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Title: Wright Brothers National Memorial, North Carolina
Author: East, Omega G.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    [Illustration: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR · March 3, 1849]

                     Stewart L. Udall, _Secretary_

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                      Conrad L. Wirth, _Director_


This publication is one of a series of handbooks describing the
historical and archeological areas in the National Park System
administered by the National Park Service of the United States
Department of the Interior. It is printed by the Government Printing
Office and may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents,
Washington, D.C., 20402. Price 30 cents.

                            WRIGHT BROTHERS
                           NATIONAL MEMORIAL
                             NORTH CAROLINA

                            by Omega G. East

    [Illustration: Hangar and flyer]

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                   HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES NO. 34

                         Washington, D.C., 1961
                             (Reprint 1963)

  _The National Park System, of which Wright Brothers National Memorial
  is a unit, is dedicated to conserving the scenic, scientific, and
  historic heritage of the United States for the benefit and inspiration
  of its people._


The National Park Service gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Dr.
Marvin W. McFarland, who reviewed the manuscript and gave many valuable
suggestions. We are grateful also for the excellent contemporary
photographs made available by the Library of Congress. All photographs
used in this book, except those otherwise credited, were furnished by
the Library of Congress.


  The Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio                                   1
  Young Business Partners                                               3
  Pioneers of Flight                                                    5
  Problems of Flight                                                    9
  First Experiments, 1899                                              10
  Why Kitty Hawk?                                                      13
  Glider Experiments, 1900                                             14
  Glider Experiments, 1901                                             19
  Wind-Tunnel Tests, 1901                                              27
  Glider Experiments, 1902                                             28
  The Motor and the Propellers                                         33
  The Powered Machine, 1903                                            36
  December 17, 1903: The Day Man First Flew                            44
  After the First Flight                                               53
  The Original Airplane Exhibited                                      60
  The National Memorial                                                60
  Guide to the Area                                                    60
  Administration                                                       63
  Glossary                                                             63
  Suggestions for Further Reading                                      64

    [Illustration: Modern aircraft over the Wright memorial shaft depict
    a half century of aviation history. _Courtesy, North Carolina
    Department of Conservation and Development, Raleigh, N.C._]

    [Illustration: Propeller]

Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills are American place names that will live
in history. Here Wilbur and Orville Wright, two unassuming brothers with
a passion for advancing aeronautical knowledge, and the willingness to
undertake a scientific adventure, made the world’s first successful
flight of a man-carrying, power-driven, heavier-than-air machine.

December 17, 1903, was the day man first flew in this machine. It was a
cold and windy day when Orville Wright climbed aboard their plane at
10:35 a.m. His first power-driven flight of 120 feet lasted just 12
seconds when he flew over a wind-swept stretch of level sand now
preserved at Wright Brothers National Memorial. From those moments the
science of aeronautics has borne the impress of the Wrights’

    [Illustration: Wilbur Wright, about 1880.]

    [Illustration: Orville Wright, about 1880.]

                 _The Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio_

The two young men who were to be the first to fly were born in the
midwest shortly after the Civil War. Wilbur Wright was born on a farm
near Millville, 8 miles east of New Castle, Ind., April 16, 1867. Four
years younger, Orville Wright was born in Dayton, Ohio, August 19, 1871.
They were the sons of Rev. Milton Wright, a minister, and later bishop,
of the United Brethren Church, and Susan Koerner Wright. Both parents
had been teachers. When his sons were small, Bishop Wright was editor of
the church’s publications. Mrs. Wright had “a streak of her father’s
mechanical ability,” and she had a reputation in the family for being
able “to mend anything.” Bishop and Mrs. Wright also had two older sons,
Reuchlin and Lorin, and a younger daughter, Katharine.

In the Wright home, children were encouraged to pursue intellectual
interests and to investigate whatever aroused their curiosity. Wilbur
and Orville displayed mechanical aptitude, the gift of original
thinking, and a pioneering urge. Sharing a common interest in mechanical
devices, the boys made kites and toy helicopters, built a lathe and a
printing press that worked. Wilbur wrote of their close associations:

  From the time we were little children my brother Orville and myself
  lived together, played together, worked together and, in fact, thought
  together. We usually owned all our toys in common, talked over our
  thoughts and aspirations so that nearly everything that was done in
  our lives has been the result of conversations, suggestions and
  discussions between us.

Mrs. Wright died in 1889. It was that year that the brothers assembled
their printing press from old parts found in junk yards and barns and
began to publish a successful neighborhood weekly newspaper. Although
each brother attended high school the full time required for a diploma,
neither of them formally graduated from high school or attended college.
Their two older brothers married and established homes of their own, but
Wilbur and Orville remained bachelors. After completing their schooling
they continued to live with their father and schoolteacher sister in a
modest framehouse in Dayton.

    [Illustration: The Wright home, 7 Hawthorne Street, Dayton, about
    1897, three years before the first Kitty Hawk experiments. The house
    where Orville was born in 1871, and where Wilbur died in 1912.]

    [Illustration: This successful neighborhood weekly was published by
    Orville Wright on a printing press assembled from old parts found in
    junkyards and barns. Wilbur Wright was editor. _Courtesy,
    Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C._]

                            West Side News.

             Vol. 1    DAYTON, OHIO, MAY 25, 1889    No. 12

                           _West Side News._

                           PUBLISHED WEEKLY.

                        Wilbur Wright    Editor
                      Orville Wright    Publisher

                  TERMS—Quarter of year, twenty cents
                         Ten weeks, ten cents.

                        1910 WEST THIRD STREET.
                             DAYTON, OHIO.

                           Ancient Warriors.

Before the invention of gunpowder a battle was little better than a
group of hand-to-hand conflicts. Stout sinews and muscles were then
valued, and the strong man was especially esteemed. William Wallace was
the Scottish chief, not only for his patriotism but also because he had
a giant’s strength. Once when attacked by five men, he killed three and
put ...

                             Parrot Chorus.

The traditional “fish story” has many varieties, to which it seems only
fair to add the following, even though the fish in this case was a
parrot. Doubtless its narrator, an American artist, designed it to be
“taken for what it is worth.”

He was very fond of knocking about in out-of-the-way quarters of the
world, and once left ship with a ship of comrades, in order to explore a
Central American wilderness. During the cruise of several months, the
entire ship’s company had devoted their leisure hours to singing to a
parrot. The sailor had also lost no opportunity of teaching the bird all
the nautical phrases they know.

When the artist and his comrades had bidden the bird and the sailors
good-by, they plunged into the heart of the tropical forest, and after
great exertion in accomplish- ...

forsaking all others, cleave only unto her, so long as you both shall

The minister paused for the response. The groom hung down his head, and
was silent, but the bride, in a staccato tone, exclaimed, “Yes, sir.
I’ll see to it that he does all that.”

It was evident who would rule in that household. But a Scotch clergyman
once married a groom who insisted upon promising to obey his wife. The
clergyman, while traveling through a village, was requested to officiate
at a marriage, in the absence of the parish minister. Just as he had
told the bridegroom to love and honor his wife, the man interjected the
words, “and obey.” The clergyman, surprised to find a husband willing to
take a promise usually made by the wife alone, did not heed the proposed

He was going on with the service ...

                     The best, the cheapest and the
                  Safest place to buy a PIANO or ORGAN
                                 is at
                         Martin Bros. & Fritch,
                        W Fourth St, Kehns Block

                             Telephone 399.
                              JOHN M. NUTT
                            Attorney at Law,
                      Rooms 1 and 2 Kehns Building

                             Remember that
                             will make your
  Photographs as cheap as any body, whether you have a ticket or not.

                               WEST SIDE
                              Building ...

                       _Young Business Partners_

Wilbur and Orville formed the Wright Cycle Company in 1892 to sell
bicycles. Business increased, and they soon found that they needed to
add a repair shop. Moderately successful, both in selling new bicycles
and general repairing, the brothers twice moved their expanding business
to larger quarters. As a next step they began to manufacture bicycles.
They called their first bicycle the “Van Cleve” after their pioneer
ancestors; a later model manufactured was named the “St. Clair”; and
finally they made a low-priced model known as the “Wright Special.” They
manufactured several hundred bicycles of their own brand before
discontinuing the business in order to devote their full time to

Inseparable companions in business and personal life, the brothers
shared everything from a joint bank account to their laboratory work
while unraveling the problems of flight. They were not longfaced and
dour; both were sprightly and humor-loving. They loved small children
and dogs, and they played musical instruments, sang, and enjoyed
practical jokes.

    [Illustration: Bishop Milton Wright, 1889. The father of Wilbur and
    Orville, Milton Wright (1828-1917) was a bishop in the Church of the
    United Brethren in Christ.]

    [Illustration: Katherine Wright, sister of Wilbur and Orville, about

    [Illustration: Wright Cycle Company, 1127 West Third Street, Dayton.
    The left half of the brick building and the frame building in the
    rear were occupied by the Wrights.]

    [Illustration: Edwin H. Sines and Orville Wright in backroom of
    bicycle shop, 1897. Ed Sines was a boyhood friend of Orville

The bicycle business provided the funds for the Wrights’ work in
aviation, and afforded them sufficient leisure to pursue their interest
in flying. Their father gave each of his children $1,000. This Wilbur
and Orville invested in stock and never drew on for their aviation
work—but it was there in case of necessity. They were never financed by

The repair and manufacture of bicycles sharpened the brothers’
mechanical skill. The enterprise also developed their business
experience, helpful later when they took the lead in founding the
aviation industry. In their construction of flying machines, Wilbur and
Orville often used the same equipment and tools used in repairing
bicycles. They conducted many of their scientific experiments in the
backroom of their shop, and most of the parts used in the first
successful airplane were built there.

