Airplanes are arguably one of the most transformative innovations of humankind.
While there were multiple previous attempts to make it happen, it was 17 December of 1903 when the first airplane successfully soared in the skies. Wilbur and Orville Wright’s machine made the world’s first flight.
Short-lived yet impactful
It only lasted 12 seconds and soared only 120 feet, but the Wright brothers demonstrated a feat that centuries ago would have been perceived possible only through sorcery or an act of god.
“It was the first time in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point as high as that from which it had started,” Wilbur said
Since then, airplanes have been developed to fly even days worth of flights, connecting the world in the way it has never been before.
The power of data
This achievement demonstrates not only the innovation capabilities of the Wright brothers but also the power of data.
For more than a hundred years, aerodynamics designers have been using this lift equation:
The key component which permitted the success of the Wright brothers is the modification of the Smeaton’s coefficient. For so long, the accepted value is 0.005.
The Wright brothers performed multiple experiments, simulating flight in a wind tunnel.
Over 50 simulations and four months later, they determined that the coefficient is 0.0033 instead of the value accepted in the field.
“In fact, the accurate wind tunnel data we developed was so important, it is doubtful if anyone would have ever developed a flyable wing without first developing this data. Sometimes the non-glamorous lab work is absolutely crucial to the success of a project,” according to Wilbur Wright.
This is a great reminder that apart from a creative mind that generates innovation, much of the groundwork of disruptive technology arise from well-designed experiments and large volumes of data.