Wright Brothers Character Lessons

You may think it strange that I would talk about the Wright Brothers in a column that is meant to provide safety and training tips to our SAFE members, but I believe we can all learn a lot from examining their lives and personal work ethic. The Wright Brothers did not let lack of education or lack of financial resources stop them from pursuing their dreams of flight.

The Wright Brothers did not graduate from high school (which was not uncommon in that era), but in spite of this, they were willing to do whatever it took to gain the knowledge and skills they needed to create first a glider and then a motorized flying machine. Not only did the brothers spend time reading about previous attempts at flight by other inventors, but they also experimented with kites and small gliders to better understand the principles of flight.

In spite of many setbacks, including several flying accidents and lack of money, the Wright Brothers never gave up on their goal to develop an airplane. This singlemindedness (i.e., total dedication to purpose) is likely why the Wright Brothers succeeded while Samuel P. Langley, their contemporary, failed. Langley was focused exclusively on becoming rich and famous with his invention while the Wright Brothers were focused on building “a flying machine” that would have practical application for the world. In fact, Orville and Wilbur were so dedicated to their goals that neither brother ever married.

Finally, the Wright Brothers learned from their mistakes. The fact that they had been bicycle mechanics and “tinkers” all their lives taught them how to study a mechanical problem and design a part or appropriate “fix” to solve the problem. While designing an airplane wing was certainly more challenging that repairing a bicycle, the process was the same: (1) study the problem; (2) come up with potential solutions to solve the problem; (3) apply one of the solutions; (4) evaluate the outcome. If the solution applied didn’t solve the problem, try another solution, but don’t give up. Doing these four steps over and over again to first develop their glider and then the 1903 Wright Flyer took infinite patience as well as dedication of purpose.

In the book The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age (2003), authors Dr. Tom D. Crouch and Dr. Peter L.Jakab concluded that the reason the Wright Brothers were successful and so many other inventors were not was because of the Wright Brothers “inventive methodology.”  Essentially, this same methodology is still the basis for aeronautical research today.

In summary, we as SAFE members (aviation educators, flight examiners, and pilots) should take the life lessons to be learned from the Wright Brothers to heart: learn what you need to know in order to succeed in whatever endeavor you set your mind to; be patient with yourself and with the process (whatever it may be); never give up on yourself or on your dreams. If you have a dream to become the best flight instructor you can be, or to fly your airplane to Alaska, or to get a seaplane rating, do at least one thing this week to bring you closer to your dream. To quote another famous aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Wishes and dreams do not come true without action and determination, so it’s time to take that first step in turning your dream(s) into personal goals in the New Year.

Note: This article was previously published in the December 2018 issue of PROPWASH, the official newsletter of EAA Chapter 517, Inc., in Missoula, MT. The article is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Author: Sherry Rossiter

I've been fortunate to have found a way to merge two different career paths, aviation and psychology. My aviation credentials include ATP, CFI, and CFI-I in both airplanes and helicopters. I'm also a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and currently teach undergraduate psychology courses for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University - Worldwide Campus. Additionally, I served as a Board Member for SAFE (you can too).

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