December 2013 marked the 110th anniversary of the historical first powered flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wright brothers are credited with inventing and flying the first powered airplane. The brothers, who grew up in Ohio, originally built a print press and later opened their own print shop. In 1902 the country was fascinated by the latest craze, bicycles. The Wrights jumped on the band wagon and opened their own bicycle repair shop named the Wright Cycle Company and began designing and selling their own brand of bikes. The two became increasingly interested in flight. They had seen photos of unmanned glider flight attempts that were being made in Germany, by Otto Lillenthal, who later died in a glider flight attempt.
In 1899, Wilbur had written a letter to the Smithsonian Institute asking for information about aeronautics. The two began researching the documents they received and studying the flight characteristics of birds. The two noted that bird’s bank or lean while in flight by changing the angles of their wings to roll left or right. This observation leads the Wright’s to invent a glider whose wings would twist to turn the glider, which lead to their invention of “wing-warping.”
By 1901 the Wright’s had a glider that they were testing their wing warping theory with, in the sand dunes and favorable winds of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They were disappointed when the wing warping glider would not respond as they had hoped. It tended to nose dive on landing and would turn the opposite direction then what it was intended to turn. This effect became known as adverse yaw. Eager to do more research; they returned to Ohio and built a wind tunnel to test their designs in. After extensive wind tunnel testing, they made changes to their 1902 glider that they hoped would pay off. One of the most significant changes made was to the wings. They designed narrower, longer wings that created better lift-to-drag ratio. Additional changes included making the wing flatter, therefore reducing the camber of the wing. Through their wind tunnel experiments, Orville decided to attach a moveable rudder to the pilots “warp” controls. The combination of the rudder and wing warping apparatus allowed the glider to bank without experiencing the adverse yaw effect that the earlier glider experienced. This principle is still true today with the use of ailerons and rudder to make a coordinated turn. Finally, they were on to something that would fly stable. They now had the research and testing they needed to build the first powered aircraft. In 1903 they hand built the Wright Flyer. Made out of spruce with hand carved wooden propellers and an all purpose gas engine from their bike shop. The design was 8 foot, twin pusher style wooden propellers and a glued spruce airframe. The Wright Flyer had a wingspan of 40.3 feet and weighed a mere 605 pounds and its engine sported a whopping 12 horsepower.
On a very windy December 17th 1903, on Kill Devil Hills, the Wright’s made history by successfully flying in the first powered aircraft. At 10:35 a.m., with a gusting 27 mile per hour headwind, Orville Wright took off in the Wright Flyer and flew 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. This was recorded in the famous photo with Wilbur running alongside the plane. The aviation world and Angel MedFlight owes them our gratitude. In a very short 110 years, aviation has grown by leaps and bounds, however the main principles of flight that the Wright’s discovered are in use in today’s advanced jets like those that Angel MedFlight operates. What would Orville and Wilbur think of how their discovery is helping so many people today, with the use of an air ambulance service? They would be in awe of Angel MedFlights Citation X that can travel at speeds of Mach .92 (700 miles per hour), with a range that can complete transports worldwide. Compared to the Wright Flyers 12 horsepower engine and wooden propellers, Angel MedFlight’s Citation X has two twin Rolls Royce turbofan engines that generate 6400 pounds of thrust each. Instead of lying on your belly, outside in the elements to fly the aircraft with rudimentary flight controls, our pilots have a glass cockpit with advanced avionics. Our patients fly in comfort inside of our spacious jets, filled with state of the art medical equipment. Angel MedFlight jets are so advanced, safe and fast that Orville and Wilbur would be amazed, but we couldn’t have done it without their ingenuity and passion for aviation. We’ve come a long way. Happy 110th Anniversary Wright Brothers, from Angel MedFlight.