Soaring (and litigating) into history…
Author: Lawrence Goldstone
In the vast pantheon of great American heroes, there are only two men – brothers, actually – who can claim space on not just one, but two state license plates. (Ohio and North Carolina have been fighting over the legacy of Wilbur and Orville Wright for decades and as every fifth grader knows, the former bike mechanics invented the airplane, or more accurately, they achieved the first powered, controlled and sustained heavier-than-air flight by a human being.) But there’s much more to the story than the Wright Flyer I successfully flying forty yards over the soft sands near Kitty Hawk in 1903. Award winning author Lawrence Goldstone tells the rest of the story in Birdmen, a remarkable saga of scientific brilliance, unmitigated greed, astounding bravery, unwavering family loyalty, marketing ineptitude and the birth of the aviation industry.
Appropriately, Goldstone starts at the beginning, revealing how the Wrights got their start and accomplished their goal of flight through exhausting trial and error. But the book is primarily about what happened after Kitty Hawk. While the dirigible crowd still had an enthusiastic following in the late 19th century, there were many in America and Europe who had the prescience to recognize that fixed wing aircraft held enormous potential for both celebrity and fortune, providing the Wrights with a daunting number of competitors. In fact, the field was so crowded that it took many months for the brothers’ singular historic achievement to be recognized as such.
One of the keys to the Wrights’ success was the flexibility they designed into their wings which allowed them to warp the trailing edge and thus control the flight of their aircraft. Following their success, they patented this design, claiming that any technique that modified a wing in this or any similar manner was their invention. With the subsequent introduction of ailerons – the hinged flaps you can see on modern jets to this day – by other innovators, an aeronautical patent battle of epic proportions ensued. By vigorously claiming patent rights, the Wrights attempted to gain control of the entire burgeoning new industry, both in America and Europe.