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
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 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
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.
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
— 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
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.
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.
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
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. .
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.