Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

10-5 Wright Brothers Similar to NM Inventors

FRI, 10-05-07

KITTY HAWK, NC - This cradle of aviation evokes comparisons between the Wright Brothers and New Mexico's world-class inventors - especially in their troubles with our government.
Orville and Wilber Wright are somewhat similar to Bill Gates and Paul Allen, college dropouts who revolutionized the computer world, left New Mexico in search of funds and attained such fabulous success that governments throughout the world have moved to limit their power.
The Wrights lacked high school diplomas but solved engineering problems years ahead of the world's leading aeronautical scientists. They were able to finance their own experiments through their bicycle repair business in Dayton, Ohio, but ran into a stone wall when they tried to sell their plans to the Army.
Roswell rocket pioneer Robert Goddard could tell us about the Army's lack of interest in embracing anything new. Throughout the 1930s, he tried to convince the government that rockets have military value. After Adolph Hitler emphatically made Goddard's point a few years later, the United States spent billions on rocket science, infringing on dozens of Goddard's patents.
And now, in a new age of commercial rocket science, it appears that a blunder by New Mexico state government could spell an end to Spaceport America. A suggestion that a statewide tax might be necessary to keep the RailRunner train project afloat is causing fears that planned tax votes in Otero and Sierra counties may fail.
One can hardly blame southern New Mexico voters for a negative reaction to the notion that taxpayers statewide should pay for a railroad serving Albuquerque and Santa Fe while taxpayers near a planned southern New Mexico spaceport are expected to help pay for it.
New Mexico has made a big investment in attracting commercial space pioneers to the state. That effort is well on its way to success with X-Prize competitions, the Rocket Racing League and several small aerospace companies deciding to locate here.
With Sir Richard Branson's decision to bring Virgin Galactic to New Mexico, it would be foolish to lose it all to Dubai, Ireland, Oklahoma or several other suitors for the businesses. But it could happen.
The centennial of the Wright's first flight in 2003 brought much coverage of their efforts, along with recreations and reenactments of their maiden flights. But little or nothing was said about the years that followed.
In 1904, the Wrights moved their operation back home to a field near Dayton, making 105 flights that year. By 1905, circling flights of up to 38 minutes became routine. The brothers had a practical airplane, which they decided to offer to the U.S. Army.
But the Army wasn't interested. So the brothers quit flying. They put away their airplane and designs and concentrated full time on their bicycle repair business for three years. During that time, Europeans tried to catch up.
By 1907, a European pilot managed to stay aloft for close to a minute, equaling the Wrights' 1903 achievement. In 1908, a French pilot stayed up for 20 minutes. But the French attempts were still shaky, compared with the Wrights' smooth control system.
So the French decided to pay for the Wrights' secrets. And suddenly, the U.S. government got in the ballgame, much as it did 50 years later when the Russians put up Sputnik. The brothers again showed the world what they could do - Wilber in France, Orville in America.
By 1910, the French caught up and soon other countries joined in. The Wright's next model, produced in 1911, became the prototype for every airplane in the air today. By 1916, the U.S. Army got serious with reconnaissance planes used in the attempt to track Pancho Villa back into Mexico after his raid on Columbus.
Gen. Pershing couldn't find Villa, but the experience led to the development of an improved airplane model that also could be used as a fighter the following year when America got involved in World War I.

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