Colin Barry

The Wright Brothers and Their Flying Machines (CMC, Thursday, Week 6)


Big problems the Wright Brothers solved

Power supply => internal combustion engine, custom-built by them
Propulsion => propellor, custom-built by them, derived from maritime turbine experiments
Stability => invented control system (wing warping)
Air frame => experimentally determined lift coefficients via self-built wind-tunnel, custom-built by them
Safety => many early flight pioneers killed

Incremental or radical innovation?
Not clear that powered flight was even possible; less clear that it would ever be profitable...

-- Started with collaborative, "open source" model of discovery => built on work by many others
-- Professed interest in science => despite danger and lack of reward
-- Self-propelled QUEST
-- Did not participate in public contests. Why? Maybe shunned public glory, maybe fear of failure, maybe secrecy/patent protection...

Role of Chanute: visionary/supporter/catalyst OR ineffectual cheerleader?

Parsing their decision to patent --- in spite of "gentlemen's agreement" to share findings with the world
-- Take credit for invention
-- Value => commercialize, spur competition
-- Reward for execution and risk-taking
-- Fund healthy innovation

But (maybe) abusive:
-- Takes rents from ALL flying machines => American production of aircraft severely limited until government basically buys the Wright brothers out
-- Makes everyone take out patents --- probably not all patents are meaningful