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(At Least) 100 Years Of Powered Human Flight 515

Posted by timothy
from the culminating-in-southwest-airlines dept.
Rogue-Lion.com writes "Take a time out to remember the accomplishments of two bicycle shop owners who changed the world immeasurably, 100 years ago today. The Telegraph is running a story about a recreation of the Wright's (and world's) first heavier-than-air powered flight. President Bush will be in attendance at the event." Setting aside even more exotic theories, rod writes with an alternative point of view: namely, that man's first flight took place in New Zealand, on March 31, 1902. "I admire the U.S.A and the Wright brothers,but there are facts to consider today, 17/12/03, on the centenary of Kitty Hawk." Update: 12/17 13:44 GMT by T : Or was it a Brazillian invention? (Thanks, Anderson Silva.)
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(At Least) 100 Years Of Powered Human Flight

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  • Another one (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:54AM (#7744022)
    Apparantly there are claims that the flight of the Wright Brothers was really just ballistic, i.e. not flight at all. Anyone?
    • It would have to get off the ground somehow. People have flown replicas of the Wright Flyer since then, and although they didn't fly that well, they *did* fly.
      • by diersing (679767) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:05AM (#7744075)

        NPR [npr.org] did a nice piece [npr.org] during the morning drive time.

        but there's no question that the Wright brothers built the first airplane that a pilot could control and fly. The basic principles that were built into the Wright Flyer remain a part of every aircraft flying today.

        Competing claims aside, I think we can all agree this was a great moment in American history at least.

    • Re:Another one (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bvardi (620485) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:58AM (#7744045)
      Actually only the later models of the wright flyer used a capapult to assist in launching (useless trivia: The original machine had no name at the time of launching as was just referred to by the wright brothers as "the machine") The original machine, as I recall, had no wheels and used a wheeled sled to take off from, but it did take off and fly under its own power. (and even later, the flyer only used the capapult for launching)

      The main accomplishments of the wright brothers however are not so much coming up with powered flight - people had been flying gliders, balloons and such for a little bit and the concept was not truly shocking - but that the came up with a primative (but workable) control system (involving warping the wings to control the flyer) and techniques to be used in piloting the craft. Before the flyer, most flights were basically straight line "hope you don't end up hitting a tree" type things.

      • Before the flyer, most flights were basically straight line "hope you don't end up hitting a tree" type things.

        While I agree with you that the Wright's had invented the first workable system to control an aircraft in flight (they understood how airplanes turn), others before attained some controlled gliding flight. For example Otto Lilienthal was able to steer his gliders by shifting his body position - in ways similar to hang-gliders of today.

        • Otto Lilienthal was able to steer his gliders by shifting his body position

          Which in the end killed him, as it didn't give enough control. The Wrights had this accident very much in mind when designing their machine.

    • Correct me if I'm wrong, but if it was a ballistic flight, the aircraft would have been given a large initial push at a certain angle from the ground, then simply let free to "fly" (or lop, or a combination of the two) un-powered, until it touched ground again. However, it seems to me that there was an engine on this plane, and that it took off more or less unaided.

      That the engine wasn't powerful enough to sustain a real flight, that it was a ground-effect fluke, that's just as maybe, but it hardly seems a
    • Documentation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alien54 (180860) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:20AM (#7744154) Journal
      While others may have been first, they did not document their claims. The Wright brothers documented their cliams with photos, etc. There is an extensive record of their achievments. Even so, years later they shocked people when they showed up at an exhibition and flew around the field in circles, etc for many minutes.

      As for kitty hawk, the significant take offs were on level ground, and the final flight of the day was certainly sustained for almost a minute. Like any geek machine, it was hard to control at first.

      So while other attempts may have been successful they were not as well documented., or even that reproducable.

    • Re:Another one (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mirio (225059) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#7744224)
      The Wrights used launching weight (as they called it) because their props were optimal for cruising. In today's airplanes with constant-speed props, the props are adjustable so that when taking off there is a much more corse pitch, meaning that the prop pushes more air but works harder. In cruise, the prop pitch is flattened a bit to provide a better flow of air for cruise flight.

      In today's fixed-pitch props, the prop is a compromise between takeoff and cruise. The brothers didn't have enough engine power for compromises to be made in prop pitch.

      This does not mean that the plane was simply thrown into the air and never really flew. Are you saying that F-18's don't fly because they are propelled off of aircraft carriers?
  • IMAX (Score:5, Informative)

    by swordboy (472941) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:54AM (#7744023) Journal
    If you are near an IMAX, they are running their History of Flight [hfmgv.org] special. Breathtaking!
  • by Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:55AM (#7744034) Homepage
    The Wright Brothers. Period.
    Some others may have flown a few feet before, but the Wrights were the first to make *controlled, long endurance* flights.
    • And how is making "controlled, long endurance fligh" inventig the airplane? What is an airplane for you? The first one to make a heavier-than-air powered flight, taking off the ground (not being launched) is Santos Dumont [cunha.nom.br]
      • Wrong. The article you linked is full of inacuracies. To start, the 1903 flyer WAS NOT launched by catapult. Dumont didn't even claim to fly until 1906, and by then the Wright bros were well beyond the 1093 flyer.

