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
>> We're going to be going on the air pretty
soon and onto the Internet in video format so I wanted to make a couple
of announcements that have to do with you before we get going.
We're going to start right on the button so that we can meet our friends
who are waiting for us out there.
One mention to the teachers here in the room that when you go over to
Aero Expo village they'll want you to stop by the education desk and pick
up your bag of goodies.
Please remember to do that.
I know you're all anxious to get over there an see some of the things
and some of the ways in which you even now can start getting involved
in things like aviation.
For the sake of the noise on the broadcast we're putting out over the
Internet I'll ask that you please stow your tables and please forget they're
there for the rest of the day, please.
I think that pretty well illustrates why.
We want to be able to hear ourselves and you want to be able to hear,
We'll have a question and answer period at the end.
So you’ll want to listen carefully so that you can gather a good
question to ask at the end.
And we'll be also taking some questions from the Internet so we'll start
in just about two minutes.
Relax and thank you for coming.
>> Good morning.
Once again we're getting ready to get started here.
We want to greet those of you here in our auditorium in Ames Research
Center, NASA Ames Research Center in California.
Want to greet also those of you coming to us from the Internet.
We welcome you.
Today we'll take a little flight of fantasy and get the know what the
world was like about 100 years ago when Orville and Wilbur Wright put
aviation on the map.
So please join me, relax.
I would like to say that as the air cabin pressure drops, it's not going
We'll be on airplanes that don't have cabins.
However, for the flight, those of you who are wearing hats, please secure
your hats because otherwise you'll lose them.
And for the young ladies amongst us who are here with long skirts on,
you may want to also hobble your skirt.
That means tie it down at the bottom just in case, you know.
Relax, join us 100 years ago.
I'll introduce to you my brother, Orville Wright.
>> Good morning, everyone.
I'm Orville Wright.
No, I'm not Orville that popcorn guy, I'm Orville Wright with my brother
Wil and I we together invented the first man-powered controllable aircraft
ever invented on the surface of the earth.
Prior to our incredible invention, man, in fact all of humanity, was tied
to the surface of the planet.
We could not leave it for any intents and purposes.
The best way of getting around was walking.
Or, if you had a horse, you could ride horseback or maybe in a buggy or
perhaps you could take a train or maybe a boat.
But back when we were youngsters, nothing else really existed.
Automobiles, as you know them today, didn't exist at all.
Neither did radio or television.
In fact, let's take a little time travel back to about 1900.
Let's talk about how entirely different the planet was for our family.
In 1900, there were so many differences you probably wouldn't believe
Inside plumbing, bathtubs and so forth were really rather a rarity.
Most people had bathrooms outside.
A sack of flour was about 5 cents, a sack of sugar maybe about 7.
A movie, a cinema, if you could find one, was about a nickel.
I understand you pay a little more than that today.
The whole planet was gov earned different than it was today.
It was ruled by a emperor or dictator.
The British empire did span the entire planet.
The sun really didn't set on the British empire in 1900.
And recall who was on the throne in the British empire?
Of course, it was queen Victoria.
A vastly different planet.
Of course, MARCONI had not been heard of with the radio or Albert Einstein's
theory of relativity was in the future.
Solar energy, we didn't have it on the front edge of our imagination.
So many things were different.
In fact, you probably won't believe this, but in 1900, neither the north
pole nor the south pole had been discovered.
It was a vastly different time.
Well, so much for the time.
I would like to talk a little bit about my family.
And who better to start with than talk about our mother.
Her name, of course, was Susan Catharine Wright.
Notice her middle name which betrayers her German heritage.
Her grandfather and great grandfather were coach masters.
It was them who taught our mother how to work with machine tools and woodworking
tools and she was the one, not our father, it was our mother that taught
us how to use woodworking tools.
She was a wonderful woman.
Died a little before the turn of the century from tuberculosis.
We also had a loving father.
Our father we did not call him dad and we certainly didn't call him pop.
We called him father.
He was a very black and white guy.
In fact, he had no gray in his perception of the world at all.
It was either black or white, his way or the wrong way.
God's way or some kind of unnatural way.
In fact, he would tell people in his congregation that if god had intended
man to fly he would have given him wings, for goodness sakes, a lot of
people believe that.
But times were changing and there were a lot of inventors that saw these
gas bags kind of flying around and they began to think maybe, just maybe,
a handful of inventors thought that man actually could fly.
Well, there were a lot of little inventions and father was gone a lot
of the time.
In fact, he was gone six to nine months of every year traveling around
because of his career goal, which was to be the Bishop of the brethren
church, the denomination to which he belong.
Well, that's what eventually attained.
But to get there he had to travel a lot and the family kind of followed
him around sometimes we physically picked up and moved.
One time he came home from one of his trips on a train and he walked into
the room where Wil and I were playing and he said, I have something for
He opened his hands and this thing flew out of his hand and through for
a long time and settled to the floor.
We were totally, totally impressed with this new very device.
We played with it and it lasted for about a half hour maybe.
Wil and I, we decided we would build a bigger one.
We took the same rubber band and built bigger wings so it could fly even
We found out right away that bigger does not necessarily mean better.