                          _Pioneers of Flight_

Since the dawn of history the idea of human flight has intrigued
mankind. As the influence of the Wrights’ achievements will last far
into the future, so will the contributions of aeronautical pioneers who
probed the mysteries of flight before Wilbur and Orville solved the
problem. The research of these imaginative pioneer investigators
influenced the brothers. In studying those earlier works the Wrights
found many points that interested them. The knowledge that other
pioneers had shared their faith in the possibility of heavier-than-air
flight helped their morale.

    [Illustration: Lilienthal’s two-surface glider of 1895 in which some
    of his highest and longest glides were made. This German engineer
    made hundreds of glides with various apparatuses employing birdlike

In the pioneers’ direct line of descent from the Greek legend of
Daedalus and Icarus to the Wrights is Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci drew
some interesting sketches in the late 15th century, though a machine
built from his drawings could not possibly have flown. The interest in
England of Sir George Cayley influenced other men to undertake the

A Frenchman, Alphonse Pénaud experimented with toy helicopters, using
twisted rubber bands for motive power. It was a Pénaud toy helicopter,
given to Wilbur and Orville by their father, that first stirred their
childhood interest in flying. However, in Europe, most experimenters had
turned from heavier-than-air machines to lighter-than-air dirigible
balloons by the time the brothers took up the problem of
heavier-than-air flight. The American-born Sir Hiram Maxim, after
spending $100,000, had abandoned his work; the machine built by Clément
Ader, at the expense of the French Government, had been a failure. None
of the early experimenters attained sufficient knowledge of the
aerodynamic principles involved to be able to design a successful
powered machine capable of free, controlled, and sustained flight.

    [Illustration: Otto Lilienthal (1848-96).]

Only a few of the general public could distinguish between a
heavier-than-air powered flying machine and a lighter-than-air gas bag
equipped with propellers. Few knew that the problem of powered flight
was not to fill a balloon with gas or hot air and float in it, or to
glide in a complicated kite against air currents. Many among those who
realized the obstacles to heavier-than-air flight in a powered machine
believed it was as impossible as perpetual motion.

Wilbur and Orville acknowledged Otto Lilienthal, a famous German pioneer
in aviation, as their greatest inspiration. Recognized as the father of
gliding, Lilienthal made hundreds of glides with various apparatuses
employing birdlike wings. First to explain scientifically why curved
surfaces in a flying machine are superior to flat surfaces, Lilienthal’s
work on wing surfaces and air pressure proved valuable to the Wrights.
Interested in scientific affairs, the brothers read with fascination and
excitement, reports in 1895 of gliding flights by Lilienthal. But the
art of gliding was neither a game nor child’s play for aviation’s
pioneers. Lilienthal crashed and died as a result of a glider accident
in 1896. Reading of his death, the Wrights wondered if they could go on
from where he had left off.

    [Illustration: _Courtesy, Smithsonian Institution._]

    [Illustration: Octave Chanute (1832-1910).]

    [Illustration: Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906).]

Eventually the Wrights were ready to begin “a systematic study of the
subject in preparation for practical work,” and hoped to make
contributions “to help on the future worker who will attain final
success.” Searching for, but finding little material on attempts to fly
in the Dayton Public Library, Wilbur wrote, in May 1899, to the
Smithsonian Institution in Washington seeking information about
publications to read on aeronautics. The list of books and articles
suggested by the Smithsonian included works by Dr. Samuel P. Langley who
later became its director and secretary. The brothers were encouraged by
seeing that a man of Langley’s scientific standing believed in the
possibility of flight at a time when few people did. Langley had been
making aeronautical studies and experiments and succeeded in building
power-driven models that flew. Later he built and attempted to fly a
full-size, man-carrying powered machine; but in this he failed.

When a model flies, it does not necessarily follow that a full-size
machine of the same design will also fly. As boys Wilbur and Orville had
built model Pénaud helicopters that flew, but even the Wrights could not
later have built a successful man-carrying machine by merely following
Pénaud’s same general design. The difficulty is—as early experimenters
with model machines unhappily discovered—that when the linear
measurement of a model is doubled it needs about eight times the power
to make it fly.

Among the sources suggested by the Smithsonian was Octave Chanute’s
_Progress in Flying Machines_. Chanute, a successful construction
engineer living in Chicago, had directed experiments with gliders of his
own design. A longtime encouraging friend and adviser to the Wrights,
Chanute made an exhaustive study of the history of aeronautics.

                          _Problems of Flight_

A pioneer experimenter once said that “it is easy to invent a flying
machine; it is more difficult to build one—but to make one fly is
everything.” As Lilienthal had seen, the Wrights also saw that, if ever
they were to make progress in solving the problems of flight, they had
not only to study them theoretically, but also to get up into the air in
gliders and test their theories by actual practice. “If you are looking
for perfect safety,” said Wilbur, “you will do well to sit on a fence
and watch the birds; but if you really wish to learn, you must mount a
machine and become acquainted with its tricks by actual trial.”
Preferring the air to a fence, the brothers recognized that when
undertaking to fly gliders their first major problem would be how to fly
safely so they could live long enough to learn to fly a powered machine.

Wilbur wrote his father:

  I do not intend to take dangerous chances, both because I have no wish
  to get hurt and because a fall would stop my experimenting, which I
  would not like at all. The man who wishes to keep at the problem long
  enough to really learn anything positively must not take dangerous
  risks. Carelessness and overconfidence are usually more dangerous than
  deliberately accepted risks.

The problem of equilibrium was the second major problem that the
brothers had to solve. They needed to devise measures to steer or
control a flying machine both up and down and to each side.

When the Wrights started their investigations they believed that others
had already solved the problems of how to design wings, propellers, and
motors. Only later did they realize that they must also correctly design
both the wings and the propellers and build their own motor. Thus their
third major problem became how to design wings sufficiently strong to
support the weight of the machine, motor, and pilot to take the greatest
advantage of air particles providing lift by streaming along the upper
and lower surfaces of the wings.

A fourth major problem that faced Wilbur and Orville was how to design a
light-weight, high-powered engine and the propellers required to drive
the machine through the air. They were to find that these problems were
interrelated and that they would solve them only after 4½ years of
spare-time study and experimentation.

                       _First Experiments, 1899_

Wilbur and Orville realized that the motion of the air on a flying
machine is frequently variable and tricky, causing the machine to rear
up or down, or one wing to rise higher than the other, and the machine
to become unstable. The problem—how to control a flying machine—was to
find a method of restoring the machine’s equilibrium both up and down
and to each side.

Most pre-Wright experimenters had relied on human control to balance
flying machines. The operator simply shifted the weight of his body to
tilt the wings in the direction opposite from adverse action of the
wind. But the continual contortions and acrobatics required to maintain
equilibrium by this method were not within the skill of many
experimenters. While using it, both Lilienthal and Percy S. Pilcher, an
English experimenter, were killed in nose dives.

Chanute sought to effect “automatic stability” independent of the
operator by causing the flying machine’s structurally automatic
supporting surfaces to adjust positions by flexible joints automatically
with changes in the wind. Wilbur and Orville were to conceive a
different method of control than that sought by Chanute, though they
themselves later designed and patented an “automatic” device—a pendulum
analogous to Sperry’s gyroscope.

    [Illustration: Data and calculations on pressures on an airfoil to
    achieve equilibrium in an airplane as worked out by the Wright
    Brothers in experiments in 1899.]

    [Illustration: Calculations]

At Dayton, in 1899, the Wrights were ready to move beyond the first
phase of study, speculation, and discussion. Their combined attack on
the problem of equilibrium resulted in the conception of one of the
fundamental principles of aeronautics. Their reasoned principle for
lateral control of a flying machine was that the movement of an airfoil
about its longitudinal axis could be controlled by means of a pressure
differential exerted on its opposing lateral extremities (the principle
known today as aileron control). Both modern-day ailerons and the
Wrights’ wing-warping are merely arbitrary mechanical devices for
applying this principle. The brothers’ first achievement was the
conception of the principle itself.

Wilbur and Orville decided first to test their principle of control in a
small model glider to see if it worked, thus sparing themselves from
being injured if it did not. At first it occurred to them to effect the
result of their principle by pivoting the right and left wings on geared
shafts at the stable center of a glider. One wing would turn upward in
front when the other turned down, and the balance would readjust. But
there seemed to be no way to make this device strong enough without
making the glider too heavy. They finally decided on warping or twisting
the wings as the simplest and most effective method to effect the result
of their principle. (It still would be effective if used today.) The
wingtips were to be warped by means of cables controlled by the
operator. By warping the wingtips, they expected to vary the inclination
of sections of the wings at the tips, and obtain force for restoring
balance from the difference in the lifts of the two wingtips.

While twisting a small pasteboard box with opposite ends removed, Wilbur
observed that though the vertical sides were rigid endwise, the top and
bottom sides could be twisted to have different angles at the opposite
ends. Here was a simple means of warping the wings as they intended.
They decided that a biplane’s wings could be twisted or warped in like
manner, enabling them while flying in a glider to warp the wings on the
right and left sides to present their surfaces to the air at different
angles. By warping the wingtips the operator would be able to increase
the angle of attack on one wingtip and decrease it on the other. Thus,
they believed, the operator could obtain a greater lift on whichever
side he needed it and less lift on the other side in order to assure
lateral equilibrium. (They later had to modify this by adding a movable
vertical tail.)

