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As the 20 th century dawned, more than one team was attempting to
invent heavier-than-air flying machines.
Some acted more from bravado than ability. They strapped fins or
wings to their bodies, and many died test-piloting their mad inventions
off bridges or hills.
Others were more serious. These noble European inventors and
famous American scientists seemed to have every advantage. One of the
wealthiest was Samuel Langley, Smithsonian Institution's secretary, who
used his connections to secure $70,000 in U.S. government funding.
But Langley's devices never worked, nor did those of his wealthy col-
leagues. Powered human flight was achieved instead by Orville and Wilbur
Wright, two bicycle repairmen from Ohio. They spent less than $1,000.
How? How did two men with no particular connections beat the big-
gest government projects in the world on less than 2% of the budget?
They did it by mastering knowledge creation. The Wrights didn't
just draw their design on paper, build it, and fly. They deployed a diz-
zying array of knowledge-creation methods over a period of years. They
conducted hundreds of tests, many of which required them to invent
new testing methods and apparatuses. They designed and built gliders,
airfoils, and control surfaces, each crafted to answer a specific question.
They used mathematical calculation, field testing, lab testing, rumina-
tion, argumentation and debate, research and study. At every point, they
chose the best method to solve the next unknown, to get past the next
hurdle. Every glider flight, redesign, and recalculation taught them a little
bit more about how to fly.
They were relentless. The brothers ran 1,000 test flights on their
1902 glider, modifying it over and over, learning new things every time.
Individual flights taught little, but as the data added up, the Wrights began
to master the sky.
The knowledge gained was as diverse in its nature as in its source.
While testing airfoils in a wind tunnel, they learned that the traditional
equation for lift was wrong. While field-testing a glider, they learned that a
front-mounted horizontal stabilizer lets a craft soft-land like a pancake in-
stead of nose-diving. And they had eureka moments born of unconscious
rumination: while working on the unsolved problem of how to control the
roll of a winged aircraft, Wilbur idly twisted a long box in their workshop,
and realized that this could be a way of changing a wing's shape to control
the roll of the airplane. This observation led to wing-warping controls, in
which the pilot's controls work by twisting the wings.
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