In 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane. Other aircraft preceded theirs, lifted aloft by lighter-than-air elements, but the wright brothers smaller and faster airplane was a new breakthrough. People could fly like birds, except faster and higher.
The Wright Brothers were furiously worried about their intellectual property being stolen. In hindsight, their fears were justified. One of their early collaborates already betrayed them, falsely claiming to be the inventor of the controllable glider component they created. The idea that two brothers from Ohio who owned a bicycle shop invented a working airplane was outright absurd.
In fact, the US Army refused to even look at their plane saying their claim was preposterous. Britain, France, and Germany all passed, probably because the brothers refused to demonstrate their plane without a signed contract. A 1906 article in the Paris Herald Tribune headlined “FLYERS OR LIARS?” The brothers assumed anybody had more credibility than them.
Further, the patent office refused to grant a patent because they did not believe the plane worked. Patent examiners assumed the brothers were trying to patent an idea then take royalties from whomever actually invented a working airplane.
Finally, in 1908, the brothers relented. They brought their plane to France and flew above the racetrack at Le Mans. The brothers continued, flying over 200 demonstration flights in France.
Italy decided to create military pilots, a new role, and Wilbur trained them. These were the earliest fighter planes, typically with one person shooting or dropping a bomb. Next, they trained the Germans. Finally, the Americans came on-board, their own country is the last major nation to recognize the planes were real.
The progression for military aircraft predictably continued. Shooting straight ahead was impossible because of the propeller so they put a gun further down.
Fighter planes and weaponry quickly advanced. Wilbur died on a business trip in April 1912, but Orville carried on.
Patent Wars, and Literal Wars Too
Companies ignored the Wright Brothers patents, just as they feared. There were countless patent infringement lawsuits but, with the onset of WWI, the US military all but forced the Orville to license the patents to other airplane builders.
Early airplane manufacturers invented countless variations. Some planes were fighters, meant to shoot down other planes. Other planes were bombers. They were slower but carried more weight.
Aircraft played an important role in WWI. The dogfights went down in history as being interesting, though arguably not necessarily advantageous from a military perspective. By WWII airplanes played a vital role in the war effort.
Today, countries around the world still work to produce ever-faster more lethal fighter jets and bombers. The US is projected to spend $1.5 trillion on their latest production run fighter jets, the F-35. Russia produces the Su-57. The price is classified but is believed to be vastly less expensive than the American plane.