Feeling cranky about air travel? Get a grip.
Not on arm of your passenger seat--on reality, history, and incredible accomplishment of human flight.
We've just celebrated 100th anniversary of Wright brothers' historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Although there werecertainly others who were experimenting with flying machines--most notably, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian who is widely celebrated in his native country as being father of aviation--the Wright Brothers are generally regarded as first to get humans off ground.
The fascinating thing about Wright brothers is that they were not idealistic dreamers you might expect them to be. They were serious, studious, and determined to figure things out. It wasn't that they were obsessed with dream of soaring high above ground. They were mechanically-inclined brothers who owned a bicycle shop, and they couldn't forget brief but exciting flight of a cheap toy airplane they'd received as children. They were intrigued by engineering challenge.
Let's just say it--they were geeks. Good thing. Like geeks everywhere, they dug in, immersing themselves in their research. By following their hunch and testing heck out of it, they found key component that enabled them to create that first flying hunk of wood, fabric and wire capable of carrying a man and--key point here--landing without crashing.
The Wright brothers had same access to records of tried and failed attempts at flight as all other would-be aviators of time. They studied birds, they analyzed physics properties, and they built wind tunnels--just like everyone else. Sure, it was their dogged persistence that led them to success, but there was something else that really helped them nail it. They took one piece of puzzle and worked relentlessly to decipher it.
Instead of focusing on force needed to lift contraption, or engine required to power it, they zeroed in on concept of control. No sense having a great flight only to crash into trees after a few moments of jubilation. It was issue of control that captured their imagination and led to a design featuring both maneuverability and safety.
But as focused as they were on directing movement of flying machines, they failed to pay attention to continued testing and refinement of their ideas. They got distracted by their efforts to control sales, and research and development division was left flapping in breeze. While Wrights got caught up in patent struggles and contracts, adventurers around world were improving on their original design and savvy businessmen were building airplanes, airports and flight schools. By 1912, Wilbur had died and Orville was losing interest in flying.
Meanwhile, Santos-Dumont continued his passion for being airborne. He is credited with launching first public flight as well as designing first hydroplane. He zipped around Europe, flying to fashionable restaurants and parking his plane out front, right next to tethered horses. Where Wrights were methodical and diligent, Santos-Dumont was a flashy man about town known for his daring and his sense of style. He cut a dashing figure and inspired everyone from fashion designers to engineers. His friend, Louis Cartier, created first wristwatch for him after Santos-Dumont expressed a need to keep track of time while busily flying his plane.