How invented the first Airplane?

Wright-Brothers

When did the wright brothers make their first successful airplane flight?

The breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled effective steering and maintaining equilibrium. This remains standard on fixed-wing airplanes. Where did the wright brothers make the first airplane flight?

On this day in history, December 17:

Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful flight in history in a propeller-driven, heavier-than-air biplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, flying machine, which remained aloft for 12 seconds and covered 120 feet, on the inaugural flight.

The Wright brothers grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and liked to tinker with toys. They were fascinated with science and mechanics, and adept at solving mechanical problems. Wilbur, who was four years older than his brother, read about aeronautics and decided that the key elements of a flying machine were the wings, power lift and control.

In 1892, they opened a bicycle sales and repair shop, where they built their own bicycles, and this allowed them to pursue their dream of building the world’s first heavier-than-air, controlled airplane.

In 1899, they designed their first aircraft, a small, biplane glider flown as a kite, to test their solution for controlling it by wing warping, a method of slightly arching the wingtips to control the aircraft’s balance and rolling motion.

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

Kitty Hawk Test Site

The Wright brothers successfully tested their full-size glider and then contacted the U.S. Weather Bureau about a suitable place to conduct more tests. They chose Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, due to its steady winds, sand dunes from which to glide and land softly, and remote location.

In 1900, their new, 50-pound, biplane glider, with its 17-foot wingspan and wing-warping mechanism, performed poorly. But a new, larger design with refined controls and landing gear that they tested the next year was more successful.

In 1901, at Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk, they flew the world’s biggest glider, with a 22-foot wingspan, a weight of almost 100 pounds, and skids for landing. But the wings did not have enough lifting power, the forward elevator did not control the pitch, and the wing-warping mechanism caused the airplane to spin out of control.

They reviewed their test results and concluded that their calculations had been unreliable. So, they built a wind tunnel where they tested about 200 wings and airframes of different designs and shapes, and their effect on lift. They designed a new glider with a 32-foot wingspan and a tail to help stabilize it.

Their perseverance paid off as they flew hundreds of successful test flights in their new glider. It featured a steering system based on a movable rudder that helped balance the craft and that solved the problem of controlled flight. Now, they were ready for powered flight.

Historic Flight

After months of studying how propellers work, in Dayton they designed a 12-horsepower, internal combustion engine and a new aircraft sturdy enough to support the motor’s weight and vibrations. The softwood and muslin plane weighed 700 pounds and came to be called the Flyer.

They transported it in pieces to Kitty Hawk in the fall of 1903, reassembled it and made more tests, They also built a movable track to help the aircraft gain enough speed to fly. On December 14, Orville made the first attempt at powered flight, but the engine stalled during takeoff and the plane was damaged in a minor crash. They spent three days fixing it.

At 10:35 on December 17, amid cold winds from the Atlantic Ocean and in front of five witnesses and a photographer, the Flyer sped down the monorail track and took off into the air for 12 seconds, flying 120 feet. This was the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history. The age of aviation was born.

Three more tests were made that day, with Wilbur and Orville taking turns flying the airplane. Wilbur flew the last flight, covering 852 feet in 59 seconds. A rough landing broke the front of the plane and temporarily ended their experiments

Wright Company Founded

In the following years, the Wright brothers continued to develop their fixed-wing flying machines. In 1904, the first flight lasting more than five minutes took place, and the Flyer II was flown by Wilbur.

By 1905, their airplane could perform complex maneuvers and remain in the air for up to 39 minutes at a time. Three years later, the first fatal air crash occurred. Orville, who was piloting the plane, survived, but his passenger did not.

In 1909, the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps purchased a specially constructed Wright brothers biplane for $25,000, plus a bonus of $5,000 because it exceeded 40 miles per hour. The brothers then founded the Wright Company to build and market their airplane.

In 1912, a Wright brothers plane, the first armed with a machine gun, was flown in Maryland and, in 1914, an Aviation Section of the Signal Corps was established. Its flying unit contained airplanes made by the Wright brothers as well as some built by Glenn Curtiss, their chief competitor.

No Danger in the Air

Seven years after their historic, maiden flight, a journalist asked the Wright brothers whether they were frightened while flying. Wilbur responded: “No more than on the water. There are not so many rocks up in the air, and there’s certainly no more danger.”

Wilbur died in 1912 and Orville in 1948. The historic Wright brothers’ 1903 aircraft is on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The Wrights created one of the greatest cultural forces since the development of writing,” wrote Time magazine. “The genius of Leonardo da Vinci imagined a flying machine, but it took the methodical application of science by these two American bicycle mechanics to create it.”

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