Who Were Wilbur and Orville?
1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
Fundamental Flight
Fundamental Flight Problems
The Wrights followed Sir George Cayley’s lead and initially reduced the obstacles to flight to three broad categories:
  1. A set of lifting surfaces, or wings.
  2. A method of balancing and controlling the aircraft.
  3. A means of propulsion.

Most earlier experimenters focused only on one or another of these problems and did not consider the final design from the outset. The Wrights recognized that each of these areas had to be successfully addressed to build a working airplane. They believed that the aerodynamic and propulsion problems would be comparatively easier to solve, so they first concentrated on how to maintain balance and control.
Stability and control: The influence of the bicycle
Many earlier experimenters believed that air currents were too swift and unpredictable for human reflexes. Therefore, an aircraft had to be inherently stable for the pilot to be able to maintain control.

Because of the Wrights’ extensive experience with the bicycle—a highly unstable but controllable machine—they saw no reason why an airplane could not be unstable yet controllable as well.

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Lilienthal Glider
The drawbacks of Lilienthal's method of control
Otto Lilienthal controlled his glider by shifting his body weight from side to side, which altered the craft’s center of gravity and caused it to turn. The Wrights recognized that this technique severely limited the size of the aircraft, because the pilot and craft had to be similar in weight for body shifting to be effective. They reasoned that if they could control balance aerodynamically—using the forces air exerts on a wing—they could build an aircraft of any size and weight.