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Invention of the Airplane

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Wilbur and Orville Wright were American inventors and founders of aviation. Through much trial and error, they were able to achieve the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight in 1903, and the first fully practical airplane two years later. The airplane transformed the 20th century, as people were now able to fly, resulting in a change around the world. Women were responsible for many ‘firsts’ in the aviation industry, despite being faced by constant animosity. Arguably, the invention of the airplane was the most important invention in the modern world. Today, travel is much faster and more efficient, we have satellites that provide us with TV, satellite radio, mobile messaging, and navigation systems, and our economy is faster and better. All of the aforementioned aspects would not have been possible without the airplane. Aviation allowed for the world to be connected in a way that was not possible before, and provided humanity with several opportunities.

Wilbur Wright was born near Millville, Indiana on April 16, 1867. On August 19, 1871, Orville Wright was born in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers made the decision to start their own experiments in flight, when German aviator Otto Lilienthal, whose research they followed closely, passed away in a glider crash. In the 1890s, the Wright brothers were getting acquainted with aeronautics. On May 30, 1899, Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution expressing both their desires to join the aeronautical community. He wrote “I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine” (Orville). Towards the end of the letter, Wilbur requested any publications on aviation that the Smithsonian could provide.

The Wrights’ first aircraft used a combination of their wing-warping control concept and the structural design of the Chanute-Herring glider. It was a biplane kite with a wingspan of 5 feet, built in July 1899. Later on, they successfully built their first piloted aircraft in 1900, which they tested in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers owe a huge part of their success to their flight-testing program. The vast number of trails they performed with their gliders, provided the brothers with both performance data and helped them develop piloting skills. The 1900 glider only lifted to half the height the Wrights had predicted, so they had yet to perfect this invention. The 1901 glider was the largest yet, but it proved to be very problematic. To gain lift on their aircraft, they increased the wing size and curvature of the airfoil. They went back to Kitty Hawk to test the 1901 glider, and although it allowed for longer and more glides, it operated worse than the 1900 glider, as it suffered from a lack of lift and had control problems. The 1902 glider had narrower wings and a much thinner airfoil, than the previous gliders. The Wrights also improved lateral control by adding a fixed vertical rudder to the back end of the glider. The 1902 glider was the first fully controllable aircraft, and was close to a true airplane.

The first successful airplane invented by the Wright brothers was in 1903. This airplane, or as they called it the Flyer, used the brothers’ biplane configuration, a three-axis control system, which incorporated an elevator for pitch control, a moveable rudder, and lateral balance was achieved through wing-warping. To further improve the wings, the brothers covered the bottom surface with fabric. This resulted in a smoother wing surface, and enhanced the Flyer’s aerodynamic efficiency. The final obstacle to overcome to powered flight was the propulsion system. The engine had four horizontal inline cylinders, fit into a cast aluminum crankcase. It is said that the propellers of the Flyer were one of the most innovative aspects. The brothers decided to use two “…slow-turning, large propellers, because this arrangement offered great efficiency, and the propellers could be spun in opposite directions to neutralize the gyroscopic effects of the whirling blades” (Smithsonian). As for the controls, there was a padded hip cradle and a wooden lever that controlled the elevator. The Wright brothers went back to Kitty Hawk to test the 1903 Flyer, and after a couple of trials, Wilbur managed to steady the airplane for an 852-foot trip lasting 59 seconds, showing that it was capable of constant, controlled flight. To successfully market their invention, the brothers had to demonstrate that these aircrafts could turn and fly over more familiar terrain. In May 1904, they began experimenting with their second powered airplane. On September 20, 1904, the brothers flew their first complete circle, a flight that was 1 minute and 36 seconds long and covered 4,080 feet. By 1905, the brothers’ experimental period ended with their first practical airplane. On October 5, Wilbur was able to circle the field 30 times in 39 minutes, covering 24 and a half miles. With their new invention, they moved on to securing their patent and seeking out customers.

