December 17, 1903 was a cold and windy day when the Wright Brothers flight took place - getting their “Flyer” off the ground at Kitty Hawk, North Caroline. (See the video below.)
Not once but four times! Orville took the first flight for 120 feet. That flight was caught in a famous photo. On Wilbur’s attempt, he was able to cover 175 feet and then Orville took it 200 feet. On the last flight, Wilbur was able to cover over 800 feet before a gust of wind caused it to crash. Even so, these two brothers from Dayton, Ohio were now in the history books!
The Wright Brothers are considered the first inventors of the airplane. Although others may have designed and developed similar aircraft, Orville and Wilbur Wright are the ones who generally receive the credit for such an accomplishment.
Wilbur was born on April 16, 1867 in Millville, Indiana and Orville was born on August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers grew up in a loving family. They had two older brothers, Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger sister Katharine. Their father and mother, Bishop Milton Wright and Susan Koerner Wright, encouraged their children to grow intellectually and creatively.
”The desire to fly is an idea handed down to use by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.” -~ Wilbur Wright
Their first fascination with flight may have been when, as young boys, their father gave them a toy helicopter. The story goes they played with it for hours until it broke. So, they built their own. As young men, they ran a printing business and bicycle shop, yet never lost their interest in flying.
”If birds can glide for long periods of time, then … why can’t I?” ~ Orville Wright
The Wright Brothers took great interest in the German “Glider King” Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute, a successful and innovative railroad engineer, who tested gliders on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1900 they began their own aviation efforts, beginning with gliders.
”When gliding operators have attained greater skill, they can maintain themselves in the air for hours at a time.” ~ Wilbur Wright
From 1900 to 1902 Wilbur and Orville worked on mastering control of the gliders before adding power. Through trial and error they finally found solutions for their problems: controlling the roll (raising or lowering the wing), the pitch (moving the nose of the glider up or down), and the yaw (moving the nose left or right). This is called three-axis control and some aviation historians believe this was more significant to aviation than adding power.
After adding power and creating history on that cold December day at Kitty Hawk, the brothers continued to look for ways to improve their Flyer. They designed and developed Flyer II and Flyer III. It was on Flyer III in October of 1905 that Wilbur flew 24 miles for 38 minutes, only landing because he ran out of fuel. This was considered the first practical airplane. The Wright Brothers had truly learned how to fly!
Please note: I was unable to find actual footage of that day and I'm not sure there is any. This video about the Wright Brothers provides good text for that first flight but it appears the images are from later flights as they continued to perfect their flying machine.
”More than anything else the sensation is one of the perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.” ~ Wilbur Wright
Wilbur and Orville continued their involvement in the growing aviation industry. On May 30, 1912, Wilbur Wright died from typhoid fever. He was 45 years old. Orville Wright lived to the age of 76, passing away on January 30, 1948.
The Wright Brothers flight did more than make history on that cold December day. Their curiosity, intellect, and skill changed our world forever. And to think – nearly 66 years later we put a man on the moon!