Orville And Wilbur Wright Bibliography

Wright brothers, American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who achieved the first powered, sustained, and controlled airplane flight (1903). Wilbur Wright (April 16, 1867, near Millville, Indiana, U.S.—May 30, 1912, Dayton, Ohio) and his brother Orville Wright (August 19, 1871, Dayton—January 30, 1948, Dayton) also built and flew the first fully practical airplane (1905).

Early family life

Wilbur and Orville were the sons of Milton Wright, an ordained minister of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, and Susan Catherine Koerner Wright, whom Milton had met while he was training for the ministry and while Susan was a student at a United Brethren college in Hartsville, Indiana. Two boys, Reuchlin (1861–1920) and Lorin (1862–1939), were born to the couple before Wilbur was born on a farm near Millville. The young family then moved to Dayton, Ohio, so that Milton could take up duties as the editor of a church newspaper. In that city a pair of twins, Otis and Ida, were born and died in 1870. Orville arrived a year later, followed by Katharine (1874–1929).

Elected a bishop of the church in 1877, Milton spent long periods of time away from home visiting the Brethren congregations for which he was responsible. The family moved often: to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1878; to a farm near Richmond, Indiana, in 1881; and back to Dayton in 1884. The Wright children were educated in public schools and grew up, as Orville later explained, in a home where “there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity.” In a less-nourishing environment, Orville believed, “our curiosity might have been nipped long before it could have borne fruit.”

These were not tranquil years for Bishop Wright. As the leader of a conservative faction opposed to modernization in the church, he was involved in a 20-year struggle that led to a national schism in 1889 and was followed by multiple lawsuits for possession of church property. Even as these decades of crisis were approaching a conclusion, an entirely new conflict developed, this time within the small schismatic branch that Bishop Wright had led away from the original church. The resulting church disciplinary hearings and civil court cases continued up to the time of the bishop’s retirement in 1905.

Bishop Wright exercised an extraordinary influence on the lives of his children. Wilbur and Orville, like their father, were independent thinkers with a deep confidence in their own talents, an unshakable faith in the soundness of their judgment, and a determination to persevere in the face of disappointment and adversity. Those qualities, when combined with their unique technical gifts, help to explain the success of the Wright brothers as inventors. At the same time, the bishop’s rigid adherence to principle and disinclination to negotiate disputes may have had some influence on the manner in which the brothers, later in life, conducted the marketing of their invention.

Printers and bicycle makers

Wilbur and Orville were the only members of the Wright family who did not attend college or marry. Wilbur’s plans to enter college came to an end when he was injured in a hockey accident in the winter of 1885–86. He spent the following three years recovering his health, reading extensively in his father’s library, assisting the bishop with his legal and church problems, and caring for his invalid mother, who died of tuberculosis in 1889.

Following their mother’s death, Orville, who had spent several summers learning the printing trade, persuaded Wilbur to join him in establishing a print shop. In addition to normal printing services, the brothers edited and published two short-lived local newspapers, and they also developed a local reputation for the quality of the presses that they designed, built, and sold to other printers. These printing presses were one of the first indications of the Wright brothers’ extraordinary technical ability and their unique approach to the solution of problems in mechanical design.

In 1892 the brothers opened a bicycle sales and repair shop, and they began to build bicycles on a small scale in 1896. They developed their own self-oiling bicycle wheel hub and installed a number of light machine tools in the shop. Profits from the print shop and the bicycle operation eventually were to fund the Wright brothers’ aeronautical experiments from 1899 to 1905. In addition, the experience of designing and building lightweight, precision machines of wood, wire, and metal tubing was ideal preparation for the construction of flying machines.

In later years the Wrights dated their fascination with flight to a small helicopter toy that their father had brought home from his travels when the family was living in Iowa. A decade later, they had read accounts of the work of the German glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal. But it was news reports of Lilienthal’s death in a glider crash in August 1896 that marked the beginning of their serious interest in flight. By 1899 the brothers had exhausted the resources of the local library and had written to the Smithsonian Institution for suggestions as to further reading in aeronautics. The following year they wrote to introduce themselves to Octave Chanute, a leading civil engineer and an authority on aviation who would remain a confidant of the brothers during the critical years from 1900 to 1905.

Early glider experiments

The ability of the Wright brothers to analyze a mechanical problem and move toward a solution was apparent from the outset of their work in aeronautics. The brothers realized that a successful airplane would require wings to generate lift, a propulsion system to move it through the air, and a system to control the craft in flight. Lilienthal, they reasoned, had built wings capable of carrying him in flight, while the builders of self-propelled vehicles were developing lighter and more powerful internal-combustion engines. The final problem to be solved, they concluded, was that of control.

Most aeronautical experimenters up to that time had sought to develop flying machines incorporating a measure of inherent stability, so that the aircraft would tend to fly a straight and level course unless the pilot intervened to change altitude or direction. As experienced cyclists, the Wrights preferred to place complete control of their machine in the hands of the operator. Moreover, aware of the dangers of weight-shifting control (a means of controlling the aircraft by shifting the position of the pilot), the brothers were determined to control their machine through a precise manipulation of the centre of pressure on the wings. After considering various mechanical schemes for obtaining such control, they decided to try to induce a helical twist across the wings in either direction. The resulting increase in lift on one side and decrease on the other would enable the pilot to raise or lower either wing tip at will.

Their first experiments with “wing warping,” as the system would be called, were made with a small biplane kite flown in Dayton in the summer of 1899. Discovering that they could cause the kite to climb, dive, and bank to the right or left at will, the brothers began to design their first full-scale glider using Lilienthal’s data to calculate the amount of wing surface area required to lift the estimated weight of the machine and pilot in a wind of given velocity.

Realizing that Dayton, with its relatively low winds and flat terrain, was not the ideal place to conduct aeronautical experiments, the Wrights requested of the U.S. Weather Bureau (later the National Weather Service) a list of more suitable areas. They selected Kitty Hawk, an isolated village on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which offered high average winds, tall dunes from which to glide, and soft sand for landings.

Tested in October 1900, the first Wrightglider was a biplane featuring 165 square feet (15 square metres) of wing area and a forward elevator for pitch control. The glider developed less lift than expected, however, and very few free flights were made with a pilot on board. The brothers flew the glider as a kite, gathering information on the performance of the machine that would be critically important in the design of future aircraft.

Eager to improve on the disappointing performance of their 1900 glider, the Wrights increased the wing area of their next machine to 290 square feet (26 square metres). Establishing their camp at the foot of the Kill Devil Hills, 4 miles (6.5 km) south of Kitty Hawk, the brothers completed 50 to 100 glides in July and August of 1901. As in 1900, Wilbur made all the glides, the best of which covered nearly 400 feet (120 metres). The 1901 Wright aircraft was an improvement over its predecessor, but it still did not perform as well as their calculations had predicted. Moreover, the experience of 1901 suggested that the problems of control were not fully resolved.