Then we built even bigger and it flew even worse.
We began to wonder why.
In fact, it took us all the way to our adulthood to begin to understand,
you had to match the power plant with the wings.
Bigger is not necessarily better if you use the same weak little rubber
Well, we didn't understand that for quite a number of years.
The family raised us, particularly Wil and I and our two older brothers
that you may not have heard of, to all be independent thinkers along with
our sister Kate.
We didn't call her Katharine, her given name, we called her Kate.
We had baby loving names.
We cared for each other all the way through our adult life.
We called Wil Ulum.
I'll have to tell you my name was BUBO and we called Kate Swess or Stirchen
sometimes or where does that come from?
Sounds like a fish or something.
Actually when she was born, the ancestors and the relatives came walking
out of the room where she was born saying Swess Stirchen.
In German it means little sister.
Do you think Wil and I could pronounce Swess Stirchen?
We called her Stirchens or sometimes Swess for short or Kate, but never
As we grew up Wil and I began to grow together in thinking and playing
with the same toys and having the same ideas.
Sometimes we would start finishing each other's sentences.
We thought alike.
Sometimes we even began to hum the very same tune at the very same moment.
It was so pronounced, in fact, that people in the family said hey, what's
with Wil and Orv?
If I didn't know better, I would say they're twins.
They act and think alike so much it's pretty incredible.
Well, that's what we did and we are all to trained to think independently
but sometimes we had to back up our opinions at the family evening dinner
That certainly happened and we would justify or not our position to our
father at the dinner table and sometimes he would set us straight and
sometimes he would respect our opinion.
In any case, we were trained, all of us, particularly Wil and I, to read
all the books in the upstairs and the downstairs library.
We weren't particularly well off, for sure.
But our parents loved us and encouraged us to read and think and be curious
and to follow up our imagination.
Well, Wil and I, as I mentioned, grew closer and closer and thinking alike
and basically toward the end of Wil's high school time there was a sports
No other way to describe it.
He was playing a game that I think you would probably call kind of a version
of ice hockey.
We called it skittles.
It wasn't played with a hockey stick but more like with a bat.
And the batter was up and the bat flew out of the batter's hands and hit
Wil right there in the mouth and knocked out all of his front teeth.
Well, Wil, of course, was not fatally hurt, for sure, but he had heart
palpitations and went into this incredible depression and thought he was
not going to live very long.
Since he was finishing high school I would go on to be a minister or Yale
and he said since I won't live very long I'll give up those ideas and
he became a recluse.
He stayed in the house, cared for our mother during her declining years.
She eventually died of tuberculosis but Wil will carry her upstairs and
downstairs and cared for her all the way to the end but he stayed inside
the house and really into himself to the point where there were letters
in the family that said what's with Wil?
Is he chief cook and bottle washer?
What's with him?
Let's get him out.
I was his loving brother.
What can I do to help and we're so close?
In the meantime I had gotten interested in a printing press and had a
small paper called the MIDGET.
3 by 4 inches.
Then I started the evening item and the west side news.
I decided I would pull Wil into the printing business and I did and invited
him to be my co-editor.
We got subscribers and advertisers and started up our business and began
to learn some business skills.
Well, well all this was going on, there was another incredible revolution
in personal, individual transportation in the United States and, frankly,
over Europe as well.
It was the invention and importing to the United States of something called
It wasn't the bicycle that you're familiar with right away.
It was something like you see in the upper left-hand corner called the
Some people called it the bone breaker because it was most likely if you
fell out wrong or hit a bump in the road you were likely to fall off.
It tended to throw you off and being six feet off the ground for the saddle
it tended to be a hard landing.
Well, then in about 1892 or so there was this safety bicycle invented.
And for obvious reasons the wheels are closer to the ground, so is the
saddle and a lot safer vehicle.
It was an incredibly popular device.
Everybody who could afford to buy a bicycle, could go as far as they physically
Everybody was going everywhere.
Wil and I being the entrepreneurs that we were we decided let's get on
the leading edge of this bicycle business.
We went out individually and bought bicycles and rented them out.
That was good.
It was popular and still riding bicycles so we started to repair them
and did that for a while.
Our machining skills got better.
A machine shop and tools got bigger and more sophisticated.
Eventually we went all the way to the sixth bicycle shop.
Eventually we got to the point where we were building three bicycle models
named after family members, of course, in our own shop.
Well, all this was going on in our bicycle shop and we were seeing things
in a technological revolution around us but we were reading things in
Remember, we were encouraged to read widely.
They had been having articles about this new science of the question of
the age, at least of our age, and that was, of course, the aerial age.
Will man ever be able to fly?
We read about the experiments of this guy named Otto Lilienthal.
He was a German.
Had a home on the outskirts of Berlin and he was doing experiments in
a craft much like this one.
He would get in, sit on the saddle, put his arms up through the thing.
Walk up steps into a hangar device at the top of a 150 foothill.
Get himself all situated.
Walk up to the top of the hill and jump off.
