Orville Wright
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005

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Orville Wright—Inventor, Aviation Pioneer: August 19, 1871, Dayton, Ohio, 5:00 PM, LMT. (Source: time speculative from Marc Penfield)  Died, January 230, 1948, Dayton, Ohio.

(Source: speculative from Marc Penfield) (Ascendant, Capricorn; MC, Scorpio with Mars in Scorpio; Sun in Leo; Moon conjunct Venus in Libra; Mercury in Virgo; Jupiter and Uranus in Cancer; Saturn in Capricorn; Neptune in Aries; Pluto in Taurus)

With his brother Wilbur, invented and built the first successful airplaine. On a toss of a coin, he piloted the first flight on December 17, 1903, of 120 feet in the air for twelve seconds.


No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris.

If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance"


Orville Wright was born August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. Along with his brother Wilbur, he invented and built the first successful controllable airplane.

Even as children mechanics fascinated the brothers. After reading about the death of pioneer glider pilot Otto Lilienthal in 1896, they became interested in flying. They began serious reading on the subject in 1899, and soon obtained all the scientific knowledge of aeronautics then available. By the fall of 1903, they had constructed a powered airplane with wings 40.5 feet (12 meters) long and weighing about 750 pounds (340 kilograms) with the pilot. They designed and built their own lightweight gasoline engine for the airplane.

On December 17, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they made the world's first flight in a powered, heavier-than-air machine. With Orville at the controls, the plane flew 120 feet (37 meters) in 12 seconds. The brothers made three more flights that day. The longest, by Wilbur, was 852 feet (260 meters) in 59 seconds.

The Wrights believed that airplanes would eventually be used to transport passengers and mail. When the Wrights first offered their machine to the U.S. government, they were not taken seriously, but by 1908 they closed a contract with the U.S. Department of War for the first military airplane.

Wilbur died in 1912, just as the airplane was beginning to make great advances. Orville worked on alone and in 1913 won the Collier Trophy for a device to automatically balance airplanes. In 1915 he sold his interest in the Wright Company, and continued work on the development of aviation in his own shop. In 1929, he received the first Daniel Guggenheim Medal for his and Wilbur's contributions to the advancement of aeronautics. He died on January 30, 1948. Orville was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in New York City in 1965.

Apr. 16, 1867: Wilbur is born in Millville, Indiana to Milton and Susan Wright. Milton is a minister and later becomes a bishop for the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

Aug. 19, 1871: Orville is born in Dayton, Ohio. The family has moved to the city the year before so that Milton can edit the church paper.

Autumn 1878: Milton brings home the boys a toy "hélicoptère" - which sparks their interest in flight. The boys are 11 and 7. Over the next several years, the boys try to build these themselves, calling them "bats". But, the larger they get, the less they fly. They don't know that a machine with only twice the linear dimensions of another requires 8 times as much power. Discouraged, the boys turn their attention to kite-flying.

1886: Wilbur, an excellent student, is injured in a skating accident. A vaguely defined heart disorder keeps him away from college. He spends the next four years depressed at home caring for his mother, who is dying from tuberculosis.

July 4, 1889: Their mother Susan dies. Orville, an average student, decides to quit school and start a printing business with Wilbur. They begin publishing a four-page weekly newspaper, the West Side News at the ages of 22 and 18. It's the first time the young men refer to themselves as "The Wright Brothers".

1892-1904: The brothers turn their business interests to bicycles and operate a bicycle repair shop and factory. The two brothers manufacture their own bicycles an Orville invents a self-oiling wheel hub.

Summer 1896: While taking care of Orville who is sick with typhoid, Wilbur reads about the death of Otto Lilienthal, a famous German glider pilot who made over 2,000 sustained and replicable glides. His experiments bring manned, powered flight out of the realm of foolishness to real possibility and the brothers get seriously interested in flight again. They read all the articles on aeronautics that they can get.

May 30, 1899: Wilbur writes to the Smithsonian Institution, requesting published papers on flight, saying that he is "about to begin a systematic study of the subject in preparation for practical work." He writes, "My observations… have only convinced me more firmly that human flight is possible and practicable. It is only a question of knowledge and skill just as in all acrobatic feats."

May 13, 1900: Wilbur Wright asks civil engineer Octave Chanute, who wrote about early aviation experiments, for his help in gathering still more information. He writes: "For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life." In the letter, Wilbur outlines his solution for the need to control a flying machine.

He describes a technique called wing warping - which requires twisting the surface of each wing to change its position in relation to oncoming wind. Chanute and the Wrights keep up a regular correspondence during the brothers' process of building a manned flying machine.