Discouraged, but determined to preserve a record of their aeronautical work to date, Wilbur accepted Chanute’s invitation to address the prestigious Western Society of Engineers. Wilbur’s talk was delivered in Chicago on September 18, 1901, and was published as “Some Aeronautical Experiments” in the journal of the society. It indicated the extent to which the Wright brothers, in spite of their disappointments, had already moved beyond other flying machine experimenters.

Solving the problems of lift and control

Realizing that the failure of their gliders to match calculated performance was the result of errors in the experimental data published by their predecessors, the Wrights constructed a small wind tunnel with which to gather their own information on the behaviour in an airstream of model wings of various shapes and sizes. The brilliance of the Wright brothers, their ability to visualize the behaviour of a machine that had yet to be constructed, was seldom more apparent than in the design of their wind-tunnel balances, the instruments mounted inside the tunnel that actually measured the forces operating on the model wings. During the fall and early winter of 1901 the Wrights tested between 100 and 200 wing designs in their wind tunnel, gathering information on the relative efficiencies of various airfoils and determining the effect of different wing shapes, tip designs, and gap sizes between the two wings of a biplane.

With the results of the wind-tunnel tests in hand, the brothers began work on their third full-scale glider. They tested the machine at the Kill Devil Hills camp in September and October of 1902. It performed exactly as the design calculations predicted. For the first time, the brothers shared the flying duties, completing 700–1,000 flights, covering distances up to 622.5 feet (189.75 metres), and remaining in the air for as long as 26 seconds. In addition to gaining significant experience in the air, the Wrights were able to complete their control system by adding a movable rudder linked to the wing-warping system. (SeeWright glider of 1902.)

Powered, sustained flight

With the major aerodynamic and control problems behind them, the brothers pressed forward with the design and construction of their first powered machine. They designed and built a four-cylinder internal-combustion engine with the assistance of Charles Taylor, a machinist whom they employed in the bicycle shop. Recognizing that propeller blades could be understood as rotary wings, the Wrights were able to design twin pusher propellers on the basis of their wind-tunnel data.

The brothers returned to their camp near the Kill Devil Hills in September 1903. They spent the next seven weeks assembling, testing, and repairing their powered machine and conducting new flight tests with the 1902 glider. Wilbur made the first attempt at powered flight on December 14, but he stalled the aircraft on take-off and damaged the forward section of the machine. Three days were spent making repairs and waiting for the return of good weather. Then, at about 10:35 on the morning of December 17, 1903, Orville made the first successful flight, covering 120 feet (36 metres) through the air in 12 seconds. Wilbur flew 175 feet (53 metres) in 12 seconds on his first attempt, followed by Orville’s second effort of 200 feet (60 metres) in 15 seconds. During the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur flew 852 feet (259 metres) over the sand in 59 seconds. The four flights were witnessed by five local citizens. For the first time in history, a heavier-than-air machine had demonstrated powered and sustained flight under the complete control of the pilot. (SeeWright flyer of 1903.)

Determined to move from the marginal success of 1903 to a practical airplane, the Wrights in 1904 and 1905 built and flew two more aircraft from Huffman Prairie, a pasture near Dayton. They continued to improve the design of their machine during these years, gaining skill and confidence in the air. By October 1905 the brothers could remain aloft for up to 39 minutes at a time, performing circles and other maneuvers. Then, no longer able to hide the extent of their success from the press, and concerned that the essential features of their machine would be understood and copied by knowledgeable observers, the Wrights decided to cease flying and remain on the ground until their invention was protected by patents and they had negotiated a contract for its sale. (Their most successful machine to that date is described in the entry Wright flyer of 1905.)

Making the invention public

The claim of the Wright brothers to have flown was widely doubted during the years 1906–07. During that period a handful of European and American pioneers struggled into the air in machines designed on the basis of an incomplete understanding of Wright technology. Meanwhile the brothers, confident that they retained a commanding lead over their rivals, continued to negotiate with financiers and government purchasing agents on two continents.

In February 1908 the Wrights signed a contract for the sale of an airplane to the U.S. Army. They would receive $25,000 for delivering a machine capable of flying for at least one hour with a pilot and passenger at an average speed of 40 miles (65 km) per hour. The following month, they signed a second agreement with a group of French investors interested in building and selling Wright machines under license.

With the new aircraft that they would fly in America and France ready for assembly, the Wright brothers returned to the Kill Devil Hills in May 1908, where they made 22 flights with their old 1905 machine, modified with upright seating and hand controls. On May 14, Wilbur carried aloft the first airplane passenger—mechanic Charles Furnas.

Wilbur then sailed to France, where he captured the European imagination with his first public flight; this took place over the Hunaudières Race Course near Le Mans on August 8, 1908. During the months that followed, the elite of the continent traveled to watch Wilbur fly at Le Mans and Pau in France and at Centocelle near Rome.

Orville began the U.S. Army trials at Fort Myer, Virginia, with a flight on September 3, 1908. Fourteen days later a split propeller precipitated a crash that killed his passenger, Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge, and badly injured the pilot. During the course of his recovery, Orville and his sister Katharine visited Wilbur in Europe. Together, the brothers returned to Fort Myer to complete the Army trials in 1909. Having exceeded the required speed of 40 miles (65 km) per hour, the Wrights earned a bonus of $5,000 beyond the $25,000 contract price. (For a more detailed account of these trials, seeWright military flyer of 1909.)

Following the successful Fort Myer trials, Orville traveled to Germany, where he flew at Berlin and Potsdam. Wilbur made several important flights as part of New York City’s Hudson-Fulton Celebration, then went to College Park, Maryland, where he taught the first three U.S. Army officers to fly.

Going into business

In November 1909 the Wright Company was incorporated with Wilbur as president, Orville as one of two vice presidents, and a board of trustees that included some of the leaders of American business. The Wright Company established a factory in Dayton and a flying field and flight school at Huffman Prairie. Among the pilots trained at the facility was Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, who would rise to command of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

The brothers also formed the Wright Exhibition Company in March 1910, with A. Roy Knabenshue, an experienced balloon and airship pilot, as manager. Although the Wrights were not eager to enter what they regarded as a “mountebank business,” they recognized that an exhibition team would generate steady revenues to supplement funds received from the sale of aircraft, flight instruction, and license fees. Orville began training pilots for the exhibition team at Montgomery, Alabama, and continued instruction at Huffman Prairie. The exhibition company made its first appearance at Indianapolis in June 1910 and remained in business until November 1911, by which time the deaths of several team members convinced the Wright brothers to discontinue operations.

