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It all began in May of 1899,

when Wilbur Wright sent a letter to the Smithsonian Institution for information with which to conduct experiments on flight. Over the next three years, Wilbur and his brother Orville would design a series of gliders which would be flown in both unmanned (as kites) and piloted flights.

a photo of the 1900 glider In 1900, the brothers successfully tested their 50-pound biplane glider with its 17-foot wingspan and wing-warping mechanism at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Based upon the results, the Wrights decided to refine the controls and landing gear, and build a bigger glider.

For more information on the 1900 glider, see Wind and Sand 1900 and 1900 Wright Glider Photographs.

In 1901 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, the brothers flew the largest glider ever flown. It weighed nearly 100 pounds, had a wingspan of 22 feet and skids for smoother landings.

But many problems occurred: the wings did not have enough lifting power; the forward elevator was not very effective in controlling the pitch; and the wing warping occasionally caused the airplane to spin out of control. In their disappointment, they predicted that man would probably not fly in their lifetime. a photo of the 1901 glider

Yet the Wrights studied their test results again and this time determined that the calculations they had used were not reliable. They decided to build a wind tunnel to test a variety of wing shapes and their effect on lift.

Based upon these tests, the brothers developed a greater understanding of how an airfoil (wing) works. The data also gave them greater accuracy in calculating how well a particular wing design would fly. They then designed another glider with a 32-foot wingspan and a tail to help stabilize it.

a photo ov eht glider and someone flying it For more images of the 1901 gliders see Wind and Sand 1901 and 1901 Wright Glider Photographs.

In 1902 the brothers flew numerous piloted test glides, with few mishaps. Studies of the mishaps showed that a movable tail would help balance the craft. They connected the movable tail to the wing-warping wires to coordinate turns. With successful glides to verify their wind tunnel tests, the Wrights were ready to build a powered aircraft.

To see more images of the 1902 gliders, click here: 1902 Wright Glider Photographs.

After months of studying how propellers work, in 1903 the Wright Brothers designed their motor and a new flying machine. The new aircraft needed to be strong enough to accommodate the added weight and vibrations of the motor. When built, the craft weighed over 700 pounds. This became the first Flyer.
a photo of the 1903 glider In December of 1903, the brothers built a movable track to launch the Flyer. The downhill track helped the aircraft gain enough airspeed to fly. On December 17, on the third attempt to fly this machine, Orville took it for a 12-second, sustained flight. This became the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history.

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