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The Wright Brothers

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                    "Before the Wright Brothers, no one in aviation did anything fundamentally right.                                              Since the Wright Brothers, no one has done anything fundamentally different."

Darrel Collins, US Park Service,
   Kitty Hawk National Historical Park


Orville Wright's Signature.

Orville Wright Signature

This signature comes from a 1928 air mail cover that commemorates the 25th anniversary of his first flight at Kitty Hawk, in 1903.

To  say simply that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane doesn't begin to describe their many accomplishments. Nor is it especially accurate. The first fixed-wing aircraft -- a kite mounted on a stick -- was conceived and flown almost a century before Orville and Wilbur made their first flights. The Wrights were first to design and build a flying craft that could be controlled while in the air. Every successful aircraft  ever built since, beginning with the 1902 Wright glider, has had controls to roll the wings right or left, pitch the nose up or down, and yaw the nose from side to side. These three controls -- roll, pitch, and yaw -- let a pilot navigate an airplane in all three dimensions, making it possible to fly  from place to place. The entire aerospace business, the largest industry in the world, depends on this simple but brilliant idea. So do spacecraft, submarines, even robots.

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More important, the Wright Brothers changed the way we view our world.  Before flight became commonplace, folks traveled in just two dimensions, north and south, east and west, crossing the lines that separate town from town, nation from nation.  Seen from above, the artificial boundaries that divide us disappear. Distances shrink, the horizon stretches. The world seems grander and more interconnected. This three-dimensional vision has revealed a universe of promises and possibilities. The world economy, our awareness of our environment, and space exploration are all, to some degree, the results of the inventive minds of the Wilbur and Orville Wright.


Here, in brief, is their story.


  1      What Dreams We Have   2      The Wright Brothers - A Biographical
  3      The Birth Of An Industry   4      The Wright Family
  5      Before They Went Flying   6      The Wright Brothers I    & II
  7      Octave Chanute   8      Chanute-Wright Correspondence
  9      Why Kitty Hawk? 10      December 17, 1903
11      Wright Brothers Beat Long Odds 12      The Day Man First Flew
13      The Wright Brothers Airplanes 14      The 1901 Wind Tunnel Tests
15      The Wright Brothers Patent Application 16      Convincing The World
17      "The Brothers In Their Own Words" 18      Orville In His Own Words
19      How They Made the First Flight  20      Katherine Wright
21      1912 The Death of Wilbur Wright 22      The Success Of The Wright Brothers
23      The World's First Flying Field 24      Business And The Wright Brothers
25      The Wright Aircraft Company 26      Engines & Propellers
27      The Wright Company 28      Little Known  Facts
29      "An Interview with the Wright Brothers" 30      The Clarke 1909 Wright Glider
31      "With the Wrights in America" 32      "A Day With The Wright Brothers"
33      "What Mouillard Did"  34      A Wright Advertising Brochure
35      The 1911 Military Model B** 36      The Wright Flyer and its Uses in War
37      Lt. Benjamin Delahauf Foulois 38      The First Military Pilot
39 **The Wright Brothers Flying School** 40      The Unhappy Ending
41      Flying the Wright Flyer 42      The Wright Flyer That Never Flew
43      Why the Wright Flyer Went To England 44      The Feud With The Smithsonian
45    The Smithsonian And The Wright Brothers 46      The Original 1903 Flyer Today
47      The Wright Brothers Memorials 48      Dayton Ohio & The Wright Brothers
49      The Wright Brothers Air Craft Pictures 50      The Military Model B
51       Flight From 1903 TO 1913 52      Glenn Hammond Curtiss
53      The Wright Brothers Misc. ** 54

     George A. Spratt And The Wright Brothers

55      George A. Spratt And The Wright Brothers Letterss 56      Unpublished Letters Of The Wright Brothers
57        A Century Of Flight 58       The Wright Brothers Pictures
59       The History Of Wright - Patterson Air Force Base   **** 60      A Brief Bibliography


