Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 19th Apr 2014 09:02 UTC
In the News

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.

Thread beginning with comment 587271
To view parent comment, click here.
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
Member since:

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

Reply Parent Score: 3

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

Alfman Member since:


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

I find this little controversy very interesting!

Honestly though, the accounts at that link sound just as biased, at times even to the point of FUD. I'll readily admit the obvious: I don't know what happened. There's no way for anyone alive today to know it directly. All we have as evidence is what's been reported (poorly) in the periodicals of the time. It doesn't help that reporters at the time apparently sensationalized the news. Still, it doesn't strictly mean the underlying events are completely untrue as insinuated here. Unfortunately documented records may not be rigorous enough to offer the undeniable proof we want/need.

Given the determination of the Wright Brothers, and their representatives actively involved in discrediting others, and even negotiating factual claims with the Smithsonian, I would guess that if any evidence of earlier flights did exist (ie unpublished photos), they would have been the ones to find it.

This gets me thinking, could such a thing happen again today with things like software? Many of us as indy devs don't protect ourselves with regards to historical record in a provable way. I suspect open source projects hosted on a community repo like github, will have sufficient evidence. But without some kind of external attestation, just about all digital records tend to be trivial to fake, and rely 100% on the integrity of those maintaining the data.

In terms of the Wright Brother's patent suit against Glenn Curtis, I would not think it should have legally mattered whether the "Great Aerodrome" actually flew or not. It should still be allowed as prior art. In any case I find it very interesting to see the patent system had these kinds of issues earlier on even for such a small industry.

Reply Parent Score: 3