Centennial of Flight Presents!
Aero Expo IV:
Look back in time and relive the last 100 years of
flight in this visit with the Wright Brothers. Talk about the future of
flight and what part
you might play in it.
Transcript of Webcast
December 10, 2003
>> Good morning.
Great to see you here this morning and we're happy to not only greet the
people here in the auditorium at Ames Research Center.
We want to take you back about 100 years and on a flight of fantasy back
to the time when flight was just an imagination and trace it through as
the first flight actually took place.
So join me here this morning.
Imagine that you're back in that time.
So we're going to start, as you usually would in an airplane and we're
pretend we're in a Wright flyer except we'll have a few deviations.
For those of us in the auditorium, just like the F.A.A. would ask you,
NASA asks you to let you know where the emergency exits are.
Please pay close attention.
Stay with your class and second important rule is if there is an emergency,
your adult or teacher or parent will take you to the closest exit.
There are two down here in the front, there is one in the very back, which
is used for emergency only, and then again for emergency only the stairs
in the middle that you came up through would be used for an exit.
When we're done here, I will instruct you then to use the exits in the
front because we'll all be going out through the front.
Another piece that is very similar to an airplane today is that those
of you here in the auditorium, I want you to please make sure your desktop
or your laptop or your table top is stowed in takeoff position and I'm
hoping you'll forget it for the rest of the flight.
Sounds like and looks like we have no desks down.
I love it.
This is great.
They're very squeaky and we can't have them going on and off during the
program because it's hard to hear.
So let's get ready for flight.
Those of you who have hats on, remember we have no cabin so you're going
to have to fasten your hats down.
No hats, OK.
Those of you in long skirts may want to fasten the bottom of your skirt
just in case, OK?
Are we ready?
I'll turn it over to my brother, the pilot, Orville Wright.
>> Good morning, everyone.
My name is Orville Wright.
No, I'm not the popcorn guy that you might be thinking of.
That's a different Orville.
I'm Orville Wright with my brother, Wilbur Wright, my sister Katharine.
Wilbur and I invented the first practical flyable controlled man-powered
craft on the surface of the earth.
Up until the time will and I were successful gravity had a grip on all
of humanity's desires to move into the third dimension, the thin air that
people said will never support flight.
So to tell you a little bit about ourselves, I would like to take you
back a little bit in time.
Just for a round number let's say 1900.
It was a vastly different planet in 1900.
So many things were so different.
The world was governed differently.
The British empire still spanned the globe and the sun never really set
on the British empire in those days.
Queen Victoria was still on the throne.
A sack of flour was about 5 cents, a sack of sugar maybe about 7.
A movie, if you could find one, was about a nickel.
So many things were different.
Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity had yet to be heard of.
The name Lenin had never been heard of nor the Communist party.
Indoor plumbing was not widespread.
There are diseases that were existent like typhoid feverers that were
They aren't today.
So many things were different.
You aren't going to believe this in 1900 neither the north pole or south
pole had even been discovered.
We knew where they kind of had to be, but we hadn't been there yet.
It was a vastly different planet.
But I would like to tell you a little bit about the family as well.
Other than just telling you that the main way to get around in those days
was walking, or maybe horseback or in a buggy or carriage, perhaps a longer
trip would have been by railroad and overseas or a long distance over
water would have been in a ship.
But that was about it.
We were tied, it seemed, to the surface of the earth.
We could not rise above it.
Let's tell you a little bit about the family.
I would like to start, of course, with our mother.
Her name was Susan Catharine right.
Notice that word because it displays her German heritage.
Her grandfather and great grandfather were coach builders in Germany.
They immigrated to the United States and they taught our mother how to
work with woodworking tools, even some machine tools.
It was -- perhaps you think it's ironically amusing but it was our mother,
not our father, who taught us how to work with tools.
Unfortunately mother eventually died a little before the turn of the century
from tuberculosis but that's another story.
Our father, well, his name was eventually bishop Milton Wright.
In the beginning he was a traveling preacher Milton Wright.
He was sort of a black and white guy.
Everything was black and white.
There were no shades of gray with father.
We didn't call him dad or pop, we called him father.
And it was either his way or the highway.
His way or the wrong way.
His way or the unnatural, ungodly way.
Even though he was gone, oh, six to nine months of the year sometimes
traveling around pursuing his career to try to be a bishop in the church,
the church of the brethren was his denomination, even though when he was
gone so much he still had a major, really strong presence felt throughout
I had an older brother or two, and then, of course, Wilbur was four years
older than me.
