This week marks the anniversary of the first successful airplane flight on December 17, 1903.
The Wright Flyer, a 12 horsepower biplane with a four cylinder engine, was flown by two Americans: Orville and Wilbur Wright. That day each man flew two times. The best flight of the day peaked at 852 feet and lasted 59 seconds.
The Wright Flyer, designed and engineered by the Wright Brothers, hangs proudly in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. I have stood below this plane, made of wood and muslin; it looks like a fragile toy. It is hard to believe anyone repeatedly endangered their life flying in it. Click here for Wright Flyer info.
Earlier, in 1892 in Ohio, the two brothers, four years apart in age, had opened a bicycle shop. Both men, mechanical by nature, sold and repaired bicycles, and eventually manufactured them as well.
Their work here funded their growing interests in flying; it also familiarized them with the mechanics of balance.
In the latter years of the 1800s, numerous inventors studied aeronautics–there were successes and failures (i.e. death) in unmanned flights and gliders. Whereas other inventors paralleled their engineering designs on the locomotive, the Wright Brothers studied the mechanics of flying birds.
The Wrights were unique in their belief that pilot control was the most important aspect, as opposed to the most powerful engine.
In 1900 the brothers found an ideal place to implement experiments on the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They practiced flying with gliders.
The sand offered a softer landing, the beach offered wind. “No bird soars in a calm” said Wilbur.
Over the years, the brothers built wings, propellers, three gliders, and a wind tunnel. When they realized a suitably light engine was not available for their craft, they hired Charlie Taylor, their bicycle mechanic, to build an engine.
He built the engine in six weeks, based on the Wrights’ sketches; and would become a vital contributor in the years ahead.
This week we have the privilege of celebrating the anniversary; and honoring the genius, skill, courage, and tenacity of the Wright Brothers.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander or others as noted