SPEAKER: Robert N. McCullough, Associate Professor, Mathematics
TITLE: The Wright Stuff – The Mathematics of the Wright Brothers
On December 17, 1903, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright, accomplished one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit – flight. After their unsuccessful gliding flights in 1900 and 1901, the Wrights became convinced that a thorough understanding of the mathematics of flight was necessary to overcome the errors that others had made in their attempts to fly. In particular, the Smeaton coefficient of air pressure, a standard number that had been accepted and used for nearly 150 years without question by such people as Lilienthal and Chanute, was found to be seriously in error. Similarly, the coefficients of lift and drag needed to be calculated for each shape of airfoil tested to determine the optimal shape.
This paper will examine the mathematics that the Wright brothers used and the experiments they devised to determine and test these results. Using only high school mathematics, Wilbur and Orville Wright changed the world forever.
REFRESHMENTS: 11:00am, STARR 138
Please visit Math Colloquium website at