Airborne Awesomosity, Moments in History

Scientific American Reports Wright Brother’s First Flight

Wright Brother Airplane

In their final issue for 1903, Scientific American had the following report:

A Successful Experiment with a Motor-Driven
Aeroplane.

On December 17 the Messrs. Orvllle and Wilbur
Wright made some successful experiments at Kitty
Hawk, N. C., with an aeroplane propelled by a 16-
horsepower, four-cylinder, gasoline motor, and weigh-
ing complete more than 700 pounds.
The aeroplane was started from the top of a 100-foot
sand dune. After it was pushed off, it at first glided
downward near the surface of the incline. Then, as the
propellers gained speed, the aeroplane rose steadily in
the air to a height of about 6 0 feet, after which it was
driven a distance of some three miles against a twenty­
mile-an-hour wind at a speed of about eight miles an
hour. Mr. Wilbur Wright was able to land on a spot
he selected, without hurt to himself or the machine.
This is a decided step in advance in aerial navigation
with aeroplanes, and it is probably due to the increased
degree of controllability resulting from the Wright
brothers’ novel form of horizontal rudder; which is a
small guiding aeroplane placed in front of, instead of
behind the aeroplane proper. A well illustrated de­-
scription of the Wright aeroplane appeared in our
February 22, 1902, issue. The present aeroplane has
the very large surface of 510 square feet, making its ap­-
parent entire controllability all the more remarkable.

It’s pretty cool to read about accomplishments from the time period in which they were made. No elaboration of the historic significance of this was made by Scientific American, quite possibly because the full ramifications of the Wright Brothers’ flight were not known or understood. Today, over 100 years later, we can look back and see what that little flight in Kitty Hawk did to the course of transportation and world history. In December 1903, days after the flight, it was seen as a novelty and as an advancement, but not necessarily as a game changer.

[Ed. You can read the original article here. In fact, through November 30, you can read issues of Scientific American from 1845 through 1909 for free! Just go here, but plan on not doing anything for the rest of the month. Hat tip to Mike The Dog for making me aware of this. My employer would like to have a word with you.]

[Image Credit: connal7 on Flickr]

  • Does anyone here still receive Scientific American? I gave up my subscription a few years ago (along with every other magazine). Now I'm considering re-upping.

    • I've read the occasional issue that I've saved (at least temporarily) from the recycle bin, mostly from the '60s to early '80s, but beyond that, no. It grew noticeably fluffier during that interval, particularly towards the end. I have no idea what it's like these days, or indeed how it's been doing for the last quarter-century or so. Nobody seems to toss out the newer ones, but I don't know whether that's because subscriptions are down or because the newer issues are keepers.

      • The Professor

        It's a good magazine for reading in the head. (That's 'bathroom' to you lubbers.)

    • The Professor

      I still subscribe to Sci Am, and it's still a good science magazine, according to me. I also subscribe to Discover, which also does some very good science reporting, albeit in a more playful fashion. I had to stop getting Science, I just couldn't keep up anymore.

  • Number_Six

    If you read through the "oh my, Virginia, a lovely piano has rather plummeted onto my cranium" starchiness, I think the tone here is very positive and they are very impressed with what they've witnessed. If it had been written today, it would have been in breathless hyperbole.

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