To test their principle safely, the brothers built a model
glider—actually a kite—with a 5-foot wingspan. Flown as a kite at
Dayton, the model glider’s wing surfaces were warped by the use of four
cords reaching from the upper and lower wingtips on each side to the
operator on the ground. Balance from front to rear was maintained in
part by an elevator tested variously at the front and rear, as well as
by other means. The Wrights believed after the tests that the model
glider had demonstrated the efficiency of their system of obtaining both
lateral and longitudinal control.

    [Illustration: The brothers decided to test their glider at Kitty
    Hawk after a study of Weather Bureau records and the receipt of this

                           _Why Kitty Hawk?_

Wilbur and Orville now proposed to build a full-size, man-carrying
glider on which to test their method of control. Highly enthusiastic
with the idea of gliding as a sport, they started thinking of a place
for testing it. To get practice in operating the glider, they would
first fly it as a kite before making gliding flights. For kite flying,
steady winds and flat, open country were needed; for the gliding, a
sandy area for soft landings and sandhill slopes free of trees and
shrubs for low-level flights. The Wrights’ hometown of Dayton and its
environs were not suitable for extensive glider trials. But because of
their business demands, they wanted a site fairly close at hand.

On May 13, 1900, Wilbur wrote his first letter to Chanute asking advice
on a suitable location to test a glider. In this letter to the man who
became their friend, mentor, and most important correspondent, Wilbur

  For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is
  possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that
  it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life....
  It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge &
  skill. This I conceive to be fortunate, for man, by reason of his
  greater intellect, can more reasonably hope to equal birds in
  knowledge, than to equal nature in the perfection of her machinery.

Chanute suggested beach locations for glider tests in California,
Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina. But after a study of wind records
obtained from the Weather Bureau at Washington, the Wrights decided that
Kitty Hawk, N.C., seemed to meet their requirements better than any
other place within that distance from their home. To confirm this, they
wrote to Kitty Hawk, and the replies from Joseph J. Dosher and William
J. Tate convinced the brothers that Kitty Hawk was the ideal place for
their experiments. They decided to go there as soon as they could build
their glider and their bicycle business permitted.

                       _Glider Experiments, 1900_

At Dayton, the Wrights began to assemble parts and materials for a
full-size, man-carrying glider to test their method of warping the wings
to achieve lateral control, and a forward rudder for fore-and-aft
balance. In September 1900 Wilbur undertook the journey to Kitty Hawk.
Orville followed him later. At the turn of the century such a trip to
the isolated village required time and patience. It lies on the Outer
Banks of North Carolina between broad Albemarle Sound and the Atlantic
Ocean. Then no bridges connected it with the mainland so travel across
the sound was by boat.

Wilbur traveled by train from Dayton to Elizabeth City, N.C., the
nearest railroad point to his destination. Asking the first persons he
chanced to meet about Kitty Hawk he learned that “no one seemed to know
anything about the place or how to get there.” Those better informed had
vexing information: the boat making weekly trips to the Outer Banks had
gone the day before. For several days he patiently waited to be
dubiously rewarded by passage with Israel Perry on a flat-bottom fishing
schooner, then anchored 3 miles down the Pasquotank River from the wharf
at Elizabeth City.

    [Illustration: Wright camp at Kitty Hawk, 1900. The campsite of
    1901-3 was about 4 miles south of this site.]

The small skiff used to take Wilbur from the wharf out to the anchored
schooner was loaded almost to the gunwale with three men and supplies.
Noticing that the skiff leaked badly, Wilbur asked if it was safe. “Oh,”
Perry assured him, “it’s safer than the big boat.” Even so, the schooner
managed to sail down the Pasquotank River and through Albemarle Sound
safely enough in the rough weather.

It was 9 o’clock the following night before the schooner reached the
wharf at Kitty Hawk. Though hungry and aching from the strain of holding
on while the schooner rolled and pitched, Wilbur did not go ashore until
the next morning.

    [Illustration: Tom Tate, drumfish, and Wright 1900 glider. A
    familiar figure in camp, young Tom, on one occasion, was lifted into
    the air on the glider.]

Later, Orville joined Wilbur at Kitty Hawk where both brothers boarded
and lodged with the family of William J. Tate until October 4, when they
set up their own camp about half a mile away from the village. Native
Outer Bankers showed only mild interest in the Wrights’ hopes of flying,
but they became excited when they learned that the brothers were keeping
in their tent, as fuel for a newfangled gasoline cookstove, the first
barrel of gasoline ever taken to the Kitty Hawk area. Fearing an
explosion, local folk warily warned their children to keep well away
from the brothers’ tent. Orville was the cook while in camp; to Wilbur
fell the dishwashing chore. Orville always felt that he had the better
of the bargain.

    [Illustration: The 1900 glider flying as a kite.]

The new glider was a double-decker with a span of about 17 feet, and a
total lifting area of 165 square feet. Its weight with operator was 190
pounds. It cost $15 to make. The uprights were jointed to the top and
bottom wings with flexible hinges, and the glider was trussed with steel
wires laterally, but not in the fore-and-aft direction. The operator,
lying prone on the lower wing to lessen head resistance, maintained
lateral equilibrium by tightening a key wire which, in turn, tightened
every other wire, applying twist to the wingtips. The glider had no
tail. Its wing curvature was less than Lilienthal had used.

Wilbur and Orville placed the horizontal operative rudder or elevator in
front to provide longitudinal stability. They believed that by placing
it in front they would have more up-and-down control to forestall nose
dives similar to those that had killed Lilienthal and Pilcher. The
Wrights did not invent the elevator. They did use it to more advantage
than had earlier experimenters: it was in front of the wings; it was
operative instead of fixed; and it flexed to present a convex surface to
the air, instead of a flat surface.

The Wrights first flew the glider in the open as a kite. They held it
with two ropes and operated the balancing system by cords from the
ground. The first day’s experiments were attempted with a man on board,
using a derrick erected on a hill just south of their camp. The glider
was not flown from the derrick again at Kitty Hawk after the first day’s
tests. On days when the wind was too light to support a man on the
glider, they used chain for ballast or flew the machine as a kite in the
open without ballast.

    [Illustration: The brothers spent 3 days repairing the 1900 glider,
    wrecked by wind on Oct. 10, 1900.]

Before returning to Dayton, the brothers were determined to try gliding
on the side of a hill with a man on board. Four miles south of their
camp was a magnificent sand dune about 100 feet high, covering 26 acres,
called Kill Devil Hill. They carried their glider to this hill where
they made about a dozen free flights down its side.

To take-off from the hillside, one brother and an assistant holding the
ends of the glider ran forward against the wind, while the brother who
was to operate it ran with them until the machine began to “take hold”
of the air, or was airborne. Then the operator jumped aboard and glided
free down the hill for 300 or 400 feet, usually gliding only 3 or 4 feet
above the soft, sandy ground. The Wrights repeatedly made landings on
sledlike skids while moving at a speed of more than 20 miles an hour.
The glider was not damaged, nor did the brothers receive any injury.
“The machine seemed a rather docile thing,” Orville wrote to his sister,
from Kitty Hawk, “and we taught it to behave fairly well.”

Wilbur and Orville had misread the weather charts they had studied when
choosing Kitty Hawk as the location for their experiments. The charts
had listed monthly averages, while the day-by-day weather proved to be
less than ideal. On some days tests could not be made because of a dead
calm; other days the wind blew too strong—up to 45 miles an hour.
Orville wrote about the strong winds that blew:

  A little excitement once in a while is not undesirable, but every
  night, especially when you are so sleepy, it becomes a little
  monotonous.... About two or three nights a week we have to crawl up at
  ten or eleven o’clock to hold the tent down.... We certainly can’t
  complain of the place. We came down here for wind and sand, and we
  have got them.

    [Illustration: Fellow campers at Kill Devil Hills, August 1901. From
    left: E. C. Huffaker, Octave Chanute, Wilbur Wright, George Spratt.]

Even though the Wrights had only brief spells of favorable weather for
practice, they learned much from their experiments. They were pleased
with the efficiency of wing-warping to obtain lateral balance, and the
horizontal rudder for fore-and-aft control worked better than they had
expected. Though Wilbur and Orville believed that fore-and-aft balance
and lateral balance were equally important, they were gratified that
fore-and-aft balance was so easily attained. They made careful
measurements of lift, drag, and angle of attack. The main defect of the
glider was its inadequate lifting power. This might be due, the brothers
conjectured, to insufficient curvature or camber of the wings which did
not have the curvature used by Lilienthal, or perhaps even the
Lilienthal tables of air pressure might be in error.

Although important strides had been made toward solving the problem of
control, Wilbur and Orville lacked opportunity for sufficient practice
since they did not get much time in the air. There still remained much
for them to learn before solving the major problems of how to (1) design
wings properly, (2) control the aircraft in flight, and (3) provide
power, in order to build and fly a powered machine. They knew that they
must learn how properly to build and control a glider before attempting
to add a motor. “When once a machine is under proper control under all
conditions,” Wilbur wrote his father from camp, “the motor problem will
be quickly solved. A failure of motor will then mean simply a slow
descent & safe landing instead of a disastrous fall.” They looked
forward to the next slack season in the bicycle business so that they
might resume experiments with a new glider.

