The First Flight: Wright Flyer

Space.com | 6/17/2019 | Jeremy Hsu
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The Wright Flyer, which made its first flight in 1903, was the first crewed, powered, heavier-than-air and (to some degree) controlled flying machine. It was hard to imagine back then that a few wobbly flights would lead to an international aviation industry, not to mention the first human spaceflight just 58 years later, in 1961.

Wilbur and Orville Wright played with a toy rubber-powered flyer as children and flew kites, spurring their inspiration for flight early in life. Their eventual first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, relied upon innovations in flight control and self-propulsion — both necessary for the aircraft to stay aloft without crashing during its first successful flight tests, on Dec. 17, 1903.

Birth - Wright - Brothers - Interest - Flight

The birth of the Wright brothers' serious interest in flight began with the death of glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal in 1896, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Like Lilienthal, the brothers experimented with kite and glider designs to build up to the first aircraft.

Past glider pilots had steered their gliders by shifting around their body weight. But the Wright brothers came up with a more elegant solution; they twisted or warped the aircraft's wingtips in opposite directions to affect the airflow over the wings. That twist created different amounts of lift on each wing so that the aircraft would tilt toward one side.The pilot controlled the warping of the Wright Flyer's wing tips using wires connected to a hip cradle. That meant the pilot could steer by sliding his hips from side to side.

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Wind-tunnel tests in the fall of 1901 and hundreds of gliding tests in 1902 led to an aircraft design with better lift, a forward elevator to pitch its nose up or down, and a vertical tail rudder for more effective flight control. Such improvements set...
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