Tag Archives: Wright Flyer

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.

Orville Wright at the controls of the Flyer, just airborne on its first flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903. Wilbur Wright is running along to stabilize the wing. This photograph was taken by John Thomas Daniels, Jr., using the Wright Brothers’ Gundlach Optical Company Korona-V camera. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

17 December 1903, 10:35 a.m.: Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, had been working on the development of a machine capable of flight since 1899. They started with kites and gliders before moving on to powered aircraft. At the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on the eastern shoreline of the United States, they made the first successful flight of a manned, powered, controllable airplane.

Orville was at the controls of the Flyer while Wilbur ran along side, steadying the right wing. Against a 27 miles per hour (12 meters per second) headwind, the airplane flew 120 feet (36.6 meters) in 12 seconds.

Three more flights were made that day, with the brothers alternating as pilot. Wilbur made the last flight, covering 852 feet (263.7 meters) in 59 seconds. The Flyer was slightly damaged on landing but before it could be repaired for an intended flight four miles back to Kitty Hawk, a gust of wind overturned the airplane and caused more extensive damage. It never flew again.

Flyer after fourth (final) flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The 1903 Wright Flyer is a canard biplane, with elevators to the front and rudders at the rear. The flight controls twisted, or “warped,” the wings to cause a change in direction. The pilot lay prone in the middle of the lower wing, on a sliding “cradle.” He slid left and right to shift the center of gravity. Wires attached to the cradle acted to warp the wings and move the rudders. The airplane is built of spruce and ash and covered with unbleached muslin fabric.

Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, front view. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer is 21 feet, 1 inch (6.426 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches (12.293 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). The wings have an angle of incidence of 3° 25′. A built-in curvature of the wings creates a continuously-varying anhedral. (The wingtips are 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) lower than at the centerline.) The vertical gap between the upper and lower wings is 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters). There is no sweep or stagger. The total wing area is 510 square feet (47.38 square meters). The Flyer weighs 605 pounds (274.4 kilograms), empty.

Wright Flyer, right quarter view. The airplane was damaged during the landing after its fourth flight. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

The Flyer was powered by a single water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 201.06-cubic-inch-displacement (3.30 liter) 4-cylinder inline overhead valve gasoline engine, which produced 12 horsepower at 1,025 r.p.m. The engine was built by the Wright’s mechanic, Charlie Taylor. The engine has a cast aluminum alloy crankcase with cast iron cylinders. Fuel is supplied from a gravity-feed tank mounted under the leading edge of the upper wing. Total fuel capacity is 22 fluid ounces (0.65 liters).

Wright Flyer, left profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
Wright Flyer, right profile. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

Using chains, sprockets, and drive shafts, the engine turns two fixed-pitch wooden propellers in opposite directions at 350 r.p.m. They turn outboard at the top of their arcs. The propellers have a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) and are positioned at the trailing edges of the wings in a pusher configuration.

The Wright's airfield at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbure Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)
The Wright’s airfield near Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Wilbur Wright is standing in the hangar. (Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company)

In 1928, the Wright Flyer was shipped to England where it was displayed at the Science Museum on Exhibition Road, London. It returned to the United States in 1948 and was placed in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Wright Brothers’ first airplane flew a total of 1 minute, 42.5 seconds, and travelled 1,472 feet (448.7 meters).

The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The 1903 Wright Flyer at the Smithsonian Institution. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued to fly until 1918. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, predecessor of NASA) for 28 years. He died in 1948.

The Boeing XB-15, 35-277, flies past the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

18 October 1909

Charles, Comte de Lambert (1865–1944)

18 October 1909: Charles Alexandre Maurice Joseph Marie Jules Stanislas Jacques Count de Lambert, the first student to successfully complete Wilbur Wright’s aviation school at Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, flew his Wright Model A Flyer from Port Aviation (Juvisy-sur-Orge), Viry-Châtillon (in the outskirts of Paris), the World’s first airport, to the Eiffel Tower.

The Comte de Lambert departed Port Aviation at 4:36 p.m. He circled the Tower at an altitude of 400 meters (about 1,300 feet) and then returned to Pau, located on the northern edge of the Pyrenees.

The Comte Charles de Lambert flies around the Eiffel Tower in Paris in his Wright aeroplane during his circular tour from Juvisy - Paris - Juvisy. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
“The Comte Charles de Lambert flies around the Eiffel Tower in Paris in his Wright aeroplane during his circular tour from Juvisy – Paris – Juvisy.” (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The flight covered approximately 48 kilometers (30 miles) with an elapsed time of 49 minutes, 39 seconds.

Comte de Lambert’s flight coincided with an evening banquet celebrating a two-week “Grande Quinzaine de l’Aviation de Paris“. L’Aéroclub de France awarded him a Gold Medal for his achievement, and France appointed him Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

de Lambert, immediately after landing at Pau, 18 October 1909.
de Lambert, immediately after landing at Pau, 18 October 1909. (Collection of Gerard J. van Heusden)

The Wright Model A, produced from 1907 to 1909, was the world’s first series production airplane. It was slightly larger and heavier than the Wright Flyer III which had preceded it. It was a two-place, single-engine canard biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires and covered with muslin fabric. A new system of flight controls allowed the pilot to sit upright rather than lying prone on the lower wing.

The dual horizontal elevators were placed forward and the dual vertical rudders aft. The biplane was 31 feet (9.449 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters). The wings had a chord of 6.6 feet, and vertical separation of 6 feet. The airplane had an empty weight of approximately 800 pounds (363 kilograms).

A water-cooled 240.5 cubic-inch-displacement (3.940 liter) Wright inline four-cylinder gasoline engine produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. Two 8½ foot (2.591 meters) diameter, two-bladed, counter-rotating propellers, driven by a chain drive, are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. They turned 445 r.p.m.

The Wright Model A  could fly 37 miles per hour (kilometers per hour).

Charles Comte de Lambert at the controls of a Wright Flyer at l’Ecole d’Aviation, Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques,1908.
Charles Comte de Lambert at the controls of a Wright Flyer at l’Ecole d’Aviation, Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques,1908. (Calizo Photography)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

17 September 1908

Lt. Thomas Etholen Selfridge (Robert B. Williams)

17 September 1908: Orville Wright brought his Wright Flyer to Fort Myer, Virginia to demonstrate it to the U.S. Army Signal Corps.  A crowd of approximately 2,500 spectators had gathered to watch the flight.

Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge, Signal Corps, United States Army, wanted to ride along with Wright and asked to go first. Lieutenant George Sweet, U.S. Navy was scheduled for the first flight, but he and Wright agreed to let Lieutenant Selfridge go. The two men aboard the Wright Flyer made four circuits of the field approximately 150 feet above the ground. The starboard propeller broke and struck the wires supporting the rudder. As the rudder rotated sideways, it caused the airplane to pitch nose down.

Lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge and Orville Wright aboard the Wright Flyer. (U.S. Air Force)

Orville Wright later described the accident:

“On the fourth round, everything seemingly working much better and smoother than any former flight, I started on a larger circuit with less abrupt turns. It was on the very first slow turn that the trouble began. . . A hurried glance behind revealed nothing wrong, but I decided to shut off the power and descend as soon as the machine could be faced in a direction where a landing could be made. This decision was hardly reached, in fact I suppose it was not over two or three seconds from the time the first taps were heard, until two big thumps, which gave the machine a terrible shaking, showed that something had broken. . . The machine suddenly turned to the right and I immediately shut off the power. Quick as a flash, the machine turned down in front and started straight for the ground. Our course for 50 feet was within a very few degrees of the perpendicular. Lt. Selfridge up to this time had not uttered a word, though he took a hasty glance behind when the propeller broke and turned once or twice to look into my face, evidently to see what I thought of the situation. But when the machine turned head first for the ground, he exclaimed ‘Oh! Oh!’ in an almost inaudible voice.”

The wreck of the Wright Flyer, Fort Myer, Virginia, 17 September 1908. (Library of Congress)

The Wright Flyer struck the ground and both men were seriously injured. Thomas Selfridge suffered a fractured skull. He underwent neurosurgery but died without regaining consciousness. Orville Wright had a broken leg, several broken ribs and an injured hip. He spent seven weeks in the Army hospital.

This was the first fatal accident involving an airplane. Lieutenant Thomas Etholen Selfridge was the first person to die in an airplane accident.

Doctors attend to the unconscious Lieutenant Selfridge following the crash of the Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia, 17 September 1908. He died later that day. (Library of Congress)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

Wilbur Wright (16 April 1867–30 May 1912)

Wilbur Wright, 1905. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

30 May 1912: Wilbur Wright, co-inventor with his brother Orville of the Wright Flyer, the first powered, controllable, heavier-than-air vehicle, died at the family home in Dayton, Ohio, of typhoid fever.

His father wrote:

May 30, 1912

This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, and 14 days.

A short life, full of consequences.

An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadfastly, he lived and died.

— Bishop Milton Wright

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes