Lessons to be Learned from Wilbur and Orville Wright
Just north up the interstate from where we live in Kentucky is the birthplace of aviation. That two brothers, bicycle makers and mechanics, from Dayton, Ohio, forever transformed the manner in which we now navigate the world is nothing short of miraculous.
Upon returning from a recent trip to China, I disembarked from the Boeing aircraft and marveled -- again -- at how planes fly and how convenient, safe, and relatively economical air travel has become in our world. Perhaps we take it too much for granted, but I will never cease to be amazed at how far the aviation industry has come from the Wright Brothers' first flight on that brisk December day in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills.
Never was this brought into clearer focus for me than when I visited the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and made my way through the hangars of aircraft, displays, rockets, and missiles. The day was capped by heading into downtown Dayton to see the Wrights' bicycle shop on West Third Street.
It was then that I decided to study two individuals about whom I knew very little: Wilbur and Orville Wright.
The first book I read on the Wright's was To Conquer the Air by James Tobin. Wanting to know more about their story and the impact of their discoveries and life's work, I also read "The Wright Way" by Mark Eppler. In this latter book, Mr. Eppler observes that there really is no modern-day parallel to what Wilbur and Orville accomplished. The closest analogy, according to Mr. Eppler, would be if Neil Armstrong assembled a rocket in his garage in his spare time to transport him to the moon while holding down a full-time job.
In reading about the Wright's, I was immediately struck by two prevailing themes throughout their lives: curiosity and consequences.
Wilbur and Orville were driven by an insatiable curiosity not just about the mystery of flight but also about everything around them. This is what motivated and drove them in all they undertook: to figure things out, how they worked, and what made them go. Their belief in their abilities as researchers and scientists led to the construction of a wind tunnel, which in turn, resulted in their groundbreaking findings relative to lift, drag, and wing design.
Wilbur and Orville were able to unlock the mystery of these heretofore intractable problems along with the seemingly impossible task of controlling a heavier than air machine. This led to progressively more impressive discoveries, patents, and breakthroughs propelling the aviation industry forward at a staggering rate.
Heartbroken by Wilbur's untimely death at the incredibly young age of 45, Milton Wright wrote this in his diary:
A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died.
Much can be learned from the lives of these two remarkable brothers from the most modest and ordinary of backgrounds. Grit, determination, persistence, discipline... and curiosity. These traits led them to lead lives of consequences and should serve as a tremendous inspiration for all of us.