Who Invented the Airplane?

The Wright brothers patented their invention on May 22, 1906.
The Wright brothers patented their invention on May 22, 1906.

An airplane is a fixed wing aircraft powered by fuel and is driven forward by the thrust of a jet engine or a propeller. The plane was invented by two American brothers, Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright. Born on April 16, 1867, Wilbur was the elder brother.

The Wright Brothers’ Early Life and Work

The Wright brothers were two among the seven Wright children. The brothers were American engineers, aviators, and inventors. Both brothers went to high school but neither received a diploma, Wilbur was awarded his diploma on April 16, 1994, after his death.

Orville left high school in his third year in 1889 and decided to venture into the printing business. With the help of Wilbur, he designed and built his own printing machine. Wilbur joined Orville in the printing business, and he was named as the editor and Orville was the publisher. They printed a weekly newspaper named the "West Side News" which later became a daily newspaper named the "Evening Item," and it ran for four months after which the brothers decided to focus on commercial printing.

In December 1892 the brothers opened a bicycle sales and repair shop, and in 1896, they started making their bicycles.

Gliders and Inventions

In May 1896, Samuel Langley flew an unmanned fixed-wing model aircraft powered by steam. In the mid of the same year, Octave Chanute, a Chicago engineer, gathered several men to test different types of gliders over the dunes along Lake Michigan's shores. In August, Lilienthal’s glider crashed and killed him; this incident sparked the Wright brothers’ interest in flight research.

In 1899, Wilbur requested for publications and information on aeronautics from the Smithsonian Institution and the brothers started their mechanical, aeronautical experiments in the same year. They based their experiments on the works of Chanute, Sir George Cayley, Lilienthal, Langley, and Leonardo da Vinci.

The Wright brothers worked on several different gliders over the years, and most of their first models did not have an engine, their first glider with an engine was built in 1903. The Wright brothers took their first successful flight on this powered glider on December 17, 1903, and there were five people present to witness the flight. Orville made the first flight, and Wilbur took the second. The brothers recounted the experience to the media in January 1904 although their statement created no public excitement. The brothers were never allowed to make a flight together.

Solving the Third Part of the Flying Problem

In their experiments, the Wright brothers focused on developing a dependable method of pilot control rather than a powerful engine like other experimenters. The brothers believed an unstable vehicle could be controlled and balanced with practice based on their work with bicycles. At the beginning of their experimentation, the brothers felt that control was the third unsolved part of the flying problem because the wings and engine were both solved.

The brothers invented the three-axis control which lets the pilot maintain equilibrium while steering the aircraft. The Wright brothers patented their invention on May 22, 1906. This method is used up to date on all types of fixed-wing aircrafts.


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