The Wright Brothers and Remote Sensing

Today in history, most people celebrate the invention of the airplane. Along with asking the popular question – Did the Wright Brothers invent anything else?  On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a controllable self-propelled airplane. However, geospatial professionals also celebrate the Wright Brothers contribution to the field of remote sensing.


In 1909, only six short years after inventing the airplane, Wilbur Wright made one of the first forays into remote sensing by mounting a motion picture camera onto an airplane to produce aerial images of Centocelli, Italy. The entwined technology of photography and airplanes were the dominant method for remote sensing up until the launch of the first earth resource satellite, Landsat-1, in the 1970’s.

The Wright Brothers were even among the first to dream of  unmanned aerial vehicles, which were later attempted in 1916 – only 13 short years after the first successful manned flight.

The Library of Congress houses the Wilbur and Orville Wright Papers and makes them available online. Reviewing their business journals, lawsuits, patents, press clippings, and more makes the debate over the current unmanned aerial market  seem tame.

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