How Was The Airplane Invented – In the early 20th century, many in science insisted that a real flying machine was physically impossible. However, cyclists could already “fly” about five meters above sea level. Owners of “mechanical horses,” as they were sometimes called, did not need flying machines. As one magazine editor said in 1894: “There are horses that neither eat nor drink, but Bucephalus, in all his greatness, could not go as fast or as far as they could. Are we flying soon? why did you fly We’re definitely going pretty fast now.”
That is, many motorcycles still had the word “flyer” in the name: White Flyer, Belleville Flyer, Flying Yankee. Bicycle ads showed cyclists running happily through the air, and one ad showed a non-cyclist falling. This ad featured Darius Green, a popular children’s book character famous for building his own Icarus-style flying machine – with Icarus-style results. “Darius Green would never sigh for a flying machine if he saw a 1995 Victor bike,” the ad sarcastically read.
How Was The Airplane Invented
Ministers even compared cycling to flying in the sky. “Let us ride on the wind,” preached a Brooklyn minister in May 1895. “What Job did in his virtual flight from trouble, riding on the wind, the weary retired laborer does behind the desk and counter when he closes. the door. door behind him. him, come forth into the fresh air of God, and raise your scientific angel.’
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While many prominent scientists saw flying a heavier-than-air aircraft as a fantasy, some cyclists saw it as a natural next step. Just as the bicycle created the demand for motorized ground transportation, it created the thirst for motorized flight.
Who would create these revolutionary new vehicles? The same people who created the latter, many thought. “The problem of the flying machine will probably be solved by the inventors of the wheel,” wrote the editor of a Binghamton newspaper in 1896. The light and fast machine would probably lead to a development in which wings would play an important part.
Bicycle maker Charles Duryea designed a pedal-powered helicopter, though he probably never built one. Duryea said of the 200-pound machine he envisioned, “It’s right in our lineup; it’s actually an evolution of the bike.”
The editor’s prediction that bicycle mechanics would solve the mystery of flight was reasonable. The bicycle introduced people to the feeling of flight. Its technological development set a precedent for the process of inventing the airplane. Instead of working in isolation and creating radically new, perfect devices for testing—as some aeronautical visionaries or inventors did—bicycle manufacturers competed, collaborated, copied each other, and moved toward a consensus on how to build the lightest, fastest and safe vehicles.
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In other words, the wheel has evolved. German glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal, whom Wilbur Wright, the older Wright brother, considered “undoubtedly our greatest predecessor,” argued in 1896 that the development of flying machines should follow the same pattern. Through methodical experimentation, Lilienthal developed the first controllable glider that could fly more than 250 meters in the air. He asked other would-be aviators to try to beat him. “The more men there are who have in mind the progress of flight and the improvement of aeronautical devices, the sooner we shall be able to attain perfect flight,” he wrote in an article (clumsily translated) in the Aeronautical Annual, a Boston Journal. for future aviators. “Silence in these exercises can only lead to the continuous improvement of the device, as is the case, for example, with bicycles.”
Magazine editor James Means linked the two technologies even more closely. “Today’s admirable bicycle is the product of eighty years of careful thought and experimentation,” he wrote. “If the world is to advance rapidly in the field of human flight, it must have much greater confidence in the value and importance of the Lilienthal airplane than in the wonderful balance wheel of 1816.”
Sadly, Lilienthal died in a boating accident in August 1896. News of his death rekindled the Wright brothers’ childhood interest in aviation. After Wilbur Wright had read all the aviation literature he could get his hands on, he wrote to the Smithsonian Institution asking for more material. “I believe that at least simple flight is possible for man,” the letter read, “and that the experiments and research of a large number of self-employed workers will lead to the accumulation of information, knowledge and skills that will ultimately lead to success.. to fly. 🇧🇷
At the time, most aviation experimenters—including Samuel P. Langley, then Secretary of the Smithsonian—attempted to build airplanes that would balance in gusts of wind. Although scientists had long believed that air moved like water, with steady waves and currents, Langley revealed in 1893 that the atmosphere is much more chaotic than the ocean. Within every wind are eddies, dips, shear, and other unpredictable motions that can quickly topple or stall an additional object.
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For Langley and the researchers, the answer was to design a flying machine that could be corrected like a clown’s fist. They believed that no human pilot could compensate for gusts of wind like birds can. As Joseph Le Conte, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an aeronaut, wrote in 1894, “In the bird we have the absolute perfection of skill, acquired by constant practice and inherited by successive generations. The art required to control such a machine seems almost hopelessly out of reach.”
Le Conte appeared to be right. The self-balancing airplane proved elusive, and its pursuit led to some spectacular accidents, including Langley’s four-wing, 750-pound “Airfield” catapulting directly into the Potomac River on December 8, 1903, nine days before Wright’s first flight. 🇧🇷
The Wrights, however, had an insight that came straight from cycling. They realized that the plane didn’t need to be stable. As a bicycle, it can be inherently unstable and can be used in the same way as a “flying” bicycle: by the rider making constant, tiny, unconscious adjustments. “The common object of airplane experimenters was to solve the balancing problem by some automatic balancing system,” the brothers stated in a 1908 “as told” story in McClure’s. “Our idea was to provide a machine that, with a little practice, could balance and steer semi-automatically, with reflex action, like a bicycle.” The Wrights studied the movement of hovering birds and designed a steering system that mimics the way birds tilt their wing tips when turning. In the Wright Flyer, the pilot drove by pushing levers that folded the plane’s wings. (Wilbur first came up with the idea for the vane bearing system while wrapping an empty tube case.)
And like a cyclist, a pilot would need practice, the Wrights realized. “If you are looking for complete safety, you will do well to sit on the fence and watch the birds,” said Wilbur in 1901, “but if you really want to learn [to fly], you must adjust the engine and familiarize yourself. therefore. That’s why the brothers built a glider before even trying to add an engine: they wanted to learn to fly. In 1909, after the Wrights published their invention, other aviators built their own working planes. one journalist compared an airline pilot to “a tightrope pilot armed with an umbrella”, as the pilot, “must constantly be careful not to lose his balance”. steering wheel”.
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The Wright brothers weren’t the only cyclists to succeed in aviation. Lilienthal was an avid cyclist who once built a high-wheeled three-wheeled rickshaw with his brother. Glenn H. Curtiss, one of Wright’s early competitors who pioneered the use of seaplanes, was a bicycle shop owner and cyclist.
Many of the first storms were cyclists first. According to Tom D. Crouch, author of The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright and several other books on early flight, the bicycle prepared these aviators both practically and psychologically. In addition to introducing people to the feeling of flying fast and proving that any average person can develop balance skills, the bike provided an unprecedented sense of independence and control, which translated into confidence to fly, Crouch says.
People would no doubt eventually figure out how to fly without a bicycle, but it was the bicycle that made this possible when it happened and made America the birthplace of aviation.
Adapted with permission
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