Fighter Aircraft


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.

European Tour

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.


Wilbur and Orville Wright invented the airplane with their first flight in 1903. Urban myth describes an easy story where the bicycle mechanic brothers built an airplane from spare parts. In reality, the innovation was a long, slow, methodical, and extremely dangerous project.


People had been building various forms of fixed-wing gliders for years. Many didn’t work. Those that managed to fly a short distance eventually crashed, often causing injuries or even death.

Inventing the airplane required 1) finding an aircraft form that would stay aloft, including wings, 2) figuring out mechanisms to control the aircraft, and 3) learning to fly it without killing oneself. IP theft was rampant: the brothers suffered relentlessly. Therefore, to protect IP, everything was secretive.

Wilbur & Orville Wright

The Wright Brothers spent years experimenting. First, they built a fixed-wing controllable glider. Once that worked, they spent more time working on building a much larger version that could produce more lift and was strong enough to carry an engine. Inventing a propeller, with nothing to test it on, also proved a challenge.

Once the brothers completed their plane it took years to obtain patents because the patent office believed that flight was impossible and their innovation a fraud. That’s because there were many false claims of flight and the Wright Brothers were secretive.

They also spent years commercializing their airplane, trying to find buyers, because the US war department refused to believe that it worked and the brothers – concerned about copycats – refused to give demonstrations. Eventually, patents issued and the brothers demonstrated their plane in France, to cheering crowds, and finally in the US.

They created a business, the Wright Company, to build and sell airplanes. Expensive patent wars ensued. Competitors were ruthless and dishonest but the brothers persevered. By 1912, they had a reasonable income from licensing and investors, but Wilbur died unexpectedly, leaving Orville moved forward with commercialization alone.

The business started to earn money but, with WWI on the horizon, the US government intervened and insisted on a patent cross-licensing agreement so that others could produce military aircraft.


Like many great innovators, the Wright Brothers earned enough money to live reasonably well, and became famous, but the overwhelming majority of wealth their innovation created flowed to others.

Specifically, Glenn Martin’s merged his first aircraft company with the Wright Brothers but left that business, after a year. His new company manufactured bombers. The Loughead company, later renamed Lockheed, built flying boats. Lockheed and Martin became industry giants and merged, in 1995, to become Lockheed-Martin.

William Boeing started his aircraft company in 1914, also producing flying boats, and also became a market leader.

In 1970, Airbus was formed after several European countries noted that all aircraft manufacturers were American.