After the summer of 1909, Wilbur focused his energies on business and legal activities. He took the lead in bringing a series of lawsuits against rival aircraft builders in the United States and Europe who the brothers believed had infringed upon their patent rights. In Germany, the Wright claims were disallowed on the basis of prior disclosure. Even in France and America, where the position of the Wright brothers was upheld in virtually every court judgment, the defendants were able to manipulate the legal process in such a manner as to avoid substantial payments. Moreover, the Wrights’ spirited pursuit of their international patent rights significantly complicated their public image. Once inaccurately regarded as a pair of naive mechanical geniuses, they were now unfairly blamed for having retarded the advance of flight technology by bringing suit against other talented experimenters. The era of the lawsuits came to an effective end in 1917, when the Wright patents expired in France and the U.S. government created a patent pool in the interest of national defense.

Orville carries on the legacy

Exhausted by business and legal concerns and suffering from typhoid fever, Wilbur died in his bed early on the morning of May 30, 1912. Wilbur had drawn Orville into aeronautics and had taken the lead in business matters since 1905. Upon Wilbur’s decease, Orville assumed leadership of the Wright Company, remaining with the firm until 1915, when he sold his interest in the company to a group of financiers. He won the 1913 Collier Trophy for his work on an automatic stabilizer for aircraft, and he worked as a consulting engineer during World War I, helping the Dayton-Wright Company plan for the production of foreign aircraft designs and assisting in the development of a pilotless aircraft bomb.

One of the most celebrated Americans of his time, Orville received honorary degrees and awards from universities and organizations across America and Europe. He remained active in aeronautics as a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1920–48) and as a leader of other organizations, notably the advisory board of the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. Orville disliked public speaking, however, and enjoyed nothing more than spending time with friends and family in the privacy of his home and laboratory in Dayton or his vacation retreat in Canada on Georgian Bay, off Lake Huron in Ontario. During the last four decades of his life he devoted considerable energy to defending the priority of the Wright brothers as the inventors of the airplane. A long-running feud with the leadership of the Smithsonian Institution was particularly noteworthy. During the years prior to World War I, Smithsonian officials claimed that the third secretary of the institution, Samuel P. Langley, had constructed a machine “capable” of flight prior to the Wrights’ success of December 1903. Unable to obtain a retraction of this claim by 1928, Orville lent the restored 1903 airplane to the Science Museum in London and did not consent to taking the machine to Washington, D.C., until after the Smithsonian offered an apology in 1942.

On January 27, 1948, Orville suffered a heart attack; he died three days later in a Dayton hospital. There is perhaps no better epitaph for both of the Wright brothers than the words crafted by a group of their friends to appear as a label identifying the 1903 Wright airplane on display at the Smithsonian: “By original scientific research, the Wright brothers discovered the principles of human flight. As inventors, builders and flyers, they further developed the aeroplane, taught man to fly, and opened the era of aviation.”

Tom D. Crouch

For other uses, see Wright brothers (disambiguation).

The Wright brothers

Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1905

Known forinventing, building, and flying the world's first successful airplane


Orville Wright
Born(1871-08-19)August 19, 1871
Dayton, Ohio
DiedJanuary 30, 1948(1948-01-30) (aged 76)
Dayton, Ohio
Education3 years high school
OccupationPrinter/publisher, bicycle retailer/manufacturer, airplane inventor/manufacturer, pilot trainer
Wilbur Wright
Born(1867-04-16)April 16, 1867
Millville, Indiana
DiedMay 30, 1912(1912-05-30) (aged 45)
Dayton, Ohio
Education4 years high school
OccupationEditor, bicycle retailer/manufacturer, airplane inventor/manufacturer, pilot trainer

The Wright brothers, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two American aviators, engineers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who are generally credited[1][2][3] 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 of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1904–05 the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft. Although not the first to build experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.

The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium.[4][5][6][7] This method became and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds.[8][9] From the beginning of their aeronautical work, the Wright brothers focused on developing a reliable method of pilot control as the key to solving "the flying problem". This approach differed significantly from other experimenters of the time who put more emphasis on developing powerful engines.[10] Using a small homebuilt wind tunnel, the Wrights also collected more accurate data than any before, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers that were more efficient than any before.[11][12] Their first U.S. patent, 821,393, did not claim invention of a flying machine, but rather, the invention of a system of aerodynamic control that manipulated a flying machine's surfaces.[13]

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice.[14] From 1900 until their first powered flights in late 1903, they conducted extensive glider tests that also developed their skills as pilots. Their bicycle shop employee Charlie Taylor became an important part of the team, building their first airplane engine in close collaboration with the brothers.

The Wright brothers' status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators. Edward Roach, historian for the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park argues that they were excellent self-taught engineers who could run a small company, but they did not have the business skills or temperament to dominate the growing aviation industry.[15]


The Wright brothers were two of seven children born to Milton Wright (1828–1917), of English and Dutch ancestry, and Susan Catherine Koerner (1831–1889), of German and Swiss ancestry.[16][17] Milton Wright's mother, Catherine Reeder, was descended from the progenitor of the Vanderbilt family and the Huguenot Gano family of New Rochelle, New York.[18] Wilbur was born near Millville, Indiana, in 1867; Orville in Dayton, Ohio, in 1871. The brothers never married. The other Wright siblings were Reuchlin (1861–1920), Lorin (1862–1939), Katharine (1874–1929), and twins Otis and Ida (born 1870, died in infancy). In elementary school, Orville was given to mischief and was once expelled.[19] The direct paternal ancestry goes back to a Samuel Wright (b. 1606 in Essex, England) who sailed to America and settled in Massachusetts in 1636.[20]

In 1878 their father, who traveled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy helicopter for his two younger sons. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own.[21] In later years, they pointed to their experience with the toy as the spark of their interest in flying.[22]

Early career and research

Both brothers attended high school, but did not receive diplomas. The family's abrupt move in 1884 from Richmond, Indiana to Dayton, Ohio, where the family had lived during the 1870s, prevented Wilbur from receiving his diploma after finishing four years of high school. The diploma was awarded posthumously to Wilbur on April 16, 1994, which would have been his 127th birthday.[23]

In late 1885 or early 1886 Wilbur was struck in the face by a hockey stick while playing an ice-skating game with friends, resulting in the loss of his front teeth. He had been vigorous and athletic until then, and although his injuries did not appear especially severe, he became withdrawn. He had planned to attend Yale. Instead, he spent the next few years largely housebound. During this time he cared for his mother who was terminally ill with tuberculosis, read extensively in his father's library and ably assisted his father during times of controversy within the Brethren Church,[24] but also expressed unease over his own lack of ambition.[25]

Orville dropped out of high school after his junior year to start a printing business in 1889, having designed and built his own printing press with Wilbur's help. Wilbur joined the print shop, and in March the brothers launched a weekly newspaper, the West Side News. Subsequent issues listed Orville as publisher and Wilbur as editor on the masthead. In April 1890 they converted the paper to a daily, The Evening Item, but it lasted only four months. They then focused on commercial printing. One of their clients was Orville's friend and classmate, Paul Laurence Dunbar, who rose to international acclaim as a ground-breaking African-American poet and writer. For a brief period the Wrights printed the Dayton Tattler, a weekly newspaper that Dunbar edited.[26]

Capitalizing on the national bicycle craze (spurred by the invention of the safety bicycle and its substantial advantages over the penny-farthing design), in December 1892 the brothers opened a repair and sales shop (the Wright Cycle Exchange, later the Wright Cycle Company) and in 1896 began manufacturing their own brand.[27] They used this endeavor to fund their growing interest in flight. In the early or mid-1890s they saw newspaper or magazine articles and probably photographs of the dramatic glides by Otto Lilienthal in Germany.

