A coffee-table chronicle of the Wright brothers that contains hundreds of superb photographs and illustrations accompanied by a serviceable text.
The brothers did not produce the first great invention of the 20th century because they were more ingenious or industrious than their rivals. By the 1890s, enthusiasts were flying man-carrying gliders. Engines existed that could yank these contraptions into the air, and plenty of inventors were working on powered flight. Some may have even succeeded for a few seconds. The great achievement of the Wright brothers, though, was understanding the problem. The barrier to powered flight wasn’t getting off the ground but control once the flier was in the air. The brothers designed and flew gliders for years until they found the mechanisms (which they patented). When they built their first powered machine, it flew on the first attempt in 1903. Within two years others were still crashing while the brothers were flying for half an hour, executing intricate loops and turns. Strangely, this produced only modest publicity and little interest from the US government. It was a French syndicate who broke the ice in 1908 by offering to buy French rights to a practical machine. Wilbur’s demonstration flights in France flabbergasted observers, making him a media darling throughout Europe. American idolatry soon followed. Others then contributed important advances. By 1910, the brothers were preoccupied with the inevitable follow-up to all breakthrough inventions: patent suits and priority disputes. Yet they prospered, and their fame remains unchallenged. Cal Tech professor of mechanical engineering Culick and aviation writer Dunmore (Bomb Run, not reviewed) have collected over 200 photographs and illustrations, a wonderful treasure of early aviation history. The text is at its best explaining the technical problems facing early aviators.
Read Fred Howard’s Wilbur and Orville (1987) for the biography. Read this for the pictures.