And he had about 2,000 glides in his aviation career and on that last
glide, unfortunately, he flew up in the air and pulled his wings up a
little too high and the aircraft, what we called now, stalled and plunged
to the ground about 60 feet or so.
He broke his back and he broke his neck and he died.
That was in 1896.
Well, remember, we had this bicycle business and we were reading of things
Unfortunately I came down with typhoid fever and getting better took me
about a month.
It was a killer in my day.
You probably have never heard of it but it was evident for us.
Wil came walking into the room, sat down on the side of the bed and said
Orv, I need to talk to you.
Let me read you this article.
He read me the article about the death of Otto Lilienthal.
Now, you would have thought a normal person would think twice about doing
these aerial experiments.
No, not for Wil and I.
No, no, not for us.
We decided we were going to continue on and we not only could do better,
we could fly farther, faster, longer distances and everything.
Well, that was where we were headed.
Well, we decided what the heck do we do now?
Then an incredible thing happened.
On May 30, 1899 Wil wrote.
He was the letter writer between the two of us.
He wrote to the Smithsonian museum and asked for all available information
to be sent to us on this new science of air, aviation and flying.
In only four days from the time we sent the letter until we got the letter
back, four days, it takes longer than that for you now.
He got the answer and all the material was included, pamphlets and abstracts
and material for us to consume.
We devoured it.
We checked out all the books we could from the library and read everything
Why did we do this?
Because we were interested in pursuing the science, the question of flight
of our age and we had to find out what our predecessors had done.
We obviously didn't want to make the same mistakes, go down the same blind
alley and make the same errors so we had to avoid them by finding out
what had been done in the past.
That's exactly what we did.
And Wil, of course, was reading all this right along with me.
And then we were talking about how do we build a glider that will work?
What kind of wing would it be?
And then an event occurred that changed the entire future of aviation
on this planet.
You wouldn't have thought so because it was in innocent surrounding but
it happened when Wil was alone in the bicycle shop.
He had a customer come in, fixed his little flat tire, and then all of
a sudden he watched himself as he was standing there kind of eyedly chatting
with the customer and while he was chatting he looked down and he saw
that he was sort of torsioning this box back and forth while he was chatting.
And this side would go down while this side would go up.
Well, all of a sudden in the mind of Wilbur Wright, he saw what was previously
an abstract form something in solid form.
With his mind, he could look at it upside down and backwards and sideways,
see something that none of us with a normal brain could see because it
was the mind of Wilbur Wright.
And he saw that he was able to torsion the box back and forth and twist
it where this side the leading edge would go up while this one went down.
As he twisted the box, it went more or less like this but at the same
time the box did not lose its structural integrity.
It stayed strong.
In his mind all of a sudden he saw the answer to our problems.
Why do we build a wing that actually is controllable?
All the Europeans and most of the American inventors were tackling the
problem of flight from a different and it turns out wrong way.
What they were trying to do was develop lift.
Well, heck, it had been done before.
We knew lift could be done.
The problem was not lift.
They thought they would just lift and then they would deal with controlability
It wasn't thought about.
We knew inherently as bicycle mechanics, we knew an aircraft was also
inherently unstable like a bike.
It moves through three axises, roll, pitch and yaw.
We knew the aircraft had to be inherently unstable.
As mechanics we had the unique skills to be able to understand that.
It wasn't lift was the problem, it was controlability that was the real
Wil saw the solution right there in that inner tube box.
So in 1899 he built a kite based on his principles of understanding.
He could move the wing back and forth with sticks that he can control.
Two strings off this side and this side and he could fly it and he did
that in 1899 right there in Dayton.
A whole lot of neighborhood kids were watching him swoop and dive and
maneuver a kite like they had never seen before.
No one had built a kite like that.
Wow, where did this come from?
It came from the mind of Wilbur Wright.
Well, here we had this incredible kite that proved the concept.
What do we do now?
Well, we decided, we have to take this someplace and test it.
Wil, again the letter writer in the family, wrote to the National Weather
Service this time and said send me all available information on a place
that will meet my requirements.
It has to be a lot of privacy.
After all, I don't want a lot of people standing around watching.
I want about 17 knots of wind and I want lots of open spaces.
I want sand, I don't want rock, and I want no trees, no bushes, no obstructions.
A whole long line list of things.
San Diego, California, the south shore of Chicago right there by lake
A number of other places, pine island, Florida and one down on the list
was a place called Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Whoever heard of that place?
So we wrote to Kitty Hawk and the post master wrote back and confirmed
the weather bureau data.
He handed our letter over to Mr. Tate.
The entire community of Kitty Hawk was seven houses so it wasn't a big
He wrote back this glowing letter and said you boys come on down.
We'll give you some southern hospitality and told us about the wonderful
weather conditions at Kitty Hawk.
Well, he left out a couple of things.
Notably he forgot to mention the millions of sand fleas all over the place
that were biters.
Yes, another thing he forgot.
He left out entirely and didn't mention the billions of boring bomber
Incredible terminator mosquitoes that would be through four or five layers
They would bite you through the blankets.
So many that they would black en the sky, whoa.
We had never seen mosquitoes like that before.
A whole new kind of incredible mosquito.
Well, we were there.
