Later Wright Activities
During the Wright brothers’ demonstration flights in Europe in 1909, they met the wealthy businessman J.P. Morgan. Later that year, Morgan introduced the Wrights to a group of New York financiers who were interested in backing the fledgling aviation industry. These investors helped the Wright brothers establish the Wright Company, which was founded in November 1909. In January 1910, the Wright Company set up a factory in Dayton, Ohio. They also established a flying field and flight school at Huffman Prairie, site of the Wrights’ flights after their history-making Kitty Hawk flight. Orville Wright and Charlie Taylor, their longtime mechanic, also set up a flying school in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1910, where Maxwell Air Force Base would later be located. Orville immediately began the instruction of the first five men who became members of the Wright exhibition team.
In January, the brothers hired A. Roy Knabenshue, an experienced balloon and airship pilot, to manage an exhibition flying team. Although the Wrights were not eager to enter the “mountebank business,” as they referred to stunt flying and exhibitions, they recognized that an exhibition team would add to their income. The Wright exhibition team first performed at Indianapolis, Indiana, in June 1910. It stayed in business until November 1911, when the deaths of several team members prompted the Wrights to discontinue it. One of the team’s pilots, Arch Hoxsey, took former President Theodore Roosevelt for his first airplane ride on October 11, 1910
The 1911 Modified B Flyer was the first model produced in quantity by the Wright brothers. It had wheels rather than skids, eliminating the need to launch the aircraft from a rail.
That summer, the Wright Company introduced what would become their most popular aircraft—the Wright Model B. The Model B was a pusher biplane with wing warping to control roll, like their earlier aircraft. But, unlike earlier aircraft, it also had a conventional tail assembly, which gave it better longitudinal stability, and rested on wheels rather than skids, doing away with the need to launch the aircraft from a rail. Model B’s were produced from 1910 through 1914.
On March 31, 1911, the U.S. Congress made its first appropriation for military aviation—$125,000 for the year 1912. The U.S. Signal Corps ordered five new airplanes, which made retirement of Signal Corps No. 1 possible. The first new plane was a Curtiss Type IV Model D “Military.” Signal Corps No. 3 and 4 were Wright Model B’s. Both were accepted at Fort Sam Houston, Texas on April 17, 1911.
The Model B was the first mass-produced airplane. It was also the first Wright airplane without a canard.
The army used the Model B for training pilots and aerial experiments. In October 1911, the army used a Model B in College Park, Maryland, for the first military trials of a bombsight and bomb-dropping device. The major modification to this airplane was the installation of an eight-cylinder Rausenberger engine in place of the original four-cylinder Wright engine and the addition of ailerons on the trailing edge of the wings instead of the Wrights’ lever control system for wing warping.
The Wrights were also investigating automatic stability systems. They devised a mechanism that could sense changes in attitude (the direction that the aircraft pointed) and make compensating adjustments to keep the aircraft flying evenly in the desired direction. It consisted of a pendulum, which sensed and controlled roll or yaw, and a vane, which sensed the aircraft’s pitch. They applied for a patent for this automatic stabilizing system on February 8, 1908.
In October 1911, Orville designed a small glider and went to Kitty Hawk to test the system. After a few mishaps, on October 24, 1911, Orville broke all gliding records by remaining aloft for nine minutes and 45 seconds. That record would remain for ten years. It was the first time that actual soaring had been achieved and established a record that would stand for almost a decade.
Orville Wright making a record gliding flight of 9-3/4 minutes on October 24, 1911, at Kitty Hawk.
The stabilizer worked, and Orville was awarded the on February 5, 1914. But Lawrence Sperry, a young engineer who was attending the Curtiss flying school in Hammondsport, New York, soon made Orville’s system obsolete. In June 1914, Sperry developed a mechanism consisting of two gyroscopes that would sense deviations from straight and normal flight and apply corrective action. One gyroscope sensed the yaw axis and adjusted the rudder, and the other sensed the roll and pitch axes and controlled the ailerons and elevator. Sperry’s breakthrough invention would form the basis for all future automatic stabilization systems.
In the years up through 1915 when Orville sold the Wright Company, the company produced several aircraft models. The Model EX was built especially for exhibition flying. Calbreath Perry "Cal" Rogers used this plane, named the Vin Fiz, on his record-setting transcontinental trip in 1911. A miniature version of the EX, called the “Roadster” and the “Baby Wright,” was built for Alec Ogilvie to fly in the Gordon Bennett air race in October 1910. It had a V-8 motor and could achieve speeds of 70 to 80 miles per hour (112 to 129 kilometers per hour). The Model E, built in 1913, was another exhibition plane. A small crew could disassemble this single-seat plane for shipping in just 12 minutes. Orville flew a Model E equipped with his automatic stabilizer on December 31, 1913, to win the Collier Trophy of the Aero Club of America.
The Wright Model E was a one-seat exhibition machine and the first aircraft with a single propeller.
The Model C, which the Wright Company built in 1912, had dual controls so both pilots could use their right hands on the warp/rudder control. Most C’s had the powerful new six-cylinder engine. This additional power made the craft more difficult to handle. After several pilots died in crashes of the Model C and Curtiss pusher airplanes, the army banned pushers in late 1914 in favor of the new tractor airplanes with enclosed fuselages.
The 1912 Model D was built for an army contract. It was a light, fast, single-seat aircraft with a top speed of 66 miles per hour (106 kilometers per hour). However, it had to land at a high speed or it would not respond to the controls, which discouraged the army from ordering additional planes of this type.
The 1913 Model CH was the Wrights’ first hydroplane. It was basically a Model C equipped for taking off and landing on water. The Wright Company’s only flying boat was the Model G that was designed by Grover Loening under the supervision of Orville and built in 1913 and 1914. It was the first Wright Company product to have an enclosed cockpit. In the 1914 model, the engine was placed in front of the pilota first for a Wright aircraft.
The 1913 Model F was the first Wright aircraft with a fuselage. It also was the first airplane with a “T-tail” where the elevator rested atop the rudder. The 1914 Model H was similar to the Model F but had a continuous wooden fuselage that was covered with canvas. It was the first Wright Company aircraft with a slight dihedral to the wings. The Model HS, built in 1915, was a smaller version of the Model H. It was the last Wright pusher aircraft and the last with a double vertical rudder.
The Model K was a seaplane that was manufactured for the U.S. Navy. It was the Wright Company's first tractor airplane with the propellers facing forward and was also the first Wright aircraft to use ailerons. It was also the last to use "bent-end" propellers that had been designed nearly 10 years earlier.
The Model K seaplane was manufactured for the U.S. Navy in 1915. It was the Wright Company’s first tractor aircraft with two propellers that faced forward. It was also the first Wright aircraft to use ailerons and the last to use the distinctive "bent-end" propellers that had been designed almost ten years before.
The Model L was a one-seat airplane, designed to fill the U.S. Army's request for a light, fast scouting machine. Built in 1916, it was the last aircraft manufactured by the Wright Company. Orville had sold the company by then, but he may have had some small influence on its design since he served as a consultant for a short time after the sale.
None of the later Wright aircraft measured up to contemporary European machines. Government investment by nations facing the prospect of war had moved the technology rapidly forward. The U.S. would not catch up to Europeans until the 1920s.