The Wright Brothers Time Line


April 16, 1867 Wilbur Wright (WW) born on a farm near Millville, Ind.
Aug. 19, 1871 Orville Wright (OW) born in Dayton, Ohio
Late summer 1878 Bishop Milton Wright presents the boys with a Pénaud-inspired toy helicopter, triggering their initial interest in flight
March 1889 The brothers begin publishing a local newspaper, later expanding to include a weekly magazine as well
Dec. 1892 The brothers open a bicycle sales and repair shop; four years later they begin manufacturing their own bicycle designs
Aug. 1896 Death of Otto Lilienthal reawakens the brothers' interest in flight; they begin research on aeronautics
May 30, 1899 WW writes the Smithsonian Institution requesting information on flight; Richard Rathbun, the Assistant Secretary, has materials and a list of suggested references sent that the brothers later credit with giving them "a good understanding of the nature of the problem of flying."
July 1899 Using a "small pasteboard box," WW conceptualizes the idea of wing-warping for lateral (roll) control
July-Aug. 1899 The brothers test a biplane kite of five-foot wingspan having a Chanute-like Pratt-truss design layout, confirming the practicality of WW's wing-warping concept
Nov. 27, 1899 Wrights contact U.S. Weather Bureau for information on possible test sites. As a result, they select Kitty Hawk, N.C.
May 13, 1900 WW writes for advice to aviation philanthropist and researcher Octave Chanute, beginning a close association between the brothers and this important early aviation figure
Oct. 1900 Brothers test their first canard glider at Kitty Hawk, finding it "a rather docile thing" though unstable longitudinally
July-Aug. 1901 Brothers test their second glider at Kitty Hawk, and are visited by Chanute, who witnesses the flights. The glider tests reveal problems with Lilienthal's data, and discourage them so much that WW remarks mankind would not fly "for 50 years."
Oct.-Dec. 1901 Wrights undertake ground research using a bicycle test rig and, subsequently, a wind tunnel of their own design, to derive more reliable airfoil data. The tests reveal the significance of aspect ratio upon lift, something first highlighted by the work of Francis Wenham three decades previously
Sept.-Oct. 1902 Wrights test their third glider, refining their ideas on controllability and building experience in the air; on the basis of these trials, WW writes to Bishop Wright that "We now believe the flying problem is really nearing its solution."
Dec. 1902 Wrights request information on possible power plants from various engine manufacturers, but the replies are so discouraging that they begin design and fabrication of their own engine design with Charles Taylor.
Dec. 1902 Wrights begin an aggressive program of research into propeller design, finally selecting a high-aspect-ratio design of true airfoil cross-section in contrast to the various low-aspect-ratio fans and inefficient angled flat-plates favored by other researchers.
Feb.- May 1903 Wrights test their engine; tests delayed significantly after first engine fractures under load, forcing redesign. Engine generates 12 horsepower at 1,090 rpm, a 50 percent increase over its anticipated performance.
March 23, 1903 Wrights apply to patent their design for an airplane. This patent, a rework of an early rejected patent application, is eventually granted on May 22, 1906 as U.S. Patent No. 821,393, "O. and W. Wright Flying Machine"
Summer 1903 Wrights begin fabrication of their powered aircraft, which they dub the "Whopper Flying Machine"
Sept. 1903 Wrights return to Kitty Hawk with the new airplane, and, as well, undertake extensive final gliding tests and familiarization flights with their 1902 glider, redesigned to have an interconnected rudder and wing-warping.
Oct. 7, 1903 Samuel Langley's first flight attempt with his Great Aerodrome catapulted from a houseboat ends in failure as it snags a portion of the launching mechanism and falls into the Potomac River south of Washington, D.C., "like a handful of mortar"
Nov. - Dec. Final preparations. Wrights complete assembly of the first airplane, and undertake final engine runs. Teething problems with the engine and propeller shafts delay the first flight attempts into mid-December.
Dec. 8, 1903 Samuel Langley's second (and final) flight attempt with the Great Aerodrome ends disastrously as it breaks up on takeoff, nearly trapping and killing its "pilot," Charles Manly. WW writes to Chanute "I see that Langley has had his fling and failed. It seems to be our turn to throw now, and I wonder what our luck will be."
Dec. 14, 1903 First flight attempt, by WW, from a downhill inclined monorail launch track. Due to a combination of its own instability and WW over-controlling, the Flyer pitches up and stalls, settling down 60 feet after liftoff. The brothers repair it over the next two days
Dec. 17, 1903 At 10:35 am, OW completes the world's first powered, sustained, and controlled airplane flight. The Flyer rises into a 27 mph wind after accelerating down a level launch track, and remains aloft for 12 seconds. Three other flights are made over the next several hours, the last of which, by WW, covers 852 feet in 59 seconds. A wind gust then upsets the Flyer, seriously damaging it; it never flies again
May 1904 Flight trials begin at Huffman Prairie, east of Dayton, with the 1904 Flyer.
Sept. 20, 1904 First circling flight by an airplane in aviation history
June 1905 First flights of the 1905 Flyer, the world's first practical airplane capable of repeated reuse. The brothers first fly this aircraft with a prone piloting position like the 1903 and 1904 machines, and with interconnected rudder and wing-warping. Later they modify it with upright seats for a pilot and passenger, and disconnect the rudder from the wing-warping, making it the first three-control airplane in aviation history, with independent pitch, roll, and yaw control.
