Well, not really, since they had to hand-prop it. A hundred and nine years and one day ago (I meant to post about this yesterday on the actual anniversary) on a blustery morning that was of uncertain suitability for the experiment, Wilbur and Orville Wright coaxed their crude non-factory 12 hp 140 lb. four-cylinder motor (how they would have loved a modern Briggs & Stratton V-twin!) to life on their Flyer, and Orville stumbled it through the air for a ground distance of a hundred and twenty feet in twelve seconds. Observers who had witnessed the brothers’ gliding experiments wondered why the pair were whooping it up and celebrating; they’d seen Wilbur and Orville glide for longer distances. But the latter pair knew it was the first time in history that a heavier-than-air machine had ascended into flight (rather than just making a series of ground-effect hops as Clement Ader’s Eole had done), and landed at a place no lower than that from which it had taken off.
One things that I always like to recount in the story of the Wright Brothers is the example (if only anecdotal) of the success of capitalism vs. socialism (government subsidy). For the Wright Brothers’ main competition was from one Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley, who received a $50,000 grant (over a century ago, when such money was more scarce and worth a lot more) to develop a flying machine. He exhausted that amount and was granted more (I’m not sure how much more), before he completed and tested his Aerodrome. He had previously and successfully tested a large unmanned steam-powered model of the aircraft. The full-sized version had a five-cylinder radial engine- designed by Stephen Balzer and reworked and built by Langley’s assistant Charles Manly (I cheated and looked at the Smithsonian NASM website to clarify Balzer’s name, and discovered more of Manly’s involvement in the project than I’d known before)- of 200 lb. and 50 hp, a vastly superior power-to-weight ratio compared to the crude Charles Taylor engine (nothing against the man; I highly doubt I could design and build an engine that worked at all with the means available to him) that the Wright Brothers used. Yet the government-subsidized Aerodrome crashed into the Potomac River on both launch attempts (on the second attempt, nearly drowning Manly, who piloted the machine), and the with the pure private-enterprise Flyer, the Wright Brothers flew into history.