1896 brought three important aeronautical events. In May, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered fixed-wing model aircraft. In mid-year, Chicago engineer and aviation authority Octave Chanute brought together several men who tested various types of gliders over the sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. In August, Lilienthal was killed in the plunge of his glider.[28] These events lodged in the minds of the brothers, especially Lilienthal's death. The Wright brothers later cited his death as the point when their serious interest in flight research began.[29] Wilbur said, "Lilienthal was without question the greatest of the precursors, and the world owes to him a great debt."[29] In May 1899 Wilbur wrote a letter[30] to the Smithsonian Institution requesting information and publications about aeronautics.[31] Drawing on the work of Sir George Cayley, Chanute, Lilienthal, Leonardo da Vinci, and Langley, they began their mechanical aeronautical experimentation that year.

The Wright brothers always presented a unified image to the public, sharing equally in the credit for their invention. Biographers note that Wilbur took the initiative in 1899–1900, writing of "my" machine and "my" plans before Orville became deeply involved when the first person singular became the plural "we" and "our". Author James Tobin asserts, "it is impossible to imagine Orville, bright as he was, supplying the driving force that started their work and kept it going from the back room of a store in Ohio to conferences with capitalists, presidents, and kings. Will did that. He was the leader, from the beginning to the end."[32]

Ideas about control

Despite Lilienthal's fate, the brothers favored his strategy: to practice gliding in order to master the art of control before attempting motor-driven flight. The death of British aeronaut Percy Pilcher in another hang gliding crash in October 1899 only reinforced their opinion that a reliable method of pilot control was the key to successful—and safe—flight. At the outset of their experiments they regarded control as the unsolved third part of "the flying problem". They believed sufficiently promising knowledge of the other two issues—wings and engines—already existed.[33] The Wright brothers thus differed sharply from more experienced practitioners of the day, notably Clément Ader, Maxim and Langley who built powerful engines, attached them to airframes equipped with unproven control devices, and expected to take to the air with no previous flying experience. Although agreeing with Lilienthal's idea of practice, the Wrights saw that his method of balance and control by shifting his body weight was inadequate.[34] They were determined to find something better.

On the basis of observation, Wilbur concluded that birds changed the angle of the ends of their wings to make their bodies roll right or left.[35] The brothers decided this would also be a good way for a flying machine to turn—to "bank" or "lean" into the turn just like a bird—and just like a person riding a bicycle, an experience with which they were thoroughly familiar. Equally important, they hoped this method would enable recovery when the wind tilted the machine to one side (lateral balance). They puzzled over how to achieve the same effect with man-made wings and eventually discovered wing-warping when Wilbur idly twisted a long inner-tube box at the bicycle shop.[36]

Other aeronautical investigators regarded flight as if it were not so different from surface locomotion, except the surface would be elevated. They thought in terms of a ship's rudder for steering, while the flying machine remained essentially level in the air, as did a train or an automobile or a ship at the surface. The idea of deliberately leaning, or rolling, to one side seemed either undesirable or did not enter their thinking.[37] Some of these other investigators, including Langley and Chanute, sought the elusive ideal of "inherent stability", believing the pilot of a flying machine would not be able to react quickly enough to wind disturbances to use mechanical controls effectively. The Wright brothers, on the other hand, wanted the pilot to have absolute control.[38] For that reason, their early designs made no concessions toward built-in stability (such as dihedral wings). They deliberately designed their 1903 first powered flyer with anhedral (drooping) wings, which are inherently unstable, but less susceptible to upset by gusty cross winds.


Toward flight

In July 1899 Wilbur put wing warping to the test by building and flying a biplane kite with a five-foot (1.5m) wingspan. When the wings were warped, or twisted, one end of the wings produced more lift and the other end less lift. The unequal lift made the wings tilt, or bank: the end with more lift rose, while the other end dropped, causing a turn in the direction of the lower end. The warping was controlled by four cords attached to the kite, which led to two sticks held by the kite flyer, who tilted them in opposite directions to twist the wings.

In 1900 the brothers went to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to begin their manned gliding experiments. In his reply to Wilbur's first letter, Octave Chanute had suggested the mid-Atlantic coast for its regular breezes and soft sandy landing surface. Wilbur also requested and examined U.S. Weather Bureau data, and decided on Kitty Hawk[39][40] after receiving information from the government meteorologist stationed there.[41][42] Kitty Hawk, although remote, was closer to Dayton than other places Chanute had suggested, including California and Florida. The spot also gave them privacy from reporters, who had turned the 1896 Chanute experiments at Lake Michigan into something of a circus. Chanute visited them in camp each season from 1901 to 1903 and saw gliding experiments, but not the powered flights.


Main article: Wright Glider

The Wrights based the design of their kite and full-size gliders on work done in the 1890s by other aviation pioneers. They adopted the basic design of the Chanute-Herring biplane hang glider ("double-decker" as the Wrights called it), which flew well in the 1896 experiments near Chicago, and used aeronautical data on lift that Otto Lilienthal had published. The Wrights designed the wings with camber, a curvature of the top surface. The brothers did not discover this principle, but took advantage of it. The better lift of a cambered surface compared to a flat one was first discussed scientifically by Sir George Cayley. Lilienthal, whose work the Wrights carefully studied, used cambered wings in his gliders, proving in flight the advantage over flat surfaces. The wooden uprights between the wings of the Wright glider were braced by wires in their own version of Chanute's modified Pratt truss, a bridge-building design he used for his biplane glider (initially built as a triplane). The Wrights mounted the horizontal elevator in front of the wings rather than behind, apparently believing this feature would help to avoid, or protect them, from a nosedive and crash like the one that killed Lilienthal.[43] Wilbur incorrectly believed a tail was not necessary,[44] and their first two gliders did not have one. According to some Wright biographers, Wilbur probably did all the gliding until 1902, perhaps to exercise his authority as older brother and to protect Orville from harm as he did not want to have to explain to Bishop Wright if Orville got injured.[45][46]

WingspanWing areaChordCamberAspect ratioLengthWeight
190017 ft 6 in (5.33 m)165 sq ft (15 m2)5 ft (2 m)1/203.5:111 ft 6 in (3.51 m)52 lb (24 kg)
190122 ft (7 m)290 sq ft (27 m2)7 ft (2.1 m)1/12,*1/193:114 ft (4.3 m)98 lb (44 kg)
190232 ft 1 in (9.78 m)305 sq ft (28 m2)5 ft (1.5 m)1/20–1/246.5:117 ft (5.2 m)112 lb (51 kg)

* (This airfoil caused severe stability problems; the Wrights modified the camber on-site.)


