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I don't understand exactly how the Wright brothers handled takeoff with the first gliders and powered plane. I know it has something to do with an elevated rail track. Also, if the flying position was head first, body parallel to the ground, how did they land without injury?

Separate question: For the initial glider flights, did they start at a high elevation and simply glide to the ground, or was there any method for increasing altitude during flight?

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  • $\begingroup$ Re : "I don't understand exactly how the Wright brothers handled takeoff with the first gliders and powered plane. I know it has something to do with an elevated rail track. ". -- please consider editing to transform these two sentences into an actual, answerable question--. (PS please note that the monorail track was not used for any of the gliders that preceded the 1903 powered airplane.). $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ (Sorry, intended answer got mis-posted as edit, now rolled back) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 21:04

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As you said, they used a monorail for launches. The aircraft was pulled forward by a pulley which was connected to a weight which hung from a derrick. First the weight had to be pulled up, the pulley was run to the tip of the rail and back to the Flyer, and once the engine was running and the pilot in place, a helper released the weight and the pulley pulled the aircraft forward.

enter image description here

The pictures here are taken from this site; I recommend it for further reading!

Below is a picture of the rail, note the uptick at the end which gave the airplane a gentle push upwards, similar to the ski jump technique of British aircraft carriers.

enter image description here

For landing the Flyer used two skids. Depending on the ground, this could mean a gentle slide to standstill. Rougher landings would mean bruises for the pilot, like the ones suffered by Orville on August 23, 1904. But in most cases of a rough landing, the elevator assembly absorbed most of the impact energy. Elevator repairs were quite frequent.

I know less about the glider launching technique. Most glider tests were done with an unmanned glider held by strings into the wind. Glider flights would be downhill; thermalling was discovered much later (in 1913). However, even Otto Lilienthal already mentioned the uplifting effect of gusts, but neither he nor the Wright Brothers could circle tightly enough to stay inside a thermal.

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For their first flight 17 Dec 1903 they used a rail for takeoff, but NO CATAPULT. The Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina site was chosen for strong steady winds, so they DIDN'T NEED a catapult. And their first flight patent claim was to take off without external assistance, demonstrate stable controlled flight, and land at a site no lower than the takeoff point.

The catapult was used only after their experiments were moved to Huffman Prairie near their home in Dayton, because the winds were less than in North Carolina.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the detail! As the caption on the picture of the derrick says, a catapult was only added from September 1904 on. However, the majority of flights (also all flights in Europe) were with the catapult. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 12:07
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Separate question: For the initial glider flights, did they start at a high elevation and simply glide to the ground, or was there any method for increasing altitude during flight?

The Wrights did experience soaring flight, including altitude gains to higher than the take-off point, while flying in conditions that we now would call "ridge lift" or "slope lift", on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk in some of their gliders before their 1903 powered flight. In such cases the altitude gains were due to the prevailing meteorological conditions, not the method of launching.

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  • $\begingroup$ and... this is why there should only be one question per question. Great answers to the "other" question can't be accepted. :/ $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 13:08

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