December 15, 2017, ©. Leeham Co: In the last Corner, we described how the Wright Brothers developed the first theory for propellers. It was based on their wing work and allowed them to design an efficient pair of propellers for their 1903 Wright Flyer.
We will now describe their first propelled flights, December 1903, and prepare for looking at the lift and drag of the aircraft.
The Wrights produced all the parts for the Wrights Flyer during spring and summer 1903. The aircraft was never built in Dayton. Rather, all the parts were sent in crates to the seaside dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. One needed the constant seaside winds for the flight and the soft sand dunes for any crash landings.
The brothers arrived at Kitty Hawk 25 September 1903. After the crates arrived two weeks later, they began the assembly of the aircraft. They used October for assembly and November for testing the engine and its propellers. There were problems to solve. Propeller shafts broke and the engine didn’t run cleanly.
Samuel Langley was awarded $50,000 to build “a flying machine” by the War Department, after his successful model Aerodrome flights of 1896. By October 7, 1903, his full-scale Aerodrome was loaded onto the catapult of the houseboat on the Potomac River and launched.
It flew straight into the river ahead of the houseboat. Its pilot wasn’t hurt and by December 8, the Aerodrome was repaired and a second launch was made. This time it crashed after the rear wing collapsed at the launch. Langley had failed.
Langley was aware of the Wright’s whereabouts and tried to get invited to Kitty Hawk to understand what they were doing. He was especially interested in their control methods (the Aerodrome had an inefficient Penaut tail for control). The Wrights didn’t respond to the sudden interest from Langley. His telegram and letters went unanswered.
November was windy and not suited for flight. On December 17, everything was ready. The Wrights had built a wooden rail to get the Flyer into the air from the sand.
Orville was at the controls, as Wilbur had stalled the Flyer directly after take-off three days earlier (height was negligible, so no damage to the Flyer). At 10.35 in the morning, Orville managed to fly for 12 seconds and 120ft (36m), Figure 2.
Later in the day, three more flights were made, with the longest lasting 60 seconds and covering 850ft (250m). The era of manned flight had begun.
We will examine the aerodynamics of the Wright’s 1903 aircraft over the next Corners and explain what was understood of the aerodynamics at the time (Figure 3).
We will discuss the lift generated, the overall drag and then divide this into the basic types of aircraft drag and how these were gradually discovered and understood.