Then I came along and then three years to the day we shared the same birthday,
came along Katharine.
And most history books that you read won't even list the other two.
OTIS and IDA were twins and OTIS died right after birth and IDA lived
about a month.
That's the hole family in a nutshell.
I want to get back to my father a little bit.
I don't want you to think he was mean spirited.
He loved us dearly and both our mother and father encourageed us to read
for ourselves and think independently and make use of the library upstairs
Sometimes dad would bring us toys when he went out on these trips.
One time coming back from one of his trips he brought this little rubber
band wound up toy counter wound rubber bands in it and big blades that
We called it the bat.
He walked into the room and say hey boys, I have something for you.
He opened is hands and it went up in the ceiling and twirled around and
finally it unwound and floated down to the floor.
We were totally captivated by that.
What is this?
It set the seed for what was later to become something that you may ride
in sometime this year, sometime this life for sure.
Well, you never know when you're going to set that seed of imagination
and he certainly did in Will and I.
There was a requirement in the house.
If you took a position, if you wanted to say something, if you had an
opinion, that was all well and good but you had to be able to defend it
at the dinner table.
That was a big deal.
And sometimes the bishop, Milton Wright, father, would set us straight.
Sometimes he would say OK, I accept your opinion but it seemed like most
of the time dad had his say and corrected our ways.
After all, we were young growing up Boys.
Will and I began to grow together more and more.
I know Will is four years older than Orville but they act like twins.
They even hum the same tune starting at the same moment.
What is with those two guys?
Just putting their minds together they become like one.
Very mechanically inclined, both of them.
Some of the things he came up with the boy is mechanical devices were
totally astounding to the family.
As we grew up we got closer and closer.
And, of course, we loved our little sister, Kate and we had baby loving
names for each other.
Will, of course, was ULUM.
Unfortunately I'll tell you my name was BUBO as close as they could say
When Kate was born we didn't call her Katharine.
You might see that in your textbook but it's not what we called her.
We called her Kate but more often even to her adulthood we called her
SWESS or STIRCHEN.
It's what the family said when they came out of the room where she had
been born just a few minutes before and they said Swiss STIRCHEN, the
German word for little sister.
Well, neither Will nor I could say that big word so it became STIRCHEN
and then we said SWESS.
Will and I were working together on toys and all kinds of communal activities
and Will had a desire to go to Yale, be a minister, but there was an event
that changed family history, certainly the history for Will and eventually
the history of the planet.
One event, among several.
In fact, that was he had a sports injury.
He was playing a game, you would call it ice hockey.
We called it skit els.
The batter was hitting a device and the bat slipped out of his hand, threw
the air and knocked out all his teeth in the front.
It was quite a traumatic injury for him.
It wasn't life threatening but it put him into a depression you wouldn't
He got heart pal pitations and he thought he would die.
About this time we moved again falling father's career.
That's what we did in those days.
Will missed his high school graduation.
He finished all the course work and that's why some people say Will never
graduated from high school.
He just missed the ceremony where they were going to hand him that piece
of paper because we were following dad's career.
Father, bishop Milton Wright, was the leader of the family.
But Will's injury where he lost all his teeth still had this continuing
effect on him.
He was genuinely depressed.
What could I do as my brother?
I had to care for him, obviously, as I did.
What could I do to help pull him out of this kind of funk, this depression?
He was caring for our mother who was ill with tub he -- tuberculosis.
This went on for years and we began to wonder about Will.
There were letters that said what's with Will?
What's with him?
I decided as his brother I would help pull him out of this depression.
During this time, of course, I had gotten interested in printing presses
and setting type and printing a little newspaper and I had started a little
printing press, a little newspaper and I called it the MIDGET.
Right smack in the middle was a little 3 by 4 section where all the type
All this wasted space of blank paper was around the edge.
Of course, our father, the bishop Milton Wright said, how much of this
did you do, boys in so we printed an edition of 200.
Well, he said would you bring him here and let me look at them and he
said throw them all away.
Look at all the paper you've wasted.
Because in his view, the black and white view, if it was wasted, it was
truly a waste.
He had a waist coat that buttoned in the front and buttons down the tail
and he had them cut off because they served no useful purpose.
They were sort of a big display of uselessness.
So was all this blank paper around my paper and that's kind of the way
He said try again.
We opened up a little newspaper on the west side news and that became
the one that eventually that Will got interested in and I said help me,
be my co-editor.
The two of us got together and I pulled him out of his depression as he
began to get interested.
During all this time while he was caring for mother he was reading.
He read everything in the upstairs and downstairs library.
Two sets of encyclopedias and was absorbing everything like a sponge.
During all this time we were setting up this printing business, we were
gaining clients and advertisers and subscribers and getting some business
skills and this was all wonderful.
But it wasn't quite what we wanted to do.
It wasn't filling that niche, that something inside that said, do I want
to be a newspaper guy, a printer all my life?
Well, about this time there was an incredible revolution in personal,
And that, of course, was the invention of the bicycle.
The bicycle that we had from about 1890 or so was something like you see
in that picture over my shoulder and that one in the upper corner there
with the big wheel in the front and the little wheel in the back was called
Sometimes it was called the bone breaker because if you fell off that
thing you generally broke a collarbone or an arm bone or leg bone.
It was a dangerous piece of equipment.
And I, of course, liked to race on them.
I kind of fancy myself a scorcher.
Will liked the longer rides.
Around 1892 there was an invention that came from Europe called the safety
The one there that looks a lot like the one that you have today.
It is still roughly the same design.
Then they added a coaster brake and other things and that's the bicycle
that you have today for all intents and purposes.
But the safety bicycle was an incredible revolution.
It provided a way for everybody to get around.
There were millions of them manufactured.
Well, being the entrepreneurs that we were, we decided let's get on board
Let's open up a bicycle shop.
We bought a couple of bicycles and started renting them out.
The first of six different bicycle shops, each more sophisticated than
We started repairing them, machining them and making our own.
Three separate models of bicycles named after family members, of course,
getting more and more sophisticated as we learned more about our machining
skills and how to handle a business.
During all this time, we were building our business and becoming a little
more expertise, but we were also reading all the time.
And we were reading about a guy named Otto Lillian all.
He was a German fellow at his estate on the edge of Berlin in devices
that looked a lot like this one.
Where he would sit from the saddle or hang beneath it, a bird-like device.
Then he would crawl into this device, put his arms through.
Walk up the steps into a hangar area built into the back of a hill.
Crawl into it, walk up more steps about 160 feet up and jump off.
He had about 2,000 glides.
An incredible amount of data came from Otto LILIENTHAL.
How much lift would be provided from those different kinds of wings he
Well, we thought this was fantastic and we were closely following his
In 1896 I was ill with typhoid fever, it was a killer in my day.
I was going to survive.
Will came in and sat down on the edge of the bed and said, Orville, I
have to read you this.
It was a little article in the newspaper about the death of Otto and he
was flying up in the air and right down in the ground where it stalled
after about a 60 foot height and he was trying to control it by shifting
his weight to the left and right.
It was the only way he could figure out to control the movement of the
He was more worried about lift but he hadn't figured out control was a
really big issue.
Well, you would think that the death of Otto would really put the kibosh
on our interest.
Not for you.
We can do better.
We can glide better, farther, we can glide for greater distances in time.
Well, so what do we do?
Will was the letter writer at the time between the two of us and he wrote
a letter to the Smithsonian museum.
Remember this date.
May 30, 1899.
He wrote a letter to the Smithsonian and asked for all available information
on this new science of the age which was, of course, aviation and flying.
Most people at the time thought man can't fly, certainly our father felt
Told people in his congregation that.
If god had intended you to fly he would have given you wings, of course.
That was the attitude prevalent in the area.
A lot of investors that had seen gas bags fly around.
Maybe there is a way.
So with all this information that we got from the Smithsonian, including
everything from Otto all the way to da Vinci's models.
Why did we send for it all?
We did not want to reproduce all the errors done by the previous inventors.
Why go down the same dead ends and all east and make the same mistakes.
We wanted to provide our new thinking to the question of the age.
So, we decided this was what we wanted to pursue.
We looked up Otto's numbers and we decided we would proceed.
But how do you develop a wing that really controls itself?
Well, all of a sudden one day an event occurred in the bicycle shop itself
when Will was talking to a customer all by himself.
I wasn't there.
He had just fixed a flat tire.
And he was sitting there idly just sort of chatting one evening.
And he looked down and he was just sort of oddly torsioning the box back
As one side went up the other side went down.
He realized the leading edge on this was going up as he went down as he
torsioned the box back and forth.
Can you imagine doing that to a regular box?
But he noticed that the structural integrity of the box didn't go away.
It kept its strength.
In the mind of Wilbur Wright, he looked at it and said hum, here is an
idea that he had the ability in his unusual mind, to look at things totally,
to us in the abstract, to create something that was concrete and be able
to turn it around, look at it from top and bottom, back and side, and
say here is an idea.
Well, the two of us got together that evening and it was a major, major
change that affected all of world history.
What happened was the two of us got together and we talked until 3:00
or 4:00 in the morning and discussed the incredible way that this solved
the problem of how we could control aircraft.
You see, the Europeans had nearly every other inventor were dealing with
How do we develop lift.
We knew we could develop lift.
That had been done by many others before, particularly Otto.
Lift wasn't the problem.
It was control.
Don't you find it from your perspective in your modern day kind of interesting
that bicycle mechanics had to figure this out?
It's not so unusual because the bicycle is inherently unstable.
If you let go of it it will fall over.
It is unstable.
So is an aircraft.
It has to move through three axiss, roll, pitch and YAW back and forth.
We knew control was the issue.
If you can't control it what's the point of lifting off?
You won't go anywhere, you'll crash.
So we had this invention.
We knew it was an incredible idea and there was one person in the family
that saw it a little bit differently was our sister, Kate.
Was she frosted at us because that very evening she had brought home one
of her friends from overland college and you'll see her there.
She is the one on the right.
She brought her home to set up one of her two brothers, who were dedicated
bachelors by this point.
We didn't have time for women.
We liked women but we didn't have time.
They were a distraction to us.
We had our eyes strictly on the prize.
On the goal.
Boy, was Kate frosted with us.
What good does it do to bring a friend home to introduce and set up your
brothers when they take off and disappear until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.
Oh well, that's the way it was.
So we had to try out our new idea.
Will in 1899 built a kite right there in the Dayton area.
It was a two-layer bilevel kite with a string from top and bottom on this
end that went to two sticks.
You could control the kite as you maneuvered it through all kinds of swoops
It was very maneuverable.
No one had ever seen a kite like that before.
It proved the concept of the torsioning box which we came to call wing
What an incredible success.
Now we had to build something bigger so we did.
Again based on the lift could efficient numbers of Otto we bought a bigger
Where to take it to test it out?
Will again wrote the letter to the National Weather Service and asked
for all available information of various locations that met our requirements.
17 knots of wind, lots of privacy, no trees, no bushes, lots of open,
empty sand and that will do it.
So they sent back lists, the pine island, Florida, San Diego, California,
the south shore of lake Michigan and there was this place called Kitty
Hawk, North Carolina.
Where the heck is that?
So we wrote to Kitty Hawk and Mr. doesher wrote back and said that's the
way it is.
He handed our letter off to the self-appointed Chamber of Commerce.
Only seven houses in Kitty Hawk so it wasn't much of a chamber Chamber
Mr. Tate wrote become the letter about the wonderful place that Kitty
Hawk was and how friendly they would be.
The wind is perfect.
You guys open, empty beaches, lots of privacy.
He left out a couple of big things.
He forgot the mention the billions of sand fleas and the trillions of
So thick they blackened the sky.
Right through your clothes, sometimes we put two or three blankets on
with our clothes on, hats on, just to hide from the hordes of mosquitoes.
We had picked Kitty Hawk.
We went down there with our 1900 glider and it didn't provide nearly what
We were a little bit suspicious of those Otto coefficient numbers.
The next year in 1901 we built a bigger glider and this time we calculated
how much lift we would have.
And sure enough, yeah, we got some glides, but it was very disappointing.
Now we were really suspicious of the Otto numbers.
Something is wrong.
Remember, Otto was the aviation pioneer and his numbers were somewhat
-- they were published by an American, a French engineer moved to America
and his name was SHANOOT.
Who were these two guys, Wilbur and Orville Wright to come up with different
numbers or at least suspicious that his were wrong.
After the 1902 glider was disappointing.
We rode home on the train and Wilbur said man will not fly in a thousand
We were both depressed.
It took us a couple of weeks to get over that depression.
So what did we do?
Typical Wright fashion, we dug in our heels and said what will we do?
We decided to build our own wind tunnel.
A big wooden box and a fan in one end, veins to straighten out the air
and we built curved metal sections that we made ourselves out of scrap
metal and band saw blades there in the shop.
A little window in the top.
You could look down through a delicate set of scales that we designed
and built and you could measure very carefully the lift and the drag of
each individual air foil section.
Now things were really opening up for us.
We did in two weeks what others couldn't do in five years for some reason.
