We have covered the early history of flight in many different ways, but consider this title is too important to the subject to leave out. The Early History of the Airplane by the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, is their own account of how they invented their airplane and achieved first flight.
So much has been written about the Wright brothers and their invention, that it is interesting to have the perspective of the inventors themselves:
We only learn to appreciate it when we try to imitate it. Now, there are two ways of learning how to ride a fractious horse: one is to get on him and learn by actual practice how each motion and trick may be best met; the other is to sit on a fence and watch the beast awhile, and then retire to the house and at leisure figure out the best way of overcoming his jumps and kicks. The latter system is the safest; but the former, on the whole, turns out the larger proportion of good riders. It is very much the same in learning to ride a flying machine; if you are looking for perfect safety you will do well to sit on a fence and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn you must mount a machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.
The Wright brothers were so modest about the significance of what they were doing, that it took the world several years to believe that man had achieved flight. (For more of the history from the world’s perspective read The Wright Brothers by journalist Fred C. Kelly).
This book begins with a description by both brothers of how they invented the airplane. The original machine was designed to be flown like a kite, but the winds and balance were problematic. They kept experimenting with the curvature of the wings and created more of a glider.
In the end, their reliance on previously determined scientific data on flying machines kept them from achieving their goals. They ended up tossing the current data and starting over, creating their own tables.
The Wright brothers’ interest in aeronautics began as a hobby, but soon they were hooked. They built two machines to test, developed their own tables for wing curvature, created their own formulas for air pressure, and began to thoroughly understand the theory of flight outside of the calculations.
The first flights of a power machine were in December 1903. These flights led to more problems to solve, such as equilibrium. But eventually they had a craft that met the requirements for a contract with the United States government.
Fascinating read! And free in the public domain.
Meet the Wright Family
Interesting biographies at Air and Space Museum.
Take Off! All About Airplanes
For younger students from Time. Free to read online.
Who Were the Wright Brothers
Lesson plan from the National Park Service.
Free Science Studies: Orville & Wilbur Wright
Learn more in this section of our free science studies. Lots of additional resources!