What the Wright Brothers Can Teach Us About Passion

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In the age of endless self-documentation and instant gratification, it’s easy to fake passion. If the thing you loved to do was widely believed to be impossible—or people called you a crackpot for trying— would you still do it?

In the late 1800’s, most people believed aeronautical engineers were crackpots. It was widely believed that man-powered flight was impossible. Airplane crashes made for great stories, and journalists were all over that. Who doesn’t love to hear about stupid people getting injured by jumping off roofs thinking they can fly? (cough cough Tosh.0, Ridiculousness, AFV, Jackass… not much has changed in the last 200 years.) But the fear of embarrassment didn’t stop everyone from trying to fly.

The Race For First In Flight

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.” – Orville Wright

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Orville and Wilbur Wright worked as a team for most of their lives. They started with a printing company, and later opened a bicycle shop. It was the bicycle shop that eventually enabled the Wright Brothers to experiment with flight. But they weren’t the only ones.

In 1887, a man by the name of Samuel P. Langley began experimenting with flight.

Langley held the highest scientific office in the country, so of course the media had an eye on his work. It was Langley who initially inspired the Wright Brothers.

Langley had a full staff of employees working on his machines, which he called Aerodromes. By 1898, with the Spanish-American war on the horizon, the military decided to back Langley and help fund his project.

With financing of $70,000, the support of the U.S. military, and the prestige of the highest scientific office in the country, Langley built what he coined the Great Aerodrome.

When the day came in 1903 to show off the fruits of his five-year labors, the plane crashed into the Potomac on take off. The press had a heyday with Langley’s failure. Embarrassed by the ridiculing stories and the withdrawal of support from the military, Langley halted operations and gave up for good.

Nine days later, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers carried out the world’s first controlled, sustained powered flight. But at the time, no one even seemed to notice. In fact, they weren’t even recognized as the first to flight until 1942.

 

Don’t Play It Safe

While there were many things, including the decades long legal battles, that determined who got credit for being the first to flight, I would like to focus on one intriguing aspect of the story.

When it comes to your passion, it’s more risky to play it safe.

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Langley was interested in flight, and would have loved to be the first to do it. But I’m not so sure he was as dedicated as the Wright Brothers. Why do I think that?

All of Langley’s flights were over water.

It makes a lot of sense. If your plane has an issue and doesn’t fly as planned, the safest place to crash would be a body of water. It’s the safe thing to do.

I think playing it safe may have lost Langley the race.

The Wright Brothers focused on control. They had done the research on flying machines. In 1899, the brothers even wrote Langley at his position at the Smithsonian requesting access to his aeronautical research. They credited Langley and his research for having given them a “good understanding of the problem of flying.”

However, Orville and Wilbur understood that the challenge wasn’t in sustained powered flight alone, but in controlled, sustained powered flight. This is evident in the fact that they invented an airplane control system, and later spit flaps (to slow down a plane in a dive), that were both eventually patented.

All of the Wright Brothers’ test flights were performed on the dunes at Kitty Hawk.

No soft water landings if they messed up, so they needed to be able to control the plane once it was in the air.

It’s like in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce Wayne had to get out of the pit. He couldn’t do it until he took off the safety rope and sacrificed everything.

Passion is something that will lead you down the road to the happiest, but also the hardest days of your life. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. You’ll have to sacrifice a lot, but in the end, it’s worth it.

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If you have a passion for something, you won’t care if you don’t get any likes when you post about it. You also don’t listen to the critics who try to score a quick laugh at your expense. You believe in yourself, get to work, and eventually prove the h8rz wrong.

The seatbelt light is off. Get up and do something great!

 

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Written by Braden Thompson