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Wright Brothers

 Country: United States

 Industry/ Capability:
— the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.

 Head Office:
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Dayton, Ohio
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

The first powered aircraft
Flyer I or 1903 Flyer

Wright Glider
Wright Flyer II
Wright Flyer III
Water-cooled aero engine ...
* partial list

The Wright brothers also designed and carved their own wooden propellers, having a peak efficiency of 82%, a remarkable achievement.

 Additional Notes:

The Wrights wrote to several engine manufacturers, none met their need for a sufficiently lightweight powerplant. They turned to their shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor, who built an engine in just six weeks in close consultation with the brothers.

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1903 Wright Brothers Flyer

first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight

The world's first airplane had parts we're all familiar with?rudder, engine, propellers?and some most of us are not, including a hip cradle and bicycle hub.

This is a real blueprint, expertly restored from original plans and vintage design drawings. — measuring a generous 42"x 30".

Just over one hundred years ago, on a desolate beach in North Carolina, two brothers in their thirties launched six hundred pounds of spruce wood, muslin, and aluminum into the air. The brothers successfully launched their odd object three more times, watched by only the creatures of the beach, a man from a nearby town, a boy named Johnny Ward, and ...   continues: Click here

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wright_brothers_flyer-a.jpg wright_brothers_flyer-c.jpg wright_brothers_flyer-b.jpg

Working initially with kites… the brothers figured out and tested their systems for 3-axis control, and in the next two years did experiments with gliders at Kitty Hawk, and then with their wind tunnel, to find the proper lift.

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History and Description: 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer...
1903 Wright Brothers Flyer

This is a real blueprint, expertly restored from original plans and vintage design drawings. — measuring a generous 42"x 30".

Just over one hundred years ago, on a desolate beach in North Carolina, two brothers in their thirties launched six hundred pounds of spruce wood, muslin, and aluminum into the air. The brothers successfully launched their odd object three more times, watched by only the creatures of the beach, a man from a nearby town, a boy named Johnny Ward, and... continues below

Continued from above…   Johnny Ward, and a small group of coastal lifeguards.

Original 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer


Photograph right:  first powered, controlled, sustained flight

Orville Wright at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine.

Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.


The two brothers from Dayton, OH traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the constant winds that would aid their experimental flights.

The 1903 Wright Flyer arose for a few seconds to make the first powered, heavier-than-air controlled flight in history. The first flight lasted 12 seconds and flew a distance of 120 feet. Orville Wright piloted the historic flight while his brother, Wilbur, observed. The brothers took three other flights that day, each flight lasting longer than the other with the final flight going a distance of 852 feet in 59 seconds. This flight was the culmination of a number of years of research on gliders.

A few years later, the younger brother summed up their first launch as follows: It was the first in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, sailed forward without reduction in speed, and finally landed at a point as high as that from which it had started." In essence, Wilbur and Orville Wright had achieved the first heavier-than-air, powered, manned flight.

After the Wright brothers made their first flight, the pace of improvement was remarkable. Two world wars certainly helped drive the development of flight technology, spurring innovations such as all-metal airplanes and jet engines.

The Fathers of Aeronautical Engineering

   The Wright Brothers

Wilbur and Orville Wright, are on the list of the 100 greatest inventors who ever lived. They and their invention of the airplane have touched the lives of every living person on earth. They had three businesses in their lifetime ? printing, bicycle, and the airplane business.

"The mental attitude of the natives toward the Wrights was that they were a simple pair of harmless cranks that were wasting their time at a fool attempt to do something that was impossible. The chief argument against their success could be heard at the stores and post office, and ran something like this: 'God didn't intend man to fly. If He did He would have given him a set of wings on his shoulders. No, siree, nobody need not try to do what God didn't intend for him to do."

The Wright Brothers spent a great deal of time observing birds in flight. They noticed that birds soared into the wind and that the air flowing over the curved surface of their wings created lift. Birds change the shape of their wings to turn and maneuver. They believed that they could use this technique to obtain roll control by warping, or changing the shape, of a portion of the wing.

