Friday, January 11, 2019

The Wright Brothers #6

Competitors of the Wright brothers experimented with alternatives to circumvent the Wright brothers' patent. Foremost was Glenn Curtiss, who invented ailerons ("little wings") instead of wing warping for flight control. (Curtiss also pioneered in attaining more speed.) The Wright brothers sued for patent infringement, starting a years-long legal conflict. Curtiss's company obtained patents, too. Until he died from typhoid in 1912, Wilbur took the lead in the patent struggles.

David McCullough's book devotes little space to the patent wars. McCullough says nothing about how the patent war ended. Wikipedia has an article devoted to them, which says the following. It was ended by the U.S. government. By 1917 the two major patent holders, the Wright Company and the Curtiss Company, had effectively blocked the building of new airplanes, which were desperately needed as the United States was entering World War I. The U.S. government pressured the industry to form a cross-licensing organization (a patent pool), the Manufacturer's Aircraft Association.

All aircraft manufacturers were required to join the association, and each member was required to pay a comparatively small blanket fee (for the use of aviation patents) for each airplane manufactured; of that the major part would go to the Wright-Martin and Curtiss companies, until their respective patents expired. This arrangement was designed to last only for the duration of the war, but the patent war did not resume later. Orville had sold his interest in the Wright Company to a group of New York financiers in 1915 and retired from the business. The "patent war" came to an end. The companies merged in 1929 to form the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which still exists.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Wright Brothers #5

The Wright brothers continued their experiments with powered flight after the one at Kitty Hawk in December, 1903. They did longer flights with more control of the aircraft, attaining 24 miles in October, 1905. They got a patent approval in 1906. Their fame grew slowly initially. The American press and government expressed little interest. The U.S. goverment wanted drawings and descriptions enough to enable construction, but the brothers refused. Their fame did grow rapidly after Wilbur did demonstrations in France in 1907-8.

Wilbur lost control and crashed a plane in 1905 with minor injury. Orville did, too. They flew little for about two years, trying to commercialize their invention. In September, 1908 Orville crashed a plane and was badly injured, with multiple broken and fractured bones. His passenger was killed.

They formed the Wright Company in 1909. They sold their patents to the company for $100,000 and also received one-third of the shares in a million dollar stock issue and a 10 percent royalty on every airplane sold. With Wilbur as president and Orville as vice president, the company set up a factory in Dayton and a flying school/test flight field at Huffman Prairie, Ohio; the headquarters office was in New York City.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Wright Brothers #4

Especially helpful to the Wright brothers were Octave Chanute, a civil engineer, builder of bridges, railroads, and gliders and Samuel Pierpoint Langley, astronomer and head of the Smithsonian. Langley, with help of Smithsonian funding, had helped create a pilotless "aerodrome."

Other experimenters in controlled flight were Sir George Cayley, Sir Hiram Maxim, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison. In France the government spent a considerable amount of money on a steam-powered flying machine built by Clement Ader, who gave the word avion, airplane in English, to the French language. Along with the cost of experiments, the risk of failure, injury, and death, there was the inevitable prospect of being mocked as a crank, a crackpot, often for good reason. The experimenters served as a continual source of popular comic relief.

Among the material supplied by the Smithsonian to the Wright brothers was Pierre Mouillard's Empire of the Air, which exalted the wonders of flying creatures. Wilbur took up bird watching on Sundays, observing what Mouillard preached. The dreams of Wilbur and Orville had taken hold. They would design and build their own experimental glider-kite, building on what they had read, observed of birds in flight, and spent considerable time thinking. They became familiar with aeronautical terms such as equilibrium, lift, pitch and yaw. Equilibrium was all-important to them. Wilbur's observations of birds and how they adjusted their wings to maintain balance inspired him to the idea of building a glider with "wing warping" or "wing twisting." This made an immensely important and original advance to their goal.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Wright Brothers #3

For a few weeks each year in 1900-02 the Wright brothers experimented with gliders at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Wikipedia has greater detail about the gliders. Kitty Hawk had a small population, the men were mostly fishermen, and the living conditions were uncomfortable and often harsh. It  was quite a journey to get there. However, the Wright brothers chose this place due to the fairly steady wind conditions and the sand bars which afforded the best landing surface.

After their 1901 visit to Kitty Hawk they built a small wind tunnel. It was only six feet long and four feet square, but their experiments with it and numerous wing shapes greatly increased their understanding of flight.

They went again to Kitty Hawk in 1903. This time they had a biplane with motor and propellers. Their long-time bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first airplane engine in close collaboration with the brothers. On December 17, 1903 they made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air, fixed wing aircraft. Their fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium.