See the image behind the journey.



12 Reasons Why the Wright Brothers Invented the Airplane.

by David Garrigus

Wright Brothers bicycle shop now on display in Greenfield Village, MI.Why was it that two guys in a bicycle shop invented the airplane and not the world’s leading scientists and engineers? Interviews with a dozen Wright experts reveal key personality traits that rewarded the Brothers with success. Many of these attributes from a bygone era are shared by more recent entrepreneurs (Larry Page/Sergey Brin, Mark Zukerberg, GoPro's Nick Woodman, Alibaba's Jack Ma, etc.) Wilbur and Orville’s invention story provides a valuable model for solving almost any big challenge.

The Wright Brothers were not just geniuses. Likewise, they were not just in the right place at the right time. The Wright Brothers were driven by twelve basic principles for success:

Otto Lilienthal flying one of his bi-wing gliders.1. Recognize a unique opportunity that you can fill. At the age of 29 and living in his father’s house, Wilbur Wright felt that life was passing him by. When leading airplane experimenter, Otto Lilienthal, died, Wilbur recognized that a void had opened up in aeronautical research. Wilbur saw Lilienthal’s death as an opportunity to make his own contribution to the field.


Octave Chanute posing in one of his early gliders.2. Do extensive research. In a letter to the Smithsonian Institution, Wilbur wrote, “I wish to obtain such papers as the Institution has published on this subject, and if possible, a list of other works in print...” He read everything he could find on the subject before doing anything about it himself.



Reinactment of Wilbur Wright twisting an empty tire tube box.3. Identify the right problem. Other experimenters had done extensive work on basic wing design and surfaces that generated lift. Renowned scientists like Samuel Langley were hard at work developing light and powerful airplane engines. Wilbur correctly identified that balance and control were the essential elements needed to keep an airplane in the sky. Once Wilbur hit upon the right problem to solve, his first big solution came to him while fiddling with an empty tire tube box.

Reinactment of Wright 1899 kite in the air.4. Start small and test every incremental change. Wilbur didn’t start his experiments by trying to build an airplane. Instead, he built a little kite (perhaps several kites) to test his idea. At every stage of their experiments from kites—to gliders—to powered machines, the Wrights tested only one change at a time. When they didn’t follow this rule with their 1901 glider, their experiments nearly came to an end.


Reinactment of Orville and Wilbur Wright talking on a sand dune.5. Share your dream. Don’t turn away help. Share the credit. Orville followed Wilbur to Kitty Hawk their first season in 1900 as no more than an assistant to his brother. Wilbur made all the test flights and had already done much of the foundational work toward the invention of the airplane. But from that point on, Wilbur shared full credit with his brother. Wilbur likely would not have succeeded without this partnership.


Wind Speed Anemometer similar to model used by the Wright Brothers.6. Keep excellent records. Stay organized. The Wrights took hundreds of pictures of their experiments, measured everything, and recorded all their data in a series of notebooks. Most of their inventing did not take place at Kitty Hawk. Rather, they spent the majority of their time in the back room of their Dayton bicycle shop where they designed and tested parts. Their work with flying machines on the dunes of Kitty Hawk was the culmination of those back-room tests.

Reinactment of Wilbur Wright crashing in 1901 glider.7. Accept that it is always more difficult than ever imagined. Orville and Wilbur ran into difficulties and setbacks at every stage of the process. They didn't quit because they truly enjoyed what they were doing. They found satisfaction, happiness, and joy in the pursuit of their dreams. During their most devastating setbacks, their passion was there to sustain them.


Illustration of Wright 1901 glider experiencing "well-digging" problem.8. Devastating mistakes are merely new foundations from which to build. Setbacks always redirected the Brothers to a better path. The calamities of the Wrights’ second season at Kitty Hawk brought their experiments to a halt. They could no longer trust the data published by other experimenters. They took a step back. They built a small wind tunnel in the back room of their bicycle shop and tested every piece of data for themselves.


Making a replica Wright airplane part.9. Do it yourself whenever you can. There were often unforeseen benefits that resulted from the Wrights' hands-on approach—critical insights that might have been missed if others had done the work. After only three years of hands-on experience (often improvising parts from their bike business) the Wrights became the foremost aeronautical inventors—leaping far ahead of all others in the field. The Wrights conducted their experiments for about $1,000 over five years compared to more than $50,000 spent by scientist Samuel Langley.

Reinactment of Orville Wright measuring engine power with a fish scale.10. Don’t give up until you have found your big idea to be wrong. Throughout years of setbacks and missteps, the Wrights never lost sight of their initial big idea that Wilbur first tested by building a little kite—the innovation he called wing warping. It was the very same idea that the Wrights would later patent and sell to the world.



Samuel Langley portrait in cap and gown.11. Pay attention to the competition but only let it motivate you. The Wrights didn’t let the competition's press releases distract them from what their findings showed to be true. They did not underestimate their competition. They kept an eye on Samuel Langley and his highly-publicized flying experiments. The Wrights were in a race to be the first to fly and they were sprinting with their trials in 1903. If not for the competition, it's likely that the Wrights would have put off their historic first flight until 1904.

Orville and Wilbur Wight in bowler hats.12. Managing success can be more difficult than finding it. The Wrights attempted to introduce their invention to the world without losing control of it. As a result, Wilbur spent much of his time in courthouses defending the Wright patents. (Keeping excellent records early on becomes even more important when defending patent claims later.) All too often, successful inventors are ill-equipped at building businesses, which requires a different set of skills. The stress and hardship of defending the Wrights’ patents contributed to Wilbur’s death at the age of only 45.

Wright 1902 glider and replica in flight.

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Kitty Hawk: The Wright Brothers' Journey of Invention poster.



        Neil Armstrong and John GlennNeil Armstrong and Wilbur WrightOrville Wright and John Glenn

Legendary astronauts John Glenn and the late Neil Armstrong portray the voices of Wilbur and Orville in Kitty Hawk. It proved to be the only time that the two most-famous American astronauts collaborated together on such a project. Armstrong's and Glenn's inspiring voice performances of the Brothers' words provide a fitting tribute from two of the greatest heroes of space to the historic pioneers of aviation.

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Kitty Hawk award-winning feature-length documentary.

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Today's test pilots attempt to fly a replica 1902 glider.

Eight most important Machines of the Wright Brothers.


Letters from Kitty Hawk by author Fred Howard.

Additional Experts' Analysis by leading Wright scholars.

Early Motion Pictures of the Wright Brothers in Flight.


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  Kitty Hawk 2-disc DVD front and back.




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Today's test pilots attempt to fly a replica 1902 glider.


Eight most important Machines of the Wright Brothers.


Letters from Kitty Hawk by author Fred Howard.



Additional Experts' Analysis by leading Wright scholars.


Photographs from Kitty Hawk with captions.


Early Motion Pictures of the Wright Brothers in Flight.


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Kitty Hawk was originally broadcast to millions of viewers in countries around the world and on PBS stations in the United States.