Retrotechtacular: Miniseries On The Wright Brothers


Admittedly we prefer our Retrotechtacular videos to be campy, but sometimes the content is just so cool we have to give up that goal. So is the case with this series on the Wright Brothers’ first manned, powered flight.

Now there is some argument on who actually flew for the first time on earth. And that issue is touched upon right away by sharing the benchmarks used to substantiate the claim:

  • The machine was heavier than air
  • Carried a man
  • Rose from the ground under its own power
  • Flew under control without losing speed
  • Landed safely at an altitude no lower than it took off

The two-part series clocks in at almost two hours. But the combination of images, video footage, and first-hand accounts makes for something incredibly interesting. The original flight happened 110 years ago this December. That doesn’t seem so long ago and it’s incredible to think that air-travel is now common in the developed world and we’re even seeing progress toward human powered flight that itself is doing the same kind of trailblazing the Wright Brothers did.–j0CMy80

[Thanks Dave]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

16 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Miniseries On The Wright Brothers

  1. I had always heard there was controversy surrounding who was actually first to fly, but I had no idea it was this bad. Just the way the guy very specifically lists off the long list of requirements to have what is considered “true flight” lets you know something ain’t quite right.

    I’m sorry, but anything powered that manages to get off the ground by itself is good enough to register as a powered “flight” in my book (instead of say, hitting a bump on the track, having a huge gust of wind lift it, or just being on a slight grade and having the plane end up gliding off the track ;).

    Of course for “practical aviation” we need to figure out how to control it, land safely, all that good stuff; but “flight” is “flight”, or so I thought.

    I always thought the N.C. plates were off somehow, “First in Flight” just sounded weird, now I get it.

    1. On second thought, I’ll even take the bump on the track or the huge gust of wind as long as the plane keeps going on it’s own after that (and hey, even the “glide start”).

      I don’t think it would bother anybody to call it “flight” if planes today needed a little push-start, like on an aircraft carrier. If it’d always been that way, would we be still be saying we hadn’t actually achieved “flight” yet?

      1. Using aircraft carrier launches as a counter example is flawed in that the aircraft being launched are perfectly capable of taking flight under their own power, just not in the distance offered by the deck.

  2. Batman has nothing on Clement Ader. First was Stereo sound 1881. Then France’s first telephone system, then under military help in secret… powered flight! Batwinged steam punk powered feathered props! 1895. The wings folded up just like bat’s, they wanted to use them off ships!

    1. And it was proved that even if it had been successful to leave ground (even Ader doubt about it), it was a complete junk as it lacks basic aerodynamic stability and worse, no way to control it.
      Ader didn’t (or wouldn’t) take into account all previous work done on the subject by others (like Lilienthal), he even shows abysmal knowledge of basic areodynamics on some tests (test flight done in circle instead of front wind).

  3. The sad part is what happened after… the Wright Brothers became legal bullies, you could almost call them trolls.
    “Their legal threats suppressed development of the U.S. aviation industry for several years.”

    “The patent war stalled the development of the American aviation industry. In response, after the beginning of World War I, the U.S. Government pressured its aviation industry to form an organization that allowed the sharing of aviation patents.”

  4. Langley’s “Aerodrome” never actually flew, not as he built it. He used a weight driven catapult off the top of a houseboat to try launching it but its structure was never strong enough in any of his attempts.

    The Smithsonian tried to discredit the Wrights by taking the Aerodrome year later and completely redesigning and rebuilding it, using research by the Wrights and other successful airplane builders, to “prove” that Langley’s vehicle could have flown.

    It took quite some time to get the Smithsonian to own up to their scam and put a Wright Flyer on display as the first vehicle to meet the criteria for a self powered, heavier than air, flying machine.

    If it cannot reach a height above its takeoff altitude, without the aid of thermals or other upward air currents, it’s nothing more than an assisted glider.

  5. Speaking as one of two brothers, who are only now (as adults) getting along, this should be required viewing for any family of boys. It’s an extraordinary example of how cooperation between brothers can result in great things.

    Oh, yeah, and building an airplane is pretty neat, too.

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