Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 19th Apr 2014 09:02 UTC
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The Wright brothers' critical insight was the importance of "lateral stability" - that is, wingtip-to-wingtip stability - to flight. And their great innovation was something they called "wing warping," in which they used a series of pulleys that caused the wingtips on one side of the airplane to go up when the wingtips on the other side were pulled down. That allowed the Wrights' airplane to make banked turns and to correct itself when it flew into a gust of wind.

But when the Wrights applied for a patent, they didn't seek one that just covered wing warping; their patent covered any means to achieve lateral stability. There is no question what the Wrights sought: nothing less than a monopoly on the airplane business - every airplane ever manufactured, they believed, owed them a royalty. As Wilbur Wright, who was both the more domineering and the more inventive of the two brothers, put it in a letter: "It is our view that morally the world owes its almost universal system of lateral control entirely to us. It is also our opinion that legally it owes it to us."

Even though Wrights' competitor Curtiss developed an entirely different system to achieve lateral stability (the ailerons airplanes use to this day), the Wright brothers still believed Curtiss owed them money for it. The legal standoff that ensued in the US airplane industry at the time halted all innovation, so much so that when the WWI broke out, the US government had to step in to force airplane manufacturers to cross-license their patents.

Sadly, by this time, US airplanes weren't good enough for combat.

It seems nobody learns from history.

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The Wright estate made a deal with the Smithsonian (the US's National Air and Space Museum): you can display a Wright flyer, and you don't say anything about any other aviation pioneers.

The deal was that the Smithsonian would get to display the 1903 Kitty Hawk Wright Flyer in exchange for being honest about the changes Glenn Curtiss made to the abortive Langley Aerodrome to get it into the air.

With Smithsonian approval, Glenn Curtiss extensively modified the Aerodrome and made a few short flights in it in 1914, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to bypass the Wright Brothers' patent on aircraft and to vindicate Langley. Based on these flights, the Smithsonian displayed the Aerodrome in its museum as the first heavier-than-air manned, powered aircraft "capable of flight." The dispute finally ended in 1942 when the Smithsonian published details of the Curtiss modifications to the Aerodrome and recanted its claims for the aircraft.

The Wrights' path to Kitty Hawk is well documented at every step along the way.

You cannot build an aircraft without understanding the problems of structural integrity, lift and dynamic control in three dimensions. It takes years of work to get that far and it leaves traces.

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jazman777 Member since:

OK, more refined; the deal really is about establishing the Wright brothers as first in flight, bar none:

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westlake Member since:

OK, more refined; the deal really is about establishing the Wright brothers as first in flight, bar none

For a devastating critique of the claims made for Gustave Whitehead read on:

Here is a sampling of how Popular Aviation naively re-told these tall tales in 1935.

1899 — " the Oakland suburb of Pittsburgh in the Spring of 1899, [a]…steam-driven model had carried him and his assistant a distance of almost a mile. Firemen…lent their assistance that time to start the machine, while the assistant fed charcoal to the flame which heated water in the ordinary kitchen boiler which they were using. …[A]s they went onward and upward, steered by Gustave Whitehead at the controls in the front, they exceeded the distance originally planned and found themselves headed for a three-story brick house. Afraid to attempt to swerve, there was but one hope, namely that they might clear the top of the house. But they failed. Down fell the machine, all but demolished, while the agonized fireman in the back writhed with the pain of a scalded leg."

Reply Parent Score: 3