cover image FIRST FLIGHT: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane

FIRST FLIGHT: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane

T. A. Heppenheimer, . . Wiley, $30 (394pp) ISBN 978-0-471-40124-7

Aviation writer Heppenheimer (A Brief History of Flight) delivers a thorough look at the Wright brothers. Debunking the standard view that the brothers more or less invented their flying machine by luck and persistence, Heppenheimer definitively establishes a number of crucial facts about Orville and Wilbur that challenge current assumptions. He shows that the brothers were both driven, visionary individuals: Orville built his boyhood kites to help him "appreciate the importance of light weight in aeronautics"; their attempt at printing a newspaper failed financially but "showed them that they could measure up to the demands of challenging tasks by using their hands and their wits." He shows that the brothers were careful students of early pioneers in flight technology such as Otto Liliental and Octave Chanute, as well as contemporary rivals such as Samuel Langle and Glenn Curtiss, against whom the litigious brothers brought a legendarily tenacious patent lawsuit. Most important, Heppenheimer not only presents a detailed portrait of the brothers' groundbreaking and painstaking work in the workshop that "was the focus of their lives," but also reintroduces to the historical record their many technological and business adventures after the famous flight at Kitty Hawk. (Feb.)