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British Industrial History

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Orville Wright

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1903.
1909.
1909. Orville, Katharine and Wilbur Wright.
1948.

August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948. Died aged 76 years.


1948 Obituary [1]

"THE whole world will hear with deep regret of the death on Friday last week, January 30th, at his home in Dayton, Ohio, of Mr. Orville Wright. He and his brother, the late Sir Wilbur Wright, who died in 1912, designed and built the first power-driven aeroplane to fly carrying a pilot.

Orville Wright was born at Dayton, Ohio, on August 19, 1871. He was the son of Bishop Wilton Wright, a minister and an editor of a religious journal, and he received his early education at schools at Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Richmond, Indiana, and Dayton, Ohio. While still at school he started a job printing office, using a homemade printing press, and with his brother Wilbur he published about 1890 a newspaper and a weekly journal. Two years later the two brothers formed the Wright Cycle Co, and started a small business in Dayton for the sale and repair of bicycles. At a later date they manufactured the Van Cleve cycle and other models. But as this business was of a seasonal character they had time and opportunity to turn to other interests, and particularly to that of the science of flight.

Earlier they had constructed toy helicopters, and they made themselves familiar with the background of aeronautical thought at that time, studying the writings and experiments of Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, Professor Langley, Hiram Maxim and John Stringfellow. They continued to follow up the work of these early investigators and others working upon the problem.

About 1899 they designed and constructed a large kite, which was flown with the object of testing their own ideas. In the autumn of the following year they built and flew a glider which was a biplane with a supporting area of about 170 square feet with a horizontal elevating rudder in front of the wings. It embodied an ingenious system of staying devices consisting of adjustable wires. The experimental flights were made at Kitty Hawk among the sand dunes of the North Carolina coast. Since the results of the first tests showed disagreement between theory, as then known, and the practical results actually obtained, an improved wing formation was tried out the next year, with the curved wing contours of Lilienthal. But the results of the second model also proved unsatisfactory. The brothers therefore constructed a small wind tunnel in their Dayton bicycle works, and started to seek for more accurate data on which to base the calculation of aerodynamic phenomena. New recording and measuring instruments were designed and the centre of pressure on inclined surfaces was successfully measured.

The experimenters found that contrary to the accepted theory of that time, any decrease in the angle of attack caused the centre of pressure to move backwards instead of forwards, as then stat ed in the textbooks. A third glider incorporating the knowledge gained was completed in 1902. Like its predecessors it was a biplane, with a supporting area of about 300 square feet. It had a horizontal elevating rudder at the front and a vertical rudder at the rear. As many as 1000 glides were made with this model the longest lasting twenty-six seconds and covering 622ft. Being now reasonably satisfied with this aircraft the next problem to which attention was turned was that of the aerial propeller, of which at the time but little was known.

The Wrights worked out a new propeller theory, the results of which agreed with calculated values to close upon 2 percent....Read more


1949 Obituary [2]

"ORVILLE WRIGHT and his brother, the later Mr. Wilbur Wright, who died in 1912, designed and built the first power driven aeroplane to fly carrying a pilot, the first flight, with Orville at the controls, being made at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on 17th December 1903. Its duration was only 12 seconds and the distance covered 120 feet. Later in the same day his brother flew 852 feet. Though chance had given this distinction to Orville Wright, it is impossible to separate the credit due to the two brothers, for they worked together in the closest association.

After trying their hand at journalism they started a bicycle business about 1892, they soon, however, directed their attention to the possibilities of flight and made prolonged experiments with gliders. They produced an engine which was light in proportion to its power by designing and building a four cylinder four-stroke unit in their own workshops. It drove two wooden propellers in opposite directions through chains. Their greatest achievement was probably the solution of the problem of equilibrium, however.

Their system of controlling balance and direction of the aeroplane in flight is still universally used in principle. They adopted the biplane principle and had an elevator out in front of the glider and devised the method of control by warping the extremities of the aerofoils. They used a vertical rudder at the rear in their 1902 glider, and movable vertical rudders working in conjunction with the twisting of the wings were part of the system of control patented by them. Longitudinal stability was attained by means of small wing surfaces carried on outriggers ahead of the main plane.

A launching rail was provided; later the brothers devised a launching arrangement of a tower and descending weight, which pulled the machine along the rails; eventually with the aid of more powerful engines they dispensed with the tower. Subsequently they decided to build up an aircraft business. This they did with great success, Mr. Orville Wright being vice-president of the American Wright Company from its inception in 1910 and president from 1912 to 1915.

After the untimely death of his brother, Mr. Orville Wright became the sole representative to whom honours and medals were given. In addition to the Gold Medal of the Royal Aeronautical Society (which his brother also lived to receive at a ceremony held at the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1909), he was awarded, in 1917, the medal of the Royal Society of Arts, a formal recognition of his achievements by Britain, which he always prized. He was also a recipient of the first Guggenheim Medal and numerous honorary degrees were conferred on him by American and foreign universities.

Finally, in 1942, he was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Institution. Mention should also be made of the Wilbur Wright Memorial Lectures which still pay tribute to the pioneer work of the two brothers. The original machine was for many years on view at the Science Museum, South Kensington, but was returned recently to the United States; an exact copy, however, has been made for preservation in the Museum.

Mr. Orville Wright's death occurred at Dayton, Ohio, on 30th January 1948, at the age of seventy-six."


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