      • Yes, "heavier-than-air powered flight, taking off the ground" is what makes an airplane for me. And by this criteria, the Wright brothers were 3 years before Santos Dumont. They did not use a catapult on their earlier models.
        If you want to claim Pearse was first, we could argue about whether level of control matters, or whether poorly documented hearsay should be beleived. If you want to argue Santos Dumont was first, you're just wrong.
    • Ahem>/A>... [angelfire.com]

      If this is not the inventor of the plane, I do not know what this is.
    • The Wright Brothers. Period.

      There's somethng about people that put "Period." after their opinions that just begs a refutation... and though you have tried to contrive a definition of "flight" to keep the trophy with the US; from the FA at least four flights made before the Wright Bros:

      Man's First Powered Flight
      Richard Pearse, Waitohi, New Zealand, March 31, 1902

      • March 31, 1902 - First powered flight. Estimated distance around 350 yards. Similar to the first Wright Brothers flight, ie, in a straight li
      • by nonmaskable (452595) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:29AM (#7744200)
        AvStop Magazine Online Research
        By Geoffrey Rodliffe
        http://avstop.com/History/AroundTheWorld/NewZ/rese arch.html

        Wild and inaccurate statements have been publicised from time to time concerning Richard Pearse's achievements in the field of aviation. However. no responsible researcher has ever claimed that he achieved fully controlled flight before the Wright brothers, or indeed at any time. To attain fully controlled flight a pilot would have to be able to get his plane into the air, fly it on a chosen course and land it at a predetermined destination.

        Obviously Pearse's short "hops" or "flights", whilst they established the fact that he could readily become airborne, did not come within this category, but neither, for that matter, did the first powered flights of the Wright brothers in December 1903. The Wiight brothers, however, had the resources necessary to continue their experimentation until they achieved fully controlled flight.
      • Do you believe everything you read on the Internet? Why on earth do you consider "the opinion of Bill Sherwood" to be canonical?
        • Why on earth do you consider "the opinion of Bill Sherwood" to be canonical?

          This is np;t the forst time I've heard of Pearse. And otherwise I can only say, RTFA. It's not just one person's word. There are scans of documents, plans of the engine, and links to books about it. Just because you've never heard of him doesn't mean it's a hoax.

          • I've heard of him. I've even read the article. I'm just not that impressed by net.cranks. I know its fun to "know" that evil americans stole the invention of the airplane from some poor (french/brazilian/new zealander or even a poor scandanvian chap in connecticut) but those claims generally aren't credible in the face of serious research. Others have already posted links to Pearse's own commentary that the Wrights were first, and to criticism of the veracity of the documents which "prove" Pearse was first.
        • by Dashing Leech (688077) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @10:52AM (#7744750)
          Why on earth do you consider "the opinion of Bill Sherwood" to be canonical?

          You've associated the opinion incorrectly. The actual flights of Richard Pierce are not Bill Sherwood's opinions, they are documented. The "opinion" part is which one of Pierce's flights he considered to be a true "first flight". The point is, Pierce accomplished as much as, if not more than, the Wright Brothers did at Kitty Hawk and did it before them. So either they did not have the "first powered flight", or we have to re-define "first powered flight" to be something beyond what happened at Kitty Hawk.

          For instance, some have suggested that the definition should be a controlled take-off, flight path, and landing completely under the airplane's power (including no catapult assisted take-off). That definition would probably put the Wright Brothers back as "first", but it certainly wasn't the 1903 Kitty Hawk flight, it would be sometime later.

    • by jguthrie (57467) <<moc.sysrekorb> <ta> <eirhtugj>> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:45AM (#7744295) Homepage
      The invention of the airplane is generally credited to Sir George Cayley because it was he who realized that you didn't need flapping wings to build a heavier than air flying machine. The whole "four force" concept (lift, weight, drag, thrust) was his idea. The Wrights basically built upon his concept.

      What the Wright Brothers did do is build the first successful, controllable airplane. The controllability is the key because they were the first folks to really work out how to make an airplane go where you want it to go. They also figured out that it was going to take some practice for the pilot to become proficient in flying it. They also built propellors whose efficiency wasn't bettered for decades and along the way they laid the foundation of the whole theory of propellors.

      In fact, like the telephone, the airplane is a perfect example of one of those things whose creation is inevitable once the supporting technology is available. There were many, many folks working on the solution to powered flight once small and lightweight engines were available to power the craft. The groundwork had been laid more than a century before with Cayley's conceptual leaps all it took was somebody to work out the details perhaps with a leap or two of their own.

      As a practical matter, history records that the aileron was invented by Glenn Curtiss in an attempt to get around the Wright patent on the airplane. History also records that it's not that difficult to get a newspaper reporter to write a story even if it's only printed in one paper. When people put forth the claim that the Wrights built a successful flying machine and the date on which it was done, they produce a photograph of their machine flying and a dated telegram with the details of the flights.