                       _Glider Experiments, 1901_

In July 1901 the Wrights returned to Kitty Hawk during a downpour of
rain immediately after a storm had broken anemometer cups at 93 miles an
hour. There followed a miserable week spent fighting mosquitoes, “which
came in a mighty cloud, almost darkening the sun.” They attempted to
escape by going to bed early, wrapped up in blankets with only noses
protruding cautiously from the folds. But the July heat became
unbearable beneath the blankets. When they partly uncovered, the
mosquitoes again swooped down upon them, forcing a perspiring retreat
once more behind blankets. But Wilbur and Orville pushed forward
good-humoredly and energetically to solve the problem of flight.

During the 1900-1902 experiments, the Wright family, and the brothers
themselves, considered the brother’s stay in camp at Kitty Hawk simply
as pleasure trips or vacations. Everyone in the family was glad to have
them go to their North Carolina camp. The advantages of the sunshine,
sea breezes, and outdoor exercise outweighed occasional discomforts and
seemed to be good for their health. Indeed, their sister Katharine
wrote, “Will and Orv ... think that life at Kitty Hawk cures all ills,
you know.”

Being sons of a bishop who enjoined them “to honor the Sabbath,” the
brothers did not test their gliders on Sundays while in camp. On those
days they often visited with the friendly and hospitable people in Kitty
Hawk, and at nearby lifesaving stations. They frequently wrote home. One
of Orville’s hobbies—photography—also resulted in a fine record of the
early experiments. They collected shells and went hunting and fishing.
Orville observed while in camp, “This is great country for fishing and
hunting. The fish are so thick you see dozens of them whenever you look
down into the water.”

    [Illustration: Wilbur Wright gets an assisted takeoff in the 1901
    glider and ...]

    [Illustration: ... sails at low level over one of the Kill Devil

For living quarters the Wrights continued using a tent. To provide more
space they erected a combined glider storage shed and workshop, the
building of which they undertook on arrival at camp in 1901. Fresh water
was secured nearby by driving a pipe 10 feet or more into the sand.

    [Illustration: The Landing]

Their new campsite was located 4 miles south of Kitty Hawk, about 1,000
feet north of Kill Devil Hill, which they had used for gliding the
season before and which they now realized offered the best test
opportunities. Near the camp were four dunes formed of sand heaped by
the winds. These dunes were collectively named Kill Devil Hills. They
were constantly changing in height and slope, according to the direction
and force of the prevailing winds. Using three of the four Kill Devil
Hills for gliding experiments during the period 1900-1903, the Wrights
called these the Big Kill Devil Hill, the West Hill, and the Little

    [Illustration: The second glider was stored in the wooden shed while
    the tent served as living quarters at Kill Devil Hills in 1901. Here
    Wilbur and Orville spent many hours discussing their experiments.]

On the 1901 trip to camp the brothers brought with them parts to be
assembled into a larger glider than the one tested in 1900. Knowing it
would be impractical to house the larger glider with them in the tent,
as they had done with the smaller one, they built a rough frame shed for
the new glider and for use as a workshop. This building was 25 feet long
and 16 feet wide. Its ends were hinged at the top near the gable parts
to form doors so the glider could be removed or stored easily. The doors
also served as awnings at the ends of the building.

When assembled, the new glider had a wingspan of 22 feet. It weighed 98
pounds, nearly double the weight of the earlier glider. To give it
greater lifting power, the glider had a total lifting area of 290 square
feet, considerably larger than the 165-foot wing area of the previous
glider. The 1901 glider was a much larger machine than anyone had ever
dared try to fly. It had the same system of control and general design
as the first one. The Wrights increased the camber in this glider, from
1 in 22 to 1 in 12 to conform to the shape prescribed by Lilienthal’s
tables of air pressure. Chanute and others had used these tables, and
the brothers were rudely surprised upon finding that wings with a camber
of 1 in 12 were even less efficient than the 1-in-22 camber wings they
had used in 1900.

The Wrights were also dismayed to discover that the fore-and-aft control
was not as effective in a machine with wings of 1-in-12 camber. At times
when gliding, they were required to use all their skill and the full
power of the rudder to prevent the glider from rearing up so sharply as
to lose all headway and then to plunge toward the ground (a dangerous
condition which they later referred to as “stalling”—an aeronautical
term still in use). The brothers reduced the camber of the wings by
adding little “trussing posts” to wires to depress the ribs and flatten
the curvature from that used by others to 1 in 18 to make the wings more
like those of their 1900 glider. This change resulted in control as good
as it had been the year before.

Several hundred glides were made by Wilbur and Orville during the 1901
season of experiments. Using the slopes of Kill Devil Hill and West
Hill, they sailed along in winds up to 27 miles an hour, breaking all
records for distance in gliding. But the brothers were far from
satisfied. They had learned a great deal about control, though their
glider was still too feeble in lifting itself off the ground and staying

Occasionally in free flight, the warping of the wings to increase the
angle of attack to recover lateral balance did not produce the desired
result. The wing having the greater angle sometimes lost speed as it
lifted, compared with the opposite wing having a lesser angle. The
brothers then realized that the greater angle of the wing on one side
gave more resistance to forward motion and reduced the relative speed of
that wing. This decrease in speed more than counterbalanced the effect
of the larger angle of the wing in producing lift. The Wrights
determined that they must add something to their method of controlling
equilibrium to insure that equal speeds at the wingtips would be
maintained. However, a vertical tail as a solution to the problem was
left for the next glider.

Contrary to the scientific texts they had read, it was becoming evident
to the Wrights that the travel of the center of pressure on curved or
cambered surfaces was not always in the forward direction as on a plane
surface. They observed that when the angle of attack on a plane surface
was decreased, the center of pressure did move toward the front edge;
but on a cambered surface this was true _only when large angles were
being decreased_.

Wilbur and Orville were discouraged that the ideas about pressures on
curved surfaces and travel of center of pressure, concepts advanced by
the most reputable writers on the subject, including Langley, were
unreliable. So perplexing did the problem seem that the Wrights
considered dropping their experiments altogether. It was apparent, then,
that better scientific data were needed before the problems of flight
could be solved.

On their way to Dayton from camp, Wilbur declared his belief to Orville
that not within a thousand years would man ever fly! He later reduced
this prophecy to 50 years. When they made known their discouragement to
Chanute he urged the brothers to continue their researches, arguing that
if they stopped experimenting it might be a long time before anyone else
would come as near to understanding the problem or know how to work
toward its solution. The admonitions of Chanute and their own intense
interest in scientific inquiry led them to continue their research.

    [Illustration: A reproduction of the 1901 wind tunnel that the
    Wright Brothers used in their shop at Dayton, Ohio. The narrow,
    metal-bladed fan was belt-operated from the overhead line shafting
    (top center), forcing a current of air through the tunnel at about
    25 miles an hour. This neat workroom is behind the Wright bicycle
    shop which was moved from Dayton to Greenfield Village, Dearborn,

Always practical, the brothers did not take up the problem of flight
with the expectation of financial profit, and they had no intention of
ruining their bicycle business in pursuit of a dream. When Chanute, who
was kept fully informed of their researches, offered financial
assistance, Wilbur wrote:

  For the present we would prefer not to accept it for the reason that
  if we did not feel that the time spent in this work was a dead loss in
  a financial sense, we would be unable to resist the temptation to
  devote more time than our business will stand.

    [Illustration: The 1901 drift balance was used for measuring the
    drag ratio of Wright model airfoils. This is a reproduction. The
    original balance is in the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia.]

    [Illustration: Reproduction of lift balance used in 1901 wind
    tunnel; model airfoil in testing position. The original balance is
    in the Franklin Institute.]

    [Illustration: 1901 wind-tunnel data sent by Wilbur Wright to Octave
    Chanute, Jan. 5 and 7, 1902, with instructions for making

                       _Wind-Tunnel Tests, 1901_

Shortly after their return to Dayton, the Wrights undertook a series of
scientific experiments which produced knowledge that no one had
possessed before and that contributed materially to their solution of
the problem of powered flight. Disappointed by the relatively poor
results achieved at Kitty Hawk with their 1901 glider, in the
construction of which they had relied on Lilienthal’s and other
published tables of air pressures, the Wrights decided to start again
from scratch by conducting laboratory tests of their own and by evolving
their own air pressure tables from measurements made with model airfoils
(miniature wing surfaces) using a simple but effective homemade wind

Their second wind tunnel—the first was a makeshift affair hurriedly
contrived by Orville out of a wooden starch box and was used for just a
few days and then only in preliminary tests—consisted of an open-end
wooden box 6 feet long and 16 inches square (inside dimensions). Through
this box-like tunnel a flat-bladed fan forced a current of air at a
speed of about 25 miles an hour. The air entered the tunnel through a
funnel-shaped metal section equipped with a honeycomb-type wind
straightener to produce a uniform airflow. The most ingenious parts of
the Wright wind tunnel were the two balances they designed for measuring
the lift and drag of the model air-foils. Using these balances, the
forces could be read as angles from a pointer moving over a protractor
fixed to the floor of the tunnel.