October 1900: The Wright brothers begin their first field experiments. They build a glider modeled after one made by Chanute and Herring, and based on data used by Lilienthal. They design the glider to be flown as a kite with a man onboard, but it doesn't have enough lift. So, they fly it as an unmanned kite, operating the levers through cords from the ground.

Summer 1901: The Wrights build a bigger version of the 1900 glider. But, again the lift falls short of calculations. They conclude there's something wrong with the lift calculations (on which all flying machines previous were based).

Winter 1901: They build a wind tunnel to measure the lift data themselves. In the process, they discover that the commonly accepted coefficient of lift is too high; they also identify a longer and narrower wing shape that's far more efficient for flight.

Fall 1902: They successfully test a new glider based on their own measurements, maing almost 1,000 gliding flights - some covering distances of more than 600 feet.

1903: The Wrights make another breakthrough. Ship-building literature provides no theory of propulsion for the propeller they need on their airplane. After months of "long arguments", they reason that a propeller is only a moving wing, and they test various shapes in their wind tunnel. They also build a four-cylinder engine that's got the best power-to-weight ratio than anything around.

March 23, 1903: The Wrights haven't even flown the Flyer yet, but they apply for a patent of their work as the field test now becomes only a confirmation of what they already know: it will fly.

Dec. 17, 1903: At 10:35 a.m., the Wright brothers make aviation history. With a few jerky up-and-down movements, Orville flies the Flyer for 12 seconds, covering just 120 feet. They make a total of four flights that day before a gust of wind daimages the Flyer.

1905: The Wright brothers build the world's first practical airplane. It can stay airborne for more than half an hour.

May 22, 1906: The brothers receive their patent for the Wright Flying Machine.

1908: After winning a contract to produce Wright airplanes in Europe, Wilbur makes record-breaking flights with their new, improved machines near Le Mans, France. In five months of flight demonstration, he makes over 100 flights, is airborne for 25 hours, and ends with a record flight of 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Orville gets his chance to shine in Fort Myer, Virginia, demonstrating the worthiness of flying machines for use in the U.S. army. Their planes become the world's first military airplanes.

1909: The Wright brothers wow the world with their exhibition flights in France, Italy, Germany and the United States.

May 30, 1912: Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid at the age of 45.

1914: The Smithsonian claims its former secretary's aerodrome was capable of flight before the Wright Brothers flew their flying machine. (Samuel Langley's Great Aerodrome broke apart upon takeoff and threw its pilot into the Potomac River at a humiliating, highly publicized event just nine days before the Wright Brothers' flight). Subsequent publications repeat the claim, belittling the Wrights' achievement.

Spring 1925: Insulted by the Smithsonian's refusal to retract their false claim, Orville announces he will send the Flyer to the Science Museum in London, England - as a "constant reminder of the reasons for its being there."

March 3, 1932: A national monument is dedicated to the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. It's the only national monument in the United States that is erected while its namesake is living.

1942: The Smithsonian retracts its false claims made 28 years earlier.

Jan. 30, 1948: At the age of 77, Orville Wright dies of a heart attack while fixing a doorbell. Like his older brother Wilbur, he dies a bachelor - their one passion in life is aviation.

Dec. 17th, 1948: On the 45th anniversary of the world's first flight, the Smithsonian unveils the Flyer with an inscription commemorating the Wright Brothers.

"The first flight lasted only twelve seconds, a flight very modest compared with that of birds, but it was, nevertheless, the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in free flight, had sailed forward on a level course without reduction of speed, and had finally landed without being wrecked."

— Wilbur and Orville Wright on making the world's first manned and powered flight, covering just 120 feet, on Dec. 17th, 1903.

On a cold and windy morning in 1903, two brothers with a shared passion for technological innovation literally flew out of obscurity to international attention. At 10:35 a.m. on December 17th, they flew the world's first powered airplane.

Orville (left) and Wilbur Wright. Their father once told a reporter that they were "as inseparable as twins". (Photo courtesy the Franklin Institute)

The flight lasted a scant 12 seconds and covered just 120 feet above the sandy beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But, that brief moment captured the extraordinary genius of two rather ordinary men. Wilbur and his younger brother Orville repaired and manufactured bicycles in Dayton, Ohio. The sons of a church bishop, they were both bachelors who never finished high school. But, they took a common childhood fascination for flight - sparked by a toy "hélicoptère" driven by rubber bands brought home by their father - and turned it into a time-consuming hobby. Soon, that hobby became an obsessive desire to achieve human flight.