      On the Website talking Mr. Pearse's claim, there is nothing of the sort. The lack of evidence that the machine flew is explained with "he didn't realize the historic importance of the flights". What crap! Flight had been a human dream for thousands of years. Wouldn't fulfilling that dream seem to you to be of some historic importance? Shouldn't it have occured to one of the numerous witnesses to mention something to somebody or to write it in a diary or something? Everyone else working on heavier than air flight seemed to realize they were solving a momentous problem, why didn't anyone in Waitohi, New Zealand?

      • Madman Henson (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jesup (8690) *
        My great-great-great(?) grandfather, "Madman" Henson, was one of the aviation pioneers of the mid-1800's. He designed a heavier-than-air plane, and flew models of it back around 1850 (1853?). The models were on the order of 15-20' wingspan I think. The full plane "ARIEL - The Henson Aerial Steam Carriage" was to have a wingspan of 150'. He was fully aware of Cayley, and probably knew him.
        Image [flyingmachines.org]

        Eventually he gave up because steam engines just didn't have the power-to-weight ratio and moved on to other


      • > In fact, like the telephone, the airplane is a perfect example of one of those things whose creation is inevitable once the supporting technology is available.

        That's the main reason I'm cynical about patents. Technology seems to advance in a wavefront, and and there is an endless list of people who invented the same thing, independently, at the same time. And they always stand on the shoulders of giants.

  • by Manic Miner (81246) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:57AM (#7744042) Homepage
    I had never heard of the New Zealand flight until this story, seems like another case of the widely publisised achievement become the celebrated moment in history rather than the one that was actually first.

    I know that colossus was because the project was a national secrect until reciently, but this doesn't seem to be the case for the first flight, can anyone shed any light on why nobody has made a fuss over this before? And are we going to see the history book re-written? Or will people just not accept that it and keep believeing the widely known truth? (most likely imo)
    • by ahillen (45680) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:11AM (#7744113)
      I guess it is basically impossible to name the person who really made the first powered flight. One problem is the credibility of the reports, the other the definition of 'powered flight'. Is a short hop of a couple of meters enough? Or should it be 10s of meters? Or 100s of meters? All that really can be said IMHO is that a couple of brave and intelligent man broke this barier in he beginning of the 20th century with varying degrees of success.

      Further claims of '1. powered flight' include for example Gustave Whitehead [flyingmachines.org] (or Weisskopf [weisskopf.de]) and Karl Jatho [flyingmachines.org].
      • /bow Good reply sir :)
      • by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:36AM (#7744249) Homepage
        Everybody knows that powered flight would never be measured in meters. Al Gore didn't invent the metric system till 1972.

      • Except that the Wright Brothers provided the world with photographic proof of flight and a date. If one is going to debate the meaning of "powered flight", I say "let them, b/c thats all they can cling to".

        In reality, the WB's demonstration of flight provided the foundation for the aviation principals.
        • by 2sheds (78194)
          Erm, as the WB themselves indicated it was Sir George Cayley (born 1773 in Yorkshire, England) who provided the, as you put it, 'foundation [of] aviation principles'.

          He is widely considered to be the inventor of the aeroplane (uk spelling :), and he was certainly the inventor of the science of flight.

          He was the first person to understand and write down the mathematical model describing the relationship between thrust, lift, drag and weight, for instance.

          He also wrote about the ratio of lift to wing area,
    • by ChuckDivine (221595) * <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:16AM (#7744137) Homepage

      The widely believed truth happens to be true.

      For instance, the Wright brothers' flight was not the first heavier than air craft to fly. That record belongs to a small experimental glider near the beginning of the 19th -- not 20th -- century. The first manned heavier than air vehicle? What today we would call a hang glider was flown in 1870.

      The Wright brothers' claim to fame is as the first repeatable, controlled, powered heavier than air flight. All that is important. Earlier efforts contributed to their accomplishment, but were essentially only experiments in learning the basics of flying.

      The Wright brothers also eventually publicized their work. Pearse seems, according to the reports, a bit of an eccentric who didn't call much attention to his work. That's important too. A discovery you don't tell the world about is only half done. Others must know about your work and be able to replicate it.

      We now know that Viking journeys to North America preceded Columbus' voyage by some centuries. But, again, they didn't follow up their voyages or make them known to the world at large. We also suspect some fishermen made it to North America years before Columbus. But, again, they didn't tell the world.

      Repeatability and disclosure are vitally important parts of discovery. One wonders what poeple 5000 years from now will say about our time. They might remember the Chinese (or New Zealanders perhaps) as the real fathers of space travel -- and make a brief footnote for the academics about a certain event in 1969.

      • Most consider the flight by Sir George Cayley's footman (after which he resigned his job) in 1850 to be the first heavier than air flight, although the power was derived by it being towed, so it didn't count as a self-powered flight (to make an additional distinction between powered and unpowered).
      • It wasn't stoned hippies or drunken playboys who concocted the space shuttle.

        Yeah, but if stoned hippies and drunken playboys had built a space shuttle ... whoa, dude! Helluva ride, man!