In a period of about 2 months toward the close of 1901, the Wrights
tested more than 200 surfaces. They measured monoplane, biplane, and
triplane wing models. Among these shapes were models of the bird-like
wing surfaces used by Lilienthal and the tandem arrangement (in which
one wing followed the other) used by Langley. They measured lift and
drag forces at various angles from 2° to 45°, tangentials, gliding
angles, and lift/drag ratios; they tested the effect of aspect ratio and
the effect on lift of varying the camber of curvature of the surfaces,
and tried a variety of shapes and thicknesses for the leading and
trailing edges, for wingtips, and for such structural members as

As a result of these experiments, all carefully carried out and minutely
recorded, they obtained a body of data on air pressures and on the
aerodynamic properties of wings, control surfaces, and structural parts.
The extent and reliability of the information from these tests far
exceeded anything that had ever been available to other experimenters or
was to be available for at least another decade. Their friend and
correspondent, Octave Chanute, marveled at the speed and accuracy with
which this laboratory research was carried out. The Wrights themselves
soon came to realize that these scientific experiments, on which they
had embarked with considerable reluctance, were in fact the most
valuable part of all their work in that they gave them accounts and
detailed knowledge on which to base the design of flying machines.

    [Illustration: Wilbur Wright in Kill Devil Hills camp building
    before it was remodeled by adding space for living quarters, Aug.
    29, 1902. (1901 glider at right.)]

The wind-tunnel experiments concluded in December 1901 made it possible
for the Wrights to abandon the trial-and-error method of construction
that had gone into their 1900 and 1901 gliders and to solve the basic
problem of the correct design for lifting wings. Now they were able to
devote their time to the two other major problems that had to be solved
before human flight could be accomplished: a system for obtaining full
control in the air, and the addition of an engine and propellers to the

                       _Glider Experiments, 1902_

The Wrights had faith in the tables of air pressure compiled from their
wind-tunnel experiments. Their new knowledge was incorporated into a
larger glider which they built based on the aerodynamic data they had
gained. Now they wanted to verify those findings by actual gliding
experiments. At the end of August 1902, they were back in camp at Kill
Devil Hills for the third season of experiments. Battered by winter
gales, their camp needed repairing. They decided to build a 15-foot
addition to the combined workshop and glider-storage shed to use as a
kitchen and living quarters. Their new living quarters were “royal
luxuries” when compared with the tent facilities of previous camps.

The new glider had a wingspan of 32 feet, 1 inch; a considerable
increase over the wingspan of 22 feet for the 1901 glider. Its lifting
area, 305 square feet, was not much greater than the glider of the
previous year. Their wind-tunnel experiments having demonstrated the
importance of aspect ratio, the brothers made the wingspan about six
times the chord or fore-and-aft measurement instead of three. Weighing
112 pounds, the glider was 16 feet, 1 inch long. In the 1900 and 1901
gliders, the wing-warping mechanism had been worked by movement of the
operator’s feet. In the 1902 glider this mechanism operated by sidewise
movement of the operator’s hips resting in a cradle on the lower wing.
Wilbur wrote his father from camp, “Our new machine is a very great
improvement over anything we had built before and over anything any one
has built.”

    [Illustration: Kitchen in the living quarters of the remodeled camp
    building at Kill Devil Hills, 1902.]

    [Illustration: One of the successful glides made in October 1902
    with the 1902 glider, camp buildings in distance.]

This was the first Wright glider to have a tail, consisting of fixed
twin vertical vanes, as well as a front rudder. The tail’s purpose was
to overcome the turning difficulties encountered in some of the flights
with the 1901 glider by maintaining equal speeds at the two wingtips
when the wings were warped. The tail was expected to counterbalance the
difference in resistance of the two wingtips. If the wing on one side
tended to swerve forward, then the Wrights thought the tail, being more
exposed to the wind on the same side, should stop the glider from
turning farther.

The tail on this glider, however, caused a new problem that had not
occurred in their previous gliders. At times, when struck by a side gust
of wind, the glider turned up sidewise and came sliding laterally to the
ground in spite of the effort and skill of the operator in using the
warping mechanism to control it. The brothers were experiencing
tailspins, though that term did not come into use until several years
later. When tailspins occurred, the glider would sometimes slide so fast
that the movement caused the tail’s fixed vertical vanes to aggravate
the turning movement instead of counteracting it by maintaining an equal
speed at the opposite wingtips. The result was worse than if there were
no fixed vertical tail.

    [Illustration: Wilbur Wright making right turn in glide from West
    Hill, Oct. 24, 1902 (Kill Devil Hill in background.)]

    [Illustration: High glide on Oct. 10, 1902. _Courtesy, Smithsonian

While lying awake one night, Orville thought of converting their
vertical tail from two fixed vanes to a single movable rudder. When
making a turn or recovering lateral balance, this rudder could be moved
toward the low wing to compensate for the increased drag imparted to the
high wing by its greater angle of attack. Wilbur listened attentively
when Orville told him about the idea the next morning. Then, without
hesitation, Wilbur not only agreed to the change but immediately
proposed the further important modification of interconnecting the
rudder control wires with those of the wing-warping. Thus by a single
movement the operator could affect both controls. Through the brilliant
interplay of two inventive minds, all the essentials of the Wright
control system were completed within a few hours.

The combination of warp and rudder control became the key to successful
control of their powered machine and to the control of all aircraft
since. (Modern airplanes—and indeed Wright planes after the middle of
their 1905 experimental season—do not have the aileron and rudder
controls permanently interconnected, but these controls can be and are
operated in combination when necessary.) Together with the use of the
forward elevator, it allowed the Wrights to perform all the basic aerial
maneuvers that were necessary for controlled flight. The essential
problem of how to control a flying machine about all three axes was now

The trials of the 1902 glider were successful beyond expectation. Nearly
1,000 glider flights were made by the Wrights from Kill Devil, West, and
Little Hills. A number of their glides were of more than 600 feet, and a
few of them were against a 36-mile-an-hour wind. Flying in winds so
strong required great skill on the part of the operator. No previous
experimenter had ever dared to try gliding in so stiff a wind. Orville
wrote his sister, “We now hold all the records! The largest machine we
handled in any kind [of weather, made the longest dis]tance glide
(American), the longest time in the air, the smallest angle of descent,
and the highest wind!!!” Their record glide for distance was 622½ feet
in 26 seconds. Their record glide for angle was an angle of 5° for a
glide of 156 feet. The 1902 glider had about twice the dynamic
efficiency of any other glider ever built up to that time anywhere in
the world.

By the end of the 1902 season of experiments, the Wrights had solved two
of the major problems: how properly to design wings and control surfaces
and how to control a flying machine about its three axes. Most of the
battle was now won. There remained only the major problem of adding the
engine and propellers. Before leaving camp, the brothers began designing
a new and still larger machine to be powered with a motor.

It was the 1902 glider that the Wrights pictured and described in the
drawings and specifications of their patent, which they applied for in
March of the following year. Their patent was established, through the
action of the courts in the United States and abroad, as the basic or
pioneer airplane patent.

                     _The Motor and the Propellers_

Home again in Dayton, the Wrights were ready to carry out plans begun in
camp at Kill Devil Hills for a powered machine. They invited bids for a
gasoline engine which would develop 8 to 9 horsepower, weigh no more
than 180 pounds or an average of 20 pounds per horsepower, and be free
of vibrations. None of the manufacturers to whom they wrote was able to
supply them with a motor light enough to meet these specifications. The
Wrights therefore designed and built their own motor, with their
mechanic, Charles E. Taylor, giving them enthusiastic help in the

    [Illustration: The Wright motor used in the first flights of Dec.
    17, 1903, after its reconstruction in 1928.]

The engine body and frame of the first “little gas motor” which they
began building in December 1902 broke while being tested. Rebuilding the
light-weight motor, they shop-tested it in May 1903. In its final form
the motor used in the first powered flights had 4 horizontal cylinders
of 4-inch bore and 4-inch stroke, with an aluminum-alloy crankcase and
water jacket. The fuel tank had a capacity of four-tenths of a gallon of
gasoline. The entire power plant including the engine, magneto,
radiator, tank, water, fuel, tubing, and accessories weighed a little
more than 200 pounds.

    [Illustration: Propeller estimates, made by the Wrights 8 months
    before the flights of December 1903. Their formulas resulted in the
    highly efficient propellers which were used in the first Wright
    Flyer. These were 8½ feet from one canvas-covered tip to the other.
    Top view shows the front, bottom view, the rear.]

Owing to certain peculiarities of design, after several minutes’ run the
engine speed dropped to less than 75 percent of what it was on cranking
the motor. The highest engine speed measured developed 15.76 horsepower
at 1,200 revolutions per minute in the first 15 seconds after starting
the cold motor. After several minutes’ run the number of revolutions
dropped rapidly to 1,090 per minute, developing 11.81 brake horsepower.
Even so, the Wrights were pleasantly surprised since they had not
counted on more than 8 horsepower capable of driving a machine weighing
only about 625 pounds. Having a motor with a power output of about 12
horsepower instead of 8, the Wrights could build the machine to have a
larger total weight than 625 pounds.

The motor was started with the aid of a dry-battery coil box. After
starting, ignition was provided by a low-tension magneto,
friction-driven by the flywheel. No pump was used in the cooling system.
The vertical sheet-steel radiator was attached to the central forward
upright of the machine.

When the brothers began to consider designing propellers, they unhappily
discovered that the forces in action on aerial propellers had never been
correctly resolved or defined. Since they did not have sufficient time
or funds to develop an efficient propeller by the more costly
trial-and-error means, it was necessary for them to study the screw
propeller from a theoretical standpoint. By studying the problem, they
hoped to develop a theory from which to design the propellers for the
powered machine. The problem was not easy, as the Wrights wrote:

  What at first seemed a simple problem became more complex the longer
  we studied it. With the machine moving forward, the air flying
  backward, the propellers turning sidewise, and nothing standing still,
  it seemed impossible to find a starting point from which to trace the
  various simultaneous reactions. Contemplation of it was confusing.
  After long arguments we often found ourselves in the ludicrous
  position of each having been converted to the other’s side, with no
  more agreement than when the discussion began.