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The impact of the airplane on the 20th century is immeasurable, the brothers solved a long-studied technical problem, and transformed the world. In the spring of 1908, Wilbur and Orville had received their patent in America and many European countries, and they were eager to share their invention globally. The first airplane type, the Wright Model B, was offered in 1910. Military aviation, commercial air transport, and competition and exhibit flying were the major markets for aircraft technology; however, commercial aviation would not become economically viable until the 1920s and the 1930s. From 1910 to 1914 the world embraced aviation, and it quickly became part of popular culture. Flight motifs were appearing on jewelry, clocks, games, postcards, and decorative boxes. Flight was seen in all kinds of entertainment like literature, art, music, cartoons, and the silver screen. This was because artists, writers, and composers were inspired by aviation. This invention was an aesthetic event, and they believed it would have an influence on the new century’s moral direction. Flight was an indication of the rise of a new, modern age.

Women were constantly facing prejudice in the aviation industry, even though they contributed to many major milestones in the origins of aviation. Blanche Scott was the first ever female pilot to fly in America. Her first experience with flight was when Glenn Curtiss, her instructor, begrudgingly agreed to give her flying lessons, but only on the ground. During the lesson, a block that was placed under the aircraft’s throttle pedal came loose, which sent her off into the air. This demonstrated that women were more than capable of piloting an aircraft, and Scott made history. Scott, under the name ‘The Tomboy of the Air’, joined Curtiss’ Exhibition Team, officially completing her first flight in 1910. Bessie Coleman was the “… first black female pilot and the first Native American woman pilot in 1922” (AeroGuard). Because she was both African American and a woman, US aviation programs turned her away. Not being put down by this, she was ultimately accepted into the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation in France, where women learned to fly. Coleman was known for her tricks and performance capabilities. Amelia Earhart was another influential female figure in aviation, as she, most notably, flew solo across the Atlantic in 1932. Additionally, she set a record flying her own biplane a distance of 14,000 feet prior to her 1932 flight. In 1942, the USA has a huge shortage of pilots, so to compensate women were trained to fly military planes. These female pilots were known as the WASP, Women Airforce Service Pilots (AeroGuard). More than 1,100 women flew a variety of military aircrafts, and made immense contributions to World War II.

The invention of the airplane was the most important invention of modern time. Airplanes have led ways to other innovations, they are an integral part of the modern world. Aviation led to space travel, scientists studied aeronautics and engineering to make going to space a possibility. The Soviet Union’s first satellite, Sputnik, was launched on October 4th, 1957 and it pushed other countries to put satellites into space. The radio signals they emitted “…were used to pinpoint locations of submarines by the US Navy; thus, it was the birth of the global positioning system” (Team). Satellites were used for television and radios as well, in the following decades. Without the technology to improve airplane performance, this would not have been possible. In the modern world, airplanes have many purposes, other than for the military and transportation of people. Air transports have made it possible to ship perishables from one country to the next. Aviation has also given us the ability to capture a different perspective of our planet, from the sky, in movies and photographs. Also, with aviation we are able to support international businesses, thus improving the economy. Additionally, aviation has shrunk the world, air travel has shorted travel times from months to hours. Without this invention, people would not be able to experience the world as often and as quick as is possible today. Aviation has saved thousands of lives, as helicopters are “… an efficient and effective tool at transporting the injured quickly and safely to hospitals in the area, reducing the time of travel, and increasing the patient’s chance of living” (Krautkremer). Airplanes opened up many opportunities, they also allowed us to improve trade and communication throughout the world.

The Wright brothers began their journey of aviation in 1890. Throughout the years of 1899 to 1902, they experimented with designs on their gliders to perfect them. This led way to the first Flyer in 1903, and, eventually, to the first practical airplane in 1905. The Aerial Age began throughout the 1900’s, when aviation became a huge part of the culture. Fast forward to the modern world, the use of airplanes has changed significantly. The airplane had a huge impact on humankind, and it contributed to the creation of many other things.

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Invention of the Airplane. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
“Invention of the Airplane.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Invention of the Airplane. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Mar. 2023].
Invention of the Airplane [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 Mar 27]. Available from:
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