Wilbur Wright (1861-1912) and Orville Wright (1871-1948), were an American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers, who are generally credited with inventing, building and flying the world’s first successful airplane. They made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier than air aircraft on December 17, 1903, four miles south if Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. With Orville at the controls, the plane flew 120 feet (37 meters) and was in the air 12 seconds. The brothers made three more flights that day.

The longest by Wilbur, was 852 feet (260 meters) in 59 seconds. Besides the Wrights, four men snapped a picture of the plane just as Orville piloted it into the air, only a few newspapers mentioned the event, and their stories were in accurate. The Wright Brothers continued to fly from a pasture near their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, but local newspapers remained uninterested. The Wrights issued statement about their achievement to the press in January 1904. It received little attention Octave Chanute, an American civil engineer, reported their success in an article appearing in the March 1904 issue of Popular Science Monthly. The first eyewitness report of a flight by the Wrights appeared in a magazine called Gleanings in Be Culture in January 1905.

Despite some factual and accurate stories, the Wrights achievement was practically unknown for five years. Most people at that time remained doubtful about flying machines. In any case, the Wrights preferred to work quietly, perfecting their airplane and developing flight technique. They believed that airplanes would eventually be used to transport passengers and mail. They also hoped airplanes might serve to prevent war, like inn World War I and World War II and other wars.

Early Life

Wilbur Wright was born on April 16, 1867, on a farm 8 miles (13 kilometers) from New Castle, Indiana, and Orville Wright was born on August 19, 1871, in Dayton, Ohio. The brothers were two of seven children to Milton Wright and Susan Catherine Koerner.

The brothers were never married, and the siblings they have were Reuchin (1861-1920), Lorm (1862-1939), Katherine (1874-1929) and twins Otis and Ida (1870, died in infancy). Their father Milton Wright was a bishop of the United Brethren Church.

The boys went through high school, but neither received a diploma. Wilbur didn’t bother to go to the commencement exercises, and Orville took special subjects rather than prescribed course in his final year. The mechanics fascinated then even in childhood. To earn pocket money they sold homemade mechanical toys. Orville started a printing business, building his own press. They later launched a weekly paper, the West Side News, with Wilbur as editor. Wilbur was 25 and Orville was 21 when they began to rent and sell bicycles. Then they began to manufacture them, assembling the machines in a room above their shop.

Flying Experiments

After reading about the death of pioneer glider Otto Lilienthal in 1896, the brothers became interested in flying. They began serious reading on the subject in 1899, and soon obtained all the scientific knowledge of aeronautics then available. On the advice of the Weather Bureau in Washington DC, the Wrights selected for their experiments a narrow strip of sand called Kill Devil Hill, near the settlement of Kitty Hawk, NC.

In 1900, they tested their first glider that could carry a person. The glider measured 16 feet (5 meters) from wing tip to wing tip. They returned to Kitty Hawk in 1901 with a larger glider. They showed that they could control sidewise balance by presenting the tips of the right and left wing sat different angles to the wind. But neither the 1900 nor 1901 glider had the lifting power they had counted on.

The Wright brothers concluded that all published tables of air pressures on carved surfaces must be wrong. They set up a 6-foot (1-8 meter) wind tunnel in their shop and began experiments with model wings. They tested more than 200 wing models in the tunnel. From the results of their tests, the brothers made the first reliable tables of air pressures on curved surfaces. These tables made it possible for them to design a machine that could fly. The brothers built a third glider and took it to Kitty Hawk in Summer of 1902. This glider, based on their new figures, had aerodynamic qualities far in advance of any tried before. With it, they solved most of the problems of balance in flight. They made nearly 1,000 glides in this model, and on some covered distances of more than 600 feet (180 meters). Their basic patent, applied for in 1903, relates to the 1903 glider.

First Airplane

Before leaving Kitty Hawk in 1902, the brothers started planning in power airplane. By the fall of 1903, they completed building the machine at a cost of less than $1,000. It had wings 40 ½ feet (12 meters) long and weighed about 750 pounds (340 kilograms) with the pilot, they designed and built their own light weight gasoline engine for the airplane. The Wrights went to Kitty Hawk in September 1902, but a succession of bad storms and minor defects delayed their experiment at Kill Devil Hill until December 17 1903. They had reason to be sure off their eventual success because their gliders had proven their airplanes design and control system to be sound. The brothers had also become skilled pilots. Their understanding of aerodynamics and ability as pilots set them apart from most others who tried and failed to fly powered airplanes. The Wrights continued their experiments at a field near Dayton in 1904 and 1905.

In 1903, the brothers built the powered Wright Flyer I, using their preferred material for construction, spruce, a strong and lightweight wood, and Pride of the West muslin for surface coverings. They also designed and carved their own wooden propellers, and had a purpose-built gasoline engine fabricated in their bicycle shop. They thought propeller design would be a simple matter and intended to adopt data from shipbuilding. Wilbur made a March 1903 entry in his notebook indicating the prototype propeller was 60% efficient. Modern wind tunnel test on reproduction 1903 propellers show they were more than 75% efficient under the conditions of the first flights.

They wrote to several engine manufacturers, but none met their need for a sufficiently light weight power point. They turned their shop mechanic, Charlie Taylor who built an engine in just six weeks in close consultation with the Wright brothers. Keep the weight low enough, the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice for the time.