However, in a few months the brothers untangled the conflicting factors
and calculations. After studying the problem, they felt sure of their
ability to design propellers of exactly the right diameter, pitch, and
area for their need. Estimates derived from their formulas led to their
propellers operating at a higher rate of efficiency (66 percent) than
any others of that day. The tremendous expenditure of power that
characterized experiments of other aeronautical investigators up to that
time were due to inefficient propellers as well as inefficient lifting

The Wright propellers, designed according to their own calculations,
were the first propellers ever built by anyone for which the performance
could be predicted. After tests, their propellers produced not quite 1
percent less thrust than they had calculated. In useful work they gave
about two thirds of the power expended—a third more than had been
achieved by such men as Sir Hiram Maxim and Dr. Langley.

    [Illustration: Arrangement of propeller-driving chains and casings
    on original Wright 1903 machine displayed in the Smithsonian
    Institution. _Courtesy, Smithsonian Institution._]

The brothers decided to use two propellers on their powered machine for
two reasons. First, by using two propellers they could secure a reaction
against a greater quantity of air and use a larger pitch angle than was
possible with one propeller; and second, having the two propellers run
in opposite directions, the gyroscopic action of one would neutralize
that of the other. The two pusher-type propellers on the 1903 powered
machine were mounted on tubular shafts about 10 feet apart, both driven
by chains running over sprockets. By crossing one of the chains in a
figure eight, the propellers were run in opposite directions to
counteract torque. The propellers were made of three laminations of
spruce, each 1⅛ inches thick. The wood was glued together and shaped
with a hatchet and drawshave.

                      _The Powered Machine, 1903_

The 1903 machine had a wingspan of 40 feet, 4 inches, a camber of 1 in
20; a wing area of 510 square feet; and a length of 21 feet, 1 inch. It
weighed 605 pounds without a pilot. The machine was not symmetrical from
side to side; the engine was placed on the lower wing to the right of
center to reduce the danger of its falling on the pilot. The pilot would
ride lying prone as on the gliders but to the left of center to balance
the weight. The right wing was approximately 4 inches longer than the
left to provide additional lift to compensate for the engine which
weighed 34 pounds more than the pilot.

Fore-and-aft control was by means of the elevator in front, operated by
hand lever. The tail of the machine had twin movable rudders instead of
a single movable rudder developed in the 1902 glider. These rudders were
linked by wires to the wing-warping system. Their coordinated control
mechanism was worked by wires attached to a cradle on the lower wing, in
which the pilot lay prone. To turn the machine to the left, the pilot
moved his body, and with it the cradle, a few inches to the left. This
caused the rear right wingtips to be pulled down or warped (thus giving
more lift and raising them) and the rear left wingtips to move upward,
and at the same time the coordinating mechanism introduced enough left
rudder to compensate for yaw. The rudder counteracted the added
resistance of the wing with the greater angle and the resulting tendency
of the machine to swing in the opposite direction to the desired left
turn, as well as aiding the turn on its own account.

    [Illustration: Wright 1903 machine (rear view) in the Smithsonian
    Institution showing attachments on the lower wing. _Courtesy,
    Smithsonian Institution._]

    [Illustration: Plans of the Wright Brothers 1903 plane. _Courtesy,
    Smithsonian Institution._]

    [Illustration: Photograph of side view of the plane.]

    [Illustration: Photograph of front view of the plane.]

On September 25, 1903, the Wrights arrived once more at their Kill Devil
Hills camp. They repaired and again used the living quarters which they
had added to the storage building in 1902, called their “summer house.”
Their 1902 glider, which they had left stored in this building after
that season of experiments, was again housed with them in the building.
They erected a new building to house the powered machine alongside the
glider-storage and living-quarters building and commenced the chore of
assembling the powered machine in its new hangar. Occasionally they took
the 1902 glider out for practice. After a few trials each brother was
able to make a new world’s record by gliding for more than a minute.

The first weeks in camp were a time of vicissitudes for the Wrights.
Assembling the machine and installing the engine and propellers proved
an arduous task. When tested, the motor missed so often that the
vibrations twisted one of the propeller shafts and jerked the assembly
apart. Both shafts had to be sent back to their Dayton bicycle shop to
be made stronger. After they had been returned, one broke again, and
Orville had to carry the shafts back to Dayton to make new ones of more
durable material. The magneto failed to produce a strong enough spark. A
stubborn problem was fastening the sprockets to the propeller shafts;
the sprockets and the nuts loosened within a few seconds even when they
were tightened with a 6-foot lever.

It was then that the weather acted as if it were threatening the
brothers not to venture into a new element. A gale swept over their camp
with winds up to 75 miles an hour. As their living quarters rocked with
the wind, and rainwater flowed over part of the floor, the Wrights
expected to hear the new hangar building next door, which housed the
powered machine, crash over completely. “The wind and rain continued
through the night,” related Wilbur to his sister, “but we took the
advice of the Oberlin coach, ‘Cheer up, boys, there is no hope/’ We went
to bed, and both slept soundly.”

    [Illustration: Assembling the 1903 machine in the new camp building
    at Kill Devil Hills, October 1903.]

It became so cold that the brothers had to make a heater from a drum
used to hold carbide. Wilbur assured his father:

  However we are entirely comfortable, and have no trouble keeping warm
  at nights. In addition to the classifications of last year, to wit, 1,
  2, 3, and 4 blanket nights, we now have 5 blanket nights, & 5 blankets
  & 2 quilts. Next come 5 blankets, 2 quilts & fire; then 5, 2, fire, &
  hot-water jug. This as far as we have got so far.

    [Illustration: The 1903 machine and camp buildings at Kill Devil
    Hills, Nov. 24, 1903.]

At last the weather cleared, the engine began to purr, their hand-made
heater functioned better after improvements, and, with the help of a
tire cement they had used in their bicycle shop, they “stuck those
sprockets so tight I doubt whether they will ever come loose again.”
Chanute visited their camp for a few days and wrote November 23, “I
believe the new machine of the Wrights to be the most promising attempt
at flight that has yet been made.” Both brothers sensed that the goal
was in sight.

The powered machine’s undercarriage (landing gear) consisted of two
runners, or sledlike skids, instead of wheels. These were extended
farther out in front of the wings than were the landing skids on the
gliders to guard against the machine rolling over in landing. Four feet,
eight inches apart, the two runners were ideal for landing as skids on
the soft beach sands. But for take-offs, it was necessary to build a
single-rail starting track 60 feet long on which ran a small truck which
held the machine about 8 inches off the ground. The easily movable
starting rail was constructed of four 15-foot 2 × 4’s set on edge, with
the upper surface topped by a thin strip of metal.

The truck which supported the skids of the plane during the takeoff
consisted of two parts: a crossbeam plank about 6 feet long laid across
a smaller piece of wood forming the truck’s undercarriage which moved
along the track on two rollers made from modified bicycle hubs. For
take-offs, the machine was lifted onto the truck with the plane’s
undercarriage skids resting on the two opposite ends of the crossbeam. A
modified bicycle hub was attached to the forward crosspiece of the plane
between its skids to prevent the machine from nosing over on the
launching track. A wire from the truck attached to the end of the
starting track held the plane back while the engine was warmed up. Then
the restraining wire was released by the pilot. The airplane, riding on
the truck, started forward along the rail. If all went well, the machine
was airborne and hence lifted off the truck before reaching the end of
the starting track; while the truck, remaining on the track, continued
on and ran off the rail.

With the new propeller shafts installed, the powered machine was ready
for its first testing on December 12. However, the wind was too light
for the machine to take-off from the level ground near their camp with a
run of only 60 feet permitted by the starting track. Nor did they have
enough time before dark to take the machine to one of the nearby Kill
Devil Hills, where, by placing the track on a steeply inclined slope,
enough speed could be promptly attained for starting in calm air. The
following day was Sunday, which the brothers spent resting and reading,
hoping for suitable weather for flying the next day so that they could
be home by Christmas.

On December 14 it was again too calm to permit a start from level ground
near the camp. The Wrights, therefore, decided to take the machine to
the north side of Kill Devil Hill about a quarter of a mile away to make
their first attempt to fly in a power-driven machine. They had arranged
to signal nearby life-savers to inform them when the first trial was
ready to start. A signal was placed on one of the camp buildings that
could be seen by personnel on duty about a mile away at the Kill Devil
Hills Life Saving Station.

    [Illustration: The first Wright Flyer rests on the starting track at
    Kill Devil Hill prior to the trial of Dec. 14, 1903. The four men
    from the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station helped move the
    machine from the campsite to the hill. The two boys ran home on
    hearing the engine start.]

The Wrights were soon joined by five lifesavers who helped to transport
the machine from camp to Kill Devil Hill. Setting the 605-pound machine
on the truck atop the starting track, they ran the truck to the end of
the track and added the rear section of the track to the front end. By
relaying sections of the track, the machine rode on the truck to the
site chosen for the test, 150 feet up the side of the hill.

