Jul

19

Wright BrosDecember 17th, 1903 was when the Wright brothers had their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, NC. I know this because of the fascinating 30-minute lecture and following 30-minute film at the Wright brothers Memorial Park, three miles from where we are vacationing in Kitty Hawk.

Without really looking into it, I had always assumed that the invention of powered flight was kind of a hit-and-miss thing, much like Edison ploddingly trying a thousand things inventing his light bulb, but not so. The Wrights were really bright guys who, though their main business was running a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, truly proved to be both scientists and engineers. These guys were amazing. They carefully planned and calculated all of their moves, starting with segmenting the four main problems of controlled flight - pitch, roll, yaw, and thrust - solving each separately then putting it all together in the Wright Flyer of 1903.

Not only did they research and work out the theory, but they did exhaustive modeling and testing; starting with kites, scaling up to gliders and then finally the powered machine. They developed their own test and measuring tools, including a wind tunnel to test wing designs, and worked out how to measuring lift and drag using a tension scale, compass, and basic trigonometry (to optimize the wing shape).

All the elements first came together in their 1902 glider, which they tested successfully. The only thing left was to add power for thrust.

Again, they had to invent the necessary elements. When no car company would build them the type of engine they needed, they improvised their own simple but ingenious four-piston engine cast in aluminum. They then also had the insight to design their propeller to act like a wing, and optimized the shape so accurately that they were within a few % of what you would optimize with modern technology. Orville, hacked, carved, shaped and polished the propellers himself. The one engine powered two propellers, which were driven by essentially bicycle chains mounted through bicycle frame tubing.

They accomplished the whole thing in a well thought out systematic and truly scientific way, having to invent most of what they needed as they solved one problem after another. I found it to be so much the more impressive because of that - their methodology.

The lesson for traders or investors designing a system is to observe from different perspectives to gain insight, segment problems into more manageable components, transfer ideas from other disciplines or seemingly unrelated areas, try to establish some theoretical basis for why what you are attempting should work, build models, test, and optimize. Also, you need to be persistent, adaptable, and resourceful.


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