The brothers flew the glider for only a few days in the early autumn of 1900 at Kitty Hawk. In the first tests, probably on October 3, Wilbur was aboard while the glider flew as a kite not far above the ground with men below holding tether ropes.[48] Most of the kite tests were unpiloted, with sandbags or chains and even a local boy as ballast.[49]

They tested wing-warping using control ropes from the ground. The glider was also tested unmanned while suspended from a small homemade tower. Wilbur, but not Orville, made about a dozen free glides on only a single day, October 20. For those tests the brothers trekked four miles (6 km) south to the Kill Devil Hills, a group of sand dunes up to 100 feet (30 m) high (where they made camp in each of the next three years). Although the glider's lift was less than expected, the brothers were encouraged because the craft's front elevator worked well and they had no accidents. However, the small number of free glides meant they were not able to give wing-warping a true test.

The pilot lay flat on the lower wing, as planned, to reduce aerodynamic drag. As a glide ended, the pilot was supposed to lower himself to a vertical position through an opening in the wing and land on his feet with his arms wrapped over the framework. Within a few glides, however, they discovered the pilot could remain prone on the wing, headfirst, without undue danger when landing. They made all their flights in that position for the next five years.


Hoping to improve lift, they built the 1901 glider with a much larger wing area and made dozens of flights in July and August for distances of 50 to 400 ft (15 to 122 m).[50] The glider stalled a few times, but the parachute effect of the forward elevator allowed Wilbur to make a safe flat landing, instead of a nose-dive. These incidents wedded the Wrights even more strongly to the canard design, which they did not give up until 1910. The glider, however, delivered two major disappointments. It produced only about one-third the lift calculated and sometimes pointed opposite the intended direction of a turn–a problem later known as adverse yaw–when Wilbur used the wing-warping control. On the trip home a deeply dejected Wilbur remarked to Orville that man would not fly in a thousand years.[51]

The poor lift of the gliders led the Wrights to question the accuracy of Lilienthal's data, as well as the "Smeaton coefficient" of air pressure, a value which had been in use for over 100 years and was part of the accepted equation for lift.

L = lift in pounds
k = coefficient of air pressure (Smeaton coefficient)
S = total area of lifting surface in square feet
V = velocity (headwind plus ground speed) in miles per hour
CL = coefficient of lift (varies with wing shape)

The Wrights used this equation to calculate the amount of lift that a wing would produce. Over the years a wide variety of values had been measured for the Smeaton coefficient; Chanute identified up to 50 of them. Wilbur knew that Langley, for example, had used a lower number than the traditional one. Intent on confirming the correct Smeaton value, Wilbur performed his own calculations using measurements collected during kite and free flights of the 1901 glider. His results correctly showed that the coefficient was very close to 0.0033 (similar to the number Langley used), not the traditional 0.0054, which would significantly exaggerate predicted lift.[52]

To learn whether errors actually existed in Lilienthal's data tables, the brothers used a bicycle for a new type of experiment. They made a model-size airfoil and a counter-acting flat plate, both according to dimensions Lilienthal had specified, and attached them to an extra bicycle wheel, which they mounted horizontally in front of the handlebars. Pedaling strenuously on a local street to create airflow over the apparatus, they observed that the third wheel rotated against the airfoil instead of remaining motionless as Lilienthal's formula predicted. The experiment confirmed their suspicion that either the standard Smeaton coefficient or Lilienthal's coefficients of lift and drag–or all of them–were in error.[53][54]

They then built a six-foot (1.8m) wind tunnel in their shop and between October and December 1901 conducted systematic tests on dozens of miniature wings .[55] The "balances" they devised and mounted inside the tunnel to hold the wings looked crude, made of bicycle spokes and scrap metal, but were "as critical to the ultimate success of the Wright brothers as were the gliders."[56] The devices allowed the brothers to balance lift against drag and accurately calculate the performance of each wing. They could also see which wings worked well as they looked through the viewing window in the top of the tunnel. The tests yielded a trove of valuable data never before known and showed that the poor lift of the 1900 and 1901 gliders was entirely due to an incorrect Smeaton value, and that Lilienthal's published data were fairly accurate for the tests he had done. [54][57]

Before the detailed wind tunnel tests Wilbur traveled to Chicago at Chanute's invitation to give a lecture to the Western Society of Engineers on September 18, 1901. He presented a thorough report about the 1900–01 glider experiments and complemented his talk with a lantern slide show of photographs. Wilbur's speech was the first public account of the brothers' experiments.[58] A report was published in the Journal of the society, which was then separately published as an offprint titled Some Aeronautical Experiments in a 300 copy edition.[59]


Lilienthal had made "whirling arm" tests on only a few wing shapes, and the Wrights mistakenly assumed the data would apply to their wings, which had a different shape. The Wrights took a huge step forward and made basic wind tunnel tests on 200 wings of many shapes and airfoil curves, followed by detailed tests on 38 of them. The tests, according to biographer Fred Howard, "were the most crucial and fruitful aeronautical experiments ever conducted in so short a time with so few materials and at so little expense".[61] An important discovery was the benefit of longer narrower wings: in aeronautical terms, wings with a larger aspect ratio (wingspan divided by chord—the wing's front-to-back dimension). Such shapes offered much better lift-to-drag ratio than the broader wings the brothers had tried so far.

With this knowledge, and a more accurate Smeaton number, the Wrights designed their 1902 glider. Using another crucial discovery from the wind tunnel, they made the airfoil flatter, reducing the camber (the depth of the wing's curvature divided by its chord). The 1901 wings had significantly greater curvature, a highly inefficient feature the Wrights copied directly from Lilienthal. Fully confident in their new wind tunnel results, the Wrights discarded Lilienthal's data, now basing their designs on their own calculations.

With characteristic caution, the brothers first flew the 1902 glider as an unmanned kite, as they had done with their two previous versions. Rewarding their wind tunnel work, the glider produced the expected lift. It also had a new structural feature: a fixed, rear vertical rudder, which the brothers hoped would eliminate turning problems.

By 1902 they realized that wing-warping created "differential drag" at the wingtips. Greater lift at one end of the wing also increased drag, which slowed that end of the wing, making the glider swivel—or "yaw"—so the nose pointed away from the turn. That was how the tailless 1901 glider behaved.

