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The Beginning of Human Flight, circa 1916
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The Beginning of Human Flight
[Caption] The First Flight, December 17,
1903 Kitty Hawk, N.C.
THE WRIGHT COMPANY 60 BROADWAY NEW YORK
THE first flight ever made by man was made upon the machine now exhibited
for the first time on the occasion of the dedication of the new buildings
of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On December 17, 1903, at
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright made
four successful flights with this machine. The first lasted only twelve
seconds, a flight very modest compared with those of to-day, but it was,
nevertheless, the first in the history of the world in which a machine
carrying a man had raised itself into the air in free flight. The second
and third flights were a little longer; the fourth lasted fifty-nine
seconds, covering a distance of 852 feet over the ground against a
twenty-mile wind. The Wrights continued their experiments in 1904 and 1905
with another machine, and increased the time to 38 minutes and the
distance to over 24 miles.
When the report of these flights went abroad, sportsmen and scientists the
world over feverishly took up the subject of human flight; but it was not
until nearly five years that these first flights of December 17, 1903,
were equaled by others than the Wright brothers themselves, and then only
on a machine based upon drawings of the early Wright machines published in
1904 in France. It is interesting to note that every practical flying
machine of to-day uses the system of control invented and employed by the
Wright brothers in this first machine of 1903.
After the last flight on December 17,1903, while standing unguarded on the
ground, the machine was struck by a sudden gust of wind, which lifted it
from the ground, and rolled it over and over. The rudders were badly
damaged, and some other parts broken; but the machine has suffered most
from going through the flood that swept through Dayton in 1913. The
greater part of the machine, still in the boxes in which it was shipped
from Kitty Hawk to Dayton, lay several weeks in the water and mud.
In assembling the machine for exhibition at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, the front and rear rudders had to be almost entirely rebuilt.
The cloth and the main cross spars of the upper and lower center sections
of the wings also had to be made new. A number of other parts had to be
repaired, but most of the other parts, excepting the motor, are the
original parts used in 1903. The motor now in the machine is a close copy
of the 1903 motor, but was built about a year later and developed much
more power than the original one. The motor in 1903 developed only ten to
twelve horse power. The parts of the 1903 motor are still at hand,
excepting the crank shaft and fly-wheel, These were loaned some years ago
for exhibition at one of the aeronautical shows, and cannot now be found.
Technical and scientific men, such as are assembled to celebrate the
dedication of the magnificent new buildings of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, may be interested to know of the technical work that led to
the building of this first successful flying machine. The mind of man had
been occupied with the problem of flight for many centuries, but the
greater part of the work done was not of a scientific character. When the
Wrights took up the subject in 1896, only a few aerodynamical works of
scientific interest were in existence. Engineers at that time in
calculating air pressures used the tables of Lilienthal and Duchemin. The
work of Langley seemed to verify the Duchemin formula. But after two years
of experiment with machines based upon the tables of Lilienthal and
Duchemin, the Wrights became convinced that these tables were so far in
error as to be of no value in the designing of an aeroplane. They
therefore in 1901 constructed a small wind-tunnel in which to make
measurements of the pressures produced by various shaped surfaces when
exposed to the air at different angles. For making the measurements they
used a type of instrument which they thought would almost entirely
eliminate the factors which had spoiled the measurements of their
predecessors. During the winter of 1901-1902 they tested altogether more
than one hundred different surfaces in this tunnel, and tabulated the
results of the measurements of about fifty of them. They made measurements
of square and rectangular surfaces in order to deter. mine the effect of
varying the ratio of the length and breadth of the surfaces. They also
made measurements to ascertain the effects of, and possible advantages in
using, curved instead of plane surfaces, and the effects of varying the
depth of curvature as well as the location on the maximum depth of
curvature. They measured thick and thin surfaces to determine the effects
of thickness, and also surfaces with maximum thickness at different
points. They determined the effects on surfaces when superposed and when
one followed the other. They measured the travel of the center of pressure
on curved surfaces when exposed to the air at different angles. No tables
of the travel on curved surfaces were in existence at that time.
With the results of these laboratory experiments at hand, and with a system
of control already developed by themselves in their gliding experiments of
1900 to 1902, the Wrights were in a position to design and build a
power-driven aeroplane, with hope of success. This first machine of 1903
was designed entirely from the tables of air pressures worked out in the
laboratory. At that time there-was no published data on air propellers.
The Wrights designed these first propellers on a theory of screw
propulsion worked out by themselves. The result was the development of
over sixty-six per cent. efficiency, an efficiency which has been rarely
exceeded either in marine or air propellers to-day.
Date, December 17, 1903.
Time, 10:30 a.m., 12:00 m.
First flight, twelve seconds.
Longest flight, fifty-nine seconds.
Wind velocity, twenty to twenty-five miles per hour.
Weight of machine, 605 pounds.
Total weight with operator, 750 pounds.
Power of motor, ten to twelve horse power.
Weight carried per horse power, sixty-three pounds.
Speed of motor in flight, 1020 R.P.M.
Speed of propeller, 340 R.P.M.
Spread of wings, forty feet, four inches.
Length of chord, six feet, six inches.
Total area of wings, 530 square feet.
Area of elevator, forty-eight square feet.
Area of vertical rudder, twenty square feet.
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