II. The Dawn of Aviation


 17 December 1903. The most famous date in the History of Flight Culture — the day on which two brothers from Dayton achieved world-renown by piloting a wooden and canvas machine off the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to become the “first in flight,” together inaugurating the Age of the Airplane and forever altering human history.

Or did they?

By any measure, the Wrights’ accomplishments were monumental  – and their contributions to aviation technology profound. But their historic flight (now seared into the popular imagination thanks to a fortunate photograph) went virtually unnoticed at the time. Far from the image they subsequently cultivated, the Wright Brothers were hardly alone in their effort to realize the dream of flight. They relied upon the assistance of a great many people and depended upon a range of others’ inventions without which their famous “Flyer” would never have flown. Our second “Destination” begins with an overview of the exciting and turbulent age of technical innovation which marked the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century. From there, we travel backwards to the early eighteenth century and the origins of aeronautical theory before visiting Paris, Berlin, and Pittsburg (Texas), homes to some of the legions of creators (as well as crackpots and cranks) who aimed for the skies in the years before 1903. Our journey ends at the beginning – 17 December 1903 – the “Dawn of Aviation” and the criticisms and counter-claims which accompanied “L’affaire Wright.

Key Terms:

• Clement Ader
• Sir George Cayley
• “four forces of flight”
• Hiram Maxim
• Samuel Pierpont Langley
• Otto Lilienthal
• Octave Chanute
• Chanute-Herring Glider
• Wright Flyer
• wing warping
• Alberto Santos Dumont
14 bis
• Louis Blériot
• Blériot XI
Readings, Browsings, & Viewings: (each opens in a new window):

Internal Combustion Engine (from How Stuff Works)
How Do Airplanes Fly?
The Wright Brothers in Flight (YouTube video)
The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age (browse)
Image Gallery: