After their late 1903 tremendous accomplishment in aerodynamic studies and the subsequent invention of the first true aircraft, Orville and Wilbur Wright carry all the credit in the discussions concerning the invention of the aircraft. In as they deserve the above credit, it is important to embrace the fact that the results accomplished by the Wright brothers had a long way coming. The invention by the brothers represented efforts by various scientists and aerodynamic enthusiasts across various nations, dating way back in the history mankind.
Mankind’s interest in flight is first recorded in Greek mythology regarding the gossamer wings designed by Daedalus and Icarus. Materially, the interest in aerodynamic studies first came up with the invention of the kite about 1000 AD and in the scholarly works of Aristotle in his Medium Theory. However, Leonardo da Vinci stands out as the true initiator of serious aerodynamic studies during the Renaissance. Before his death in 1519, da Vinci had spent most of his lifetime drawing the structures of wings of bats and birds that helped him develop plans for an ornithopter, a parachute, and vague looking helicopter. Later in the century of his death, Galileo Galilei advanced the basics initiated by da Vinci. In his contribution, Galileo found out that aerodynamic resistance was not only affected by velocity, but also the density of air as well.
As time went, and the aerodynamic concept spread far and wide, more scientists across the globe continued developing it. In the 1600s, the principle of “velocity-squared” furthered the development of aerodynamic studies and provisions. The major scientists responsible for its advancement during that period were Frenchman Edme Mariotte and Dutchman Christian Huygens. The above two derived the above principle. After its derivation, Sir Isaac Newton went ahead and theoretically confirmed it. Although without material physical experimentation, the development of aerodynamic concepts continued in the 1700s. The most notable contributions n that era are from Swiss mathematicians Leonhard Euler and Daniel Bernoulli. The above mathematicians developed differential equations used in the calculation of pressure distribution on aerodynamic bodies. They also provided the initial equations applied in the calculation of speed flows and lift in aerodynamic engineering.
The 1800s brought a new feature in the development of flying objects. Also to scientific theoretic studies, researchers and enthusiasts started developing and trying live models. In 1804, 21-year-old Englishman George Cayley (Sir) made a hand-launched glider. From his live creation, he spent the rest of life highlighting various concepts relating to ‘lift and drag’ in aerodynamics. Although he never tried out another live model, his later work contributed to the motivation of other scientists and researcher making live models. For example, in 1871 Frenchman Alphonse Penaud used the concepts developed by Sir Cayley to fly a model for 131 feet. His model was purely based on Sir Cayley’s concepts, with only the necessary improvements in terms of the physical design.
And finally, the last person to try his luck in making the first true aircraft before the Wright brothers made it was Samuel Langley. Although unofficial, for the better part of the 1900s Langley was assumed to be United State’s chief scientist. Langley quit solar sciences and astronomy to pursue aerodynamics. After a series of experiments that partly borrowed work by Sir Cayley and Alphonse Penaud, Langley developed the Aerodrome No.5 in 1896. Weighing 30 pounds with 13 feet tandem wings, he managed to fly it for 45 seconds for a distance of 4200 feet in Washington DC. That was the last material trial that happened until the Wright brothers finally succeeded in 1903 (Hansen 15-40). In light of the above, it is clear that the path to the final invention of the aircraft succeeded as a result of the efforts of many researchers from various parts of the world.
Hansen, James R. The Bird Is On The Wing. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2004. Print.
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