The truck, with the machine thereon, facing downhill, was fastened with
a wire to the end of the starting track, so that it could not start
until released by the pilot. The engine was started to make sure it was
in proper condition. Two small boys, with a dog, who had come with the
lifesavers, “made a hurried departure over the hill for home on hearing
the engine start.” Each brother was eager for the chance to make the
first trial, so a coin was tossed to determine which of them it should
be; Wilbur won.

Wilbur took his place as pilot while Orville held a wing to steady the
machine during the run on the track. The restraining wire was released,
the machine started forward quickly on the rail, leaving Orville behind.
After a run of 35 or 40 feet, the airplane took off. Wilbur turned the
machine up too suddenly after leaving the track, before it had gained
enough speed. It climbed a few feet, stalled, and settled to the ground
at the foot of the hill after being in the air just 3½ seconds. This
trial was considered unsuccessful because the machine landed at a point
at the base of the hill many feet lower than that from which it had
started on the side of the hill. Wilbur wrote of his trial:

    [Illustration: Wilbur Wright in damaged machine near the base of
    Kill Devil Hill after unsuccessful trial of Dec. 14, 1903. Repairs
    were completed by the afternoon of December 16, but poor wind
    conditions prevented another trial until the following day.]

    [Illustration: Crew members of the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving
    Station, about 1900. In 1903, lifesavers from this station witnessed
    the attempt on December 14 and saw the successful flights of
    December 17.]

  However the real trouble was an error in judgment, in turning up too
  suddenly after leaving the track, and as the machine had barely speed
  enough for support already, this slowed it down so much that before I
  could correct the error, the machine began to come down, though turned
  up at a big angle. Toward the end it began to speed up again but it
  was too late, and it struck the ground while moving a little to one
  side, due to wind and a rather bad start.

In landing, one of the skids and several other parts were broken,
preventing a second attempt that day. Repairs were completed by noon of
the 16th, but the wind was too calm to fly the machine that afternoon.
The brothers, however, were confident of soon making a successful
flight. “There is now no question of final success,” Wilbur wrote his
father, though Langley had recently made two attempts to fly and had
failed in both. “This did not disturb or hurry us in the least,” Orville
commented on Langley’s attempts. “We knew that he had to have better
scientific data than was contained in his published works to
successfully build a man-carrying flying machine.”

              _December 17, 1903: The Day Man First Flew_

Thursday, December 17 dawned, and was to go down in history as a day
when a great engineering feat was accomplished. It was a cold day with
winds of 22 to 27 miles an hour blowing from the north. Puddles of water
near the camp were covered with ice. The Wrights waited indoors, hoping
the winds would diminish. But they continued brisk, and at 10 in the
morning the brothers decided to attempt a flight, fully realizing the
difficulties and dangers of flying a relatively untried machine in so
high a wind.

In strong winds, hills were not needed to launch the machine, since the
force of the winds would enable the machine to take off on the short
starting track from level ground. Indeed, the winds were almost too
gusty to launch the machine at all that day, but the brothers estimated
that the added dangers while in flight would be compensated in part by
the slower speed in landing caused by flying into stiff winds. As a
safety precaution, they decided to fly as close to the ground as
possible. They were superb flyers, courageous, but never foolhardy.

A signal was again displayed to notify the men at the Kill Devil Hills
Life Saving Station that further trials were intended. They took the
machine out of the hanger, and laid the 60-foot starting track in a
south-to-north direction on a smooth stretch of level ground less than
100 feet west of the hanger and more than 1,000 feet north of Kill Devil
Hill. They chose this location for the trials because the ground had
recently been covered with water, and because it was so level that
little preparation was necessary to lay the track. Both the starting
track and the machine resting on the truck faced directly into the north
wind. The restraining wire was attached from the truck to the south end
of the track.

    [Illustration: Getting ready for the first flight, Dec. 17, 1903.
    From a diorama in the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor

Before the brothers were quite ready to fly the machine, John T.
Daniels, Willie S. Dough, and Adam D. Etheridge, personnel from the Kill
Devil Hills Life Saving Station, arrived to see the trials; with them
came William C. Brinkley of Manteo, and John T. Moore, a boy from Nags
Head. The right to the first trial belonged to Orville; Wilbur had used
his turn in the unsuccessful attempt on December 14. Orville put his
camera on a tripod before climbing aboard the machine, and told Daniels
to press the button when the machine had risen directly in front of the

After running the engine and propellers a few minutes, the take-off
attempt was ready. At 10:35 a.m., Orville lay prone on the lower wing
with hips in the cradle that operated the control mechanisms. He
released the restraining wire and the machine started down the 60-foot
track, traveling slowly into the headwind at about 7 or 8 miles an
hour—so slow that Wilbur was able to run alongside holding the right
wing to balance the machine on the track. After a run of 40 feet on the
track, the machine took off. When the airplane had risen about 2 feet
above ground, Daniels snapped the famous photograph of the conquest of
the air. The plane then climbed 10 feet into the sky, while Orville
struggled with the controlling mechanisms to keep it from rising too
high in such an irregular, gusty wind.

    [Illustration: The first flight.]

Orville sought to fly a level flight course, though buffeted by the
strong headwind. However, when turning the rudder up or down, the plane
turned too far either way and flew an erratic up-and-down course, first
quickly rising about 10 feet, then suddenly darting close to the ground.
The first successful flight ended with a sudden dart to the ground after
having flown 120 feet from the take-off point in 12 seconds time at a
groundspeed of 6.8 miles an hour and an airspeed of 30 miles an hour. In
the words of Orville Wright:

  This flight lasted only 12 seconds, but it was nevertheless the first
  in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had
  raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight, had sailed
  forward without reduction of speed, and had finally landed at a point
  as high as that from which it started.

Orville found that the new, almost untried, controlling mechanisms
operated more powerfully than the previous controls he had used in
gliders. He also learned that the front rudder was balanced too near the
center. Because of its tendency to turn itself when started, the
unfamiliar powered machine’s front rudder turned more than was

The airplane had been slightly damaged on landing. Quick repairs were
made. With the help of the onlookers, the machine was brought back to
the track and prepared for a second flight. Wilbur took his turn at
11:20 a.m., and flew about 175 feet in about 12 seconds. He also flew an
up-and-down course, similar to the first flight, while operating the
unfamiliar controls. The speed over the ground during the second flight
was slightly faster than that of the first flight because the winds were
diminishing. The airplane was carried back to the starting track and
prepared for a third flight.

    [Illustration: Third flight of Dec. 17, 1903, Orville Wright at the
    controls. No photograph was taken of the day’s second flight, in
    which Wilbur Wright was operator.]

    [Illustration: End of fourth and longest flight of Dec. 17, 1903.
    Distance: 852 feet; time: 59 seconds.]

    [Illustration: Close-up of 1903 machine at end of last flight,
    rudder frame broken in landing. _Courtesy, Smithsonian

    [Illustration: Orville Wright’s diary showing Dec. 17, 1903 entry.
    This account is the only contemporary written record of these
    momentous flights.]

At 11:40 a.m., Orville made the third flight, flying a steadier course
than that of the two previous flights. All was going nicely when a
sudden gust of wind from the side lifted the airplane higher by 12 to 15
feet, turning it sidewise in an alarming manner. With the plane flying
sidewise, Orville warped the wingtips to recover lateral balance, and
pointed the plane down to land as quickly as possible. The new lateral
control was more effective than he had expected. The plane not only
leveled off, but the wing that had been high dropped more than he had
intended, and it struck the ground shortly before the plane landed. The
third flight was about 200 feet in about 15 seconds.

    [Illustration: (Orville Wright’s diary—December 17 entry,

Wilbur started on the fourth flight at noon. He flew the first few
hundred feet on an up-and-down course similar to the first two flights.
But after flying 300 feet from the take-off point, the airplane was
brought under control. The plane flew a fairly even course for an
additional 500 feet, with little undulation to disturb its level flight.
While in flight about 800 feet from the take-off point, the airplane
commenced pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the
ground. The fourth flight measured 852 feet over the ground; the time in
the air was 59 seconds.

    [Illustration: (Orville Wright’s diary—December 17 entry,

The four successful flights made on December 17 were short because the
Wrights, not desiring to fly a new machine at much height in strong
winds, sometimes found it impossible to correct the up-and-down motion
of the airplane before it struck the ground. Wilbur remarked:

  Those who understand the real significance of the conditions under
  which we worked will be surprised rather at the length than the
  shortness of the flights made with an unfamiliar machine after less
  than one minute’s practice. The machine possesses greater capacity of
  being controlled than any of our former machines.

    [Illustration: (Orville Wright’s diary—December 17 entry,

They carried the airplane back to camp and set it up a few feet west of
the hangar. While the Wrights and onlookers were discussing the flights,
a sudden gust of wind struck the plane and turned it over a number of
times, damaging it badly. The airplane could not be repaired in time for
any more flights that year; indeed, it was never flown again. Daniels
gained the dubious honor of becoming the first airplane casualty when he
was slightly scratched and bruised while caught inside the machine
between the wings in an attempt to stop the plane as it rolled over.
Subsequent events were vivid in Daniels’ mind while reminiscing of his
“first—and God help me—my last flight.” He relates:

  I found myself caught in them wires and the machine blowing across the
  beach heading for the ocean, landing first on one end and then on the
  other, rolling over and over, and me getting more tangled up in it all
  the time. I tell you, I was plumb scared. When the thing did stop for
  half a second I nearly broke up every wire and upright getting out of

Orville made this matter-of-fact entry in his diary: “After dinner we
went to Kitty Hawk to send off telegram to M. W. While there we called
on Capt. and Mrs. Hobbs, Dr. Cogswell and the station men.” Toward
evening that day Bishop Milton Wright in Dayton received the telegram
from his sons:

  Success four flights Thursday morning all against twenty-one mile wind
  started from level with engine power alone average speed through air
  thirty-one miles longest 57 seconds inform press home Christmas.
  Orevelle Wright.

