Wright Again

Wright Again

A Visit To Washington? - Sunday, December 7, 1902

The History: Today, in a letter to Octave Chanute, Dr. Samuel Pierpont Langley communicated that he would like the Wright brothers to visit him at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. at his own expense [Langley would pay for the Wrights' travel.] He would like to know more about their glider experiments and especially their control system, "which you think better than the Penaud".


Dr. Samuel Pierpont Langley was the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. A scientist, he also was conducting flight experiments. The United States government granted him $50,000 and the Smithsonian another $20,000 to support his research to develop a manned powered flying machine.

Langley along with individuals like Octave Chanute and Hiram Maxim were well-known, respected scientists, engineers and inventors. Langley and Chanute were well educated, attending universities. Then a professor, Langley had begun serious investigation into heavier-than-air flight several years earlier while at the Western University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh (now the University of Pittsburgh). He developed several airplane models powered by twisted rubber and a light steam engine. One of the models with a wing span of 12 feet flew successfully.

This is in contrast to the Wright brothers, who were high school educated bicycle mechanics. Regardless, the development of the first powered airplane required their unique self-taught talents and skills as experimenters, businessmen, mechanics and athletes.

In contrast to Langley's work, the cost to develop the Wrights' early gliders and the 1903 Flyer, including their travel, was under $2,000. Despite differences in education and budget, the Wrights had been successful in developing the first comprehensive system to control a flying machine, which included their elevator to pitch the machine up or down, wing-warping for turning and a rudder for side to side motion and assisting in turns.

Alphonse Penaud was a young Frenchman and early flight investigator. He experimented in twisted rubber band power and built several small stable airplanes. Stability means the airplane was designed to resist forces which would cause motion or change of motion. Rubber-powered toy airplanes still use Penaud's control system today. (You may like to build our rubber powered toy helicopter, similar to the one the Wrights built as children, which is based on Penaud's rubber band propulsion system.)

Quotation from the book Miracle at Kitty Hawk, The Letters of Wilbur & Orville Wright by Fred C. Kelly.


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