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The purpose of this essay is to describe, in my opinion, one of the most historical and important milestones in the aerospace industry. I will be talking about the first powered flight undertaken by Orville and Wilbur Wright, better known as the Wright Brothers. They committed aviation for the first time (and then three more) on the 17th of December 1903 after an extensive four years of research and development in their aircraft named the “Wright Flyer”. The first flight in a heavier than air aircraft was undertaken at a location known as Kitty Hawk in North Carolina (USA) which would at the time have been a deserted beachfront. They would have chosen this location as it would have one of the safest options for a number of reasons, one of these being that there would be no houses or people around if something went wrong which would greatly reduce the chances of death, damage or injury and another being if they were to crash, it would most likely be into the sea or on the beach, rather than into rocks or concrete floor which would have increased their chances of survival should this have happened. As well as these two reasons, the beachfront will have provided wind to help the plane glide. Kitty Hawk is now a beach town which attracts a large number of visitors as well as year round residents. It now consists of a village, a maritime forest and not to mention the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Orville Wright, born 19th of August 1871 and died 30th January 1948 and Wilbur Wright, born 16th April 1867 and died 30th May 1912 were two American brothers who grew up in Ohio. The two brothers were essentially self-taught scientists, engineers and inventors with an extent of 7 years of high school education between the two of them. In 1889, Orville dropped out of high school and embarked on his quest to launch a newspaper. He set up a printing business after designing and building his own printing press with the help of his brother. A short while later, Wilbur joined Orville in the print shop and they launched their weekly newspaper known as the “West Side News”. Just one year later, the success of the brothers’ newspaper became evident and they changed it from a weekly edit to daily and named it “The Evening Item” but unfortunately, this only lasted for four months.
In 1892, the brothers decided to open a bicycle repair and sales shop named the “Wright Cycle Exchange”, this later changed to the “Wright Cycle Company”. In 1896, they decided that they would unveil their own bicycle brand, designed and manufactured in house by the two of them. The brothers had a burning passion for flight and they used their bicycle business to fund this. In the early to mid 1890s, the brothers were fascinated by Otto Lilienthal’s gliders and decided that they would follow in his footsteps. They set to work to design their own gliders so that they could master the art control before they went on to attempt to add a motor to an aircraft and fly it.
I believe the first powered flight had a colossal impact on the design, development and structure of modern day aircrafts. When the first powered flight was conducted by the Wright Brothers, they used their design of a hand glider and Orville was the first to test it out. He lay flat on the bottom level of the two tier aircraft in order to improve the aerodynamics. Their very first powered aircraft consisted of a variable-camber twin canard (a feature which can change the camber of the main aerofoil while in flight) which was used to control the pitch of the aircraft. At the rear of the aircraft was a twin rudder and this was used to control the yaw. A wing warping system (developed and patented by the Wright Brothers) was also used to control the roll of the aircraft, this is a combination of pulleys and cables which would twist the trailing edges of the wings in opposite directions.
These basic, yet complex at the time systems that were used in the first powered flight (such as wing warping) are now very outdated yet, particularly at the time, the Brothers believed it was the only system which could be used to control an aircraft. The fact that they patented this system both initiated and sped up the process of someone coming up with a new design to control an aircraft’s roll whilst in flight. This was due to the fact that people didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to pay the fees to use the Brothers design so other people and companies were forced to come up with their own.
Nowadays, instead of the Wright Brothers original design for the wing warping system, ailerons are used to control the roll of an aircraft. The very first aileron was designed in 1868 by a an inventor known as Matthew Piers Watt Boulton. The word aileron is French and it literally translates to “Little Wing”. Ailerons are now used at the edge of each wing and they work by moving in opposite directions to each other in order to increase or decrease the lift in one wing whilst doing the opposite to the other wing which in turn causes the plane to roll.
Although the aileron first came about in 1868, powered flight still didn’t exist so the theory and idea of it died down quite quickly. Once the aerospace industry started to boom, they rapidly came back into fashion. They started to become more and more popular from 1908 onwards as this is when copious amounts of research had been conducted and it could be proven that ailerons were far more practical and effective than wing warping, not to mention they didn’t weaken the aircrafts wing structure. By 1911 the majority of all plane designs incorporated ailerons to control the roll rather than wing warping and to this day, ailerons are still the best found method of controlling the roll of an aircraft.
The initial powered flight was very beneficial as it allowed humanity to see that it was possible to travel in this way and that there could possibly hundreds if not thousands of different applications of the principal of flight. It opened up channels for questions and curiosity to come flooding in. It opened people’s minds into what else could be achieved and it filled people with the ambition and drive to get out there to explore and develop the industry further. This helped develop the aerospace industry as a whole as people then started designing new, easier, safer, more efficient ways of flying. Undeniably, the first powered flight was what kickstarted the revolution of aviation.
Most commonly, the main catalyst for development in technology is war. However, once everyone realised the endless opportunities and possibilities that came along with aviation, their desire to learn was more than enough to develop and progress the industry which led to constant advancements for a number of years afterwards. From the first flight using two main wings and no fuselage with room for just one person to lie down to aircrafts now which can carry hundreds of passengers and unthinkable amounts of cargo is an incredible development. It only took 4 years for the Wright Brothers to realise that they could use the aircraft to carry more than just the pilot. In 1907 they released their “Wright Model A” which was the first two seated aircraft were both the occupants could sit upright the world had seen. Just over 10 years after the brothers initial flight, the first passenger flight was launched on the 25th February 1914. This time was filled with extensive research and dedication to aviation. This was the date of its demonstration flight which had 16 passengers onboard. However, unfortunately it was never used commercially instead, it was adapted to be used in WW1 to train pilots.
Nowadays, there are hundreds of different types of aircraft for a huge amount of applications. There are planes to take people on holiday, jets to deploy missiles and fight in wars, unmanned aerial vehicles to reduce the risk of any injury or death to pilots, spacecrafts to transport people, spacecrafts to transport goods, drones for aerial photography and racing and the list goes on and on. All of these have only been created because the Wright Brothers followed their dream of making the impossible happen. They believed so strongly that it was possible for a heavier than air vehicle to fly, not only on its own but with people and an engine on board. People have developed on the brothers theories and designs, however, if they didn’t commit aviation for the first time on that day, who is to say how long it would have been before someone else tried their to do the same thing? How much would the aviation industry have advanced compared to where it is now?
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