The Race for
Heavier than Air Flight
During the late 1800 there was a race between Dr. Samuel Langley, the Wright Brothers, Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute, and various other inventors to create the first heavier than air airplane. Dr. Langley seemed to be the favored contestant because he had won a $70,000 grant from the US government to create the first flying machine. He also had many resources available to him because he was the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Otto Lilienthal (above) was a German engineer who was known as the "Father of Modern Aviation." He was the first practical aviator and brought the theory of flight into reality by riding gliders which he built. He flew these gliders just like the modern hang-gliders by running downhill until he had sufficient speed to fly. From 1891 to 1896 Lilienthal flew over 2,000 times. Lilienthal never experimented with powered flight because in 1896 Lilienthal experienced a bad glider crash and died.
Octave Chanute read Lilienthal's notes and built his own gliders to be tested near Lake Michigan. Chanute was quite old and did no flying of his own so he hired a young "test pilot" to fly his contraptions for him. Lilienthal improved on Lilienthal's work, but did not produce a powered airplane.
The Wright Brothers were the underdogs. They had no grant money, and few resources to build a working airplane. The fierce competition between Langley and the Wright Brothers ensued. When Langley's attempt at flying failed for the second time the two brothers knew that they were going to be the first to build the Heavier than air airplane. The Wright Brother had two traits that helped them to accomplish their goal, persistence and proper scientific minds to collect data and incorporate their findings into a working airplane. The brothers started small, building small kites and testing the effectiveness of the control surfaces. Then they built a larger glider using the information they gathered from the kites. Finally when all the bugs were worked out with the glider they built the airplane.
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