We figured that was the place to go.
It met all the requirements.
So we took the 1900 glider we had built from our kite about five feet
or so side to side length and took it to Kitty Hawk based on the design
of that 1900 glider, based on the lift coefficient number that Otto Lilienthal
had arrived at and published by an American, a French engineer in America.
Nonetheless, those numbers were somewhat sacred.
They were pretty much sacred.
Unfortunately, well, we thought there was something suspicious about them.
Our 1900 glider didn't perform all that well.
Well, we built a bigger glider for 1901.
And we knew, we calculated how much lift and sail we should have and how
It didn't perform nearly as well.
Yes, we got some glide but not nearly as well as we thought it should.
Something is seriously wrong.
And we thought it had to be the numbers of Otto Lilienthal.
Well, what are Wilbur and Orville Wright going to do with a problem like
As we rode back home after the 1901 gliding season we were depressed.
We had flown and glided but we hadn't done very well.
And Wilbur said to me on the train.
He said, you know, men will not fly in a thousand years.
Both of us felt the same way.
This is not going to happen.
Well, that depression lasted a couple of weeks and so what did we do when
we got back home?
We got to work and decided to build our own wind tunnel.
A big wooden box about this long.
Fan in this end, veins to straighten out the air and we built 200 different
little air foil sections.
Little pieces of metal like curved air foils.
Even a set of delta wings that you might not have expected us to even
We put them inside the box, a window on top.
Each one of them we could delicately run the fan and see how much lift
and how much drag precisely measured each one of those little air foils
And from our measurements we got all new entirely different numbers than
We knew we were right.
Well, we were right.
We took our numbers and built an entirely new kind of air foil and we
built the 1902 glider.
Well, it looked good so we took it apart.
Put it in a crate.
Shipped it to Kitty Hawk.
Went down there in 1902 and tried it out.
It was spectacular.
So much better even than we had planned.
We had a little problem with the rudder.
Because we had a problem called what we called well digging.
You would call it a tailspin.
We finally figured it out because of a strange thing.
You would never put the two together.
We figured it out because of an overdose of caffeine, of coffee.
Wil did the dishes and I did the cooking.
It was my coffee.
One day we were at our with it's end as to why we were having tail stalls.
I got an overdose of caffeine and worked all night long.
Around 4:30 in the morning I figured it out.
We needed a coordinated rudder that turned with the airplane, not that
was straight fixed.
I woke up my brother and he said you've got it, you've got it.
We made a couple little minor changes to the design and it led to the
coordinated rudder that eventually you have on your modern-day aircraft.
You remember that the airplane moves through three axiss, roll, pitch
When an airplane banks has a tendency to if it's turning to the left the
whole aircraft turns to the right as it's turning to the left.
It's called adversea aw.
We had to keep that from happening.
You have to develop a coordinated rudder.
It had never been done before.
It came from the mind this time of Orville Wright.
We installed that and our airplane was just wonderful in its performance.
We went home at the end of the 1902 gliding season knowing we were going
to fly in 1903.
We knew it inside of us.
Well, we had a couple of little problems.
We still didn't have an engine, a motor, or propellers.
We thought no problem.
Propellers have been around for a long time.
We weren't motor mechanics so we had our shop mechanic, a man named Charlie
We gave him our specifications.
We wanted a motor that was less than 200 pound and put out about 15 horsepower.
He gave us one that was about 180 pounds and put out about 15 horsepower.
And that was great.
We thought it was going to be wonderful for us but we still had the problem
What do we do?
A modern propeller might look something like this.
Our propellers were somewhat similar, a little more crude but nonetheless
we couldn't figure out how to build a propeller so we looked to see if
there was any theory of propellers.
It turns out there was no theory of propellers.
Nobody really knew theoretically, mathematically how to build a propeller.
It was all by guess and by golly and by experiment.
When they build those big propellers and put them on boats.
And the break through came when we realized we needed to build a propeller
the same way we built a wing using the same data.
We did do that.
We got in a situation where we had a propeller that actually worked and
the understanding came when we broke through the misunderstanding of people
who thought that a propeller was like an air screw, like a water propeller
is a water screw through the water.
It wasn't that at all.
An airplane propeller was more rightly considered to be a rotating wing
which generated thrust attached to the airplane, pushed it through the
All of a sudden things began to fall in place.
So in 1903 we went back to Kitty Hawk with our new motor and our propeller.
Eventually put the aircraft together and we wanted to start flying.
Well, December 13th was the first day we really had it all together but
Mother Nature didn't cooperate.
It was still air and besides, we told dad since December 13th was a Sunday
we wouldn't fly on the sabbath.
December 14 was a Monday.
It was Wil's turn but the air was so still.
We put the rail 60 feet of rail up the side of one of those big sand dunes.
Put the flyer up at the top.
Released the wire and down it came off the ramp.
It shot up into the air 10 or 12 feet and then stalled right down into
It went maybe 60 feet.
Neither Wil nor I really thought about it as real flight.
And he was pretty disappointed.
If you look carefully you can see the expression on his face.
He was not very happy.
Looked like he had kind of by the into a real sour grape.
