Part I - Inventing the Future
Select one object for a closer view and QTVR.
The objects above are three of the real airfoils that the Wright
Brothers crafted and tested in their wind tunnel.
Notice the subtle differences in their design. Eventually,
they discovered that a long, narrow wing performed better
than the short, square wing they used in the 1901 aircraft.
The Wright brothers began their own investigations by first studying the existing research that was done by others.
"Having set out with absolute faith in the existing scientific data, we were driven to doubt one thing after another, till finally, after two years of experiment, we cast it all aside, and decided to rely entirely upon our own investigations. Truth and error were everywhere so intimately mixed as to be undistinguishable (sic). Nevertheless, the time expended in preliminary study of books was not misspent, for they gave us a good general understanding of the subject, and enabled us at the outset to avoid effort in many directions in which results would have been hopeless."
They soon realized, however, the "general understanding of the subject" was not good enough.
"The standard for measurements of wind-pressures is the force produced by a current of air of one mile per hour velocity striking square against a plane of one square-foot area. The practical difficulties of obtaining an exact measurement of this force have been great. The measurements by different recognized authorities vary fifty per cent. When this simplest of measurements presents so great difficulties, what shall be said of the troubles encountered by those who attempt to find the pressure at each angle as the plane is inclined more and more edgewise to the wind? In the eighteenth century the French Academy prepared tables giving such information, and at a later date the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain made similar experiments. Many persons likewise published measurements and formulas; but the results were so discordant that Professor Langley undertook a new series of measurements, the results of which form the basis of his celebrated work, "Experiments in Aerodynamics." Yet a critical examination of the data upon which he based his conclusions as to the pressures at small angles shows results so various as to make many of his conclusions little better than guess-work."
They decided to begin their own experimentation.
"To work intelligently, one needs to know the effects of a multitude of variations that could be incorporated in the surfaces of flying-machines. The pressures on squares are different from those on rectangles, circles, triangles, or ellipses; arched surfaces differ from planes, and vary among themselves according to the depth of curvature; true arcs differ from parabolas, and the latter differ among themselves; thick surfaces differ from thin, and surfaces thicker in one place than another vary in pressure when the positions of maximum thickness are different; some surfaces are most efficient at one angle, others at other angles. The shape of the edge also makes a difference, so that thousands of combinations are possible in so simple a thing as a wing."
Like any scientist, the Wrights were putting together the pieces of the puzzle.
"With accurate data for making calculations, and a system of balance effective in winds as well as in calms, we were now in a position, we thought, to build a successful power-flyer."
The Wright brothers are just two of the many hobbyists in history who followed their devotion to extraordinary achievements. With careful investigation, anyone can discover the future!
Now, back to the story as
[ First Flight | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV ]