The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

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9780823410828: The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

The first powered, sustained, and controlled airplane flight, and the men behind it. A Newbery honor Book.

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About the Author:

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture. Mr. Freedman lives in New York City and travels widely to research his books.

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two Americans who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903.  In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed wing flight possible.

The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of "three-axis control", which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard and remains standard on fixed wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer "the flying problem", rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did. Their careful wind tunnel tests produced better aeronautical data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before. Their U.S. patent 821,393 claims the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulates a flying machine's surfaces.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. 

From Kirkus Reviews:

Using illuminating facts and incidents to place the story of this monumental achievement in the history of aeronautics and in the brothers' personal lives, Freedman focuses on the events that led to the first successful flight and on the Wrights' subsequent improvements on their invention. Diagrams and lucid explanations of the principles of flying make the years of tinkering, experimenting, reasoning, and problem-solving even more fascinating. Though Freedman doesn't characterize Wilbur and Orville in depth, he does provide telling glimpses of the two unmarried brothers devoting themselves to working enthusiastically and amiably together (``They tinkered and fussed and muttered to themselves from dawn to dusk,'' reported one observer, ``...At no time did I ever hear either of them render a hasty or ill-considered answer...''). In Freedman's deceptively relaxed narrative, the facts themselves are disarming: e.g., the local postmaster helped to haul the planes back uphill, and the fire brigade came regularly to stand by. The brothers' own excellent photos, reproduced in a generous size, make an outstanding contribution to both format and authenticity; they're well supplemented with appropriate additional photos. Like Lincoln (Newbery Medal, 1988), this is familiar but retold in a manner so fresh and immediate that reading it is like discovering the material for the first time. Index. (Nonfiction. 9+) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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