I had this hobby of photography and I liked to be documenting by photographs
of this and that and everything else.
Everything that we did.
And this is a picture on that December 14 flight.
You can see a little bit of damage underneath the two big 12-foot wide
wings in the front that moved like this together.
12 feet long.
A little bit of damage underneath.
Took us a couple of days to repair the damage.
By noon on the 16th we were ready to fly again.
Well, Mother Nature wasn't.
Still a very still today.
It turned out to be the calm before the storm, however.
Because, well, we decided we would put it off until the 17th.
The night of the 16th a big storm came up and by midnight the wind was
blowing close to 60 knots.
So much for 17 knots.
Well, by 10:00 the next morning it gradually receded in velocity and we
were down to 30 knots.
Wil and I looked at each other and side will we fly?
We nodded yes, let's give it a try.
We put the flag out on the back of the shed.
It was a symbol for the lifesaving service guys to come up and give us
a little help.
You have to know something about these guys to understand.
The lifesaving service, kind of a part of the early Coast Guard, served
the purpose of hauling people out of the surf from boats that had gone
aground in the outer banks of the Carolinas.
When the boats went aground the boats would sink with a massive loss of
life and cargo.
So their job was to get in these life boats and go out even through the
roughest of storms and haul these people out of the ocean.
They had a big motto up inside their little barn there that said, you
have to go, you don't have to come back.
Very tough, brawny men.
They looked at those two Yankees up there on the sand dunes with some
amusement and we liked each other and got along great.
They came up about 10:30 or so that morning.
Helped us roll that 1903 Wright flyer with its new engine and propellers
all set to go out on the 60-foot rail.
We started up the engine and it was my turn because Wil had won the toss
but his turn was on the 14th.
Now it was my turn.
I crawled on board.
And I went right down under engine power alone right down the 60 foot
After 40 feet I lifted into the air toward the ocean and flew for 12 seconds
and 120 feet.
I had the coast guardsman aim the camera and press at the right moment.
He wasn't really sure if he had pressed the bulb or not.
We didn't know if we had the picture until we got the glass frame back
Here is that picture, December 17, 1903 at 10:35 in the morning.
So if you have trouble remembering who was doing the real flying that
day, it was Orville.
Who was over the ground while Wilbur waited.
Well, Wil sort of grited his teeth and his turn was the next one.
He flew even farther than I D. we'll show you a picture now of the different
rocks showing the different flights.
There is the first and the second, then the third.
Each of us alternating turns and then there in the back clear up in the
right-hand corner you'll see the fourth flight.
There were only four that day.
And that was Wil's flight.
852 feet in 59 seconds.
Almost a minute and almost three football fields in length.
Absolutely phenomenal performance for those days.
We were so thrilled we couldn't believe it.
We were beside ourselves.
We were getting ready for flight number five and the coast guardsman helped
pull the flyer back to the beginning rail.
All of a sudden as we were standing there discussing number five Mother
Nature grabbed the end of the airplanes while Mr. Daniels was on board
holding it down.
Picked it up and broke up the airplane.
Mr. Daniels was cut up a little bit but all the way to the end of his
life he called himself the victim of the first aviation accident.
Well, that was the end for the flying of that season.
But we were so thrilled that really it didn't put much of a damper on
That afternoon we went to the telegraph station which was about four miles
away in the sand.
We sent a telegram home to the folks.
It read, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, December 17.
Bishop M. Wright, 7 Hawthorn street.
Success, four flights, Thursday morning.
All against 21 mile wind.
Started from level with engine power alone.
Average speed through the air 31 miles.
Longest 57, that was really a typographical mistake it was really 59 seconds.
Home for Christmas.
Signed Orville Wright.
Well, that let the folks know that something wonderful had happened and
Loren took the message down to the local newspaper and completely missed
12 seconds, big deal.
There had been other flights in balloons a lot longer than 12 seconds
and 120 feet.
They didn't get the clue at all.
They wrote the five-line thing that said Wright brothers 12 second flight
in some type of balloon apparatus.
Wright brothers home for Christmas.
Totally misunderstood what had occurred at Kitty Hawk.
Kill devil hill on December 17, 1903.
Well, we came home and had a wonderful Christmas.
In 1904 we didn't go back to Kitty Hawk.
We practiced at Hoffman's prairie and practices there through 1904 and
We had perfected it to where the 1905 Wright flyer, even though the 1903
was the first that flew the 1905 flyer was the first aircraft to be a
practical aircraft because it for the first time in 1905 was completely
controllable and make a complete circle and figure 8 if we wanted and
come back and land exactly on the spot where it had taken off from.
We still weren't using wheels, but skids underneath the aircraft.
Well Wilbur did a wonderful job of flying and so we tried to sell it to
That wasn't going to go very well.
They kept denying we even were flying.
We sent Wil to Europe.
He demonstrated to the French.
The French thought we were bluffers and fakers.
Well, on August 8, 1908 at a place in France he demonstrated successfully
to the French and one day they were calling us bluffers and fakers and
the next day the headlines read, we're beaten, the Americans can fly.
