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At the same time, Langley and others were also deploying their re-
sources, but in the wrong ways. Most of them focused on building more
powerful engines. Engine design was a well-established field at the time,
so money could easily be invested in making better engines. The Wrights,
however, understood that the missing piece wasn't engine power. It was ac-
curate control. While much was known about engines, almost nothing was
known of aerodynamics, and there was no aerodynamics industry. Someone
who wished to purchase better aerodynamic control systems would have
nobody to pay; there was literally nobody ready to do the research. So the
Wrights did it themselves, using their own knowledge creation methods.
And the Wrights became masters at test design and construction.
They built the world's most accurate wind tunnel and used it to test 200
different wing shapes. When trial and error with full-size gliders proved
costly, they built a bicycle-like apparatus to which they could attach aero-
dynamic parts. Riding the bike would push a piece of wing through the
air and allow measurement of their properties, achieving the same result
as the glider at much lower expense. They weren't just inventing the air-
plane; they were inventing all the tools they needed to invent the airplane.
The brothers faced many setbacks. Gliders failed to lift, failed to turn,
turned the wrong way, or plowed into the ground. Values for a coefficient
of lift and wing shape test data from earlier researchers turned out to
be wrong and had to be rederived. The propeller designs they hoped to
borrow from shipbuilders didn't work, so they had to invent their own. No
engine maker had a light enough power source, so they built one in their
shop. Components broke often, delaying tests and requiring expensive
replacements. Through all of this, they had no guarantee that the airplane
would ever work. But they persisted.
There was no single day on which the airplane was complete. The
flier's performance improved in tiny increments over many iterations. In
1899 they flew a five-foot-wide kite. In 1900 they were pulling a glider
big enough to carry a man. The 1902 glider introduced new rudders and
control systems that allowed a pilot to make controlled left-right turns. In
1903, they added an engine and flew under power and control, but only
for a few seconds a few feet off the ground. The Wrights kept working,
improving the weakest aspects of the design, learning from failures and
extending successes. By 1905 Wilbur was doing 40-minute flights over
distances of 20 miles. They had been working for six years.
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