March 14th, 2022
The book begins as most biographies do. The author gives a short description the main characters and discusses their upbringing a little. Wilbur Wright is the older brother, a more energetic, but quiet man. Orville is the youngest brother, a shy man but good with mechanics. As the younger brother, he let’s Wilbur lead the way a lot, though they are both very close and similar, practically twins. They live in the same house in Dayton with their father, Milton, a preacher, and younger sister Katherine, a teacher. Their mother died when they were young adults and there are two older brothers off with their own families, trying to make ends meet. Their mother was very handy, which is where they likely got it from. She also encouraged their constant tinkering as young boys. Their father was always travelling for his church and encouraged his kids to read and educate themselves. He had a diverse and well-stocked library, not just religious works one might expect of a preacher. In his late teens, Wilbur was expected to head off to a prestigious school like Yale, but met with a kind of accident. During a hockey game, he was hit with a stick and knocked his front teeth out. Possibly this was intentional, as the perpetrator was known to be psychotic and ended up executed for murdering his family. For the next three years, Wilbur was stuck in a depression and all talk of Yale was over.
March 15th, 2022
Orville had started his own printing business in the garage while still in high school. Wilbur joined him in the effort and they started publishing a newsletter for the area. They made money and moved to a proper building. Later, the bicycle became the greatest invention and the hype was huge. Orville was very into bicycles and he and Wilbur opened a repair shop. It was successful, but other shops opened and competition was fierce. Wilbur realized he was not interested really in business and was meant for more scholarly pursuits. Business picked up again, and the brothers started selling their own designs. They were making quite a bit of money and moved to bigger and bigger locations. In 1896, Orville got typhoid fever and nearly died. Wilbur and Katherine took care of him, and Wilbur read to him. At this time, the famous glider Lilienthal crashed and died. This had some inspiration for Wilbur, who became devoted to reading about flight. He wrote to the Smithsonian to acquire information and reading materials, and took this up as a serious pursuit.
March 16th, 2022
The brothers began taking their flight work seriously, and Wilbur began looking for ideal locations for a test flight to test their novel, bird-inspired elevator ideas. They wanted regular 15mph winds and soft sand for landing. After contacting the Weather Bureau, they learned of a nothing town in the remote Outer Banks of North Carolina. Kitty Hawk was a small, poor fishing town, and Wilbur was in contact with a retired postmaster there. After some correspondence, the location was set. After a train ride to NC, no one nearby had heard of the town except a fisherman with a rickety boat. After nearly dying and two days without food, Wilbur arrived. Orville arrived a few weeks later, after everything was settled. They lived in a tent and cooked their own meals, fish if they could catch it and local eggs. Viewed as crazy people with weird ideas, some of the locals watched for entertainment and some helped out a bit. Despite an unmanned crash that destroyed the plane, they rebuilt and kept trying. Wilbur manned some of the flights, even taking off from a 100ft hill.
March 17th, 2022
The brothers went back home to work with their new data and keep the shop going. They hired their first employee, a trusted mechanic, to manage things so they could focus more on the flight project. Wilbur corresponded with Octave Chanute, a famed civil engineer and flight enthusiast, and they formed a strong professional relationship. Chanute visited the Wright house when in Dayton, and recommended some men to work with when the went back to Kitty Hawk. The Wrights redesigned the curvature of their wings based on calculations from Chanute and Lilienthal. In Kitty Hawk, they found their new design was worse than their original. The living was harder too, with mosquitoes running rampant in the region. They built a large shed to live in and house their work, and two men associated with Chanute joined them. One worked at the Smithsonian and the Wrights disliked him. The other was had a medical degree, but was just interested in the flight. The Wrights got along with him. The brothers decided the numbers from Lilienthal and Chanute were no good and went back to their old design. To the outside observer, things looked good. The brothers were disappointed, though, and felt like things had gone backward. Back in Dayton, they started wing design from scratch. They build a miniature wind tunnel (1.5’x1.5’ and 6’ long) and tested wing designs made of old scrap band saw metal. Things were delayed by want of money, and the Wrights had to focus on business for a time. They refused Chanute’s offer of money or to find any donors. Chanute asked Wilbur to give a speech to the Western Society of Engineers and Wilbur was very reluctant. He felt he could not give a good speech. However, his speech about their work went over well and was reprinted in multiple journals.