Wright Brothers' Wind Tunnel
1901 -- Back in Dayton, the Wrights decided that the information they had been relying on to design their gliders was in error. They built this wind tunnel to test over two hundred wing shapes and generate their own design data. The Wright wind tunnel experiments resulted in a breakthrough without which the airplane might never have gotten of the ground.

The Wright wind tunnel experiments marked the first time that anyone had measured the lift and drag produced by various wing shapes with sufficient accuracy for them to be of any use in aircraft design. The wind tunnel experiments are the stuff that world-class aviation history is made of. The Wrights drew back the curtain on the elusive laws of physics that allow us to fly and exposed them in neat rows of numbers. The wind tunnel also marked an important change in the intellectual posture of the Wright brothers. Prior to September 1901, they were more enthusiasts than scientists.

Fact File:

First flight at Kitty Hawk

The Air Age truly begins with this historic flight on December 17, 1903.

Orville and Wilbur Wright's curiosity with flight began in 1878 when their father, Milton, gave them a rubber band powered toy helicopter. Although they were never formally educated, the self-taught engineers constantly experimented with kites and gliders. Bicycle shop owners by occupation, the brothers spent years designing, testing and redesigning their gliders and planes. In May 1899 Wilbur wrote for information to the Smithsonian Institution, and by August of that year the brothers had built a biplane glider spanning 1.5 m (5 ft). Lateral control was achieved by twisting ('warping') the trailing edges of the wings, an idea which resulted directly from Wilbur's observations of birds.

Results were sufficiently encouraging to justify the production of a full-sized glider the following year. This was tested in October 1900 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a site which offered steady, strong winds and privacy. In 1901 a larger glider was flown as far as 112.56 m (389 ft), but the Wrights were not entirely satisfied with its performance. Suspecting that the data compiled by Lilienthal were at fault, they built their own wind tunnel and conducted extensive tests on model airfoils from September 1901 to August 1902. The importance of this work cannot be exaggerated. Their thoroughness and fully professional, scientific approach was unprecedented in aeronautical history, and it laid the foundations for the achievements which followed.

The third glider, first flown on September 20, 1902, proved the soundness of their researches, making nearly 1,000 fully controlled glides by the end of October. The final control problem was solved by fitting a movable rudder which acted in concert with the wing warping. By then both brothers were skilful pilots, having flown up to 189.6 m (622.5 ft) and having remained airborne for as long as 26 seconds.

Then, in the summer of 1903, the Wrights began to build a powered airplane. Like all their predecessors, they found that a suitably light and efficient powerplant was not to be had, a problem which they solved by designing and building their own 12 hp water-cooled internal-combustion engine. They also made their own airscrews at a time when the necessary technology was virtually non-existent. The magnitude of this achievement is best expressed by the fact that the propellers on their first powered aircraft, the Flyer, had an efficiency of 60 per cent, an enormous improvement on anything achieved up to that time.

The Flyer spanned 12.29 m (40 ft 4 in) and the engine drove the two pusher propellers through chain drives, one of which was crossed so that the propellers counter-rotated. Take-off was to be made along a 18.2 m (60 ft) launching rail, with the aircraft riding on a small trolley until lift-off. A maiden flight was attempted unsuccessfully on December 14,1903. Wilbur, lying prone in the hip cradle connected to the wing-warping mechanism, over-controlled with elevator and the machine ploughed into the sand. On 17 December the Flyer was again set up and Orville took off at 10.35 in the morning, making a 12-second flight and covering 36.5 m (120 ft). The first powered flight in history was followed by three more, the last covering 259 m (852 ft) in 59 seconds, or just over half a mile through the air allowing for the headwind. It culminated in a heavy landing which damaged the elevator and concluded the trials. For the first time man had made powered, sustained and controlled flights.

Debs McCaffrey