"For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life,"

wrote Wilbur Wright in a letter in 1900 to Octave Chanute, a civil engineer who compiled and published information on early aviation experiments.

The more Wilbur read about flight, the more convinced he became that human flight was possible. Together with his brother Orville, a mechanical wizard, they became self-taught engineers.

"We had taken up aeronautics merely as a sport. We reluctantly entered upon the scientific side of it. But we soon found the work so fascinating that we were drawn into it deeper and deeper."

Wilbur Wright was the more outgoing brother. A voracious reader and gifted public speaker, he once wanted to become a teacher.

Their experiments eventually led to the world's first flying machine, but the accomplishment didn't happen in a vacuum. The early 1900s was a ripe time for such an invention. Aerodynamics, structural engineering, engine design and fuel technology had all reached a stage of development where they could all be brought together to produce a practical flying machine.

Although neither graduated from high school, Wilbur had been an outstanding student. (A family move prevented Wilbur from receiving his diploma, and a skating accident ruined his plans to go to Yale). Orville, on the other hand, caused much mischief in school and quit before his last year to start a printing shop. Both brothers however, shared a fascination for technological problem solving, which was encouraged by their father who filled the house with two extensive libraries.

"We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity."

Orville Wright was full of mischievious pranks around his family, but outside that tightly-knit circle, he was almost pathologically shy.

They also possessed a mechanical aptitude, developed with the help of their mother, who, having spent much of her childhood in her father's carriage shop, had learned to design and build simple household appliances and toys for the Wright home. While Orville loved to concentrate on the detailed mechanics of a given problem, Wilbur looked at the big picture, the systems involved in the whole project. Glimpses of the brothers' successful collaboration - often characterized by heated debate - can be seen in the printing press they made out of recycled buggy parts and items from local junkyards for their first business venture together, and later in the creation of two lines of bicycles for their bike shop. Orville also invented a self-oiling wheel hub.

But it wasn't until the death of a famous German engineer in 1896 that the brothers embarked on a path to their biggest achievement.

The Wright Brothers, Orville Wright (August 19, 1871 - January 30, 1948) and Wilbur Wright (April 16, 1867 - May 30, 1912), are generally credited with the design and construction of the first practical aeroplane, and making the first controllable, powered heavier-than-air flight along with many other aviation milestones. However, their accomplishments have been subject to many counter-claims by some people and nations at their start, and through to the present day.

Wilbur Wright was born in Millville , Indiana in 1867, Orville in Dayton, Ohio in 1871. Both received high school educations but no diplomas.

The Wright Brothers grew up in Dayton, where they opened a bicycle repair, design and manufacturing company (the Wright Cycle Company) in 1892. They used the occupation to fund their growing interest in flight. Drawing on the work of Sir George Cayley, Octave Chanute, Otto Lilienthal and Samuel Pierpont Langley, they began their mechanical aeronautical experimentation in 1899. The brothers extended the technology of flight by emphasizing control of the aircraft (instead of increased power) for taking off into the air. They developed three-axis control and established principles of control still used today.

The Wrights had researched and initially relied upon the aeronautical literature of the day, including Lilienthal's tables; but finding that the Smeaton Coefficient (a variable in the formula for lift and the formula for drag) was wrong, had a wind tunnel built by their employee, Charlie Taylor, and tested over two hundred different wing shapes in it, eventually devising their own tables relating air pressure to wing shape. Their work and projects with bicycles, gears, bicycle motors, and balance (while riding a bicycle), were critical to their success in creating the mechanical airplane.
During their research, the Wrights always worked together, and their contributions to the aeroplane's development are inseparable.

The Wright Brothers were noted for placing the emphasis of their aviation research on navigational control rather than simply lift and propulsion which would make sustained flight practical. To that end, they first made gliders (beginning in 1899), using an intricate system called “wing warping.” If one wing bent one way, it would receive more lift, which would make the plane lift. If they could control how the gliders' wings warped, then it would make flying much easier. To allow warping in the first gliders, they had to keep the front and rear posts that hold up the glider unbraced. The warping was then controlled by wire running through the wings, which led to sticks the flyer held, and he could pull one or the other to make it turn left or right.

In 1900 they went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to continue their aeronautical work, choosing Kitty Hawk (specifically a sand dune called Kill Devil Hill) because of its strong and steady winds. They experimented with gliders at Kitty Hawk from 1900 through 1902, each year constructing a new glider. Their last glider applied many important innovations in flight, and the brothers made over a thousand flights with it. On March 23, 1903 they applied for a patent (granted as U.S. patent number 821,393, "Flying-Machine", on May 23, 1906) for the novel technique of controlling lateral movement and turning by "wing warping". By 1903, the Wright Brothers were perhaps the most skilled glider pilots in the world.

