History Who Really Invented the Airplane Part 5

About the controversy in history over who invented the airplane. A look at support for the various claims.





Langley's supporters have had to refute two major arguments concerning his claim. First, that his 1896 airplane was unmanned and therefore only a model, while his man-carrying plane was a failure. But his adherents assert that his machines met all requirements for controlled, lengthy flight. The manned airplane failed, not because of any inherent mechanical difficulties, but simply because of the faulty catapult. Second, some argue that Langley's airplanes did not, and could not, use their own motive power for takeoff. Langley partisans claim that he could have ascended from the ground but was concerned with the damage that might occur on landing. It is also asserted that the engine of Langley's flying machine was efficient enough to power a takeoff.

Even Wilbur Wright once admitted that Langley had a stronger claim than any other contender, saying Langley had provided "the first practical demonstration of the possibility of mechanical flight," and that he and his brother were influenced in their work by Langley's skills. The Langley claim is in agreement with the Wrights' claim that Ader's aircraft never flew, but it points out that Langley's machines had achieved flight some seven years before the Wright brothers and ten years before Santos-Dumont.


A number of aviation historians assert that none of these contenders--not Langley or the Wright brothers--was the first to invent a viable heavier-than-air machine. These authorities argue that the Wrights' supporters are correct in their evaluations of Ader. They also claim that Langley's unmanned, unguided, catapult-launched airplane cannot be seriously considered, and that the Wrights achieved only a powered glide in 1903. They contend that Alberto Santos-Dumont on Oct. 23, 1906, became the first man to fly. They point out that the French government, in spite of its later patent award to the Wright brothers, officially recognized this 1906 event as the first witnessed powered flight. Unlike the case with the other claimants, no aeronautics experts dispute the fact that Santos-Dumont's flight met all the necessary definitions and criteria. That would make him the father of the airplane.

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