These Early Flying Machines Paved The Way To Flight As We Know It Today
The path to success
As you likely know, the first airplanes and helicopters built were not successes. Aviation's early failures however, gave way to some fantastic and functional early flying machines. These aircraft are fun to explore and study because they have so much character and their builders vision is clearly visible in their designs. Lacking the aviation knowledge of today, many aspects of these machines were built on a hunch, or an idea, rather than sound aeronautical theory. In my opinion, that is what makes these pseudo-experimental aircraft so interesting. Without these early flying machines, modern air travel wouldn't be what it is today.
Early Flying Machines
Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer
Although extremely primitive in appearance by today's standards, the Wright Brothers' 1903 flyer was the technological marvel of it's time. After more than 5 years spent designing and building the plane, the Wright Brothers used it to conduct the first heavier than air, controlled and powered flight on December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The first flight of the aircraft was piloted by Orville Wright. He flew his invention a total of 120 feet and an altitude of 20 feet. The flight lasted 12 seconds. Longer flights were made that day with the record being set at 852 feet and 59 seconds of flight.
The location of the Wright brother's first flight
December 17, 1903
The Wright brothers design and build the world's first production aircraft
The Model A
The Wrights spent years working on the aircraft that would eventually be the world's first production aircraft. Having fulfilled the requirements for a heavier than air, powered and controlled plane as set out by the American government, the Wright brothers made their first sale to the American military in 1909.
This early airplane was controlled by a complicated lever system designed by Orville Wright. Wilbur found Orville's controls to be complicated and difficult to use. He blamed his inexperience with the controls for a 1908 crash that severely injured him and killed his co-pilot, Thomas Selfridge. He was the first person to ever die in a plane crash. Wilbur eventually designed a new control system and for a short while, the plane was available for order with a choice of either Orville or Wilbur Control systems.
One of the Wright brother's earliest flights
An ancestor of the modern helicopter
This was by no means the earliest helicopter, it was the first helicopter to use the single vertical tail rotor configuration that we are familiar with today. Igor Sikorsky is also credited with being the first to use a single motor to power both the main rotor blades and the tail rotor. Sikorsky had trouble perfecting the cyclic control on this machine, and ended up using 2 additional small rotors mounted horizontally on the tail to lift and lower the tail boom of the machine, driving it forward or backwards.
Sikorsky used this machine to set some early records for rotary aircraft. He mounted pontoons on the skids and in 1941 made the first successful recorded helicopter landing and takeoff from water. That same year, he captured the endurance record for a sustained flight of more than an hour and half.
History of Helicopters by Michael J. Taylor
Although riddled with problems, his first flight was successful. His first flight lasted more than 18 minutes and covered around 3 1/2 miles over the water. It was found to be difficult to control using only a lead weight moved backward or
There were hundreds and hundreds of aircraft ideas and designs ranging from the 1700s through to today. They ranged from the feasible to the completely ridiculous. The first human flight was not in any engine-powered machine, it was actually in 1783 in a hot air balloon designed by two French brothers. It's a common misconception that the Wright Brother's flight in 1903 was the first flight of all time, it was not. It was the first powered, heavier than air flight.
These early flying machines paved the way for all of the fascinating aircraft that we have today. From the Boeing Dreamliner to the V22 Osprey, Chinook helicopters, space shuttles and heavy transport aircraft, they all evolved from these basic machines. It's important that we not take human flight for granted, it certainly didn't come easily. These folks designed and built based on hunches and basic aeronautical theory, they didn't get the benefit of any of the prerequisite pilot training that we have today. I chose these early flying machines for this list because these were all aircraft that played a major role in defining aviation as we know it today. Just imagine if Hawaii was still a long boat ride away.
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