The first powered, controlled, sustained flight by a heavier-than-air aircraft took place on Kill Devil Hill, Kittyhawk, North Carolina. They needed a place with steady wind, away from people, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina provided both.
It wasn’t much by modern standards, but it started a revolution. People had dreamed of flight for thousands of years, and gliders had been around for a while. The problem was launching them. Birds self-launch. People in gliders could do that off of hill sides, if everything went right, but it wasn’t the same as true flight. Hot-air balloons could drift with the wind, and had been around for over a century. Again, control was a problem, as was fire. Gas balloons came next, hydrogen at first, but a light-weight propulsion unit remained, let us say, challenging to find.
Everyone remembers the Wright Brothers. Charlie Taylor is remembered only by rabid aviation buffs, and mechanics. Charlie Taylor created the engine that the Wrights needed. It was . . . rough. It had four in-line iron cylinders on an aluminium case. The compression ratio left a lot to be desired, and the water-cooled engine lacked pumps and other accessories. Steel crankshafts linked to the propellers via chains, one of which had a twist in order to make the props counter-rotating. The props turned relatively slowly. The life of the engine wasn’t all that long, but it worked and worked well enough for powered, controlled flight.
Charlie Taylor delivered the engine in six weeks from order to test run. It was under-weight, produced the required thrust power, and was machined entirely by hand! No one remembers him, unless you are an aircraft mechanic. The FAA also now has a Charlie Taylor Award, for the mechanic or maintenance inspector of the year, usually given for lifetime accomplishment.
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