March 18th, 2022
The third trip to Kitty Hawk was much more successful than the previous. With their newly designed wings, they had thousands of successful glides. They continued to build up their shed as a second home. One night, a sleepless Orville came up with a new idea for control. The rudder or elevator should be hinged and controlled by the operator. Wilbur added on that it could be controlled by motion of the hips, keeping the hands free. The Wrights felt they had solved the problem of controlled flight. Next for them was powered flight. They have no data on propellors and could not find a light enough engine for their plane. They had Charlie Taylor, their bike shop employee, come up with the engine design while they figured out the propellor. The Wrights decided that the only way to get the propellors right was mostly trial and error. Charlie built an engine with a light aluminum block, no carburetor, and used the arcing of a closing switch as the spark. The first engine block cracked, and a few months later they received a second one. The engine made 12HP. In December 1903, they shipped everything down to Kitty Hawk for their fourth set of experiments. Seems like a bad time of year, but I guess they can’t sit around and wait for sun.
March 22nd, 2022
Yesterday the Wrights made their historic flight in Kitty Hawk with the Flyer I. This is the story everyone knows and has the famous picture. Since it was December and winds are crazy, after the flight the plane was picked up by the wind and smashed several times, bruising an audience member in the processes. The Wrights went home and packed up the damaged ship. In 1905, they would not return to Kitty Hawk. Their flights in the Flyer II would take place in a field outside Dayton. It started off poorly, but they built a launching “catapult” device and were able to get consistent flight results. They even were able to fly in a semicircle and full circle, more firsts in flight. Most people and journalists paid no attention. A man interested in mechanics and flight, Amos Root, wrote an in-depth article for his bee keeping journal, with the family’s permission. The British government showed interested, but the Wrights preferred to sell it to the American government. After two dismissals from the government, they went ahead and offered to sell a Flyer III to the British. This stalled, and the French became interested. They had their first serious buyer.
March 23rd, 2022
The meetings with the French in Dayton went well, but they did not lead to a sale. The Wrights were not able (or willing?) to give a demonstration flight. They were not doing much flying as they were developing their new engine. In 1906, 3 years after applying, the Wright Brothers were given their patent. Which part of the plane is patented, I do not know. The whole thing? A firm in New York that sells arms to European countries was interested in selling the Wright Flyer III. Orville insisted on meeting with them. They came to some agreement, but their representative in Europe was not on board. He wanted the Wrights to come to Europe and advertise their new plane. Ultimately, Wilbur was to go to Paris and conduct negotiations with interested French individuals and the government (with the company representative translating). He did well, but it stagnated when the buyers wanted to see a flight. It took much longer than expected for Orville to get a plane ready at home, but eventually he was able to ship one and himself off to Paris.
March 24th, 2022
More talks in France and Germany went nowhere for months, but by the end of the summer the French were still interested if they could see a flight. The boys went home and finally got an offer from the US government. The Wrights hadn’t flown in over 2 years (it’s 1908 now), so they made another summer trip to Kitty Hawk with a new flyer. Camp was destroyed from neglect and now the press was watching their movements. They had some successful flights with their new machine, which now could seat two and upright instead of on the stomach. The brothers would not fly together. In case of an accident, they wanted one to live and carry on the work. That fear was almost justified as Wilbur, making a mistake with the new controls, took a nose-dive and crashed into the ground. He had to be pulled from the wreck, but suffered no serious injuries. The plane was done for, however. After this round of experiments, the brothers planned to divide and conquer. Orville would demonstrate the Flyer III in D.C., and Wilbur in France. Hart Berg and Wilbur found an automobile manufacturer Leon Bollee who wanted to help them. He offered his factory in Le Mans as a base and found a field for Wilbur to fly on. Wilbur opened the crates with his plane in them and found it destroyed. After blaming Orville, he learned it was the fault of the French Customs house who examined it. He had to repair everything, essentially single handedly. A test of the engine ended with the radiator hose coming loose and spraying Wilbur with scalding water. He was tended to, though with some bad burns. The fixed plane and an injured Wilbur lived in a shed near the field. No one knew when he would fly his plane.