        -kgj
      • Brother Elmer (Score:3, Informative)

        by EnglishTim (9662)
        There are tales of an 11th-century monk building a primitive hang glider and flying it off the local Abbey tower in Malmesbury. Apparently he got quite far in it until hit by some form of catastrophe which caused him to plummet to the ground, breaking both legs. After recovering from this he decided that he probably needed to modify his design to add a tail, but the Abbot forbade him from ever trying to fly again. Shame - imagine if he had perfected his glider, almost 1000 years ago...
      • by PsiPsiStar (95676) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @01:16PM (#7746168)
        Many scholars likewise believe that descendants of the present day Native Americans also discovered the continent of America, however they are not generally given credit for this discovery since they failed to report it to the academic community at large. If we'd known that travelers crossed the Bering Strait on December 21st, maybe we'd get a day off school for "Bering Strait day."
    • can anyone shed any light on why nobody has made a fuss over this before?

      Because the Wright Bros spent a lot of effort to publicise their flights, the kiwi just did it for its own sake in a hobbyist fashion.

  • by iapetus (24050) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @08:59AM (#7744050) Homepage
    "Pre-eminence will undoubtedly be given to the Wright brothers of America when the history of the aeroplane is written, as they were the first to actually make successful flights with a motor-driven aeroplane."

    Seems like a glowing endorsement of the Wright brothers over Richard Pearse. Who wrote it? Richard Pearse, in a 1915 newspaper.

    From the rather interesting BBC Magazine article [bbc.co.uk] on the history of flight:

    "Aeronautical historian Philip Jarrett calls the claims 'grossly misleading'. 'This is local hero stuff. They choose to ignore their hero's own simple factual statements,' says Mr Jarrett."
    • by Manic Miner (81246) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:06AM (#7744084) Homepage
      I guess this is something that we will not every know the "truth" of. It's interesting that despite the quote attributed to Pearse the website linked from the article (assuming it is accurate) paints a very different picture:

      Mch 31, 1902 - First powered flight. Estimated distance around 350 yards. Similar to the first Wright Brothers flight, ie, in a straight line, and barely controlled.

      Mch ? 1903 - After spending a year working on the engine, and tending to his farm, Pearce made another flight, this time with a distance of only about 150 yards.

      May 2, 1903 - Distance unknown, but as usual the aircraft ended up stuck in a gorse hedge 15' off the ground!

      May 11, 1903 - This, my opinion, [ie. the opinion of Bill Sherwood] was man's first real flight. Pearse took off along the side of the Opihi River, turned left to fly over the 30' tall river bank, then turned right to fly parallel to the middle of the river. After flying nearly 1,000 yards, his engine began to overheat and lost power, thus forcing a landing way down the dry-ish riverbed. One of the locals, Arthur Tozer, was crossing the river at the time and was rather surprised to have Pearse fly right over his head!

      Could it be simply that Pearse didn't feel his achievment counted as real flight at the time despite, from the article anyway, it seems that his orginial flight was similar to the Wright brothers flight, and made earlier.
      • Could it be simply that Pearse didn't feel his achievment counted as real flight at the time

        I imagine this might be because from the descriptions on the web site referenced, not a single flight ended in the craft being flight worthy. "Stuck in a gorse hedge" and "engine overheated and lost power" don't sound as if the plane could be taken back up into the air.

        Now I might be incorrect (and this being Slashdot, I'm sure someone will correct me if am), but I don't believe the Wright Flier ended the "Histor
      • I guess this is something that we will not every know the "truth" of.

        Only because you don't want to. If the man himself says his invention isn't important, who are you to argue?
    • The thing is that, like many innovations, much of the work for powered heavier than air flight had been done. What was needed was, most importantly, someone to be systematic in their application of the knowledge, as well as a practical engine to be developed. The wright brothers did both. My understanding is that they were very focused and very methodical in their research. They took it step by step. They learned how to fly. They did experiments and carefully corrected for their failures. The achieve
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:01AM (#7744055)
    Take a time out to remember the accomplishments of two bicycle shop owners who changed the world immeasurably, 100 years ago today.

    That's right, where would we be today without rubber tyres and saddles ...
    • I know it's just a joke, but very unfair to the Wright Brothers and shows a significant misunderstanding of what the "bicycle" was then. It was relatively new and a relatively advanced piece of technology. It was like being a personal computer hobbyist in, say 1975. The mechanical features of bicycles were nontrivial and a bicycle shop owner had to do a lot of significant hands-on mechanical work.

      Furthermore, it was their experience with the bicycle that gave the Wright brothers insight into some of the i
  • NZ flight (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:01AM (#7744057) Homepage Journal
    My understanding of the New Zeeland flight was that getting corroboration was difficult at best. The NZ inventor / pilot didn't get the word out, there weren't a whole lot of witnesses, and the plane doesn't exist anymore. If anything, the Wright brothers were much better publicists.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:02AM (#7744061)
    What has always impressed me about the Wright brothers is that they were true engineers. Rather than tinker with bird-like models and pursue a try-it-and-crash-it development approach, they really decomposed the problem and systematically solved the major issues like power, lift, and control. They did not just build the first airplane, they designed it.
  • Fortean Times (Score:5, Informative)

    by Talthane (699885) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:04AM (#7744068)
    For those in the UK or with a Fortean Times subscription, there was a lengthy article on the alternative claims to the Wright Brothers in last month's issue, including some more on Richard Pearce and several other claimants. It's an extremely thorough article, including photographs and sketches, and well worth a read if you're interested in the topic.

