First Successful Airplane
| Date of Milestone:
December 17, 1903
Wright 1903 Flyer
| Aircraft Location:
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Milestones
of Flight Gallery
NOTE: This aircraft has been moved to The
Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age exhibition.
On December 17, 1903, at Kitty
Hawk, North Carolina, the 1903 Wright Flyer became the first powered,
heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight
with a pilot aboard. It flew forward without losing speed and landed
at a point as high as that from which it started.
With Orville Wright as pilot,
the airplane took off from a launching rail and flew for 12 seconds
and a distance of 37 meters (120 feet). The airplane was flown three
more times that day, with Orville and his brother Wilbur alternating
as pilot. The longest flight, with Wilbur at the controls, was 260
meters (852 feet) and lasted 59 seconds.
The Flyer, designed and built
by the Wright brothers, was one step in a broad experimental program
that began in 1899 with their first kite and concluded in 1905,
when they built the first truly practical airplane. The basic problems
of mechanical flight, lift, propulsion, and control were solved
in the Wright design.
The 1903 Wright Flyer was constructed
of spruce and ash covered with muslin. The framework "floated" within
fabric pockets sewn inside, making the muslin covering an integral
part of the structure. This ingenious feature made the aircraft
light, strong, and flexible. The 1903 Flyer was powered by a simple
four-cylinder engine of the Wrights' own design.
To fly the airplane, the pilot
lay prone with his head forward, his left hand operating the elevator
control. Lateral control was achieved by warping the wing tips in
opposite directions via wires attached to a hip cradle mounted on
the lower wing. The pilot shifted his hips from side to side to
operate the mechanism, which also moved the rudder.