Cover image for First flight : the Wright brothers and the invention of the airplane
First flight : the Wright brothers and the invention of the airplane
Heppenheimer, T. A., 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, [2003]

Physical Description:
394 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TL540.W7 H47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
TL540.W7 H47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
TL540.W7 H47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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An aviation expert uncovers the brilliance behind the first successful flight of an engine-powered plane
In the centennial year of the Wright Brothers' first successful flight, acclaimed aviation writer T. A. Heppenheimer reexamines what Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved. In First Flight, he debunks the popular assumption that the Wrights were simple mechanics who succeeded by trial and error, demonstrating instead that they were true engineering geniuses. Heppenheimer presents the background that made possible the work of the Wrights and examines the work of Samuel P. Langley, a serious rival. He places their work within a broad historical context, emphasizing their contributions after 1903 and their convergence with ongoing aeronautical work in France.
T. A. Heppenheimer (Fountain Valley, CA) has written extensively on aerospace, business, and the history of technology. His many books include Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation (0-471-10961-4), Countdown: A History of Space Flight (0-471-14439-8), and A Brief History of Flight: From Balloons to Mach 3 and Beyond (0-471-34637-3), all from Wiley.

Author Notes

T. A. Heppenheimer is a well-known author who has published extensively on aviation and aerospace, business, and the history of technology. He holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Aerospace

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Aviation writer Heppenheimer (A Brief History of Flight) here dismisses the popular notion that the Wrights were lowly bicycle mechanics who overcame their limitations through hard work and perseverance. Instead, he shows that the brothers enjoyed the advantages of upper-middle-class family life, an accessible home library, loving parents, and proper home schooling. The book examines the teenagers' various entrepreneurships prior to their self-introduction to the subject of flight, carefully demonstrating their potential for genius in each endeavor. Also covered are the early experiments with lighter-than-air flying contraptions, reminding the reader that not one of the Wright forerunners had mastered the issue of control of the airplane in flight. The first men to investigate the issue of controlled flight became the men who invented the airplane-the Wrights. Following their successful powered flights on December 17, 1903, Heppenheimer traces in detail the Wrights' continued work in Dayton, their adulatory reception by the public, their bitter patent suits against Glenn Curtiss and others, Wilbur's tragic death, and Orville's protracted feud with the Smithsonian Institution over its refusal to accept the Wrights as the Fathers of Flight. This somewhat specialized study runs counter to recent anti-Wright historiography (Herbert A. Johnson's Wingless Eagle and Seth Shulman's Unlocking The Sky) and will appeal to aviation scholars and enthusiasts. Recommended for all aeronautical collections and large libraries.-John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Amidst the wave of authors of books keyed to the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight, Heppenheimer stands out as one of the most prolific. His prior titles include A Brief History of Flight (CH, Oct'02), as well as a history of commercial aviation and other efforts. This is a comprehensive and competent account of the Wrights' deliberate and impressive path of research and design in creating a successful powered airplane. Along with commentary on the Wright family, Heppenheimer covers the activities of many Wright contemporaries in the field of aeronautics. Heppenheimer also includes the Wrights' efforts to establish manufacturing operations in the US as well as overseas. He notes the activities of leading individuals in European aviation. A final chapter (one of the most interesting) summarizes principal trends from early flight to the present. The "notes" are sparse, with repeated references to keystone books by Tom Crouch and Peter Jakab, along with older, standard biographies. The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright (2 v., 1953), ed. by Marvin McFarland, is a startling omission. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers. R. E. Bilstein emeritus, University of Houston--Clear Lake

Table of Contents

1 Enter the Wrightsp. 1
2 Prophets with Some Honorp. 33
3 Teachers and First Lessonsp. 72
4 Hitting a Wallp. 110
5 "We Now Hold All the Records!"p. 137
6 Ambiguous Successp. 172
7 Return to Daytonp. 211
8 Into the Worldp. 245
9 Noon into Twilightp. 288
10 Inventiveness and Inventionp. 340
Notesp. 372
Bibliographyp. 375
Indexp. 380