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.
||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
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.
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.
||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.
For more information:
- To see a movie of the first flight, go to Historic Movie Found!
- For more images of the Flyer, see 1903 Wright Powered Flight Photographs.
- For information on the original Flyer which is on display at the Smithsonian's
National Air and Space Museum, click here: Wright
- To learn about the Wright Brothers and their technical contributions
to aviation, please see the Web site generated by the builders of the
replica of the Flyer: Wright Facts