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Petroleum fuel enabled efficient (power-to-weight ratio) engines which could propel flying machines.

See Maxim, 1892, Progress in Aerial Navigation which analyzes engine efficiency along these lines.

And Hallion, 2003, p. 198:

Early in the Roman Empire, technicians could have cut, framed, and assembled the basic structure of a wood-and-fabric airplane, and had they possessed the Wrights' insight, could have flown and controlled it—but a "prime mover" required the high-temperature materials, fuels, propeller design, and engines of the late Industrial Revolution. In the absence of this, even the most insightful pioneers—people such as Cayley—were reduced to seeking what in retrospect were bizarre or even laughable solutions, such as complex banks of oars, or moving wingtip featherlike paddles. The Wrights would have confronted the same problem, except for one thing: their work coincided with the development of the internal combustion, petroleum-fueled engine.
On August 29, 1859, Edwin L. Drake, a self-styled but commendably obstinate "colonel," struck oil in the small northwestern Pennsylvania community of Titusville, becoming the first oil driller and triggering the petroleum revolution. Out of that discovery came fuels for illumination, cooking, heating, and propulsion, as well as lubricants and waxes. But his discovery, as significant as it was, could not have had anywhere near the impact it ultimately did had it not been for the invention of specialized engines to burn petroleum distillers. That enabled the creation of modern mechanized transportation systems, typified by the automobile and the airplane. It was of particular importance to the invention of powered flight.

Early using petroleum fuel: Santos-Dumont No. 1 ...