something but the learning gained in observation is another thing. While the Wright Brothers were fuelled by determination despite lacking formal education, their tinkering mentality as bicycle mechanics allowed them to approach the challenge of powered flight in a different way. They always based their progress after careful testing. While the man of science in Prof. Samuel Langley based his man carrying airplane design on flying models, the Wright Brothers based their design on full scale models which most of the time had been carrying any of the two in each flight. The Wright Brothers' mastery and development of a system to control their flying machine (pitch, yaw and roll) in the air was another advantage that allowed them to gain favourable results than the others. It is safe to conclude that they have learned through the failures of other inventors ahead of them and never got carried to speed up results while leaving room for errors.
Natural Support – In the old days where a steam engine and the early internal combustion engine barely develop the power required for flight, the aid of the wind is the key. It is a very common observation that one couldn't enjoy kite flying on a windless day. In this regard, with confirmation from the US Weather Bureau, the Wright Brothers chose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina where good steady winds of 10-20 mph was favourable aside from the ideal location the place provided without trees for obstruction and a stretch of soft, sandy land for landing. Prof. Samuel Langley in turn took the calm wind in Potomac River as a fitting venue for his flight demonstration.
Documentation – The Wright Brothers valued the importance of recording the progress of their flight experiments by keeping diaries and learning photography firsthand through the bulky and cumbersome methods of their time. Their historic flight would have gained less impact had they failed to take a shot of their flying machine leaving the ground which is forever depicted on history books and authoritative publications about aviation. Strangely, they considerably avoided media attention which could pressure their research but only released valid confirmation to the press of their flight's success when it was achieved. Both Sir Hiram Maxim and Prof. Samuel Langley had a considerable witness in the public and the entire world when they did their flight demonstrations that failed.
Self Sacrifice – The Wright Brothers devoted their life to the cause of flight that they braved the cold, windy weather especially in December camping for years from 13 September 1900 onwards to their victorious powered flight on 07 December 1903. Their individual diaries talked about the rigors of camp life learning to survive through mosquitoes, rats, occasional rains and the like. In the end they lived old enough and never got married but left an enduring gift to the whole world which earned a state of the art following , creating an industry that improved the way of life and sped up the mode of travel to this day.
Persistence – There is always a good story behind all the valuable inventions the world has known. Charles Goodyear lost a fortune trying to improve a good mixture of rubber perfecting it for tire use that led to the discovery of vulcanization. Thomas Alva Edison perfected the light bulb after so much trying, a long time invention which was earlier crudely demonstrated by Englishman Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. Sir Hiram Maxim would have come up with a workable flying machine earlier than 1900 with his resources had he emulated the mechanism of his machinegun that fires 600 rounds per minute but he could afford only one failure when his aircraft design crashed. Prof. Samuel Langley only launched his “aerodrome” aircraft design twice and never did went further after that. The Wright Brothers in turn had tried countless flight experiments from the time they set camp in Kitty Hawk in 1900 until they achieved manned, powered flight that could be replicated on 17 December 1903.
Wind and Sand: The Story of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk by Lynanne Wescott and Paula Degen