A hero, to me, is someone who perseveres, who is willing to take risks, and who never gives up. Someone who follows their dreams and doesn’t care what people think. Someone who believes that anything is possible. Orville and Wilbur Wright were two brothers who fulfill my definition of a hero with their amazing accomplishment of creating the first successful airplane.
Born April 16, 1867, Wilbur was the older brother to Orville who was born on August 19, 1871. The boys had two other brothers and a younger sister. Their father was a bishop at the Church of the United Brethren in Christ and they lived most of their life in Dayton, Indiana. As a child Orville wrote, “We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.”
Somewhere between 1885 and 1886, Wilbur was hit in the head with a baseball bat while playing a game on a frozen lake. He suffered from nervous palpitations of the heart, keeping him homebound during the time when his parents had planned to send him to take courses at Yale College. He is said to have suffered from depression at this time as well. Although this was a setback to his dream of attending college, it did not hold him back from the amazing discoveries that he would make in the upcoming years with his brother.
|Photo from http://www.nasm.si.edu/wrightbrothers/|
Perhaps the boys' first thoughts of creating a flying machine to hold man began when they received a flying toy from their father as young children. It consisted of cork and bamboo, with a paper body, and was powered by rubber bands. Although this toy didn’t last very long before it was broken, the two boys always remembered its last flight. This was the beginning of their innovation.
Each year between 1899 and 1905 brought about a new advance in their developing airplane. The first years were mostly filled with research and learning about the science of aeronautics. Wilbur became captivated and read every book or paper he could find on the earthbound science of human flight. They looked at all the other earlier approaches at creating a flying machine, and saw that the most practical way of going about trial and error was using man-carrying gliders. They basically focused on maintaining balance and control rather than on creating an engine. By 1900, they had enough knowledge to build a pilotless kite with a 5-ft. wingspan made of wood, wire and cloth.
|Photo of Night Flight at Kitty Hawk from http://www.nasm.si.edu/wrightbrothers/ |
Later in 1900, they were able to create a glider that had a 17 foot wingspan and weighed 52 lbs. They took the glider to Kitty Hawk, their first trip there. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, seemed to be a promising area because of its long isolated strips of beach. The flight was fairly unsuccessful and the glider fell and smashed into the sandy ground. The Wright brothers repaired it, though, and continued the test process. Another glider which was larger than the 1900 one was built in 1901. It had control problems and couldn’t lift off the ground. In 1902, though, they had greatly improved their glider, and it was fully controllable and could hold a human. This was the most advanced glider ever to be created and held a world record of flying over 600 feet.
In 1903, the Wright brothers created the first powered aircraft. This had a 40 foot wingspan, weighed 750 lbs, and had a 12 horsepower engine. The first flight lasted 3 ˝ seconds, and made it obvious that some small changes and another try would lead to success. They fixed the flyer and the two brothers flipped a coin to see who would get to be the first to fly in the plane. Wilbur won and 3 days later he flew the plane 120 feet and for 12 seconds.
In 1905 the Wrights' experimental period came to an end as Wilbur was able to fly their aircraft a total of 39 minutes, and for 24 ˝ miles. This accomplishment was a very important one in American history, and this is why the Wright brothers are my heroes. I can't just say that one success is what makes them my heroes though; it is more the fact that they never stopped trying. Every year they advanced in their discoveries and they never let a failure become discouraging; rather, they wisely used their mistakes as learning material.