Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Wright Brothers #2

In 1896 Orville Wright got typhoid fever, and he was in bed for several weeks. During this time Wilbur began reading about German glider enthusiast Otto Lilienthal, who was recently killed in an accident. Wilbur read aloud to Orville.

A manufacturer of small steam engines and a mining engineer by training, Lilienthal started gliding as early as 1869, along with his younger brother. He took his lessons from the birds. He thought the "art of flight" was to be found in the arched wings of birds by which they could ride the wind. He had no use for balloons, since they had so little in common with birds. To fly one had to be "initimate" with the wind.

Over the years Lilienthal built many gliders. Most were monoplanes with an arched wing consisting of muslin stretched over a willow frame. As pilot he would wear padded knees, position himself below the wings, and begin by running downhill. He would swing his body and legs for balance and control.

He also had himself photographed in action, taking advantage of newly invented cameras. Photos of him gliding appeared the world over, more so in the United States. A long article in McClure's Magazine, with seven photos, reached the largest audience.

In 1894 Lilienthal crashed but survived. In 1896 he crashed and died. News of Lilienthal's death aroused a great interest in Wilbur Wright. He began reading intensely on the the flight of birds, including the book Animal Mechanism from the family bookshelf. He read Animal Locomotion; or Walking, Swimming, and Flying, with a Dissertation on Aeronautics. For most readers it was too daunting. For Wilbur the book was exactly what he needed. Wilbur drew upon and quoted the book for years. It opened his eyes and started him thinking in new ways. Orville recovered from his illness and read the same works.

The automobile appeared and gained popularity. For Wilbur it lacked appeal. His sight was upward.

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