S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

Archive for the tag “invention of the airplane”

Book Review: The Wright Brothers

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Rating – Five Stars

The Wright Brothers is an outstanding book. McCullough narrates an insightful, compelling, and empathetic account of Wilbur and Orville Wright—brothers and the inventors of the airplane (a manned craft that under its own power could take off, make turns, and return to its starting point without any assistance from the ground or air).

The Wrights’s invention of the airplane was not a fluke. Rather, the brothers were studious and careful inventors who assiduously followed the engineering principles of research, development, testing, and evaluation. Starting in 1899 in a room above their bicycle shop, the brothers built their first aircraft—a flying kite with a five-foot wingspan and their ingenious wing warping design that could turn the aircraft. Following were a series of large kites, unmanned and manned gliders

In 1902, they moved their flight test operations from Dayton to the outer banks of North Carolina at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk. After numerous glider test flights and meticulous engineering, the brothers crafted the Wright Flyer I—the first self-powered airplane.

Finally, at 1035 hours, Thursday, 17 December 1903, Orville flew the Wright Flyer I about 120 feet and was airborne for twelve seconds. Later that day, Wilbur flew the Flyer 175 feet. At day’s end, the record flight was 852 feet in 59 seconds—about 10 miles per hour.

Following was a veritable cascade of awards, accolades, and honors for the brothers. France and Germany were particularly interested in their airplane and invited the brothers to demonstrate manned flight in their countries. Wilbur sailed to France and during his eighteen-month stay flew his Wright Flyer III to the amazement of massive crowds and government officials.  The French awarded the Wrights a contract and Wilbur left the Flyer in Le Harve.

On September 1909, Orville was demonstrating a Wright Flyer to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia.  Onboard was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge—the Army’s aviation specialist. Cruising at 40 miles per hour and about 75 feet, Orville guided the Flyer in several “neat” turns. On the fourth turn, part of the propeller broke away. Uncontrolled, the Flyer crashed—killing Selfridge and seriously injuring Orville.

I highly recommend this remarkable biography of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

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