How Two Bike Vendors Taught The World to Fly

How Two Bike Vendors Taught The World to Fly

"Isn't it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!" Orville Wright

Wilbur and Orville Wright were restless and curious entrepreneurs. Neither finished their formal studies nor went to university, but from a very young age, they were both passionate about creating and building mechanical gadgets.

In the mid-1880s, the two brothers owned a small printing and publishing company that served local newspapers. Most of the small newspapers were short-lived, so the brothers founded their own brand of bicycles, where they designed, sold, and repaired bikes at their shop.

Meanwhile, during their pre-aeronautical occupation,three important events took place in the world of aviation that caught their attention. First, in 1896, the aviation pioneer and secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Samuel Langleymanaged to fly a machine powered by a steam engine. Second, the engineer Octave Chanutemanaged to make several people fly with gliders in the dunes of Lake Michigan. Lastly, Otto Lilienthal,the German inventor who had achieved the best glider flights among aviators, died after breaking his neck in an accident with his glider.

In the following years, the Wright brothers focused their research on aeronautics, using their bicycle shop as a laboratory for flying inventions. "If birds can glide for long periods of time, then... why can't I?" Orville famously wondered.

Willburg & Orville Wright in 1905

The Wrights found out that the control of their flying machine did not depend on the pilot’s rocking, as it was believed by their predecessors. Rather, it was about a series of surfaces that moved and twisted in the air, allowing the machine to move in response to velocity and smooth airflows. This innovative approach was unprecedented to what has been experienced to date.

Thus in 1900, the Wright brothers moved to a dune area in the state of North Carolina where the meteorological service assured them that there was a constant breeze throughout most of the year. With a glider of only 17ft (5.33m) in wingspan and 52lbs (24kg), they made hundreds of controlled flights.

On the morning of December 17, 1903, Orville famously managed to airborne for 12 seconds and 120 feet (approx. 36 meters), thanks to a controlled and sustained powered flight. Immediately after this achievement, and equipped with additional research and testing, the original glider evolved into a machine that managed to fly up to 26 seconds and travel 206 yards (189.7 meters). The Wright Flyer(as the flying artifact was called) was simply constructed of pinewood, muslin cloth, and a few feet of steel cord.

In 1908, the brothers filed an invention patent with the US Patent Office that would make the dream of flying come true. It was a landmark that marked the birth of aviation, pioneered by two enthusiastic bicycle vendors from a small town in Ohio.

Following this achievement, the Wrights demonstrated their invention in Europe and America and founded the commercial aviation corporation American Wright Company; In 1912, upon Wilbur's death, Orville assumed the management of the company until 1915, when he abandoned it to pursue aeronautical research.

The Wright brothers’ aeronautical breakthrough is a testament to human determination and ingenuity that changed the world forever. While we are sipping our glass of wine and surfing the internet at 35,000 feet and traveling at the speed of 570 mph, one must not forget to honor the heroes of the past. Aviation as we know today wouldn’t have been possible without the Wright’s pursuit of their dreams. 

At Aeromat, we seek to recreate this passion for flight and discovery. This is the foundation of our Co-Pilot and Navigator programs which aim to share with the community the unique feeling of flight and pioneering.  

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