Friday throwback: every time you fly, thank a cyclist

Next time you're stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport and cursing all those cars ahead of you keeping you from your flight, don't just thank the cyclists riding alongside you who are keeping the congestion down, but thank a cyclist that you're even able to fly at all...

On December 17th 1903 the Wright brothers - Orville and Wilbur - completed the first successful heavier-than-air powered flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  The flight was the culmination of years of experiments with gliders, kites, geared propulsion systems and chain-cranked flyers, all supported financially by their work as proprietors of a bicycle shop.  Here, in a photo from the Library of Congress collection, you can see the brothers at work; their hand made bicycle frames on the floor and gears on the wall behind them.

That first flight was 130 feet (approximately 40 metres) and lasted just 12 seconds, but it paved the way for rapid advances in aeronautical engineering.  Their work on triple-axis control (moving wings up and down, rudder left and right, and "warping" wings) is the basis for manoeuvring all modern aeroplanes, even today.  From the humble beginnings of a plane made of a wooden frame, paper and glue assembled in a bicycle workshop, within 73 years members of the public were able to fly around the world at supersonic speeds in luxury on board Concorde. (New York to London in under three hours).

We don't fly in planes made of paper anymore, and we don't fly supersonic passenger jets either, but coming the full circle we do still ride bicycles, sometimes even in space, as demonstrated here by astronaut Paul J Weitz onboard Skylab, the precursor to the International Space Station:

So next time you're late for a flight (or a rocket launch), thank a cyclist!

The Friday Throwback is our ongoing series of posts looking at images of cyclists from The Commons on Flickr. You can catch every post from ibikelondon by connecting with us online; join the conversation with us on Twitter @markbikeslondon, or give us a "Like!" on our Facebook page.

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