    Fortean Times is here [forteantimes.com] if you've never heard of it before...
  • also... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gyratedotorg (545872) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:11AM (#7744115) Homepage
    the first powered flight also occured in bridgeport ct in august of 1901 [ythcal.de].

    any other first powered flights?
  • by mirio (225059) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:12AM (#7744116)
    The Wrights created the *modern* airplane. The definition of controlled flight is take-off, inflight control, and landing. Just because someone else's design could leave the ground doesn't mean they were in *controlled* flight. Look at the Wright plane and then look at modern canard-style aircraft (e.g. Velocity Aircraft [velocityaircraft.com]. The premise of design is virtually unchanged.

    The Wrights were engineers. Many people have the mistaken impression that they were just bumbling bicycle repairmen that got lucky or that they stumbled upon the right combination to be able to fly. This was simply not the case. The Wrights built the first wind tunnel that they used to test miniature airfoils (and consequently propellers).

    The accomplishments of the Wrights cannot be dismissed as they flew an only slightly modifed flyer nonstop over 20 miles in 1906, the time that the Brazillians claim Alberto Santos Dumont achieved the 'real' first flight.
  • The first heavier-than-air flight took place in Russia in 1880s. I am too lazy to look it up but I am sure others will.
    So this thread is provided for your' all convinience ;-)
  • The New Zealand aviator is not alone in the claims made for him.
    If you ask a Brazilian, they'll probably tell you that Alberto Santos-Dumont [cunha.nom.br] was the first to fly.

    I think I'll stick with the Wright brothers for now though.

  • War (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aardpig (622459) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:16AM (#7744138)

    There was a very interesting article [guardian.co.uk] in The Guardian [guardian.co.uk] yesterday, looking at the darker side of the history of the airplane. A particularly striking quote:

    When Wilbur Wright was asked, in 1905, what the purpose of his machine might be, he answered simply: "War." As soon as they were confident that the technology worked, the brothers approached the war offices of several nations, hoping to sell their patent to the highest bidder.

    • Re:War (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MooCows (718367)
      Well, he was right wasn't he?

      Although patent litigations seem kind of hard to do in a war :P
    • by darnok (650458)
      > As soon as they were confident that the technology
      > worked, the brothers approached the war offices of
      > several nations, hoping to sell their patent to
      > the highest bidder.

      Any follow ups available? Did any country actually express an interest? Given the Boer War was current news, I imagine a whole new type of war machine might have been considered rather interesting...

      God forbid SCO is involved. "Hello, Mr Boeing? My name's Darl McBride and I've got some bad news for you"
    • Re:War (Score:5, Informative)

      by virtual_mps (62997) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:27AM (#7744185)
      That was hardly a novel insight by the Wrights--balloons had been used for military operations for more than 50 years at that point. They were primarily used for observation and artillery spotting, but had also been used for bombing. This was seen as important enough a development that the Hague Peace Conference of 1899 banned the dropping of explosives from balloons. The Japanese were bombing from baloons during the Manchurian war of 1904-5--the same time as the Wright quote in the parent--so Wilbur's comments were hardly being made in a vacuum.
      • Re:War (Score:3, Informative)

        by Savage-Rabbit (308260)
        Actually that would be over 100 years. The first recorded instance of a balloon being used in war was during the Napoleonic wars when French scientist Charles Coutelle used a ballon to spy on Austrian and Dutch troops during fighting near Mauberge in 1794. The Austrians senior officers at first protested that this was 'unfair' and 'against the rules of war'. In the mean time the commander of an Austrian howitzer battery took a more practical approach and decided that it had been incumbent on him to achieve
    • Re:War (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mulhall (301406)
      Brazil holds it's own inventor as the first for flight, and he actually committed suicide in 1932 because of the use of aeroplanes in war:

      http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Dictiona ry /Santos-Dumont/DI41.htm
  • Google logo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jesser (77961) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:17AM (#7744142) Homepage Journal
    Don't miss today's Google [google.com] logo.
  • Oh, the irony (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mirio (225059) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:24AM (#7744167)
    The irony of today's events in North Carolina is that Bush's attending of the events is shutting down all of the airports in the area because of a presidential movement TFR (temporary flight restriction)!

    Presidential TFR [aopa.org]

    The event coordinators have obtained special clearance for the Wright flyer to fly, along with the other planes for the airshows, etc.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Hey, better stop them quick! That Flyer reproduction could, in fact, be a terrorist plane bent on destruction.

      Thanks again W. Not that the WX would permit it today but lots of folks who were thinking of flying in to celebrate now face a 70-80 mile drive.
  • Santos-Dumont (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dpbsmith (263124) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:29AM (#7744201) Homepage
    So, Richard Pearce may have flown a heavier-than-air craft a year earlier than the Wrights, but it was little publicized and did not have much of a follow-on.

    Now, the other side of the coin.

    I'm very surprised by the posters that say the Wright's flight was better publicized, because in fact the Wrights played their cards so close to the chest that, at the time, relatively few people heard of their flight.