In 1903, they built the Wright Flyer -- later the Flyer I (today popularly known as the Kitty Hawk), carved propellers and had an engine built by Taylor in their bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. The propellers had a 66% efficiency rate. The engine was superior to manufactured ones, having a low enough weight-to-power ratio to use on an aeroplane.

Then on December 17, 1903, the Wrights took to the air, both of them twice. The first flight, by Orville, of 39 meters (120 feet) in 12 seconds, was recorded in a famous photograph. In the fourth flight of the same day, the only flight made that day which was actually controlled, Wilbur Wright flew 279 meters (852 ft) in 59 seconds. [1].

The flights were witnessed by 4 lifesavers and a boy from the village, making it arguably the first public flight. Only local newspapers reported the event, and inaccurately at that.

The Flyer I cost less than a thousand dollars to construct. It had a wingspn of 40 feet (12 m), weighed 750 pounds (340 kg), and sported a 12 horsepower (9 kW), 170 pound (77 kg) engine.

The Wrights established a flying field at Huffman Prairie , near Dayton, and continued work in 1904, building the Flyer II and using a catapult take-off system to compensate for the lack of wind in this location. By the end of the year, the Wright Brothers had sustained 105 flights, some of them of 5 minutes, circling over the prairie, which is now part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 1905, they built an improved aeroplane, the Flyer III.

In 1904 and 1905, the Wright Brothers conducted over 105 flights from Huffman Prairie in Dayton, inviting the press and friends and neighbors. Here they completed the first aerial circle and by October 5, 1905 Wilbur set a record of over 39 minutes in the air and 24 1/2 miles, circling over Huffman Prairie.

When a large contingent of journalists arrived at the field in 1904, for instance, the Wrights were experiencing mechanical difficulties, and were unable to correct them within two days. As a result, the first local report of the flights appeared in a beekeeping magazine. The news was not widely known outside of Ohio, and was often met with skepticism. The Paris edition of the Herald Tribune headlined a 1906 article on the Wrights "FLYERS OR LIARS?"

The brothers became world famous in 1908 and 1909 when, weary of continuing doubt, they took their aeroplane on tour. Wilbur toured Europe demonstrating their aeroplane and organising a company to market it, while Orville demonstrated the flyer to the United States Army at Fort Myers, Florida.

On May 14, 1908 the Wright Brothers made the first two-person aircraft flight with Charlie Furnas as a passenger. Thomas Selfridge became the first person killed in a powered airplane on September 17, 1908 when a propeller failure caused the crash of the passenger-carrying plane Orville was piloting during military tests at Fort Myer in Virginia. Orville broke a leg and two ribs. (This was the only serious accident the Wrights suffered.) In late 1908, Madame Hart O. Berg became the first woman to fly when she flew with Wilbur Wright in Le Mans, France.

The Wright Brothers brought great attention to flying by Wilbur's flight around the Statue of Liberty in New York in 1909.

Also in 1909, the Wrights won the first US military aviation contract when they built a machine that met the requirements of a two-seater, capable of flights of an hour's duration, at an average of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h). $30,000 of the federal budget was reserved for military aviation. That year the Wrights were also building Wright Flyers in factories in Dayton and in Germany.

The Wrights took over 300 photographs of flights and many other events of those pioneer days of aviation.

The Wrights were involved in several patent battles, which they won in 1914. Wilbur died from typhoid fever in 1912, an event Orville never completely recovered from. Orville sold his interests in the airplane company in 1915 and died thirty-three years later from a heart attack while fixing the doorbell to his home in Oakwood, Ohio. Neither brother married. The Flyer I is now in display in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C..


There are many claims of earlier flights made by other flying machines in various categories and qualifications. See: Early flying machines

Lighter than air balloons, dirigibles, airships had been taking people into the sky for much of the 18th century before the Wrights, and several people had been working on heavier than air flying machines as well. Numerous claims before the Wrights aspire to the title of being the first powered, controlled, and self-sustaining flight (or minor variations of this classification). Several claims are actually after the Wrights, and lay claim by discounting the Wrights attempt either on the basis of its authenticity (that it's valid enough) on some technical basis of the flyer in relation to the technical details to the title, or sometimes both. (Note that claims earlier than the Wrights are often criticized on similar grounds)

The flights that took place have what is usually considered to be reasonable proof, including photos and multiple eyewitnesses. However, some of the strongest claims can be considered to lie in the design qualities of the craft itself and the spread of those features to other pioneers. The ability of the Wrights to demonstrate the source of, and in many cases explain the features that they combined and developed into the first working airplane (aeroplane), along with the ability to see these same features turn up in later craft is among the most powerful evidence of what they accomplished.

