Flight Anniversary, Pt. 1
This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS from VOA Special English. A celebration will be held December seventeenth near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It will honor the one-hundredth anniversary of the first flight of a powered aircraft by Wilbur and Orville Wright. Today we begin the first of three programs to honor that flight.
From the beginning of time humans have watched the beautiful flight of birds and wished they too could fly. For thousands of years human flight was only a dream. Humans did not understand what made flight possible. Several times in history people tried to copy the flight of birds. But this too was only a dream. Any attempt to copy the flight of birds always ended in failure.
But failure did not stop people from attempting to fly. A good example was an English religious worker in the eleventh century named Eilmer of Malmesbury. He put large wings on his hands and feet that permitted him to "fly" from the top of a church to the ground below. But he had no method of controlling his flight. When he landed, he broke both of his legs.
In the year twelve-seventy, Italian explorer Marco Polo traveled through much of China. He wrote that he had seen a man tied to a device made from paper, cloth and wood that was lifted by wind power.
This device is called a kite. Children and adults often fly kites on windy days. But this was not really flying. A person who rode a kite had no control. And a rope held the kite to the ground.
In the seventeen-eighties, French brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier had discovered that a paper bag filled with heated air will rise from the ground. They began building large hot air balloons. Two of their friends rode in a balloon near Paris on November twenty-first, seventeen-eighty-three. They flew over Paris for twenty-five minutes and landed several kilometers away. They were said to be the first people in recorded history to fly. However, they had no way to control their flight.
History experts say George Cayley of Britain was the man most responsible for inventing the science of flight. He developed the idea of a fixed-wing aircraft with no engine called a glider. Mr. Cayley carried out many different experiments in an effort to produce a device that could fly. History records say he built the first successful glider that carried a person in eighteen-fifty-three.
Mr. Cayley wrote that in the future airplanes would be able to carry passengers and fly at speeds as fast as eighty-kilometers an hour. Very few people believed him.
A German engineer named Otto Lilienthal did believe humans could fly. Mr. Lilienthal built a small hill near the city of Berlin from which he could launch a glider. He built many different kinds of gliders. He was often able to fly more than three-hundred-fifty meters. He had limited control of his gliders by moving his body forward or backward, right or left. However, these gliders had no wheels. Mr. Lilienthal's feet served as the landing devices for his aircraft.
Mr. Lilienthal always knew the risk involved in his efforts. On August ninth, eighteen-ninety-six, he pushed off from the top of a hill on one of his gliders. A sharp wind caused it to drop and he lost control. Otto Lilienthal crashed. He died the next day of his injuries.
Otto Lilienthal's work was very important for two young American brothers who lived in Dayton, Ohio. Their names were Wilbur and Orville Wright. They had been closely following the work of Mr. Lilienthal. They began to make improvements to his designs.
History books about airplanes and flight say that Wilbur and Orville Wright designed, built and flew the first powered aircraft. The books also say they made their first flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December seventeenth, nineteen-oh-three. However, most books do not explain what they really did. Here is a small list of what the Wright Brothers had to do before they could successfully make that first powered flight.
First, they had to design an airplane wing that would produce the lift needed to fly. They had to design a system that would permit them to control an aircraft in flight. They also had to design an engine that would be light in weight but produce enough power to make flight possible.
They also had to design a propeller that would be strong enough to move their aircraft forward. And, while they were doing all of these things, they had to teach themselves to fly an aircraft. By any measure, these tasks were extremely difficult.
From a very early age, both Orville and Wilbur Wright loved machines and new inventions of all kinds. The brothers were not engineers like Otto Lilienthal. In fact, neither had gone to college. However both brothers believed that it was possible for people to fly. And they worked extremely well together. They also did something many others had not done. The sought to solve the problem of human flight using modern scientific methods. First, they gathered every book or magazine they could find on the subject. They collected the works of George Cayley and Otto Lilienthal and many others.
Then the Wright Brothers began to experiment. They built many different kinds of wings. They built propellers. They designed small copies of Otto Lilienthal's gliders. Their experiments quickly showed that much of the information that had been published about flying was of little use.
They also discovered that no one had written anything about what they considered the most important problem. That was how to control an aircraft in flight. Many experts at the time believed it would be impossible for a person to control an aircraft.
The Wright Brothers agreed that the pilot of an aircraft had to be able to control it to fly safely. The brothers were sure that flight without control was useless and dangerous.
The Wright Brothers learned that successful flight depends on controlled movement in three different directions as an aircraft moves through the air. These directions are called pitch, roll and yaw. They are easily explained. Think of a modern airplane. The airplane experiences pitch when the front of the plane goes up or down.
Roll is experienced when one wing drops and the other rises. The plane can even roll over in a complete circle. And yaw is experienced if the front of the airplane moves to the left or right. Successful fight is only possible if all three directions -- pitch, roll and yaw -- are used in a coordinated effort.
The Wright Brothers planned, designed, tested and then improved each of their aircraft and its many parts. They did this again and again. They made small aircraft for tests. Then they made larger ones they could fly. They failed many times. But they never stopped working.
In September of nineteen-hundred, the two brothers built a large aircraft. They had already chosen a place to try to fly it. It was near the little town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They chose this place because of the strong wind and the lack of trees in the area.
Like Otto Lilienthal, the two brothers decided to fly gliders first. Their first attempt was not very successful. A strong wind severely damaged their aircraft. The next morning they began rebuilding the glider.
They tried again two weeks later. Soon they were flying distances of ninety to one-hundred-twenty meters. And they were able to control some of the glider's movements.
Again and again the two men would plan, design, test, improve and begin again. With each successful design they learned a little more about how to build and fly an aircraft.
In the last months of nineteen-oh-three, the two brothers put all of their successful designs together in one aircraft. This time they added a small engine. The aircraft had two wings. The pilot would lie on the aircraft, to the right of the engine. The aircraft had two large propellers in back. And, most importantly, it could be controlled.
What happened on that first flight will be our story next week. We will also tell about the difficult job of building a copy of the Wright Brothers' airplane. That copy will fly at Kitty Hawk on the one-hundredth anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember. And this is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS from VOA Special English.