Now we built the 1902 glider based on the Wright numbers, not the LILIENTHAL
We took the glider to Kitty Hawk and we were pleased with its performance.
Very long glides.
What do we do now?
We knew by the end of the gliding season in 1902 that we were going to
Lots of self-confidence.
But what to do?
We had a couple of problems, as you probably already figured out.
We didn't have a motor, we didn't have a propeller.
So we went back to the shop and asked our crack mechanic, a guy named
Charlie Taylor, to build us a motor.
We wrote letters to engine manufacturers and said they wouldn't or couldn't
They weren't going to manufacture one engine to our specifications.
They might have been able to do it but they weren't going to just make
If we wanted to buy 200 or ,000 that would be something but they wouldn't
make one engine to meet our requirements.
So it turned out it was up to us.
We asked our mechanic, Charlie Taylor, to do it and he built us a four
cylinder engine, 180 pounds.
It did the job.
What about the propeller?
They didn't exist.
Boats had propellers but the whole theory of propeller instruction didn't
They were built by guess and by golly and experiment but no theory.
So since Will and I both new geometry and calculus we figured out the
theory of propellers and designed propellers a lot like our wing and able
to come up with a couple of propellers similar to this, a little bit different,
and we put those on our 1902 now soon to be the 1903 glider.
We hauled that down to Kitty Hawk in a crate and assembled it there.
And everything seemed to be going fine until, well, first the shaft broke
and then another shaft cracked.
We couldn't get the propellers to stay on so we used some of our bicycle
shop skills with glue and glued them on.
Finally the thing was going to stay together.
Well, on December 13th, we were ready to fly.
But December 13th, 1903 turned out to be a Sunday.
We told dad we are not going to fly on Sunday like he ordered us.
So on December 14th Will and I flipped a coin.
Who do you think won the toss?
Wilbur was first.
He really wanted to be first, too, with the mind of Wilbur Wright.
What an incredible mind.
In any case, he got on, we had to haul it up clear up the side of a hill.
We put the 60-foot rail up the side of the a sand dune because the air
No wind at all December 14th.
We released the wire and down he came to kind of ski ramp set up.
Flew in the air.
Went 10 or 12 feet it stalled and right into the fan.
Did a little damage.
You can see underneath those front big wings that are 12 feet across themselves.
They move like this together.
Little damage there and if you look very carefully you can see the expression
on my brother Will's face.
It looked like he by the into a sour grape.
He was pretty unhappy.
Partly because the airplane was damaged.
Partly because the flight wasn't successful.
He was less than 60 feet and neither one of us considered it a flight
and he knew the next turn was mine.
It took us a couple days to repair the aircraft and we hauled it back.
By the 16th we were ready to fly.
But no air.
So we'll wait until the 17th.
It's still and sure enough it was still.
The still before the storm.
That night it came through at 60 knots and by the next morning December
17, 1903 the wind was going at 45 to 50 knots.
By 8:00 it was down to 40 knots and by 10:00 down to about 30 knots.
Will and I looked at each other and said shall we fly?
We said let's do it.
We tied the flag on the back of the shed.
It was the symbol for the lifesaving service to come and help us.
You need to know something about these guys to understand them.
They were a tough, grizzly, pretty hard hearted guys because they had
saved a lot of lives.
Their whole mission in life was to get in the life boats, go out through
the surf in the roughest storms and haul people out of the ocean to save
them from shipwrecks off the outer banks of North Carolina.
A lot of ships went aground out there.
It was a common thing.
They had a motto up inside their shed where they lived that said you have
You don't have to come back.
Tough men, but nonetheless they looked upon Will and me as sort of those
Yankees up there and they were amused.
We were friends.
They came up and helped us over and over.
Sure enough about 10:35 in the morning they helped load the airplane on
the 60 foot rail now on the level.
At 10:35 in the morning we started the engine, I rolled on engine power
alone down the rail.
After 40 feet I shot up in the air about 10 or 12 feet, waffled up and
down and boom, into the sand after 120 feet.
12 seconds and 120 feet.
An incredible performance.
Short, yes, but certainly the very first time man had built a craft that
took off, man controlable.
Total maneuverable aircraft.
The 1903 Wright flyer on December 17, 1903.
If you forget who flu -- influence it that day for the first time.
Orville was over the ground while Wilbur waited.
There was a second flight that day.
Wilbur outflew me.
You'll see where the first, second and third flight.
If you look at the far right-hand side you'll see a block out there that
was the fourth flight.
He outflew me no question.
