Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Wright Brothers

Four flights were made on that historic day 17th December, 1903, Here is Orville Wright’s account of the final flight of the day:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred feet had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet (260 m); the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.

Unfortunately, after the fourth flight a powerful gust of wind flipped the machine several times severely damaging it. The machine never flew again Years later Orville restored and lent it to various locations for display.

There were 5 witnesses to the first flights, among them John Daniels who took the famous picture of the first flight.

The Wright Brothers’ claim to be the first to fly a powered aircraft was disputed for years after their first epic flight. The Smithsonian Institution of America did not recognize their claim to the first heaver-than-air machine. The extent of the dispute can be seen in the fact that the historic Flyer was on display at the Science Museum in London and not at the Smithsonian. It was returned to the US only in 1948. and is now displayed at the National Air Museum, Washington D.C.

FDC of an airmail stamp issued by the US in 1949 on the 46th anniversary of the first powered flight of the Wright Flyer. The cover cachet however, commemorates the return of the plane to the US which took place in 1948.

For years after the historic first flight and hundreds of flights thereafter the world refused to acknowledge their achievements. Eye-witness accounts were treated with skepticism. Part of the reason could be their refusal to reveal details of their machine. The Wright Brothers were not wealthy and hoped their invention would make money for them.

In 1904, the brothers built a new aircraft naming it the Flyer II. Several experimental flights to take flying to the next plane. On 20th September , 1904, Wilbur flew the first complete circle in history by a manned powered machine, covering 4,080 feet in about a minute and a half. However, Flyer II was often out of control. So they decided to scrap it and built a new machine Flyer III using the same old engine. But they made important design changes which enabled better control. In October Wilbur made the longest flight of 24.5 miles in 38 minutes and 3 seconds

The only ones who witnessed these flights were close family and a few neighbours. None were witnessed by reporters so they went largely unreported in the press. However, reports slowly trickled out but were considered fantasy. In fact the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune headlined a 1906 article on the Wrights "FLYERS OR LIARS?"

All that changed when Wilbur demonstrated the latest bi plane on August 8, 1908 Le Mans, France. Wilbur was elegantly attired in a cloth cap, stiff collar and smart tie as he is often depicted. His first flight lasted only one minute 45 seconds, but his ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers. The demonstrations were attended by several crowned heads of Eurpoe including King Edward VII. Also present were pioneer French aviators, among them Louis Bleriot. In the following days Wilbur made a series of technically challenging flights including figure-eights, demonstrating his skills as a pilot and the capability of his flying machine, which far surpassed those of all other pilot pioneers. The plane was a two seater so Wilbur carried passengers on some flights. On one occasion he remained in the air for 2 hours and 20 minutes and won a prize of 20,000 francs offered by the French patron M. Michelin.

FDC of stamp issued by USA to mark the Golden Jubilee of the first powered flight

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