The improved wing design enabled consistently longer glides, and the rear rudder prevented adverse yaw—so effectively that it introduced a new problem. Sometimes when the pilot attempted to level off from a turn, the glider failed to respond to corrective wing-warping and persisted into a tighter turn. The glider would slide toward the lower wing, which hit the ground, spinning the aircraft around. The Wrights called this "well digging".

Orville apparently visualized that the fixed rudder resisted the effect of corrective wing-warping when attempting to level off from a turn. He wrote in his diary that on the night of October 2, "I studied out a new vertical rudder". The brothers then decided to make the rear rudder movable to solve the problem.[62] They hinged the rudder and connected it to the pilot's warping "cradle", so a single movement by the pilot simultaneously controlled wing-warping and rudder deflection. Tests while gliding proved that the trailing edge of the rudder should be turned away from whichever end of the wings had more drag (and lift) due to warping. The opposing pressure produced by turning the rudder enabled corrective wing-warping to reliably restore level flight after a turn or a wind disturbance. Furthermore, when the glider banked into a turn, rudder pressure overcame the effect of differential drag and pointed the nose of the aircraft in the direction of the turn, eliminating adverse yaw.

In short, the Wrights discovered the true purpose of the movable vertical rudder. Its role was not to change the direction of flight (as a rudder does in sailing), but rather, to aim or align the aircraft correctly during banking turns and when leveling off from turns and wind disturbances.[63] The actual turn—the change in direction—was done with roll control using wing-warping. The principles remained the same when ailerons superseded wing-warping.

With their new method the Wrights achieved true control in turns for the first time on October 8, 1902, a major milestone. From September 19 to October 24 they made between 700 and 1,000 glides, the longest lasting 26 seconds and covering 622.5 feet (189.7 m). Hundreds of well-controlled glides after they made the rudder steerable convinced them they were ready to build a powered flying machine.

Thus did three-axis control evolve: wing-warping for roll (lateral motion), forward elevator for pitch (up and down) and rear rudder for yaw (side to side). On March 23, 1903, the Wrights applied for their famous patent for a "Flying Machine", based on their successful 1902 glider. Some aviation historians believe that applying the system of three-axis flight control on the 1902 glider was equal to, or even more significant, than the addition of power to the 1903 Flyer. Peter Jakab of the Smithsonian asserts that perfection of the 1902 glider essentially represents invention of the airplane.[64][65]

Adding power

In 1903 the brothers built the powered Wright Flyer I, using their preferred material for construction, spruce,[66] 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 adapt data from shipbuilding. However, their library research disclosed no established formulae for either marine or air propellers, and they found themselves with no sure starting point. They discussed and argued the question, sometimes heatedly, until they concluded that an aeronautical propeller is essentially a wing rotating in the vertical plane.[67] On that basis, they used data from more wind tunnel tests to design their propellers. The finished blades were just over eight feet long, made of three laminations of glued spruce. The Wrights decided on twin "pusher" propellers (counter-rotating to cancel torque), which would act on a greater quantity of air than a single relatively slow propeller and not disturb airflow over the leading edge of the wings.

Wilbur made a March 1903 entry in his notebook indicating the prototype propeller was 66% efficient. Modern wind tunnel tests on reproduction 1903 propellers show they were more than 75% efficient under the conditions of the first flights, "a remarkable feat", and actually had a peak efficiency of 82%.[68]

The Wrights wrote to several engine manufacturers, but none could meet 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.[69] To keep the weight down the engine block was cast from aluminum, a rare practice at the time. The Wright/Taylor engine had a primitive version of a carburetor, and had no fuel pump. Gasoline was gravity-fed from the fuel tank mounted on a wing strut into a chamber next to the cylinders where it was mixed with air: the fuel-air mixture was then vaporized by heat from the crankcase, forcing it into the cylinders.[70]

The propeller drive chains, resembling those of bicycles, were supplied by a manufacturer of heavy-duty automobile chains.[71] The Flyer cost less than a thousand dollars, in contrast to more than $50,000 in government funds given to Samuel Langley for his man-carrying Great Aerodrome.[72] The Flyer had a wingspan of 40.3 ft (12.3 m), weighed 605 lb (274 kg)[73] and had a 12 horsepower (8.9 kW) 180 lb (82 kg) engine.[74]

First powered flight

In camp at Kill Devil Hills, they endured weeks of delays caused by broken propeller shafts during engine tests. After the shafts were replaced (requiring two trips back to Dayton), Wilbur won a coin toss and made a three-second flight attempt on December 14, 1903, stalling after takeoff and causing minor damage to the Flyer. (Because December 13, 1903, was a Sunday, the brothers did not make any attempts that day, even though the weather was good, so their first powered test flight happened on the 121st anniversary of the first test flight that the Montgolfier brothers had done, on December 14, 1782.) In a message to their family, Wilbur referred to the trial as having "only partial success", stating "the power is ample, and but for a trifling error due to lack of experience with this machine and this method of starting, the machine would undoubtedly have flown beautifully."[75] Following repairs, the Wrights finally took to the air on December 17, 1903, making two flights each from level ground into a freezing headwind gusting to 27 miles per hour (43 km/h). The first flight, by Orville at 10:35 am, of 120 feet (37 m) in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour (10.9 km/h) over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph.[41] The next two flights covered approximately 175 and 200 feet (53 and 61 m), by Wilbur and Orville respectively. Their altitude was about 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground.[76] The following is Orville Wright's account of the final flight of the day:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o'clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.[77]

Five people witnessed the flights: Adam Etheridge, John T. Daniels (who snapped the famous "first flight" photo using Orville's pre-positioned camera) and Will Dough, all of the U.S. government coastal lifesaving crew; area businessman W.C. Brinkley; and Johnny Moore, a teenaged boy who lived in the area. After the men hauled the Flyer back from its fourth flight, a powerful gust of wind flipped it over several times, despite the crew's attempt to hold it down. Severely damaged, the airplane never flew again.[78] The brothers shipped it home, and years later Orville restored it, lending it to several U.S. locations for display, then to a British museum (see Smithsonian dispute below), before it was finally installed in 1948 in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., its current residence.

