Wright, Wilbur

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 16 April 1867 Millville, Indiana, USA
d. 30 May 1912 Dayton, Ohio, USA
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American co-inventor, with his brother Orville Wright (b. 19 August 1871 Dayton, Ohio, USA; d. 30 January 1948 Dayton, Ohio, USA), of the first powered aeroplane capable of sustained, controlled flight.
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Wilbur and Orville designed and built bicycles in Dayton, Ohio. In the 1890s they developed an interest in flying which led them to study the experiments of gliding pioneers such as Otto Lilienthal in Germany, and their fellow American Octave Chanute. The Wrights were very methodical and tackled the many problems stage by stage. First, they developed a method of controlling a glider using movable control surfaces, instead of weight-shifting as used in the early hand-gliders. They built a wind tunnel to test their wing sections and by 1902 they had produced a controllable glider. Next they needed a petrol engine, and when they could not find one to suit their needs they designed and built one themselves.
On 17 December 1903 their Flyer was ready and Orville made the first short flight of 12 seconds; Wilbur followed with a 59-second flight covering 853 ft (260 m). An improved design, Flyer II, followed in 1904 and made about eighty flights, including circuits and simple ma-noeuvres. In 1905 Flyer III made several long flights, including one of 38 minutes covering 24½ miles (39 km). Most of the Wrights' flying was carried out in secret to protect their patents, so their achievements received little publicity. For a period of two and a half years they did not fly, but they worked to improve their Flyer and to negotiate terms for the sale of their invention to various governments and commercial syndi-cates.
In 1908 the Wright Model A appeared, and when Wilbur demonstrated it in France he astounded the European aviators by making several flights lasting more than one hour and one of 2 hours 20 minutes. Considerable numbers of the Model A were built, but the European designers rapidly caught up and overtook the Wrights. The Wright brothers became involved in several legal battles to protect their patents: one of these, with Glenn Curtiss, went on for many years. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville sold his interest in the Wright Company in 1915, but retained an interest in aeronautical research and lived on to see an aeroplane fly faster than the speed of sound.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Royal Aeronautical Society (London) Gold Medal (awarded to both Wilbur and Orville) May 1909. Medals from the Aero Club of America, Congress, Ohio State and the City of Dayton.
Bibliography
1951, Miracle at Kitty Hawk. The Letters of Wilbur \& Orville Wright, ed. F.C.Kelly, New York.
1953, The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright, ed. Marvin W.McFarland, 2 vols, New York.
Orville Wright, 1953, How We Invented the Aeroplane, ed. F.C.Kelly, New York.
Further Reading
A.G.Renstrom, 1968, Wilbur \& Orville Wright. A Bibliography, Washington, DC (with 2,055 entries).
C.H.Gibbs-Smith, 1963, The Wright Brothers, London (reprint) (a concise account).
J.L.Pritchard, 1953, The Wright Brothers', Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society (December) (includes much documentary material).
F.C.Kelly, 1943, The Wright Brothers, New York (reprint) (authorized by Orville Wright).
H.B.Combs with M.Caidin, 1980, Kill Devil Hill, London (contains more technical information).
T.D.Crouch, 1989, The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur \& Orville Wright, New York (perhaps the best of various subsequent biographies).
JDS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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