WootBot


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Staff

November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.

The Debunker: Did the Wright Brothers Achieve the First Sustained, Powered Airplane Flight?

On May 6, 1896, Samuel Pierpont Langley, the head of the Smithsonian Institution, brought his steam-powered Aerodrome Number 5 vehicle down to the Potomac River, where it flew over half a mile. The Aerodrome was a tandem-wing contraption that looked like a giant dragonfly, and its ninety-second test flight smashed all previous records for lift and stability. But wait—the Wright Brothers didn't test their Flyer at Kitty Hawk until 1903. Did Langley beat Wilbur and Orville to the punch by seven full years?

The Debunker

Well, yes and no. The Aerodrome was the first plane ever to achieve sustained, powered flight, but there's a (pretty substantial) loophole. Without the benefit of Kitty Hawk's strong winds to achieve takeoff, Langley launched his plane from a big floating catapult. (Unike the Wrights, he had a hefty government budget at his disposal.) And the catapult-launched Aerodrome that successfully flew three thousand feet was an unmanned model that didn't carry a pilot. The Wright Brothers' real achievement was putting a pilot in the sky, not an airplane.

In the fall of 1903, at the same time the Wrights were preparing their aircraft for its maiden flight, Langley had a full-scale, piloted version of the Aerodrome ready to go, but it crashed twice upon take-off. Langley wrote these embarrassing failures off as bad luck, but history hasn't been kind to that viewpoint: subsequent trials on reconstructed models (by NASA in 1981 and University of Toronto scientists in 2004) were unable to keep the Aerodome aloft due to fundamental design problems. But the Smithsonian stayed loyal to its boy, displaying Langley's 1903 model for years with a misleading label implying that Langley had beaten the Wrights to manned flight. Orville Wright was furious, and confiscated the Wright Flyer from the museum's collection for over twenty years until the squabble could be resolved.

Quick Quiz: Langley's work in the 1860s with the Allegheny Observatory and America's railroads led to the international adoption of the world's twenty-four different what?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

therealjrn


quality posts: 82 Private Messages therealjrn

Why do you hate America so, Ken Jennings?

davidbowser


quality posts: 2 Private Messages davidbowser
therealjrn wrote:Why do you hate America so, Ken Jennings?



He's secretly Canadian! 8-(

dtristano


quality posts: 3 Private Messages dtristano

Question for the Debunker: how many time zones are there really?

ScottAWestfall


quality posts: 0 Private Messages ScottAWestfall

There are lots of claims about who developed the first airplane. However I read in the book The Barons of the Sky, at the first Paris Air Show, the Wright Brothers showed up along with lots of other contenders. The next best contender managed a power flight of a something like 100 yards. The Wright Brothers gave circuitous multi-mile rides. End of discussion

olcubmaster


quality posts: 33 Private Messages olcubmaster

Quick Quiz: Langley's work in the 1860s with the Allegheny Observatory and America's railroads led to the international adoption of the world's twenty-four different what?

Pizza toppings.

Sugar 'em up and send 'em home

moles1138


quality posts: 49 Private Messages moles1138
olcubmaster wrote:Quick Quiz: Langley's work in the 1860s with the Allegheny Observatory and America's railroads led to the international adoption of the world's twenty-four different what?

Pizza toppings.



Ice cream flavors. But he was outdone by Baskin-Robbins

wesleyfurr


quality posts: 1 Private Messages wesleyfurr
ScottAWestfall wrote:There are lots of claims about who developed the first airplane. However I read in the book The Barons of the Sky, at the first Paris Air Show, the Wright Brothers showed up along with lots of other contenders. The next best contender managed a power flight of a something like 100 yards. The Wright Brothers gave circuitous multi-mile rides. End of discussion



What the Wrights brought to the table was control. That was the key that everyone else was missing. And no, Orville did not "confiscate" the Wright flyer from the Smithsonian, it had never been in the Smithsonian! He simply sent it to the Science Museum in London, where it remained until the feud with the Smithsonian was resolved.

dpostman


quality posts: 2 Private Messages dpostman

24 words for snow, that are still written on one of the bathroom stalls in the Smithsonian even though we all know that the Eskimos had 50 words for snow.

moles1138


quality posts: 49 Private Messages moles1138
dpostman wrote:24 words for snow, that are still written on one of the bathroom stalls in the Smithsonian even though we all know that the Eskimos had 50 words for snow.



So does Kate Bush

celticnf


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Hey Kenny...Still bullying 11 year old boys?

esclava


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canine/feline hybrids

whoiskenjennings


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Guest Blogger

celticnf wrote:Hey Kenny...Still bullying 11 year old boys?



No time to reply right now...giving Barron Trump a huge wedgie...

whoiskenjennings


quality posts: 9 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

wesleyfurr wrote:What the Wrights brought to the table was control. That was the key that everyone else was missing.



Yeah, I hoped that would be implicit in "manned" flight. The man is actually a pilot controlling the craft.

And no, Orville did not "confiscate" the Wright flyer from the Smithsonian, it had never been in the Smithsonian!



"Confiscate" is probably a little strong, you're right, but the Wrights had previously offered the plane to the Smithsonian, and then rescinded the offer.

rnatalie


quality posts: 11 Private Messages rnatalie

It wasn't bad luck. Langley didn't understand Reynolds number and other aerodynamics that say you can't just scale up things linearly.

Years later Glenn Curtiss reconstructed the Aerodrome adding more power and other wing mods to prove that Langley had priority to try to invalidate the Wrights' patents.

Certified Wine Geek

simplex1


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The Wright brothers flew powered planes for the first time in 1908, not before!

See this site:
http://wright-brothers.wikidot.com/

The two men from Dayton were mad inventors and frauds who made ridiculous claims (more that 160 flights performed between Dec. 1903 and Oct. 1905!!). They built their real working planes in 1908 in a moment when at least 15 aviators had already flown on different machines.

Read also the book: "A. I. Root, the liar number four after the Wright Brothers and their mentor, Octave Chanute." It is free and can be found on the internet.