The Wrights sent a telegram about the flights to their father, requesting that he "inform press."[41] However, the Dayton Journal refused to publish the story, saying the flights were too short to be important. Meanwhile, against the brothers' wishes, a telegraph operator leaked their message to a Virginia newspaper, which concocted a highly inaccurate news article that was reprinted the next day in several newspapers elsewhere, including Dayton.[79][80]

The Wrights issued their own factual statement to the press in January.[81] Nevertheless, the flights did not create public excitement—if people even knew about them—and the news soon faded.[citation needed] In Paris, however, Aero Club of France members, already stimulated by Chanute's reports of Wright gliding successes, took the news more seriously and increased their efforts to catch up to the brothers.[82]

Modern analysis by Professor Fred E. C. Culick and Henry R. Jex (in 1985) has demonstrated that the 1903 Wright Flyer was so unstable as to be almost unmanageable by anyone but the Wrights, who had trained themselves in the 1902 glider.[83] In a recreation attempt on the event's 100th anniversary on December 17, 2003, Kevin Kochersberger, piloting an exacting replica, failed in his effort to match the success that the Wright brothers had achieved with their piloting skill.[84]

Establishing legitimacy

In 1904 the Wrights built the Flyer II. They decided to avoid the expense of travel and bringing supplies to the Outer Banks and set up an airfield at Huffman Prairie, a cow pasture eight miles (13 km) northeast of Dayton. They received permission to use the field rent-free from owner and bank president Torrance Huffman. They invited reporters to their first flight attempt of the year on May 23, on the condition that no photographs be taken. Engine troubles and slack winds prevented any flying, and they could manage only a very short hop a few days later with fewer reporters present. Library of Congress historian Fred Howard noted some speculation that the brothers may have intentionally failed to fly in order to cause reporters to lose interest in their experiments. Whether that is true is not known, but after their poor showing local newspapers virtually ignored them for the next year and a half.[85]

The Wrights were glad to be free from the distraction of reporters. The absence of newsmen also reduced the chance of competitors learning their methods. After the Kitty Hawk powered flights, the Wrights made a decision to begin withdrawing from the bicycle business so they could concentrate on creating and marketing a practical airplane.[86] This was financially risky, since they were neither wealthy nor government-funded (unlike other experimenters such as Ader, Maxim, Langley and Alberto Santos-Dumont). The Wright brothers did not have the luxury of being able to give away their invention; it was to be their livelihood. Thus, their secrecy intensified, encouraged by advice from their patent attorney, Henry Toulmin, not to reveal details of their machine.

At Huffman Prairie, lighter winds made takeoffs harder, and they had to use a longer starting rail than the 60-foot (18 m) rail used at Kitty Hawk. The first flights in 1904 revealed problems with longitudinal stability, solved by adding ballast and lengthening the supports for the elevator.[87] During the spring and summer they suffered many hard landings, often damaging the aircraft and causing minor injuries. On August 13, making an unassisted takeoff, Wilbur finally exceeded their best Kitty Hawk effort with a flight of 1,300 feet (400 m). Then they decided to use a weight-powered catapult to make takeoffs easier and tried it for the first time on September 7. On September 20, 1904, Wilbur flew the first complete circle in history by a manned heavier-than-air powered machine, covering 4,080 feet (1,244 m) in about a minute and a half.[88] Their two best flights were November 9 by Wilbur and December 1 by Orville, each exceeding five minutes and covering nearly three miles in almost four circles.[89] By the end of the year the brothers had accumulated about 50 minutes in the air in 105 flights over the rather soggy 85 acres (34 ha) pasture, which, remarkably, is virtually unchanged today from its original condition and is now part of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The Wrights scrapped the battered and much-repaired aircraft, but saved the engine, and in 1905 built a new airplane, the Flyer III. Nevertheless, at first this Flyer offered the same marginal performance as the first two. Its maiden flight was on June 23 and the first few flights were no longer than 10 seconds.[90] After Orville suffered a bone-jarring and potentially fatal crash on July 14, they rebuilt the Flyer with the forward elevator and rear rudder both enlarged and placed several feet farther away from the wings. They also installed a separate control for the rear rudder instead of linking it to the wing-warping "cradle" as before. Each of the three axes—pitch, roll and yaw—now had its own independent control. These modifications greatly improved stability and control, enabling a series of six dramatic "long flights" ranging from 17 to 38 minutes and 11 to 24 miles (39 km) around the three-quarter mile course over Huffman Prairie between September 26 and October 5. Wilbur made the last and longest flight, 24.5 miles (39.4 km) in 38 minutes and 3 seconds, ending with a safe landing when the fuel ran out. The flight was seen by a number of people, including several invited friends, their father Milton, and neighboring farmers. [91]

Reporters showed up the next day (only their second appearance at the field since May the previous year), but the brothers declined to fly. The long flights convinced the Wrights they had achieved their goal of creating a flying machine of "practical utility" which they could offer to sell.

The only photos of the flights of 1904–1905 were taken by the brothers. (A few photos were damaged in the Great Dayton Flood of 1913, but most survived intact.) In 1904 Ohio beekeeping businessman Amos Root, a technology enthusiast, saw a few flights including the first circle. Articles he wrote for his beekeeping magazine were the only published eyewitness reports of the Huffman Prairie flights, except for the unimpressive early hop local newsmen saw. Root offered a report to Scientific American magazine, but the editor turned it down. As a result, the news was not widely known outside Ohio, and was often met with skepticism. The Paris edition of the Herald Tribune headlined a 1906 article on the Wrights "FLYERS OR LIARS?"

In years to come Dayton newspapers would proudly celebrate the hometown Wright brothers as national heroes, but the local reporters somehow missed one of the most important stories in history as it was happening a few miles from their doorstep. James M. Cox, publisher at that time of the Dayton Daily News (later governor of Ohio and Democratic presidential nominee in 1920), expressed the attitude of newspapermen—and the public—in those days when he admitted years later, "Frankly, none of us believed it."[92]

A few newspapers published articles about the long flights, but no reporters or photographers had been there. The lack of splashy eyewitness press coverage was a major reason for disbelief in Washington, D.C. and Europe and in journals like Scientific American, whose editors doubted the "alleged experiments" and asked how U.S. newspapers, "alert as they are, allowed these sensational performances to escape their notice."[94]

In October 1904 the brothers were visited by the first of many important Europeans they would befriend in coming years, Colonel J. E. Capper, later superintendent of the Royal Balloon Factory. Capper and his wife were visiting the United States to investigate the aeronautical exhibits at the St. Louis World Fair, but had been given a letter of introduction to both Chanute and the Wrights by Patrick Alexander. Capper was very favorably impressed by the Wrights, who showed him photographs of their aircraft in flight.[95]

The Wright brothers were certainly complicit in the lack of attention they received. Fearful of competitors stealing their ideas, and still without a patent, they flew on only one more day after October 5. From then on, they refused to fly anywhere unless they had a firm contract to sell their aircraft. They wrote to the U.S. government, then to Britain, France and Germany with an offer to sell a flying machine, but were rebuffed because they insisted on a signed contract before giving a demonstration. They were unwilling even to show their photographs of the airborne Flyer. The American military, having recently spent $50,000 on the Langley Aerodrome—a product of the nation's foremost scientist—only to see it plunge twice into the Potomac River "like a handful of mortar", was particularly unreceptive to the claims of two unknown bicycle makers from Ohio.[96] Thus, doubted or scorned, the Wright brothers continued their work in semi-obscurity, while other aviation pioneers like Santos-Dumont, Henri Farman, Léon Delagrange and American Glenn Curtiss entered the limelight.