    Santos-Dumont's flight in October 23rd, 1906 in the "14-bis" took place very much in public, with the press and representatives of the French Aero Club in attendance, and was very widely attended. It was far more publicized than the Wright's flight and most people at the time thought it was the first heavier-than-air flight. To this day, there are still those (particularly, for some reason, French and Brazilians) who believe his flight is the one that should "count."

    Really, what the Wright Brothers truly deserve credit for was the brilliant engineering, their aerodynamic studies, their wind tunnel work, their conceptualization of the problem as one of controllability rather than stability, and their conscious understanding of the importance of what would now be called a good "user interface." Their flight wasn't a stunt. Most important, unlike Santos-Dumont's flight, it did not depend on having a pilot of extraordinary skill.

    Now, about Friese-Greene's invention of motion pictures...
    • I'm very surprised by the posters that say the Wright's flight was better publicized, because in fact the Wrights played their cards so close to the chest that, at the time, relatively few people heard of their flight.

      In support of the parent poster, I might point out that the first published account of the flight appeared in that bastion of mass media, Gleanings in Bee Culture in their January 1905 issue.

    • Clement Ader, 1890. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Balinares (316703) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @10:21AM (#7744520)
      Actually, in France (been living there for a while, talked to more of them than you could throw a frog at), if you ask anyone who the 'father' of the plane would be, most of them don't know much at all of Santos-Dumont. However, that Clement Ader invented the plane [arts-et-metiers.net] is questioned by none (and it is hard to question when the plane in question is still in the CNAM museum for all to see...). This thing actually flew in 1890, a whole decade and a half before other widely recorded successes such as Santos-Dumont's, and first proved the possibility for heavier-than-air flight.

      Which, of course, doesn't diminish in any way the extraordinary feat that the Wright brothers pulled, please don't take me wrong: no matter whose shoulders they were or weren't standing on, they're the ones who saw farther, and there is no questioning it their place in history for it. They didn't give up where others did.

      It's just that Santos-Dumont was never a contender for the title of first man to fly, and not even the French claim so (although I can see people pretending that they do, for the sole sake of pointing out that the Wright brothers came before Santos-Dumont, and thus "Go us we invented the plane!", I suppose... but thankfully the average enlightened geek here on /. seems more interested in the engineering history than national dick contests, which is good).

      If you're ever in Paris you may want to go see this thing in the CNAM museum. It's hanging from the ceiling over a large stairway. Extremely impressive sight.
  • Progress? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrazyTalk (662055) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#7744219)
    Seems a bittersweet celebration to me. Most of the major progress in aviation seems to have ended around the 1970s. After all, the most advanced space vehicle available, the space shuttle, was designed in the 1970s. The only supersonic passenger jet, the Concorde, was designed in the 1960s and is no longer flying. The largest commercial jet, the 747 (not sure about Airbuses) is old enough to have been in the movie "Airport 77". Although they have some newer planes, I believe the US military is still flying F-14s and F-15s, like back in the 70s. Where has the major progress, other than incremental improvements, been in the last 35 years? Is it just a matter of lack of funding, the economy, or a change of national and global priorities?
    • The accountants are in charge these days. Modern jets have better engines which use less fuel and are quieter. The new Airbus is larger than previous jets - not as exciting as Concorde, maybe, but a lot cheaper to run per passenger.

      Jet fighters are becoming limited by the ability of the pilot to cope; it's quite possible to build a plane that would pull 20G in a turn and cause the pilot to lose consciousness. Pilots are also expensive to train and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the fol

    • Re:Progress? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by HeghmoH (13204) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:55AM (#7744361) Homepage Journal
      The illusion of a slowing of progress is caused by relative compression of time. Basically, the twenty years before you were born seem like much less time than the twenty years after you were born. Everything seems to have happened faster in the past, because you can cover the entire period in a couple of hours reading a book, whereas you're forced to wait while current events unfold.

      Building something larger than before is not a very big challenge, so the 747 is not very interesting from a 'progress' point of view. More interesting is a more modern craft, like the 777, which is fly-by-wire, two-engined, and yet reliable enough to make long overwater flights.

      Passenger craft in general are less interesting, because there are certain economic and political realities that are hard to get around. No matter how fast a given airplane can take you from airport A to airport B, your total travel time will still be at least three or four hours due to checkin time, security, seating, baggage, etc. The same thing goes for size; once you hit a certain size, it's better to just run planes more often than to get bigger ones, both because of cost and because of better scheduling flexibility.

      The more interesting stuff is happening in the general-aviation sector and the military sector. Take military first: yes, they're still using F-14s and F-15s, as well as really old stuff like B-52s. But those (well, not B-52s...) are getting near their end of life. Thirty years is perfectly reasonable. At the same time, new models like the F-22 and the JSF are coming on line, both of which have very interesting features.

      As far as general aviation goes, just look at yesterday's slashdot headlines: the X-Prize. There are a dozen groups in the world which are actually somewhat serious about putting people into space within the next year. I don't know how many of them are realistic, but the groups themselves are serious about it, which means that they must have at least some ability. That is really amazing! And sure, in a technical sense, it's nothing new; we've had the ability to put people in space for forty years. But the ability to do it without the amount of support and infrastructure that a national space program provides is incredible.