It was happening in Europe but I had an opportunity, finally, with the
They finally woke up that we had this airplane and we could actually fly,
to kind of put up or shut up for the Wright brothers between a period
in 1908 until July of 1909.
At the 1908 flight demonstration there was an accident.
A lieutenant was killed.
There is a picture of the accident right there.
He was so curious about all the design questions, what is happening, why
What does that do?
I was a little suspicious of that guy.
Nonetheless as we took off the second turn around the field on September
17th, 1908 at 5:30 in the afternoon a propeller split, caused us to crash
and we went about 90 degrees right into the ground.
Lots of damage to the airplane.
It was destroyed.
I had three broken ribs and a broken thigh.
The lieutenant had a skull fracture and died.
Well, I was just totally distressed by that.
What had happened to the airplane?
What was wrong with our design?
Where had we gone wrong?
Well, once we were able to investigate the wreckage we realized there
was nothing wrong with our design, only a propeller had failed.
Well, in the meantime we still couldn't get the government's attention,
of course, so we sent Wil to Europe and he was still over there and now
he came back in 1909 and he flew around.
You can see the picture right there, the Statue of Liberty in the corner.
Clear up the Hudson river, around grant's tomb and all the way back.
As he flew back down the Hudson river all the major ocean liners were
tooting their horns and blowing their whistle.
One major ocean liner was leaving the New York harbor blowing its horn
and the passengers were waving their handkerchiefs.
They had never seen anything like Wilbur Wright and his aircraft flying
over the Hudson.
We had a canoe strapped underneath in case the engine quit but it didn't.
The big ocean liner was none other than the Lusitania.
The Lusitania was, of course, a major ocean liner and it was a major factor
in bringing the United States into World War I when it was torpedoed by
the Germans some years later.
We were involved in one lawsuit after another as people tried to steal
our design ideas.
And so what to do.
The only thing we could do was protect ourselves by suing people left
and right and as we had to do that we made a lot of enemies, of course.
It was the only thing to do to protect our patent.
In 1908 at the crash we had noticed that one guy ran out on the field
and was writing furiously and measuring and writing down numbers and ran
Who was that guy?
It turned out there was a conspiracy to steal our design secrets.
He was a member of a five-member group.
Made up of two Canadians and three Americans.
The three Americans were none other than the lieutenant that I was suspicious
Another guy you might remember his name.
Who was this third guy, short, fat, stove pipe hat?
What do you think his name was?
A member of the A.E.A. in trying to steal the design secrets of the Wright
He was none other than Alexander Graham Bell.
He was trying to steal the Wright brother's design but he wanted to build
his own airplane.
They were never very successful.
We continued to have to go to court and eventually Wil went to Boston
to try to get some more information and meet with some friends and he
ate some oysters and he came down with typhoid fever.
Came back home.
Had a high fever.
We suspected it was typhoid.
He dictated his last will and testament.
Elapsed into a coma and on may 30, 1912 he passed away.
Remember that date.
It was 13 years to the day that he had written that letter to the Smithsonian
to get all that information that set us on our path to aviation discovery.
Well, I had lost my brother, my older brothers moved away, our father
died in 1917.
Katharine came forward and was going to abandon me because she had fallen
in love with this guy named Henry HASKILL.
She moved to Kansas City without my blessing and I told her I would never
speak to her again and I meant it.
It was close to the end of our relationship.
Finally in 1929 she came down with pneumonia and belatedly I took the
train to Kansas City and we spoke a few words before she died in 1929.
Well, I kind of lost interest in aviation and eventually I sold off the
Wright airplane company and the patent designs and had to fight with the
Smithsonian for the recognition that we were due.
After all they credited some guy named Langley with his design and everybody
knew it was a lie.
They corrected themselves after years and years but eventually I died
on January 30th, 1948 from running up and down the stairs trying to fix
And eventually later that year but not in time enough for me to see the
airplane come back to the United States, because I had sent it to Europe
in a little bit of a argument with the Smithsonian.
In 1948 the aircraft was brought back to the United States.
Lovingly taken to the Smithsonian and restored and put in the condition
that it exists today.
Recovered and restored and put in a way that it looked just like it did
In fact, it's hanging there at about 22 feet or so off the floor, which
is almost twice as high as any of those famous four flights.
Well, it's been lowered it a little bit this year so you can see it better
in our year of centennial flight.
I would like you all to go to Washington, D.C.
I would like you to fly from the west coast to the east coast and land
at Washington, D.C.
There is about 100% chance you'll get there just fine.
And while you're flying across the United States and enjoying your in-flight
meal, why don't you raise your window shade and look down at the ground
far beneath you and think for just a minute how much you owe to Wilbur
and Orville Wright.
>> Thank you very much for your attention.
We're going to take a little time for some questions, both from the audience
and from the Internet.
We will alternate between the two.
We have people with mikes out in the audience.
If you have a question, please keep the noise down so we can hear each
other, raise your hand and they'll make their way to you.
And we'll get some answers from Orville.
>> When they first made the plane, what were the wings made of?
>> That's a very interesting question.
I'm almost never asked that.
