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The Secret Story Of The Wright Brothers Using A Bike To Fly The First Plane
And 3 ideas from their success to steal for yourself
On December 17th 1903, the Wright brothers made the first successful motor-powered flight in history.
They beat out people all over the country who were experts in engineering, aeronautics and even funded with grants from the government.
So how did they do it?
It all starts with their knowledge of bicycles.
The Standard Bicycle & The Bike Boom
The standard bicycle was invented in the late 1800s and kicked off a bike craze across the country.
It was an enormous upgrade from the “penny-farthing” bike, which routinely launched riders head-first over the handlebars.
The addition of a chain drive, gear ratio and equal sized wheels made standard bikes much safer and more popular.
In 1892, the Wright brothers purchased their first bicycles, entered races and quickly became fanatics in the sport.
They began taking their bicycles apart, making minor adjustments for improvement and testing them out on the road.
Seeing them at work in their backyard, people in town started bringing them their own bikes for maintenance and repair.
The brothers were constantly making bicycles more maneuverable and aerodynamic, giving the rider a feeling of complete control.
With their knowledge exploding thanks to so much hands-on testing and feedback, they decided to open their own bicycle shop, Wright Cycle Co. in Dayton, Ohio.
They even started manufacturing their own line of bicycles.
The Idea To Fly
In 1896, Wilbur Wright read an article on the growing field of aviation.
Over the next few years, newspapers filled with stories of the exploding race to create the first motored flying machine.
As the brothers paid more and more attention to the pursuit of flight, they noticed one major flaw in everyone’s approach:
Everyone building planes overvalued the importance of stability.
The pioneers in aviation thought of an aircraft in terms of a ship floating through air.
Because of their knowledge of bike maintenance and handling, the Wright brothers knew thinking of a plane like a ship was the wrong analogy.
Ships are built to move in as stable and straight a manner as possible. Any movement side to side is too dangerous.
A bike is inherently un-stable. It’s the rider who learns how to keep the bike in a secure position and steer it by leaning side to side.
The Wright brothers saw a plane the same way.
Entering The Race For Flight
The Wright brothers used all their (limited) profits from the bicycle shop to enter the race for flight and moved to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Kitty Hawk was the site of the strongest winds in the United States and gave them a chance to test engineless gliders on the sandy dunes of the beach.
Meanwhile, their rivals in the race were completely focused on the engine, barely getting off the ground and not getting any reps actually flying.
Using their knowledge of bicycles, the brothers slowly tweaked their wing design to allow for maximum control over turning and banking, as if they were flying a bicycle.
They decided to add the engine last and had a mechanic from their bicycle shop build a much lighter (and less expensive) engine than what their rivals were using.
The First Flight
On December 17th, 1903, Wilbur piloted their flying machine at Kitty Hawk for 59 seconds.
It was the first manned, controlled and powered flight in history.
For the other competitors in the race, it was a complete mystery how two men without any engineering or aeronautic experience or financial backing had managed to get there first.
3 Summary Ideas
Life is much more like a bicycle and a plane than a ship.
It is the rider or pilot’s responsibility to keep their machine secure and balanced amongst constantly changing conditions.
You have to be able to flow and adapt.
You only learn with reps
The Wright brother’s won the race for flight because they got reps flying.
While their rivals were focusing on getting off the ground, the Wright brothers were focusing on staying in the air.
They reversed their order of operations so they could get reps on what mattered most.
Broader knowledge creates a more insight
The Wright brother’s success in aviation stemmed from practical knowledge in bicycle mechanics and handling.
They saw the obstacle of flight completely differently than their rivals.
Their broad perspective and knowledge in a different field helped them realize insights that made the whole thing possible.