First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane

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9780471401247: First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane
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An aviation expert uncovers the brilliance behind the first successful flight of an engine-powered plane
In the centennial year of the Wright Brothers' first successful flight, acclaimed aviation writer T. A. Heppenheimer reexamines what Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved. In First Flight, he debunks the popular assumption that the Wrights were simple mechanics who succeeded by trial and error, demonstrating instead that they were true engineering geniuses. Heppenheimer presents the background that made possible the work of the Wrights and examines the work of Samuel P. Langley, a serious rival. He places their work within a broad historical context, emphasizing their contributions after 1903 and their convergence with ongoing aeronautical work in France.
T. A. Heppenheimer (Fountain Valley, CA) has written extensively on aerospace, business, and the history of technology. His many books include Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation (0-471-10961-4), Countdown: A History of Space Flight (0-471-14439-8), and A Brief History of Flight: From Balloons to Mach 3 and Beyond (0-471-34637-3), all from Wiley.

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From the Inside Flap:

How did a couple of bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, accomplish what some of the greatest minds in the world had been trying and failing to achieve for an entire century? Dumb luck? Trial and error? Or were the Wright brothers superb engineers whose invention was the product of diligent study, careful analysis, and a thorough understanding of the successes and failures of their predecessors?

In First Flight, acclaimed aviation writer T. A. Heppenheimer debunks the popular assumption that the Wright brothers were a pair of amateurs whose successful attempt to build and pilot a powered airplane was the result of simple persistence and serendipity. He demonstrates that Wilbur and Orville Wright were true engineering geniuses who had already produced substantial improvements on the inventions and research of others–and whose feat equaled those of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and other giants of the age of invention.

This compelling biography/technological history traces the brothers’ interest in mechanics, engineering, mathematics, and flight to their earliest childhood, when they "lived together, played together, worked together, and, in fact, thought together." It shows how, from early efforts in the printing business–which included a press designed and built by Orville and a paper-folding device designed and built by Wilbur–to their successful ventures in the newly emerging bicycle industry, both brothers demonstrated a high degree of ingenuity, creativity, and engineering prowess.

Recounting the contributions of such important aviation pioneers as Samuel P. Langley, Octave Chanute, and Otto Lilienthal, First Flight reveals that the Wright brothers succeeded by focusing on the single problem that none of their predecessors fully confronted: how to control the flight of a powered, heavier-than-air vehicle.

Follow the Wrights as they reason their way to "wing warping" as the key to directional control, rethink accepted ideas on the optimum shape of an airfoil, and devise methods for the sustained and repeated testing of their theories and designs. You’ll go with them to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where they test a series of gliders, develop crucial piloting skills, and race against the well-financed Langley/Smithsonian Institution project to achieve the first piloted, powered flight.

First Flight features clear, easy-to-understand explanations of early flight technology and detailed accounts of the Wright brothers’ substantial post-1903 contributions to air travel. It is must reading for aviation buffs, history and biography readers, and anyone who enjoys a rousing tale about real people who set their sights on a goal and triumph against the odds.

From the Back Cover:

Moment of Truth

"He again took to the air, barely avoiding early return to earth as the Flyer lurched downward, and managed to pull it out only a foot above the sand. Then, getting the hang of it, he kept it under good control as he flew onward. He flew! Tens of seconds ticked by, then more tens of seconds, while hundreds of feet of beach unrolled behind him. Onward, onward, and still he stayed in the air, every second adding to his experience and making it plausible that he could continue to stay aloft. A low hummock of sand lay ahead. Wilbur eased his nose upward and cleared it, but then the instability in pitch set in once more. He tried to maintain control, but darted into the ground. Even so, the Wrights finally had something impressive to show for the day. Wilbur had stayed in the air for 59 seconds and had covered 852 feet."

This stirring account of the single most crucial moment in aviation history is just a small sample of what awaits you in First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane. You’ll find a fully detailed chronicle of the brothers’ three-year struggle to accomplish this stunning feat, as well as a complete history of their subsequent and successful efforts to turn their Flyer into a functional aircraft.

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