The fabric on the 1903 Wright flyer, of course, we didn't want it to be
porous or air to be able to travel through it, of course, and so we covered
it with kind of a linen.
But this is not very well-known but I'll tell you the real truth.
Where did we get the material to cover the 1903 Wright flyer?
We had to have a certain amount of thread per inch count.
Therefore, very none porous and we got the material from a woman's underwear
company in Dayton, Ohio.
You won't read that in most of the history books but that's the truth.
>> We have a question here from Cleveland heights, Ohio.
They want to know did the brothers ever fight?
>> Most people don't understand how Wil and I got along.
When we had a position, remember, we were trained to think independently
and to be vigorous in our support of our ideas.
Sometimes we would argue vigorously but never in a mean-spirited way.
Sometimes for two or three hours and then if you were really paying close
attention you'll notice Wil and I would swap positions and argue for another
two or three hours even to the point where the family said what is with
these two guys?
They argue all the time.
Even they began to understand that that's how Wil and I worked together.
We didn't sit quietly at a desk or just chat comfortably and quietly we
had to vigorously test each other's theories and that's how we discussed
it with vigorous, a strong discussion.
We really never did fight like you might expect that word to mean.
>> OK, question down here in front.
>> When you were little did your other brothers or Katharine ever
>> I had two older problems.
One pulled away from the family early and became a farmer by Kansas City.
Loren moved to Kansas and came home because of sheer poverty and home
sickness and helped us a bit in the bicycle shop but spent most of his
life as a bookkeeper and accountant.
Didn't help us that much in the design.
Katharine, our loving sister Katharine, was an incredible help but not
in the building and design of the airplane but when we took it to Europe.
People wanted to meet Wilbur and Orville but really wanted to meet Katharine.
She was the Belle of the ball.
Wil and I didn't have well-developed social skills but Katharine had very
developed social skills and ways and she was the Belle, everybody wanted
to meet Katharine and she helped us make so many connections.
There is no way, really, to evaluate her help.
>> We have a question here from Corey.
This is NASA explorer club.
>> Hello, Corey.
>> What other interests did you have as adults?
>> Well, as adults I think probably the primary interest I had was
I liked about everything doing with aviation, but I liked to take pictures
of things and you'll see all the way through my life that I had snapshots
of the family and the dog and my sister and my brothers and the house
and so forth.
And that's what I really was interested in.
>> Another question from the audience, please.
>> I had this wonderful dog, a saint Bernard about this tall.
>> What were those -- what did you say to the lady that was dying
when you went to--
>> The lady you're talking about is no doubt my sister, Katharine.
I went to Kansas City where she was.
I went into the room where she was in bed and her husband was there and
took me into the room and said Katharine, do you recognize Orville?
She opened her eyes and said but yes, of course.
Her husband left the room.
I sat down, closed the door, of course, and she and I talked for about
an hour and 15 minutes.
Nowhere are those words written down.
Not in our letters, not in any of the diaries.
They only reside in the heart of Katharine and myself.
They don't exist anywhere, only we know what we said and after about an
hour and 15 minutes I got up and left, was taken back to the train, and
the very next afternoon Katharine passed away.
>> OK, another question from the Internet here.
They want to know why you didn't experiment with automobiles and went
directly to the airplane?
>> A very not known story.
Since you asked, I'll tell you the truth.
One day in the bicycle shop Wil and I were standing in the doorway.
One of our friends, a real mechanically gifted friend of ours, went down
the street in this kind of automobile-looking thing.
After all, automobiles had been invented they just weren't very sophisticated.
Wil said, you know, maybe we ought to move from bicycles to this automobile
Looks like it might be the coming thing.
And I said, in my infinite wisdom, no, those automobiles will never amount
So we stayed with bicycles all the rest of our time in business.
>> One more up here in the balcony.
>> Did you ever finish your newspaper business?
>> Even after we had kept our bicycle shop going for some years
we kept our printing shop putting the "west side news "out.
We had one of our friends take over the printing business for us and kept
it going and eventually it was phased out.
As we gradually moved more and more into bicycle shops.
Do you remember how many bicycles shops I said we had all total?
Six, that's right.
Each one getting more sophisticated and a little bigger.
Eventually we stopped and got out of the newspaper business, into the
bicycle business, into the aviation business and into the lawsuit business,
>> Another one from Cleveland heights.
When you were testing your planes, how safe did you think they were?
>> Both Wil and I had a number of narrow escapes.
We knew it was fairly safe but on the other hand, there was one way to
The way Wil described it in 1901 to the society of engineers in Chicago.
As he explained to those engineers he said, you can't sit behind a desk
and figure that out aerodynamicly like that.
It's like a horse, a horse that you can't ride.
You have to get on it and try.
You have to get on it and be a flyer.
You have to actually get on it and eventually you're going to get bruised
and maybe broken.
We knew it was dangerous but we promised our father we would be careful
and we were.
Question in the audience?
>> Did you ever write a book about your experiences with flight?
>> That's an interesting question.
The answer is really no, not myself.
One of the lawsuits required some depositions to be taken and that was
later turned into a small booklet called how we built the airplane.
