There is an old saying that goes, “If man were meant to fly, he would’ve been born with the ability to catapult himself 30,000 feet into the air at 600 miles per hour.”
Yet since the beginning of time, people have been fascinated by flight. Early myths included tales of people who gained the ability to fly. And just like all early myths, those people screwed up horribly and it ended up being a super depressing story.
The earliest understanding of lift and propulsion actually had nothing to do with transportation and everything to do with warfare. Ancient people saw birds and other objects fly through the air, and realized they too wanted to accomplish this, but in a super deadly fashion.
Basically, men figured out that it was a lot simpler to use spears and arrows, and therefore kill each other from much farther away.
Man still always dreamed of flying, but it took thousands of years before anyone could figure out an efficient way to transport people through the air in a method that didn’t involve jumping off of things and praying.
And even after moving past that, things still started off poorly.
The first piloted flights were in what was referred to as “lighter than air” vehicles, otherwise known as “things that float.”
The problem with lighter than air vehicles is that they had no effective steering mechanism. Basically this meant that “pilots” would float up in the air and then be held at the mercy of the wind.
Eventually, though, the creation of blimps and “rigid airships”, which had steering capabilities, meant that travel by air was finally available to the masses.
The difference between these two things is that the envelope of the ship (the balloon part, guys) was permanently assembled in rigid airships. The shape of the rigid airship wasn’t changing, giving it a longer lifespan.
And rigid airships enjoyed great success for a period of time. In fact, the Graf Zeppelin actually logged over one million miles of flight time during its life, which included what was likely the slowest around-the-world trip ever.
However, all it took was one tiny major catastrophe for rigid airships to lose their popularity, and in 1937, the Hindenburg exploded, killing 36 people. The airship had been filled with flammable hydrogen, which was cheaper than helium and allowed for more passengers to be on board.
Just like that, the age of the rigid airship had been replaced by the success of two men that history would never bother differentiating between.
The theories that would allow for “heavier than air” flight had been around since the late 1700’s, as people discovered things such as “lift” and “propulsion” and “other things that are too detailed to try and explain”. But all attempts had failed.
Then, enter two brothers with nothing more than brilliant minds, the will to succeed, and the desire to do something worthwhile so people in the future would have to seriously pay attention to guys named Orville and Wilbur.
Orville and Wilbur Wright built gliders in the early 1900’s, hoping to eventually be able to turn them into something special. Early attempts proved promising, so they decided in 1903 that slapping an engine onto one would allow for powered flight.
And contrary to all the doubters and early 1900’s haterz, it totally worked.
For all of 12 seconds.
Technically, the Wright brothers are credited with the first successful flight, as unimpressive as it was. All they had really accomplished was getting off the ground, not actually getting anywhere. It wasn’t much of a success, but it was certainly less of a failure than previous attempts.
Their next flights would get close to an entire minute of airtime, and paved the way for where modern air transportation would lead.
Today, massive planes that weigh tons are able to quickly deliver cargo to wherever it needs to be. Space travel has been made possible. And most importantly, people are finally able to catapult themselves 30,000 feet in the air at 600 miles per hour and travel thousands of miles effortlessly.
All of it is thanks to Orville and Wilbur Wright, two men who failed just slightly less than others. And that’s the less to learn, kids:
Life isn’t about accomplishing great things. It’s just about failing a little bit less than the guy next to you.