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In 1913, the young aviation industry was in trouble. The Wright brothers’ broad proprietary claim on airplane technology—and their willingness to sue competitors—created a legal bottleneck that was stifling the airplane’s development.

Their legal power over aviation stemmed from the idea that they were the first to build a plane capable of flying. But what if they weren’t the first? In early 1914, Glenn Curtiss was presented with the opportunity to test that idea. Ironically, the experiment would end up costing him his place in history.

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