852 feet in 59 seconds.
Almost three football fields in length.
An incredible performance.
Well, we were just totally thrilled with that.
I mean, wow, we finally dit.
We were geting ready to take a fifth flight and Mother Nature changed
She grabbed the aircraft when one of the Coast Guard men was involved
and it tipped it end over end and Mr. Daniels got some scratches.
I calls himself to the end of his life the world's first aviation accident
Well, now we had a wonderful thing to do and that was walk the four miles
through the sand down to the telegraph station and send a telegram home.
That famous telegram still exists in your library of Congress.
It read like this.
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17.
Bishop Milton right.
7 Hawthorn street.
Successful flights all against 21 mile wind.
Started from level with engine power alone.
Average speed through the air 31 miles.
It was a typo, should have been 59 seconds.
Home for Christmas.
Signed, of course, Orville Wright.
What a wonderful Christmas that was.
It looked like we had success assured.
When we went back to Dayton we experimented more in 1904 and 1905 but
every valid aviation historian would say it was the 1905 Wright flyer
that was really the first practical airplane.
That was fully controlable, make a circle, take off, come back and land
where it had taken off and fly a figure eight.
Even the 1903 was first it was the 1905 that was the first real practical
In the meantime we sent Will to France in 1908.
Where the French thought we were a bunch of fakers and bluffers.
Did we show them.
On August 8, 1908 Wilbur took off at a place in France.
And boy, did he shock the French.
We weren't fakers and bluffers anymore.
He flew several times around the field and 10,000 people lifted to their
feet, threw off their hats and said the Americans can fly.
Sure enough the headlines the next day said, we're beaten.
The Americans can fly.
Well, what was happening still back in the United States?
I was in the United States.
We finally got an opportunity to demonstrate our airplane to the United
States Army at Fort Meyer.
Right across from Washington, D.C.
On December 17, 1908 we had a little accident.
A propeller split while I had a passenger on board and we crashed.
Almost 90 degrees into the ground.
I broke my thigh, three ribs and unfortunately cut up a little bit but
even more unfortunately the lieutenant was killed.
I was very distressed over the whole thing.
Not only was the lieutenant dead but what was wrong with the airplane?
There wasn't anything wrong with the airplane.
It merely was a cracked failed propeller.
Something happened then that you need to know about.
There was a gentleman who rushed out onto the field like everyone else
did to pull those two fallen airmen out from under the airplane but he
All he did was furiously measure the airplane and write it on a knee pad
and rushed away.
Who was this guy?
What was that all about?
Well, it kind of confirmed our suspicions there were a lot of people out
there trying to steal the secrets of the Wright brothers.
We were getting more paranoid than we were before.
And so who was this fellow?
He is one of five members called the AEA.
The aerial experiment association.
And, of course, there were two Canadians and three Americans.
The two Canadians Baldwin and McCurty and Glen Curtis, the guy who was
killed, and who was this fifth guy over here, the one rushing out doing
all the measuring?
His name was Alexander Graham bell.
The inventor of the telephone.
Well, so the next year when I had a chance to finally fulfill my demonstration
to the army, I had this hobby of photography and I knew if we painted
the whole airplane silver and we held the crowds a little farther back,
that a silver airplane with only black and white photography, of course,
would cause all those delicate details of our patent, design and secrets
would mush into kind of an invisible obscurity.
You wouldn't be able to see them.
Of course, you can make a strong case that the 1909 Wright flyer at Fort
Meyer was the first attempt to build a stealth aircraft.
Wilbur made an incredible demonstration around the statue of liberty in
A picture of the aircraft with Will standing behind it with a canoe.
But it didn't dunk into the Hudson.
You can see in the upper left-hand corner of the higher picture there
the statue of liberty.
He flew around that, up the Hudson, to grant's tomb and the south end
of Manhattan there was a huge ocean liner.
Everybody was tooting their whistle.
The airliner was leaving the New York port.
People were waving and tooting their horns and blowing their steam whistles.
At Wilbur flew over the top the ocean liner was named the LUCITANIA.
The sinking of it was what got the United States into World War I.
We had lots of litigation going on suing people left and right infringing
on our patent.
Because we were so tired and worn out.
Eventually it took its toll.
Will went to Boston.
Unfortunately ate some oysters and caught typhoid fever.
He was afraid it was typhoid.
He dictated his last will and testament.
Lapsed into a higher temperature and eventually died on May 30, 1912.
Notice that date.
