The First Flight
FORCES ON A GLIDER WING include the weight (W), the lift and
the drag. In the procedure employed in about 1900 to design a wing
surface the glider was assumed to be flying steadily (here toward
the left) at a velocity (V) along a path making the angle fl below
the horizon. A small portion of the weight (W sin
DATA ON LIFT obtained by Lilienthal in 1889 (darker) and by the Wrights in 1901 (lighter) are compared. The Wrights had to contend with the fact that their first intensive flight tests, which they made with their 1900 glider, showed that their Wings were generating less lift than Lilienthal's data had led them to expect. Their first solution for correcting the situation was to increase the camber of their wings; they then carried out wind-tunnel tests. They eventually discovered that their results were quite close to Lilienthal's when the angle of incidence of the wing was between five and 10 degrees and that the source of the error lay elsewhere.
WRIGHTS' PROPELLER DESIGN, which they worked out themselves after finding that the published data on marine propellers offered lime useful information, was based on the principle that a small segment of the blade could be treated as a wing section. The marine data suggested that the most efficiency for a given amount of power would be obtained by passing the largest possible amount of air through the propeller. This concept accounted for the rather large diameter (8.5 feet) of the two propellers on the Wrights' Flyer of 1903
Orville was pilot for the second test, which took place on December 17. The wind was steady at 27 miles per hour, which was a dangerously large fraction of the Flyer's cruising speed of from 30 to 35 m.p.h. Wilbur guided the starboard wing during the launching, with the rail now positioned on a level stretch of sand, and Orville took off. His flight covered 120 feet at an average ground speed of 7 m.p.h. This successful flight is the subject of one of aviation's most moving and best- known photographs, which shows the plane flying a few feet off the ground with Wilbur running alongside.
Each brother made two flights that day before the Flyer was blown across the sand and damaged beyond easy repair. After logging a total of 98 seconds in the air the first powered, man-carrying airplane never flew again. It is now .
For two more years the Wright brothers worked alone to perfect their new airplane. Their progress was not generally known. In the aeronautics community only Chanute was not skeptical of their claim to have the first truly successful flying machine. In 1906 the Wrights were granted a U.S. patent for their system of lateral control, involving both deflection of the wing surfaces and movement of the vertical tail.
Only after they had completed satisfactory licensing agreements in the U.S. and Europe were the brothers willing to show their airplane (an improved version of the 1903 Flyer) in public. Wilbur first flew publicly near Le Mans in France in August, 1908; a few days later Orville gave a demonstration at Fort Myer, Va. The flying skills of the brothers startled the world, and the Wrights became internationally celebrated.
Their airplanes of 1908 had the same basic configuration as the 1903 Flyer, but the design could not survive. Within less than two years aircraft with aft tails showed superior performance, and the Wrights were forced to abandon the canard. They contributed little thereafter to the development of aircraft, but their achievements in the period from 1899 to 1908 remain unparalleled.
FIRST FLIGHT of the 1903 Flyer was photographed at Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk by John T. Daniels of the Kill Devil Life Saving Station, who was using the Wrights' camera. The date was December 17,1903. Orville is the pilot and Wilbur is running alongside. The flight, which was one of four flights made by the Wrights that day, covered 120 feet at an average speed of seven miles per hour over the ground. Wilbur made the last and longest flight of the day, staying aloft for 59 seconds. After a total flight time of 98 seconds that day the Flyer was never taken into the air again. It is now on display at the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.