      I don't dispute that things have slowed down a bit. Things moved really, really fast from about 1940 to 1960. But I do believe that our perceptions greatly exaggerate the slowdown. There are plenty of interesting things going on today.
    • Re:Progress? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)
      we seem to forget many things...

      in the 80's we added VTOL or Vertical Takeoff and LAnding... does the Harrier Jet ring a bell?

      How about the F-111 stealth Fighter that rewrote flight dynamics how about the YF-22 fighter Designed in the 90's, the Mig-19 being designed in the 80's?

      How about the design of the replacement space shuttle that WAS FLYING during tests but not chosen because of corruption at NASA. (Lifting body with VTOL capabilities.)

      Hell a simple search on google can produce hundreds of webpag
    • Re:Progress? (Score:5, Informative)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @11:03AM (#7744849)
      Since the 30's, the advances in flight have been pretty much of the non-visible sort. Except for the actual engine (invention of the jet), an F-15 is conceptually not much different than a P-51. Wings, body, pilot, engine(s). Or DC-3 and 747.

      The real advances have been things you don't see. Better control surfaces, more efficient, faster engines.
      Fly by wire, computer controlled landings, far better navigation systems.

      In the military world, we have aircraft that can accept a reprogramming of the target while in flight. There are weapons that can, even after being dropped, target a different area all the way to the impact point.

      And then there are the things you really don't see. Small, unmanned aircraft (UCAV's), all but invisible to radar aircraft (B-2, F-117, F-22), realtime data links.
      The B-2 is almost identical in size to the Northrup Flying Wing of 1949. But a significant improvement in function.

      In short, there ave been amssive improvements, you just can't readily see them, because the basic airplane shape is non-mutable.
  • The Wrights (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:32AM (#7744222) Homepage
    My earlier post seemed to bring the anti-Wrights out of the woodwork. To address some of their points.

    1. It does not matter if someone else drew an airplane (Leonardo) or allegedly flew a few feet (Whitehead, et al). You have invented something WHEN THE THING ACTUALLY WORKS, not when you file a patent.

    2. Every country seems to have its own local flying machine inventor. Good for you, .nz and .br! Why didn't your guys start an aircraft industry there? Perhaps they did not invent a USEFUL flying machine.

    3. Taking off under its own power is not part of the definition of an airplane, so the fact the later Flyers used a catapult is not germane. F-14s don't take off with ony their own power from a carrier deck, do they?

    4. The Wrights were reliably making long distance, cross country flights LONG before anyone else.

    5. The Wrights invented the science of aerodynamics. That is, they did replicable experiments before anyone else figured out how.

    Compared to all this, that Brazilian guy with his motorized balloon who buzzed around Paris is merely an endearing eccentric.
  • First flight? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xA40D (180522) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:35AM (#7744237) Homepage
    Who invented the TV? Ask someone in America, Britain, and Germany, and you'll get three different answers.

    Who invented powered flight? Well, the Wright brothers were probably the first to achieve sucess in this area, but they didn't invent it. There were people all over the world attemting to master powered flight. Ideas circulated, individuals pulled these ideas together in an effort to get their machines to fly. People failed. People died trying. Perhaps people even suceeded. But 100 years ago the Wright brothers did suceed and told the world.

    The way I see it, inventions are of their time. No one person can claim all the glory for anything. Sure, let's celebrate the Wright Brothers, but let's also celebrate the human spirit which drives such people whether they suceed or not. If we do that then it really does not matter one bit if the Wright Brothers really were first, or merely one of the first.
  • Patent and Wright (Score:5, Informative)

    by lovebyte (81275) * <lovebyte2000@gma ... l.com minus poet> on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:35AM (#7744239) Homepage
    There is an excellent article [nytimes.com] in the NYtimes about this anniversary that talks about who was first in what. The last paragraph is enlightening regarding the danger of patents:

    In the end, the advance they made in flight technology was quickly squandered. European aviators lost little time in following the Wrights into the air. The brothers did receive a patent on their stabilization system in 1906, and they spent years trying to enforce it on both sides of the Atlantic. They were particularly zealous in going after American infringers - and the divisive, protracted court battles may have slowed down the commercialization of the plane on this side of the Atlantic. As one government official in 1917 put it, the brothers' lawsuits caused the country to fall "from first place to last of all the great nations in the air" - not exactly the stuff of legends.
  • by Zog The Undeniable (632031) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:38AM (#7744258)
    If you look carefully at the Kittyhawk photographs you can see the shadow of two different light sources AND they forgot to put stars in the sky! Obviously the whole thing was shot on a Hollywood sound stage and Man has never flown!
  • Take a time out to remember the accomplishments of two bicycle shop owners who changed the world immeasurably, 100 years ago today.

    I wonder what's wrong with these bicycle guys [xprize.com] (Scroll to the Armadillo Team description, last paragraph of it).
  • by enbody (472304)
    From the article: "The aircraft was the first to use proper ailerons, instead of the inferior wing warping system that the Wright's used." That statement should be cleaned up a bit. While it certainly applies to the first 100 years of flight, current research indicates that wing warping will provide significant improvements in the near future as demonstrated by current prototypes [newscientist.com].