European skepticism

In 1906 skeptics in the European aviation community had converted the press to an anti-Wright brothers stance. European newspapers, especially those in France, were openly derisive, calling them bluffeurs (bluffers).[97]

Ernest Archdeacon, founder of the Aéro-Club de France, was publicly scornful of the brothers' claims in spite of published reports; specifically, he wrote several articles and, in 1906, stated that "the French would make the first public demonstration of powered flight".[98]

The Paris edition of the New York Herald summed up Europe's opinion of the Wright brothers in an editorial on February 10, 1906: "The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars. It is difficult to fly. It's easy to say, 'We have flown.'"[97]

In 1908, after the Wrights' first flights in France, Archdeacon publicly admitted that he had done them an injustice.[98]

Contracts and return to Kitty Hawk

The Wright brothers made no flights at all in 1906 and 1907. They spent the time attempting to persuade the U.S. and European governments that they had invented a successful flying machine and were prepared to negotiate a contract to sell such machines. They also experimented with a pontoon and engine setup on the Miami River (Ohio) in hopes of flying from the water. These experiments proved unsuccessful.

Replying to the Wrights' letters, the U.S. military expressed virtually no interest in their claims. The brothers turned their attention to Europe, especially France, where enthusiasm for aviation ran high, and journeyed there for the first time in 1907 for face-to-face talks with government officials and businessmen. They also met with aviation representatives in Germany and Britain. Before traveling, Orville shipped a newly built Model A Flyer to France in anticipation of demonstration flights.

In France Wilbur met Frank P. Lahm, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Aeronautical Division. Writing to his superiors, Lahm smoothed the way for Wilbur to give an in-person presentation to the U.S. Board of Ordnance and Fortification in Washington, D.C. when he returned to the U.S. This time, the Board was favorably impressed, in contrast to its previous indifference. With further input from the Wrights, the U.S. Army Signal Corps issued Specification #486 in December 1907, inviting bids for construction of a flying machine under military contract.[100] The Wrights submitted their bid in January.[N 2] In early 1908 the brothers also agreed to a contract with a French company. In May they went back to Kitty Hawk with their 1905 Flyer to practice in private for their all-important public demonstration flights, as required by both contracts. Their privacy was lost when New York newspapers heard about the tests and sent several reporters to the scene.

Their contracts required them to fly with a passenger, so they modified the 1905 Flyer by installing two seats and adding upright control levers. After tests with sandbags in the passenger seat, Charlie Furnas, a helper from Dayton, became the first fixed-wing aircraft passenger on a few short flights May 14, 1908. For safety, and as a promise to their father, Wilbur and Orville did not fly together. However, several newspaper accounts at the time mistakenly took Orville's flight with Furnas as both brothers flying together. Later that day after flying solo seven minutes, Wilbur suffered his worst crash when—still not well-acquainted with the two new control levers—he apparently moved one the wrong way and slammed the Flyer into the sand at between 40 and 50 miles per hour (64 and 80 km/h). He emerged with only bruises and a cut nose, but the accident ended the practice flights—and the airplane's flying career.

Return to glider flights

In October 1911, Orville Wright returned to the Outer Banks again, to conduct safety and stabilization tests with a new glider. On October 24, he soared for nine minutes and 45 seconds, a record that held for almost 10 years, when gliding as a sport began in the 1920s.[101]

Public showing

The brothers' contracts with the U.S. Army and a French syndicate depended on successful public flight demonstrations that met certain conditions. The brothers had to divide their efforts. Wilbur sailed for Europe; Orville would fly near Washington, D.C.

Facing much skepticism in the French aeronautical community and outright scorn by some newspapers that called him a "bluffeur", Wilbur began official public demonstrations on August 8, 1908 at the Hunaudières horse racing track near the town of Le Mans, France. His first flight lasted only one minute 45 seconds, but his ability to effortlessly make banking turns and fly a circle amazed and stunned onlookers, including several pioneer French aviators, among them Louis Blériot

Wilbur (left) and Orville (right) as children in 1876

Wright brothers' home at 7 Hawthorn Street, Dayton about 1900. Wilbur and Orville built the covered wrap-around porch in the 1890s.
Wright brothers' bicycle at the National Air and Space Museum
Wright 1899 kite: front and side views, with control sticks. Wing-warping is shown in lower view. (Wright brothers drawing in Library of Congress)
The 1900 glider. No photo was taken with a pilot aboard.
Orville with the 1901 glider, its nose pointed skyward; it had no tail.
Wilbur just after landing the 1901 glider. Glider skid marks are visible behind it, and marks from a previous landing are seen in front; Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
Replica of the Wright brothers' wind tunnel at the Virginia Air and Space Center
A big improvement
At left, 1901 glider flown by Wilbur (left) and Orville. At right, 1902 glider flown by Wilbur (right) and Dan Tate, their helper. Dramatic improvement in performance is apparent. The 1901 glider flies at a steep angle of attack due to poor lift and high drag. In contrast, the 1902 glider flies at a much flatter angle and holds up its tether lines almost vertically, clearly demonstrating a much better lift-to-drag ratio.[60]
Wilbur Wright pilots the 1902 glider over the Kill Devil Hills, October 10, 1902. The single rear rudder is steerable; it replaced the original fixed double rudder.
Wilbur makes a turn using wing-warping and the movable rudder, October 24, 1902.
First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip.
Orville's notebook entry of December 17, 1903
Orville in flight over Huffman Prairie in Wright Flyer II. Flight #85, approximately 1,760 feet (536 m) in ​40 15 seconds, November 16, 1904.
Wilbur flying almost four circles of Huffman Prairie, about ​2 34 miles in 5 minutes 4 seconds; flight #82, November 9, 1904.
Wilbur's logbook showing diagram and data for first circle flight on September 20, 1904
Wright Flyer III piloted by Orville over Huffman Prairie, October 4, 1905. Flight #46, covering ​20 34 miles in 33 minutes 17 seconds; last photographed flight of the year
The Dayton Daily News reported the October 5 flight on page 9, with agriculture and business news.[N 1]
The modified 1905 Flyer at the Kill Devil Hills in 1908, ready for practice flights. Note there is no catapult derrick; all takeoffs were used with the monorail alone.
Soaring flight, Kitty Hawk, Oct., 1911 "Arrows indicate 50-Mile Wind, Showing How Machine Was Sustained in a Stationary Position"[99]
Orville demonstrating the flyer to the U.S. Army, Fort Myer, Virginia September 1908. Photo: by C.H. Claudy.
Hart O. Berg (left), the Wrights' European business agent, and Wilbur at the flying field near Le Mans.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *