The Wright Brothers

David McCullough 2015

Another interesting book by David McCullough - I enjoyed "1776", "John Adams", and "The Path Between the Seas", and hope to find time for "The Great Bridge" someday.

In retrospect, the Wrights (brothers, sister, and father) seemed almost uniquely situated to build and fly the first successful airplanes. Bishop Milton Wright ran a book-filled household, and favored knowledge to scholarship: his children could skip a day or two of school if a book or a project was more educational. He taught them to work very hard and pursue long-range and difficult goals.

While not emphasized by McCullough, other sources say that the brothers were keenly observant - they learned how birds controlled flight, and they drew appropriate lessons on stability and control from bicycle design. Indeed, a light-weight, sturdy, fast bicycle is a great analogy for early biplanes.

Most importantly, the Wrights were not rich - they focused on inexpensive learning, not expensive but uninformed large-scale airplanes like Langley. Langley had access to far too much money to invent and build a small wind tunnel and test models. The Wrights spent three years learning to fly gliders, training themselves as the world's first pilots, before they completed the first airplane.

Almost three years of continuing lack of recognition gave the brothers time to consolidate their knowledge, build their team, and plan their next steps. For years after, they got more fame than money, until some contracts started paying off.

Interesting quotes:

Mechanic Charlie Taylor.

The Wright Number

When the Wrights were eventually paid, they trained others to fly. Their first students were three Frenchmen, (p217) the Compte de Lambert, Paul Tissandier, and Captain Paul N. Lucas-Girardville. While the Wrights also taught Americans as part of their Fort Myer demonstrations and subsequent contracts, those Frenchmen trained others, who a few years later built the French air force. They, in turn, taught the American Lafeyette Escadrille, who taught many other Americans after World War 1. They trained and built the US air forces, the barnstormers, and the mail pilots like Lindburgh. Through a long chain of mentors and proteges, the Wrights trained everyone.

Mathematicians who have cowrote a paper with Paul Erdos have an Erdos number of one. Those who collaborated with them have an Erdos number of two. Newly published mathematicians have Erdos numbers in the teens and twenties. Perhapa there should be a "Wright Number", based on how many mentor-protege steps separate a pilot from the Wrights. There should also be a Osler number for doctors, a Newton number for physicists, and a Darwin number for biologists (did Darwin or Newton teach anybody?). For integrated circuit designers, there might be a Moore/Noyce number, or a Pedersen number. I'm proud to have a Pedersen number of one.

WrightMcCullough (last edited 2015-08-30 20:32:07 by KeithLofstrom)