Inventing Flight: The Wright Brothers and Their Predecessors

Overview

The invention of flight craft heavier than air counts among humankind's defining achievements. In this book, aviation engineer and historian John D. Anderson, Jr., offers a concise and engaging account of the technical developments that anticipated the Wright brothers' successful first flight on December 17, 1903. While the accomplishments of the Wrights have become legendary, we do well to remember that they inherited a body of aerodynamics knowledge and flying machine technology. How much did they draw upon ...

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Overview

The invention of flight craft heavier than air counts among humankind's defining achievements. In this book, aviation engineer and historian John D. Anderson, Jr., offers a concise and engaging account of the technical developments that anticipated the Wright brothers' successful first flight on December 17, 1903. While the accomplishments of the Wrights have become legendary, we do well to remember that they inherited a body of aerodynamics knowledge and flying machine technology. How much did they draw upon this legacy? Did it prove useful or lead to dead ends?

Beginning with the earliest attempts at flight, Anderson explains how Leonardo daVinci first began to grasp the concepts of lift and drag which would be essential to the invention of powered flight. He describes the many failed efforts of the so-called "tower jumpers," from Benedictine monk Oliver of Malmesbury in 1022 to the eighteenth-century Marquis de Bacqueville. He tells the fascinating story of aviation pioneers such as Sir George Cayley, who in a stroke of genius first proposed the modern design of a fixed-wing craft with a fuselage and horizontal and vertical tail surfaces in 1799, and William Samuel Henson, a lace-making engineer whose ambitious "aerial steam carriage" was patented in 1842 but never built. Anderson describes the groundbreaking nineteenth-century laboratory experiments in fluid dynamics, the building of the world's first wind tunnel in 1870, and the key contributions of various scientists and inventors in such areas as propulsion (propellers, not flapping wings) and wing design (curved, not flat). He also explains the crucial contributions to the science of aerodynamics by the German engineer Otto Lilienthal, later praised by the Wrights as their "most important" predecessor.

In telling the dramatic story of the Wright brothers' many experiments at Kitty Hawk as they raced to become the first in flight, Anderson shows how the brothers succeeded where others failed by taking the best of early technology and building upon it using a carefully planned, step-by-step experimental approach. (They recognized, for example, that it was necessary to become a skilled glider pilot before attempting powered flight.) With vintage photographs and informative diagrams to enhance the text, Inventing Flight will interest anyone who has ever wondered what lies behind the miracle of flight.

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What People Are Saying

Walter G. Vincenti

I have long thought that need exists for a book, suitable for undergraduates, that would tell the connected prehistory of the airplane from Cayley to the Wrights. In light of the recognized excellence of his technical textbooks (with their stimulating historical vignettes), I can't think of a better person than Professor Anderson for the job. He has the rare combination of technical and historical knowledge that is essential for the necessary balance. Inventing Flight will be a welcome addition to undergraduate classrooms.

Walter G. Vincenti, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801868740
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2004
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

John D. Anderson, Jr., is the curator for aerodynamics at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and the Glenn L. Martin Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the department of aerospace engineering, University of Maryland.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Prologue : the miracle of flight 1
1 Imaginings 6
Setbacks 7
Insights 10
Devices 14
2 Configurations 22
George Cayley and the concept of flight 25
William Samuel Henson and the aerial steam carriage 28
Alphonse Penaud and inherent stability 35
3 Experiments 40
Flight testing 40
Laboratory experiments 42
Trial and error 50
4 Aerodynamics 57
George Cayley 57
Otto Lilienthal 59
Samuel Langley 74
5 Technology : collecting data 89
What the Wrights knew 90
Thinking about improvements 95
6 Technology : further trials 112
A new glider 112
Working in the laboratory 119
To publish or not to publish 125
7 Technology : a working aircraft 130
Field testing at Kitty Hawk 130
Working on powered machines 137
Success 149
Epilogue 153
App. A Langley's power law 159
App. B How the Wrights misinterpreted the Lilienthal tables 162
App. C Wright's calculation of the flyer velocity 165
Notes 167
Suggested further reading 171
Index 173
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