From What I understand the Wright brother never had university training and although never getting a high school diploma they did attend high school. Looking at the diagrams of their original work they needed to work out pressure differentials on the surface of the propeller using mathematical formula. Their work appears to have quadratic equations and cross products in the calculations complete with torque and power. Does anyone know where they may have learned these skills ? I don't believe any high school of that day in that area of the country would have had the ready math and physics needed to these tasks. Or was it the case that they were self taught in all the needed math,experimental, managerial, drafting and tooling skills needed for such an accomplishment? The diagrams are more along the line of advanced undergraduate but way beyond high school or at least those of today. Thank you.

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    $\begingroup$ Care to share an image of these diagrams you speak about, or provide an indication of where they can be found? $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Jun 12, 2017 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ In most countries, quadratic equations are studied not in the universities but in primary school, though indeed the quality of school education strongly deteriorated everywhere since the time of Wright brothers. $\endgroup$ Jun 12, 2017 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ I saw the diagrams on a display at the Wright Brothers bike shop in a laminated display folder at Wright Brothers museum by University of Dayton. The diagrams of the propeller sketched with mathematical equations next to surface areas and they were cross products using torques. Albeit I agree with the above comment that quadratic equations are taught in primary school I would challenge to find many or any high school students who understand the equivalence and correct usage of cross products to calculate torque on surface areas. $\endgroup$
    – Sedumjoy
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ They were technical people in the thick of technical work. They learned things that they needed to use. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 13, 2017 at 13:38

1 Answer 1


How or where did the Wright brothers develop the expertise to formulate quadratic equations to design their first propeller?

The Wright brothers developed no serious theory for designing propellers. Wilbur Wright, in one of his notebooks, wrote the calculations you can see in the attached picture. He applied no calculus, no quadratic equations, but used a combination of empirical formulas already in existence.

The propeller theory of the Wright brothers

This is the propeller theory of the Wright brothers (dated March 6, 1903).

The only things the Wright brothers published before being seen flying, on August 8, 1908, in France, were a few articles containing pictures of their gliders and also they filed 5 patents (see the book below). None of these documents contain drawings or photos of powered flying machines with engine and propellers. The pictures, allegedly made in 1903, 1904 and 1905, showing their airplanes flying or on the ground, were published for the first time in September 1908.

The Wright brothers’ patents and their low importance for aviation

The Wright brothers’ patents (full text) and their low importance for aviation


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