    On the other hand, one slashdot comment was that the Wright's had controled flight, but if this fellow had working ailerons,

  • This is Ironic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AB3A (192265) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @09:58AM (#7744380) Homepage Journal
    Apparently, because President Bush is expected to be at the ceremonies at Kill Devil Hill, All aviation activities in the vicinity are going to ceace. A special exception had to be made for the Wright Flyer Replica so that it would be allowed to leave the ground. Gosh, those new-fangled flying machines might hurt someone!

    This [aopa.org] article gives details and links to the actual NOTAM text published by the FAA. The practical upshot of all this is that we private aviators of this country are not welcome to the event.

    I wonder what Orville and Wilbur Wright would have thought of this.

  • by DesScorp (410532)
    I shoudn't be surprised by now...Here I am prepared to celebrate the achievements of the Wright Brothers, when along comes Slashdot saying "Hang On! The were not the first! Here's some conspiracy theories saying, YET AGAIN, that America lied and stole the accomplishement from someone else!".

    Thanks, yet again, Slashdot and its wonderful readers.
  • Does anyone know why the first flight happened in 1903 but planes really didn't take off til much later?? Becuase the Wright brothers had a patent [af.mil] on key parts of flight. Apparently everyone else just waited til it expired then duplicated...

  • by reallocate (142797) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @11:31AM (#7745137)
    In addition to all the bogus assertions about others being the first to fly (premised on an incorrect definition of "flying"), the Wrights are still inaccurately portrayed as two amateur tinkerers from the Midwest who got lucky.

    That's wrong. They were educated and skilled engineers living in a city that was a focal point of technology in 1903. They attacked their problem logically nd methodically, and were well-versed in the technical literature of the day.

    The Wrights did not tinker their way to flight. The insights that allowed them to design and build an aircraft that could be controlled in all 3 axis wasn't an accident or a stroke of luck. Nor was their design and construction of a propellor appropriate for flight. (This was, in fact, revolutionary, and is usually overlooked. Efforts prior to the Wrights' had assumed that an aircraft propellor would be a copy of the kind of propellor used to propel a ship. That's incorrect -- it doesn't work -- and the Wrights were the first to understand that and to design, test, and use a true aeronautical propellor.)

    After Kitty Hawk, and until Wilbur's premature death at the age of 45 in 1915, the Wrights continued their research, their flying, and their engineering efforts. Not only can we trace the airplane's lineage to the brothers, we can also credit them for founding the aeronuatical industry.
  • by El Camino SS (264212) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @12:20PM (#7745642)
    I hear a lot of speculation that the Wrights were not the first powered flight. Well then, where is the proof? Really. Where is it? The Wrights have PLENTY OF PROOF. All of these talks and speculation were created to debunk the fact that two guys in a bicycle shop did something that the US Gov't and 50 thousand US dollars (50k! in 1903!), as well as other governments were trying to do top secret couldn't do. Then all of these crackpots say that there was a goof, that they flew the skies. RIIIGHT.

    It all comes down to proof. The proof is there. The Wrights had machines that they made themselves that created tables to show wing lift and speed. They attempted it with German tables, but they were wholly inaccurate. So as good little scientists, they did it themselves. The propellar design (another wing, designed with heavy math) was created by the Wrights, as well as the control scheme. All of these tools they used still work today. They still exsist today. These guys took notes, the rest of the world didn't think that was as necessary as making something that looked like a bird.

    A lot of people talk about proof. Well, let me say this. The Wrights were some of the best amateur scientists ever. Period. They took a little bicycle shop and some tools and then THEY DID THE MATH while the rest of the world was still thinking, "how should this thing be shaped?"

    The proof is still there people. Where are all of these other crackpot fliers? Are they around? Do they work? Did anyone ever do anything but print about them.

    My grandfather told me about his father who went to see the Wrights as a boy when they toured (yes, toured) the country. They offered anyone $100 to fly with them. No one came forward. They thought they were nuts. What they saw defied reason at the time.

    Someone said this:
    One wonders what poeple 5000 years from now will say about our time. They might remember the Chinese (or New Zealanders perhaps) as the real fathers of space travel -- and make a brief footnote for the academics about a certain event in 1969.

    Well, there is always going to be a flag up there, and the bottom half of a lunar lander. The last time I checked, that is all the proof you need. I bet it has US Gov't stamped all over it. Probably a couple of dates written on it too.

    Guys, this is all about proof and speculation.

    We live in a world of FACTS. Slashdotters should be the more understanding bunch about this subject. The facts, and diligence towards those facts, is what seperates your civilization from space travel and worshipping 'dark wolf the moon God' every time there is an eclipse.
  • by HyperbolicParabaloid (220184) on Wednesday December 17, 2003 @02:26PM (#7746815) Journal
    The New York Times (frryyy: free registration requried yada yada yada) has, in there On This Day in History feature, the original article [nytimes.com] that was run to report the event back in 1903. My favorite part is how inaccurately they describe the plane:
    Their machine is an adaptation of the box kite idea, with
    a propeller working on a perpendicular shaft to raise or lower the craft, and another working on a horizontal shaft to send it forward. The machine, it is said, can be raised or lowered with perfect control, and can carry a strong gasoline engine capable of making a speed of ten miles an hour.

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

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