Many earlier attempts featured powerful powerplants or very light powerplants. Many had wing designs of some effectiveness. Many had the ability to glide (translate forwards speed into lift) and some had control mechanisms. The Wright Brothers' patented three-axis system of control, using wing warping (later supplanted by other 3-axis control systems), an effective wing design for the craft's weight, a light enough motor with power to maintain steady flight, an effective system to turn the engine power into thrust (the propeller), and some other features allowed it to be significantly better than any previous manned flying machine. The careful balance between all these areas are seen in any craft capable of sustained flight, and they first happened in the flyer.

Still, controversy in the credit for invention of the airplane has been fuelled by the Wrights' secrecy while their patent was prepared, by the pride of nations, by the number of firsts made possible by the basic invention, and other assorted issues.

Flight issues about whether crafts have been aided by ground effect for there flights, if it has been verified that a craft rose above a height where it could take advantage of even some ground effect can be a source of debate as many counter-claims also did not fly very high.

Another source of attack is that some of the recreations of the Wright Flyer do not fly. The reasons for failures of recreations usually stem from an inability to know exactly the Wrights' design and to duplicate the conditions of the flight. Things that even the Wrights do not know about the Flyer I that enabled it to fly are lost to history, such as things like the octane of the fuels used, and the small details of aerodynamics that can have disproportionate effect on the ability of planes to fly. The Wrights' initial troubles with their own recreation, the Flyer II, makes the matter even harder. Regardless, some recreations do fly, and the Flyer II's impressive performance and flights largely vindicate the design.

After their Kitty Hawk flights, which used a rail but no mechanical assistance in windy conditions, the Wrights developed a weight-powered catapult in Ohio to aid initial acceleration. This method of launching has been the source of controversy for some attacks on the Wrights' claim. Some consider that a plane incapable of taking off using its own power could not be a true aircraft, but choosing a non-standard definition does not necessarily exclude the Wrights.

Just as many aircraft do not have enough power to take off in certain conditions, the Flyer's trouble with achieving its take off speed on land is not a real issue. The Flyer did manage to get off the ground under its own power in some instances, and its powered and controlled flights after it was aided in achieving its take-off speed by the catapult largely redeem it. Furthermore, if an aircraft does not have enough peak power to overcome the extra drag from being in contact with the ground, some other means must be found to overcome it. This is done in a number of ways. In modern aircraft a landing gear and long runways enable them to build up to take-off speed. This important advancement would have to wait till Alberto Santos-Dumont and the flight of the 14-Bis to be implemented in aircraft. This machine used the Wright's essential developments. Catapults do remain in use on aircraft carriers where planes cannot build enough speed to take off, and these still make use of landing gear.

Most counter-claims to having the 'first plane' often have some truth to them. Many heavier-than-air aircraft became airborne before the Wrights but lacked control. Endlessly more advanced machines came after. But the Wright Flyer stands out as the first practical flying machine (airplane/aeroplane) with a combination of features not used before but included in all that came later to this day (effective wings, 3-axis control, an effective system to generate power and turn into thrust, and an effective takeoff system).

In the early 1900s professor Samuel P. Langley was secretary of the Smithsonian Institute. He had a claim to being "father of flight" as he had for many years worked on gliders and successful powered models, and his assistant C. M. Manley was actually employed by the US government to construct aircrafts for military use. However his full-sized planes (he called them 'aerodromes') were complete failures as far as flying performance was concerned, yet the Smithsonian proposed a display which would not have made this clear. Orville Wright didn't like anybody else hogging the credit so the Flyer I was instead loaned to the London Science Museum and Orville stated it wouldn't be returned until he and his brother were acknowledged as the "Fathers of Powered Flight". The Smithsonian eventually agreed, but the Flyer remained at Kensington in London until 1948. On November 23, 1948 the executors of the estate of Orville Wright wrote a contract with the Smithsonian Institute regarding the display of the aircraft and in the contract it stated: "Neither the Smithsonian Institution or its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau or facilities administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Aeroplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight." If this wasn't fulfilled the Flyer would be returned to the heir of the Wright brothers.


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