March 25th, 2022
On 8/8/1908, a Saturday, Wilbur at last flew his plane before a crowd. The French aviation clique was very skeptical of this American who had never flown in front of people before. Wilbur meticulously got his plane ready, even dismounting to check on a noise from the engines. When he was ready, he took off and flew for two minutes. The crowd was amazed, their world changed forever. The strongest critics were now avid supporters. More and more people flocked to Le Mans over the next month to watch him fly. One thing he did which cause the most amazement was a figure 8. He did have one small crash, which grounded him until the wing was repaired, but this only increased the admiration for him. The army offered him a better field to use, and more people came there. It was a tremendous success. Now it was Orville’s turn. He was in Fort Myer, an army base in Virginia 5 miles from D.C. He also cautiously prepared, but had a rough landing the first show. He flew again the next day and many days after, flying for over an hour at a time. Orville had as much success, if not more, than his brother.
March 29th, 2022
Orville made more and more flights and kept breaking records until disaster struck. Orville was to take a Lt Selfridge in the air. During the flight, one of the propellers broke off. Orville tried as he could to land the plane safely, but the damage was too much and at 75ft the plane flew nose first into the ground. Orville broke several legs, his thigh and leg, but was conscious. Lt Selfridge was unconscious and bleeding heavily. He would not wake up. Orville spend September and October in a military hospital. Katherine took a leave of absence to watch over him. Eventually, they were able to take him home to Dayton, though he was in a severe condition. It was learned that the propellor had cracked and led to a destructive vibration, and it took a wing connecting wire with it. Wilbur took the news very hard and was upset he could not have been there to help examine the plane. It is too much work for one person with all the distractions around him. After a week of grieving, Wilbur flew again, this time for nearly an hour and a half. He then started taking up passengers, even fat Leon Bollee. After so many flights, he started training a few French pilots selected by the military. He then requested Orville and Katherine come to France.
March 30th, 2022
The story is clearly slowing down. Orville and Katherine come to France. Wilbur wins the Michellin Cup, flying for 2.5 hours straight. Everyone goes to Pau near the Pyrenees for some more flying. Here Wilbur will train his students, most importantly the Comte de Lambert. Many important people come to see him fly, including the King of Spain and Edward VII. The Comte de Lambert also starts flying solo, to the joy and pride of all. Everyone has fun. The end.
March 31st, 2022
Wilbur successfully trained his pilots and did more demonstrations in Rome. Then they left for London to go back home. Big parades and honors were given in all places. The Wrights worked on a Flyer IV to head back to Fort Myer, where Orville would fly again. There were some kinks in the new plane, but they were worked out and the army finally offered them a contract. In the last year, the Wrights brought in over $200,000 dollars in contracts. Life was good.
April 1st, 2022
The last section of the last chapter talks about the final days of the flight experiments. There was a race at Reims in the summer of 1909 with 22 contestants, only a year after Wilbur’s Le Mans flights. The prize for most speed went to Glenn Curtiss, who the Wrights would sue for patent infringement. Somehow the aileron design was in the Wrights’ patent for wing warping. They’d be in courts for a decade and eventually the Wrights would win all 12 of their lawsuits. The Comte de Lambertville shocked the world by flying over Paris, the first time a plane was flown over a city. On top of that, he flew over the Eifel Tower, over 1100ft in the air. Orville and Katherine went to Berlin to demonstrate more flights. He flew to a height of over 2000ft. Wilbur’s last major flight was a big one. In commemoration of Henry Hudson’s expedition, he was to fly up the Hudson River. With all the skyscrapers, the amount of wind was difficult to contend with, but he managed. On top of this, he flew around the Statue of Liberty to the awe of the city. On May 25th 1910, the Wright family gathered at the field where they used to practice. The Bishop finally went on a flight, and to close out a successful decade of work, the brother’s finally flew together in a single plane. The epilogue tells of the fate of the family. Wilbur would deal mostly with the Wright Company and litigation and was worn out. He got ill, contracted typhoid fever. He would die in May 1912 at 45. Orville and Katherine were to build a large new home and move in with the Bishop. The Bishop died a couple years later. In 1926 or so, Katherine got married in her 50s. Orville felt betrayed and refused to talk to her for 2 years until she was on her death bed. He finally saw her once more as she lay dying from pneumonia. Orville lived on until 1948, see the destruction that planes had wrought in war. He sold the company and started a research institute. He stopped flying in 1918 due to his old injury. After his death at age 76, he was buried at the family plot with the Bishop, Katherine, and Wilbur.