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The WRight Story: the true story of the Wright Brothers’ contribution to early aviation — a book review

27 September 2010

The WRight Story: the true story of the Wright Brothers’ contribution to early aviation — book review

The WRight Story: the true story of the Wright Brothers’ contribution to early aviation, Joe Bullmer, 2009, ISBN 1-4392-3620-8, 315 pp.

The WRight Story: the true story of the Wright Brothers' contribution to early aviation by Joe Bullmer

The WRight Story: the true story of the Wright Brothers’ contribution to early aviation by Joe Bullmer

This book has come along at the perfect time for me* and is written by an author who is an engineer in aeronautics. Bullmer reports that he has done extensive research into the Wright Brothers archive and the text shows it. These 315 pages are full of description and explanation done in a flowing style that has continuity and depth. This book is simply a great read. There is no index present so take notes in the margins as needed but the table of contents is detailed with subtitles.

He has delved into what the Wright Brothers did as well as did not do and goes a long way into his thoughts as to the whys and why nots. Letters and speeches are referenced and engineering explanations are easy to understand. Indeed, these engineering explanations are invaluable. Business and legal decisions (the former absorbed the Wrights early on and the latter consumed then later on) are also observed and fleshed out.

This is a complete book and one with bonuses. Some of then are:

  • A history of the aviation pioneers prior to the Wrights with the exception of Richard Pearse
  • An explanation of ground effect — it’s about reduction of drag and not flying on a cushion of air
  • A thorough chapter on low speed flight — the Wrights and others were handling physics problems we do not have to contend with today as aircraft do not have their entire flight within ground effect and travel much faster than early aviators who flew at what today are taxi speeds. Low speed aerodynamics are much more than flying slowly.
  • The Wrights were very competent in their studies and led the way in propeller science more so that aeronautics
  • A history of aeronautical engineers through the Golden Age of aviation

The meat of this book explains, I think pretty well, how the Wrights were the first to fly in coordinated flight and then proceeded to lose their technical lead while advancing their business interests in trying to obtain a monopoly. They tried to sell to foreign military markets before approaching the U.S. Army. They developed a legal patent and lawsuit strategy that held America back in aviation development as European powers advanced. A decade after their famous first flight the USA had less than a handful of obsolete aircraft and the World’s major powers had hundreds of state-of-the-art aircraft. The Wrights in court did what no foreign power had done — all but stymie aircraft manufacturing and development. Glenn Curtiss, of course, was an exception. And Grover Loening left the Wrights as a chief engineer due to the open hatred the brothers had toward Curtiss. Loening and three others went on to found Grumman. Bullmer does a good job defending the Wright Brothers. He doesn’t mention the historical context in that the Wrights were simply attempting what railroad barons and industrial had been doing for decades — monopolizing, manipulating and otherwise cornering the market to their best benefit. Bullmer also points out another salient point that should be noted and often is not — the Wright Brothers began an industry and that is perhaps their greatest legacy.

Those that believe the Wrights were responsible for man’s first powered flight, and aircraft designs of today harken back to the Wright Flyer, will not like this book if they are religious adherents to that belief, the same tenet I was taught in high school and have read in many books. Even they should read this book so that they can be aware of all the facts that may be brought before them in debates. This book is a good read, informative and written by an engineer who should know the aeronautical perspective of things.

* I became aware that history and the Wright legacy often depart from one another, as well as Glenn Curtiss not obtaining the fame his legacy deserves and wrote a post about the subject — it is entitled Wright … or correct, and published on 28 February 2010. Typing the title into the search window and selecting ENTER will get you to it quickly and easily.

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