This weekend I was in Ohio and so went over to visit Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Museum near Dayton, OH. We never managed to go there when we lived in Columbus but here we were visiting that place as a tourist. It was a delightful visit where one could see the transitions from aircraft inventors to aircraft companies and then to the whole industry.
Interestingly, the Wright brothers, despite being pioneers, were edged out in business, in part, by clever use of the patent law. The story goes that Glenn Curtiss of Hammondsport, New York started stealing the designs of Wilbur and Orville Wright. The Wrights sued but Curtis had shrewd lawyers who kept the suits from causing damage. Eventually Curtiss Aeroplane Company started turning out better planes. The irony is that eventually the company changed its name to Wright Aeronautical Company.
1905 to 1918 was a period of intense innovation in aircraft design. Interestingly the initial traction came from Europe. One of the Wright brothers traveled there to get initial business. In fact, most of later US efforts were built on British designs. US did have better engine technology but Europe held its own in aircraft design all the way till the end of WW II. Looking at Boeing and Airbus, the rivalry has never gone away.
It is tempting to draw parallels between the aircraft industry and the IT industry – both have been nurtured by the military at one lime or the other and have seen innovation and growth spurts yield to a period of maturity. But this ground has been covered before so I won’t go there. For me the more fascinating parallels are “micro” in nature. Sometime back Nick Carr used the 1937 invention of the runner O-ring that made retractable landing gear possible as an example of reverse salient. More recently I used the development of jet engines to illustrate the value of constraint-based management. If you know of more examples please do share here.