Then eventually the first major author to write a book about us was named
And he wrote the biography, the first one.
Since then there have been quite a number of others, but I didn't write
Although my sister was after me for years and years to do it, I never
>> We have another question here from Thomas also from the NASA
He wants to know how much money did you make?
Did you get rich?
>> You want it down to the dollar and cent there, Thomas?
I really don't know.
I do know, of course, that Wil made a lot of money.
He was wealthy when he passed away and I lived considerably longer than
he did, 1948 before I passed away and I was a millionaire.
I had a lot of money.
We thought there was a possibility we would make money but that wasn't
We didn't set out to make money.
We set out to satisfy our curiosity.
It just turned out we followed our dream and we ended up making a lot
From the audience.
>> Question over here?
>> Where did you get your financial package?
>> How did we support our experiments in Kitty Hawk, is that what
It was the money we used from our bicycle shop.
We kept our bicycle shop running all year long, 12 months of the year.
But the business was all in the spring and the summer.
That's when we made our money and that's when people were riding bicycles.
In the late fall and winter, that's when we went to Kitty Hawk.
And used the money we made in the bicycle shop to afford our trips to
That's how we supported ourselves.
We got no grants, we got no government money.
We supported ourselves.
We got no scholarships, either.
>> I'm going to take one more from the Internet and one more from
This one is from Mr. jen kin's class.
>> If you had failed at flying, what would you have done?
>> If I had failed with flying I probably would have taken up something
new that interested my curiosity.
I can't tell you right now what it was because I followed one dream at
And the aviation, of course, had me totally captivated and that was the
one I was following.
It would have presented itself.
It was an innovation time for me and for my brother.
In fact, it so captivated my attention even though my sister, Katharine,
decided to occasionally set us up with a young woman, in fact, one of
them was Harriet, we were so focused on what our goal was, we liked women,
we just didn't have time for the distraction of a girlfriend.
And so therefore we never married, never had any children.
But we would have found something that interested us.
It could have been the automotive industry.
Might have been something else.
Back here one more.
>> Did you guys hang out with anybody else besides each other?
>> Did we hang out with anyone else besides each other?
That's a difficult question to give you a straight answer.
Probably the answer is yes, we did.
We hung out with each other, we hung out with family members, we hung
out with kind of a small group of friends.
We hung out with the people who worked for us.
The two Charlies, the Charlie Taylor, our master mechanic, and various
other pilots in the aviation community and certainly those that we cultivated
their friendship over a period of my longer lifetime.
Keep in mind that from this flight in 1903, 24 years later a single guy,
also a guy I hung out with, flew solo across the Atlantic in 1927.
Only 24 years after this flight.
Do you remember his name?
>> Yeager flew another airplane faster than the speed of sound.
It's faster than my voice is reaching the back of the room right now.
Colonel Yeager flew faster than that in 1947.
I saw the beginnings of the first electronic calculators and computers.
I saw, in fact, the detonation of the first atomic bomb.
At a time when I thought and everyone else thought that man was not designed
to fly or god would have given him wings all the way to the time when
I saw an atomic bomb based on our design.
You couldn't have dropped the bomb except for what Wil and I did.
Look at it another way.
66 years later after this picture was taken we put two men on the moon
and brought them home safely.
So in that 100 years now that we've roughly gone from the time that Wil
and I flew that aircraft we've put 12 men on the moon and brought them
In all that time, roughly only two men have really been able to fly very
The 1903 Wright flyer.
Who are those two men?
Wilbur and Orville Wright.
So, yes, I hung out with a lot of different folks.
One more question?
>> Let's see, did we lose our Mike?
>> Good, strong voice here.
>> How big were the wings when you built them?
>> The 1903 Wright flyer had a wing span of -- they got a little
bigger and more powerful and the right wing was a little bit longer than
the left wing because of where the motor was.
It had more weight on that side.
Most people think it was the wings were the same length.
That isn't true.
We compensated for the weight of the pilot and the heavier weight of the
That was the size of the 1903 Wright flyer.
Keep in mind that first flight of 1903 how long was it, do you recall?
120 feet, right?
You could put the 1903 Wright flyer's first famous flight on the wing
tip of a lot of American aircraft let's say like the spruce goose or a
B-52 bomber or major cargo aircraft.
You could put the Wright flyer on the wing tip and the first flight would
not even reach the fuselage, let alone the other wing tip.
In fact, you can conduct that entire famous 12 second, 120 foot flight
inside, completely, some of our major cargo aircraft that we have today
like a C-141 star lifter.
It is an entirely different world that you all live in today.
I want to thank Orville very much for being with us today.
We're going to go ahead and say goodbye to our friends on the Internet.
And thank them for being with us and providing us with some really great
And then hold on just a moment, I want to make sure we all get going in
the right direction and I'll ask if you would tip your head just a little
There we go, thank you.
For those of us here in the auditorium still, you're going to have lots
of good things to see over in Aero Expo village including a replica of
the Wright flyer.
Take a look at there.
As you exit the building stay with your class.
We'll be exiting only from the two front doors.
Thank you very much.
Responsible NASA Official: Tom Clauson
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, USA