1919: Orville Wright On The Future Of Civil Flying


Regular readers of Aviation Week & Space Technology will know that we run a Viewpoint column in the magazine. One particular viewpoint, that ran 99 years ago in this magazine (then called Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering), was penned by Orville Wright.

Wright wrote to the magazine fifteen years after he and his brother Wilbur first took to the air in a new flying contraption, the airplane. In his page-long viewpoint, he argues the need for “distinctly marked and carefully prepared landing places,” now commonly known as the runway. Wright suggested that in order “to make flying perfectly safe, good landing places must be provided every ten to twelve miles.” But, he said, it is not an easy accomplishment “on account of the expense involved.” 

In Wright’s time, he saw the biggest challenge to building runways “the preparing of the surface of reasonably flat ground an expensive undertaking...there would also be a continuous expense for the upkeep.” 

Wright goes on to argue that because of the cost involved, this is unlikely to happen, rather “the development of airplanes of such design as to permit of landing in any ordinary field encountered in cross-country flying,” is a more feasible solution.

“More and more landings will, no doubt, be provided as the use of the airplane increases, but its use is heavily handicapped until these landing places are provided,” wrote Wright.

Fast-forward a few decades, and Wright was, well right. While we do have safe landing places, constrained capacity at existing runways and staunch community/environmental objections to new ones are the modern handicaps to an old problem.

Read Orville Wright’s full viewpoint, The Future of Civil Flying, published on January 1, 1919.

Discuss this Blog Entry 9

on Jan 10, 2018

Of course, one can build aircraft for rough fields. This has been done already at the problem seems to be resolved. A helicopter doesn't even need flat space to land.

But one cannot construct aircraft to overcome administrative hurdles, especially as those are growing faster than one can react. And who will be paying at the end. It's always the non-flying majority - albeit without realizing it.

on Jan 10, 2018

Orville would have been astonished by the size of a modern airport. Would he have believed anyone who told him that in a century flying machines could land at weights over 200 tonnes?

on Jan 10, 2018

With Sikorsky's Ilya Mouramets flying before the war and Zeppelin-Staaken giant bombers raiding London, I expect Orville Wright would have been disappointed to find today's largest aircraft so small. He would probably have pictured heavier-than-air craft the size of dirigibles and the weight of ocean liners.

on Jan 10, 2018

He was prognosticating from within the confines of a box of his own making. He could not foresee a plane with range beyond the 10-12 miles his own creations could achieve at that time. I even doubt he could envision (at that time) an airplane carrying more than its pilot and maybe a very few passengers. He was a practical inventor, not a visionary.

on Jan 10, 2018

I agree totally. Whilst they were arguably geniuses in getting airborne initially, with their study of everything from birds to other published studies and wind tunnel work etc., they both then sadly stagnated and spent all their energy on patents and legal arguments rather than moving on to bigger and better things. I very much doubt that he was a visionary.

on Jan 10, 2018

Except that when that editorial was written (1919), aircraft were already well exceeding 200 miles in range*, and carrying a dozen or more passengers**.

* The Caproni CA.4 3-engined heavy bomber entered service in 1917, with a range of 700 miles and a payload of 3,200 lb of bombs!

** the Caproni CA.48 was a passenger airliner converted from CA.4 bombers. It first flew in 1919, with a passenger capacity of 23, over the same range as the bomber version.

on Jan 15, 2018

He was likely considering the range of an aircraft of the time, from a moderate altitude with a failed engine. We have improved the reliability of the powerplants enormously, even in the following 30 years, let alone the following 99!

on Jan 11, 2018

Of what I have read und understand about the Wright brothers, Wilbur was the visionary thinker. Orville was a more sociable person and a practical engineer who was able to find practical solutions to technical problems.

on Jan 11, 2018

I suggest his interest in having landing places at such short intervals was driven by mechanical reliability and vulnerability to weather of aircraft in that period, rather than range. A DH9 of Air Transport and Travel, a predecessor of Imperial Airways, BOAC and British Airways force landed more than twenty times between London Croydon and Paris Le Bourget around this time. The comments of the passengers are unrecorded unfortunately.

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