Oct. 5, 1905 OW flies the 1905 Flyer 24 miles in 38 minutes and 4 seconds, making at least 30 circuits of Huffman Prairie
Late 1905 to mid-1908 For almost three years, the brothers refrain from flying, turning instead to attempting to sell the Flyer around the world.
Dec. 23, 1907 The U.S. Army Signal Corps, under great pressure from aeronautical enthusiasts, issues a request for bids on a flying machine capable of carrying a crew of two at 40 mph, which the Wrights subsequently win, besting 21 other proposals (a further 19 were rejected outright by the Army as without any merit).
Aug. 8, 1908 WW completes the first Wright flight in Europe, at Hunaudières racecourse south of Le Mans, France, ending all doubts about whether they had actually invented a successful flying machine. Over the next eight months, WW subsequently flies extensively in France and Italy, remaining aloft on one flight for 2 hrs, 20 min., 23 sec., and carrying a total of 60 passengers
Sept. 3, 1908 First flight of the Wright Military Flyer, by OW, at Fort Myer, Va. The Fort Myer trials are witnessed by thousands of Washingtonians
Sept. 17, 1908 First airplane fatality when the Wright Military Flyer experiences a fractured propeller and subsequently breaks up and crashes. The crash kills Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge and seriously injures OW. Selfridge was a prominent member of Alexander Graham Bell's Aerial Experiment Association, one of the first great aeronautical research and development bodies. OW recuperates slowly and then, with his sister, rejoins WW in Europe.
May 1909 The Wrights return from Europe on the liner Kronprinzessin Cecile, to a tumultuous greeting in New York, Washington D.C., and Dayton.
June 24, 1909 OW makes the first flight of the 1909 Military Flyer. The Army subsequently accepts and purchases this aircraft for $25,000 (equivalent today to approximately $568,000), becoming the world's first military service to acquire an operational military airplane
August 1909 Orville Wright returns to Europe to demonstrate the Flyer in Germany
Aug. 18, 1909 Onset of the Wright-Curtiss patent dispute over lateral control of Wright and Curtiss airplanes. This patent feud subsequently embitters both parties, results in great controversy, and, together with other factors, helps retard the growth and development of American aviation and the ability of both the Wrights and Curtiss to freely pursue further work
Nov. 22, 1909 Establishment of the Wright Company with $1,000,000 in stock (equivalent to approximately $22,000,000 today)
June 29, 1910 First Wright Model B completed, a milestone departure in the brothers' thinking as it abandons the canard configuration that characterized all previous Wright designs; this design reflects the brothers' growing recognition that their concept for the original Flyers was now outdated. It follows earlier experiments in 1910 by the brothers with a fixed horizontal stabilizer attached to the 1909 Flyer. The Model B leads to the Model R single-seat racer, which appears later in the year
25 Oct. 1910 OW flies a "Baby Grand," reduced wing-span version of the Wright Model R racing aircraft, to speeds of 70-80 mph during the Belmont Park aviation meet
1911 Appearance of single-seat Wright Model EX, one of which, piloted by Calbraith Perry Rodgers, flies across the United States over the course of nearly three months
May 30, 1912 WW dies in Dayton after a prolonged battle against typhoid fever
1914 In a move that infuriates OW, the Smithsonian Institution lends the Langley Great Aerodrome to Glenn Curtiss to reconstruct and fly in an effort to demonstrate that Langley, but for ill-luck, could have flown the first successful airplane. Curtiss subsequently completely redesigns and rebuilds the "airplane" so that it bears essentially no meaningful relationship to the original. This shatters the already strained relationship between OW and the Smithsonian
Oct. 15, 1915 OW sells the Wright Company, effectively leaving the aviation field to others
May 13, 1918 OW completes his last flight as pilot in command of an aircraft (though, in 1943, he has a brief opportunity to fly "right seat" and pilot an Army Air Forces transport)
Oct. 12, 1927 Dedication of Wright Field in Dayton in honor of OW and WW. Wright Field eventually evolves into the Air Force's Wright-Patterson AFB complex, home to Air Force Materiel Command, the Air Force Research Laboratories and the Air Force Museum
Jan. 31, 1928 OW ships the original 1903 Flyer to England, for exhibition at the Science Museum; this reflects his continued dissatisfaction with the Smithsonian
Oct. 24, 1942 In a detailed public report, the Smithsonian repudiates the 1914 tests of the Langley Aerodrome, details the numerous changes made to the aircraft for the tests, and states that the Wright aircraft was the world's first successful airplane, thus ending the Wright-Smithsonian controversy, and leading to the eventual transfer of the Flyer back to America and to the Smithsonian Institution
Jan. 30, 1948 OW dies of a heart attack while hospitalized for heart problems, in Dayton
Dec. 17, 1948 On the 45th anniversary of Kitty Hawk, the Wright Flyer is ceremoniously presented to curator Paul Garber of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air Museum
July 1, 1976 Opening of the National Air and Space Museum, with the Wright Flyer as the centerpiece of the museum; this museum eventually becomes the most visited museum in the world



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