History of the Airplane - Orville and Wilbur Wright

The history of the airplane and flight

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"Flight is possible to man...[and] I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life". - Wilbur Wright Co-Inventor of the first engined airplane.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were the inventors of the first airplane. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers launched the era of human flight when they successfully tested a flying vehicle that took off by its own power, flew naturally at even speed and descended without damage.

Before we get into the history of human flight, let's first understand what an airplane is. While we've seen airplanes in the sky and many of us have even experienced air travel by flying to places that would have taken much longer by any other means of transportation, airplanes can take many forms. By definition, an airplane is simply any aircraft with a fixed wing and is powered by propellers or jets. 

However, before that fateful takeoff, other inventors made numerous attempts to make like the birds and fly. Among these earlier efforts were contraptions such as kites, hot air balloons, airships, gliders and other types of aircraft. And while some progress was made, everything changed when the Wright brothers decided to tackle the problem of manned flight. Orville Wright (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) had requested a patent application for a "flying machine" nine months before their first successful flight.

They were that confidant.

As part of the Wright Brothers' systematic practice of photographing every prototype and test of their various flying machines, they had persuaded an attendant from a nearby lifesaving station to snap Orville Wright in full flight. The aircraft soared to an altitude of 10 feet, traveled 120 feet and landed 12 seconds after takeoff.

After making two longer flights that day, Orville and Wilbur Wright sent a telegram to their father, instructing him to inform the press that manned flight had taken place. This was the birth of the first real airplane.

After the Wright Brothers, inventors continued to improve airplanes. This led to the invention of jets, which are used by both the military and commercial airlines. A jet is an airplane propelled by jet engines. Jets fly much faster than propeller-powered aircraft and at higher altitudes, some as high as 10,000 to 15,000 meters (about 33,000 to 49,000 feet). Two engineers, Frank Whittle of the United Kingdom and Hans von Ohain of Germany, are credited with the development of the jet engine during the late 1930s.

Since then, some firms have developed electric aircraft that run on electric motors rather than internal combustion engines. The electricity comes from alternative fuel sources such as fuel cells, solar cells, ultracapacitors, power beaming and batteries. While the technology is in its infancy, some production models are already on the market.

Another area of exploration is with rocket-powered aircraft. These airplanes use engines that run on rocket propellant for propulsion, allowing them to soar at higher speeds and achieve faster acceleration.

For example, an early rocket-powered aircraft called the Me 163 Komet was deployed by the Germans during World War II. The Bell X-1 rocket plane was the first plane to break the sound barrier in 1947. Currently, the the North American X-15 holds the world record for the highest speed ever recorded by a manned, powered aircraft. More adventurous firms have also begun experimenting with rocket-powered propulsion. Examples include SpaceShipOne, designed by American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

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Bellis, Mary. "History of the Airplane - Orville and Wilbur Wright." ThoughtCo, Jul. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/airplanes-flight-history-1991789. Bellis, Mary. (2017, July 1). History of the Airplane - Orville and Wilbur Wright. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/airplanes-flight-history-1991789 Bellis, Mary. "History of the Airplane - Orville and Wilbur Wright." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/airplanes-flight-history-1991789 (accessed January 23, 2018).