It was exactly 13 years to the day from the time that Will had written
that letter to the Smithsonian and started us off on this aviation excursion.
Well, our two older brothers had pulled away.
Father died in 1917.
All that was left was Kate and me and my big saint Bernard.
In 1926 Kate said she wanted to get married.
She moved away.
A family fight about that because I looked upon it as frankly a abandonment.
And I sort of lost interest around 1915 as well anyway in aviation and
basically lived pretty much alone fighting out with the Smithsonian for
proper credit because they had credited one of their directors with the
They eventually collected that.
I sent the airplane for storage until they corrected their ways.
Eventually they did.
In 1948, unfortunately on January 30th, 1948 I passed away.
But not in time to see the Wright flyer brought back to the United States.
Finally in November of 1948 the 1903 Wright flyer was brought back to
the United States and lovingly restored by the Smithsonian folks.
So today I hope you go see our aircraft.
Hanging at about 22 feet off the floor higher than any of those first
four flights you can see our aircraft.
And if you fly today, from the west coast to the east coast, land in Washington,
D.C., while you're en route somewhere flying across the United States,
sitting there enjoying your in-flight meal.
Look out the window, look down at the ground far beneath you and realize
how far we've come.
And you can owe it all to Orville and Wilbur Wright.
>> I only have a few minutes.
Frankly, I have a higher calling.
So if you would, please, I would appreciate a few questions.
I would be glad to try to answer them.
>> Before we start with the questions I do want to mention two things.
One is those of you here in the auditorium, when you go over to the Aero
Expo village you need to pick up your packets.
There is a desk there.
NASA education desk.
Make sure you pick up your packets and there you will have your certificate
and that kind of thing.
Those of you on the web, if you would please take a look at the button
to the left on the screen and go to the place where you can pull your
certificate as well, it will give us just a little information about your
Oh, I came on.
We're going to have some people running around in the audience taking
We'll alternate with questions coming in over the web.
So raise your hand if you have a question and somebody will find you.
Right down here in front, Paul.
>> Did Wilbur ever get cold feet?
>> What's the question again a little louder, please?
>> Did Wilbur ever get cold feet?
>> Yes, -- did Wilbur get false teeth?
>> Yes, he got bridge work in there.
If you get a chance to go to the Jefferson library, almost 100% of the
pictures certainly from his high school life on, show Wilbur smiling in
a very straight smile not showing any teeth.
For a reason.
He was very self-conscious about his losing teeth.
He smiled in a very straight smile.
But yes, he did.
>> I have a question from Stephanie on the Internet.
She wants to know how did you both feel when you first flew the air in
a flying machine?
>> We were totally exhilarated.
We wanted to be successful.
We had it in our heart we were going to be successful and we were totally
We knew we could probably get some pleasure out of this but now we saw
an opportunity as we got into the invention of what we had actually discovered.
We began to discover the possibilities of our invention.
Finally, we had broken the grip of gravity on all of humanity.
>> Why did you guys send the Wright flyer, the airplane, to England
after your brother died?
>> The reason we sent the Wright flyer to England again was because
the Smithsonian would not correctly credit Will and I for inventing the
They credited their third director, a guy name Mr. Langley for his aircraft
called an air DROME.
We call it an airport.
He called his craft the air DROME.
For all the flights it was launched from the top of a houseboat in the
middle of the POTOMAC.
It never flew.
But it said the first aircraft capable.
Never mind it didn't, capable of flight.
Everybody except the Smithsonian knew it was a lie.
Until they corrected themselves I was not going to allow them to display
our 1903 Wright flyer wrongly.
Credit due where credit is due.
And that's why I took it to England.
>> I have another question here.
From Durham, North Carolina.
>> Hello, Durham.
>> What do your grandchildren think of your aviation visions?
>> I don't know because I never had any grandchildren.
I never married, I never had any children, and the only descendants now
are through our two older brothers, so today those would be grand nieces
I'm sure they're proud of us.
Another from the floor.
>> Did you ever create a two-seated airplane?
>> Yes, we did.
Of course, for 1908 when I was flying for the Fort Meyer trials as I described,
the lieutenant was sitting beside me.
And, of course, when we came back in 1909 a Benjamin -- eventually becoming
general of the air force, he was the next passenger and yes, starting
in 1908 we had a two-passenger aircraft.
I think you answered this in your presentation but maybe we need to emphasize
how frustrated were you when the glider didn't work so well and did you
ever feel like giving up?
We were very frustrated.
Sad almost to the point of being very, very depressed.
If you'll recall, I told you that on a train back to Dayton after the
1901 trials were so disappointing, even after we had calculated with LILIENTHAL's
numbers what our lift should be.
It's in our diaries, man will not fly for a thousand years.
And we both felt that way.
We were very depressed but it took us a couple of weeks before we decided
to dig ourselves out of it and get back to work.
Question on the floor.
>> From the floor.
From over here.
>> Did the French ever try to copy your ideas?
>> How many times?
Yes, they did.
The French, of course, would give no credit to the Wright brothers but
they were totally stunned with our success.
In fact, they took our idea of wing warping and eventually our own patents
cover this, of course, it came to the development of what you call today
ALERONS which were covered by our patent.
Along came people like WASSON, and another man who flew across the English
channel from the French side to the English side in 1909.
Three years later an American woman, Harriet, flew from the English side
back to the French side.
In 1912 she would have been front page material doing something like that
for a woman flyer, unfortunately she picked a poor day because the day
before the Titanic had sunk in the Atlantic.
Question from the Internet.
Another one from triangle day school.
Did you make any money off your plane and if so, how much money did you
>> Down to the penny I'm not really sure.
Will was well off when he died in 1912 and I was a millionaire by the
time I died in 1948.
I left money to various family members and people who had been helpers
in the household for years and years including our mechanic, Charlie Taylor.
So yes, I was well off.
It was a profitable venture.
>> We actually have one that relates to your answer.
That is that how did you make the motors so light?
>> Actually, I didn't.
We had sketched it out on basically the side of a brown magazine kind
of material and we gave that rough information to Charlie Taylor, told
him what we had to have, we needed an engine that would generate at least
15 horsepower and be under 200 pounds and he delivered one that was about
180 pounds that as you first started it up generated 15 horsepower but
as the air inside it got hotter and a little thinner, therefore, because
of density altitude it probably pushed out about 12 horsepower when it
was all warmed up.
Nonetheless it met our requirements and it was Charlie Taylor that made
that engine, not Wilbur or Orville.
>> Another one from the floor.
>> Did you ever have dreams of going farther than flying, like maybe
into space or something?
It depended on what I had for supper the night before.
Actually, in my lifetime, think of the things that I saw just as Orville.
I came from a time when people thought that man was not intended to fly
all the way to the time it was 24 years after this flight that a fellow
flew solo across the Atlantic.
Remember his name?
Charles Lindberg in 1927.
20 years after that another fellow did something really fabulous.
His name, of course, was YAEGE.
What did he do?
Does anyone know?
He broke the speed of sound.
He flew faster than my voice is reaching the back of the room.
That's how fast he was flying.
That was in 1947.
I lived long enough to see the beginnings of the first electronic calculators
and Will and I thought that airplanes would make warfare impractical,
if not improbable because we could fly over and watch each other and make
What we found out that war, in fact, was now made more horrible by our
I lived long enough to see the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
I was a little depressed by that.
And then eventually I died in January of 1948 but I saw the beginnings
of man's stepping out towards space.
It was an incredible threshold that I was not able to cross.
>> We'll close with this one here.
How do today's airplanes relate to the design of the Wright flyer?
>> There are many, many things that you will see on today's modern
aircraft that come directly from the mind of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
The design of wings, the design of -- and use of AELERONS and the device
of a tail, the rudder.
Most people think the rudder is used to turn the airplane.
That's not true.
It's used to correct for something called adverse YAW.
As you bank the airplane like this the air plane wants to turn in the
The rudder coordinates that turn and the only reason we were able to figure
out how to build a coordinated rudder that you still use on your aircraft
today, is because Wilbur went to bed, I had an overdose of my coffee,
boy was it thick stuff, and I thought and sat and wrote down and thought
from the mind of Orville Wright all that night in 1902 and because of
an overdose of caffeine, I figured out how you would have a modern rudder
on your aircraft.
Thank you very much, Orville.
And I should tell you that this morning Orville is played by Steve Shackleford
with the F.A.A. in southern California.
I'm Linda Conrad and I work here at NASA with NASA Quest bringing educational
programming for you folks.
Thank you for joining us today.
I want to make sure we all get out safely and quickly so that you can
go over to Aero Expo village and enjoy some of the possibilities and ways
that you can actually get involved in air flight today yourself.
But let me just point out once again stay with your class, please, move
down toward the front of the room, and exit through the two side doors
on either side here.
Thank you for joining us.
Responsible NASA Official: Tom Clauson
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, USA