Wilbur Wright and the Buzzard

The early gliders made by the Wright brothers often crashed when buffeted by wind. Wilbur spent many hours watching the flight of Turkey Vultures (buzzards – below).

Turkey Vulture  (Cathartes aura) . Lopez Island, Washington. July. Photographer:  Peter R. Cavanagh

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). Lopez Island, Washington. July. Photographer: Peter R. Cavanagh

These birds are masters of aerodynamic stability. They soar and turn for minutes on end— often without so much as a wing flap—catching rising air and managing shifting winds. Wilbur recounted what he had learned in a letter to aviation enthusiast Octave Chanute dated May 1900:

My observation of the flight of buzzards leads me to believe that they regain their lateral balance when partly overturned by a gust of wind, by a torsion of the tips of the wings.

Based on these observations, the Wright brothers patented and added warp controls to the wings of their flier. This is one of many examples where birds gave inspiration to early flight pioneers.

Illustration from the patent issued to the Wright brothers in 1906 showing a wing warping system.

Illustration from the patent issued to the Wright brothers in 1906 showing a wing warping system.

LEARN MORE ABOUT WILBUR WRIGHT

KIDS QUESTION: In the museum exhibit, we asked: Who was Wilbur Wright?

The answer is: One of the Wright brothers who were the first to successfully fly an airplane with an engine.
Wilbur Wright was an American aviation pioneer who, with his younger brother Orville, built and flew the first powered heavier-than-air aircraft that could be controlled. After several years of experiments with gliders, their first successful powered flights of 120, 175, and 200 feet (38, 53, 61 meters) and were made on December 7, 1903.