Just finished the excellent biography by Tom D. Crouch of the Wright Brothers called The Bishop’s Boys. A few things I came away with after reading this book:
- The Wrights may not have been the first to take to the air, but they were indeed the first to do so in a controlled, purposeful manner. That’s the difference between a glider and an airplane.
- They stood on the shoulders of giants. The Wrights gathered up all the research they could find on the efforts to build an airplane and added their own to it. Granted it was pretty important stuff, stability and all, but they didn’t start exactly from the ground-up as I always imagined they did.
- Though they shared many of the same unique qualities that aided their invention, the airplane started as Wilbur’s project and Orville joined in later. Wilbur primarily worked out the engineering problems and Orville’s mechanical skills transformed them into a working machine. They worked jointly on both but these were the strengths of each.
- The brothers considered themselves to be failures, lacking ambition in life, before they were inspired to build the airplane.
- Science said an airplane couldn’t be built. Engineering proved it could. According to the book, science couldn’t even explain how an airplane worked until a quarter-century after the first one took to the skies.
- The Wrights were top-notch engineers. Smart, knowledgeable, intensely curious, and exceedingly careful. They really wanted to know everything that went into making an airplane fly. They didn’t take anyone’s word for anything. This is partially why they succeeded without killing themselves in the process, unlike so many of their contemporaries.
- Once their airplane flew the Wrights became essentially arms dealers, selling it to the highest bidders among various governments. There isn’t much discussion about the moral repercussions of having their invention become a weapon of war. The Wrights seemed never to have a second thought about this, nor was there any apparent push to have it used primarily for peaceful purposes. The Wrights were too eager to cash in, in my view.
- Orville Wright nearly died from typhoid fever in 1896, seven years before the first flight.
- Both brothers were high school dropouts.
- Both were thoroughly unfazed by the rich and powerful. They were called on by kings and presidents and treated them the same as anyone else.
- The Wrights never would’ve gotten off the ground if it were not for the selfless assistance of their unsung sister, Katherine. I suppose “The Wright Brothers and Sister” didn’t have the same ring to it.
As Orville mused later in his life, he and Wilbur might never have created the airplane if so many circumstances hadn’t lined up precisely the way they did. The book is an entertaining account of how fate did line up.