In the modern world, the vast majority of us take plane travel for granted. For a relatively small amount of money, we can jump into a plane and fly to an entirely different continent within a couple of hours, something that would have taken our ancient ancestors many generations of travel to achieve. Passenger flying has completely changed the world as we know it, and it all began with a single flight a century ago.
The Wright brothers are a famous sibling duo that managed to fly the first plane. Anyone that has seen a design of the aircraft will most likely see it as fairly primitive compared to the planes of today, but it was the first stop on a journey that would eventually lead humankind into space and onto the moon.
The Flyer’s Design
The beginning of the Wright brothers’ first flight began with the dying of Otto Lilienthal, who was a pioneer of gliding. Lilienthal was known for experimenting with glider and kite designs as a part of the process of working toward the very first aircraft. And while Lilienthal provided much inspiration, the Wright brothers would take the design and enhance it in a way that no one had thought of before.
Up until that point, most gliders relied on the shifting of their weight to steer, but it was not an accurate way of steering a vessel. The Wright brothers decided to instead allow the wingtips for the aircraft to do the steering instead by redirecting the airflow over and under the wings.
This extra twist to the tips of the wings allowed for different generations of lift, which was important for making the plane tilt and turn more effectively.
At first, the pilot used wires connected to a special hip cradle that they would use to tilt the plane in the direction they wanted to go, but this design would be refined further down the line. Their first flights began in 1900, and over the next three years the brothers would continue to perfect the design.
The First Plane
The idea was to create a plane that was capable of sustained flight over longer periods of time, which meant having a way of controlling the plane while also powering it. Once the brothers had perfected the wings, the next step was finding a way of pushing it forward. This is why they added a 12-horsepower engine to the plane, which was connected to two propellers.
On the 17th of December, 1903, the Wright brothers made history by flying the very first true plane, and while there was some risk, just like an Australian Open bet, the rewards were worth it. It flew for only 12 seconds, but it proved that sustained flight was possible.
The two brothers would experiment further, eventually covering a total distance of 250 metres over the span of almost a full minute. It’s believed that this was the point where the era of modern flight had truly begun and would lead to the moon landing some 58 years later.