In the transmission of the telegram, 57 seconds was incorrectly given
for the 59-second record flight, and Orville’s name was misspelled. The
Norfolk telegraph operator leaked the news to a local paper, the
_Virginian-Pilot_. The resulting story produced a series of false
reports as to the length and duration of the December 17 flights.
Practically none of the information contained in the telegram was used,
except that the Wrights had flown.

The Bishop gave out a biographical note:

  Wilbur is 36, Orville 32, and they are as inseparable as twins. For
  several years they have read up on aeronautics as a physician would
  read his books, and they have studied, discussed, and experimented
  together. Natural workmen, they have invented, constructed, and
  operated their gliders, and finally their ‘Wright Flyer,’ jointly, all
  at their own personal expense. About equal credit is due each.

The world took little note of the Wrights’ tremendous achievement and
years passed before its full significance was realized. After reading
the Wrights’ telegram, the Associated Press representative in Dayton
remarked, “Fifty-seven seconds, hey? If it had been fifty-seven minutes
then it might have been a news item.” Three years after the first flight
an editorial appeared in the December 15, 1906, issue of the _Scientific
American_, which included the following:

  In all the history of invention, there is probably no parallel to the
  unostentatious manner in which the Wright brothers of Dayton, Ohio,
  ushered into the world their epoch-making invention of the first
  successful aeroplane flying-machine.

    [Illustration: Orville Wright wired his father to announce the
    successful flights of Dec. 17, 1903.]

Form No. 100.


This Company TRANSMITS and DELIVERS messages only on conditions limiting
its liability, which have been assented to by the sender of the
following message.

Errors can be guarded against only by repeating a message back to the
sending station for comparison, and the Company will not hold itself
liable for errors or delays in transmission or delivery of Unrepeated
Messages, beyond the amount of tolls paid thereon, nor in any case where
the claim is not presented in writing within sixty days after the
message is filed with the Company for transmission.

This is an UNREPEATED MESSAGE, and is delivered by request of the sender
under the conditions named above.
                        ROBERT C. CLOWRY, President and General Manager.


  176 C KA CS 33 Paid.    Via Norfolk Va
  Kitty Hawk N C Dec 17
  Bishop M Wright
  7 Hawthorne St

Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind
started from Level with engine power alone average speed through air
thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform Press home Christmas.

Orevelle Wright   525P

                        _After the First Flight_

After 1903, the Wrights carved brilliant careers in aeronautics and
helped found the aviation industry. The successful flights made at Kill
Devil Hills in December 1903 encouraged them to make improvements on a
new plane called Flyer No. 2. About 100 flights were flown near Dayton
in 1904. These totaled only 45 minutes in the air, although they made
two 5-minute flights. Experimenting chiefly with control and maneuver,
many complete circuits of the small flying field were made.

A new and improved plane, Flyer No. 3, was built in 1905. On October 5
they made a record flight of 24⅕ miles, while the plane was in the air
38 minutes and 3 seconds. The era of the airplane was well on the way.
The lessons and successes at Kill Devil Hills in December 1903 were fast
making the crowded skies of the Air Age possible.

Believing their invention was now perfected for practical use, the
Wrights wanted the United States Government to have a world monopoly on
their patents, and more important, on all the aerodynamic, design, and
pilotage secrets they knew relating to the airplane. As early as 1905
they had received overtures from representatives of foreign governments.
The United States Army turned down their first offers without making an
effort to investigate whether the airplane had been brought to a stage
of practical operation. But disbelief was on the wane. In February 1908
the United States War Department made a contract with the brothers for
an airplane. Only 3 weeks later the Wrights closed a contract with a
Frenchman to form a syndicate for the rights to manufacture, sell, or
license the use of the Wright airplane in France.

    [Illustration: Orville Wright in 1904 flight 85 at Huffman Prairie
    near Dayton, November 16. Distance: approximately 1,760 feet; time:
    45 seconds.]

    [Illustration: 1905 flight 41—Orville’s 12-mile flight of September

    [Illustration: 1905 flight 46, October 4—20.8 miles in 33.3 minutes,
    the second longest flight of 1905. It was exceeded only by the
    24-mile flight of October 5. The era of the airplane was well on its

    [Illustration: Orville Wright (1871-1948) taken about 1908.]

During their Dayton experiments, the Wrights had continued to pilot
their airplanes while lying prone with hips in the cradle on the lower
wing. Now they adopted a different arrangement of the control levers to
be used in a sitting position and added a seat for a passenger. The
brothers brought their airplane to Kill Devil Hills in April 1908 to
practice handling the new arrangement of the control levers. They wanted
to be prepared for the public trials to be made for the United States
Government, near Washington, and for the company in France.

They erected a new building at Kill Devil Hills to house the airplane
and to live in, because storms the year before had nearly demolished
their 1903 camp buildings. Between May 6 and May 14, 1908, the Wrights
made 22 flights at their old testing grounds. On May 14 the first flight
with two men aboard a plane was made near West Hill; Wilbur Wright being
the pilot, and Charles Furnas, a mechanic, the passenger. Orville and
Furnas then made a flight together of over 2 miles, passing between Kill
Devil Hill and West Hill, and turning north near the sound to circle
Little Hill before returning over the starting point close to their camp
to land near West Hill on the second lap.

    [Illustration: Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) taken about 1908.]

Byron R. Newton, a newspaper reporter, was concealed in the woods with
other newsmen near camp to watch the Wrights fly. Newton predicted in
his diary just after seeing his first flight: “Some day Congress will
erect a monument here to these Wrights.” Nineteen years later the
Congress established the area as a National Memorial.

Wilbur journeyed to France after completing the tests at Kill Devil
Hills, while Orville returned home to complete the construction of an
airplane for the United States Government. As Wilbur set about
methodically to assemble his airplane at Le Mans, some 125 miles from
Paris, skeptics greeted the delay by accusing him of bluffing. But
Wilbur refused to hurry. “_Le bluff continue_,” cried a Paris newspaper.
However, when Wilbur took off on August 8, circling the field to come in
for a perfect landing, the crowd could scarcely believe its eyes.
Skeptics were confounded, and enthusiasm was uproarious.

    [Illustration: Orville and his passenger, Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois,
    round the captive balloon which marked the turning point of the Army
    speed test flight from Fort Meyer, July 30, 1909. The flight was
    just under 43 miles an hour. _Courtesy, Smithsonian Institution._]

Wilbur’s complete lack of conceit, together with his decency and
intelligence, won from the French people a hero-worship attitude, while
the press was unsparing in its praise and lamented having called him a
bluffer. The _Figaro_ commented, “It was not merely a success but a
triumph; a conclusive trial and a decisive victory for aviation, the
news of which will revolutionize scientific circles throughout the
world.” It was a statement to the press by a witness, Maj. B. F. S.
Baden-Powell, president of the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain,
that is most often quoted: “That Wilbur Wright is in possession of a
power which controls the fate of nations is beyond dispute.” One of
Wilbur’s sayings in France became famous: “I know of only one bird, the
parrot, that talks,” he said, “and it can’t fly very high.”

Orville’s first public flight was on September 3, 1908 at Fort Myer. He
circled the field one and one-half times on the first test. “When the
plane first rose,” Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., recorded “the crowd’s gasp
of astonishment was not alone at the wonder of it, but because it was so
unexpected.” Orville’s final flight at Fort Myer in 1908 ended in
tragedy. The airplane crashed, killing Lt. Thomas Selfridge, a passenger
flying with Orville. Orville suffered broken ribs, a fractured leg, and
hip injuries.

In 1909, Orville completed the Government test flights by flying 10
miles in 14 minutes, or just under 43 miles an hour. The United States
Army formally accepted its first airplane from the Wrights on August 2,
1909. During the same year both brothers made further flying triumphs in
Europe where they became famous flying in France and Italy. While
Orville was making sensational flights in Germany (as required for the
formation of a Wright company in that country), Wilbur, in America, made
spectacular flights at New York City where more than a million New
Yorkers got their first glimpse of an airplane in the air.

Commercial companies were formed in France and Germany to manufacture
Wright planes before the Wright Company was organized in the United
States with Wilbur as president and Orville vice president. In financial
affairs the Wrights were remarkably shrewd—a match for American and
European businessmen. They grew wealthy as well as famous, but they were
not happy as businessmen and looked forward to the time when they could
retire to devote themselves again to scientific research.

Orville returned to Kill Devil Hills in October 1911 to experiment with
an automatic control device and to make soaring flights with a glider.
The new device was not tested because of the presence of newspapermen at
the camp each day. Orville set a new world’s soaring record of 9 minutes
and 45 seconds on October 24. This remained the world’s record until it
was exceeded 10 years later in Germany. On May 30, 1912, Wilbur Wright,
aged 45, died of typhoid fever. Orville survived him by 36 years.

                   _The Original Airplane Exhibited_

Orville always thought that the National Museum in Washington,
administered by the Smithsonian Institution, was the logical place for
the original Wright 1903 airplane to be preserved and exhibited.
However, for a long time he was unwilling to entrust the airplane there
because of a controversy between him and the Smithsonian in regard to
the history of the invention of the airplane. In 1928, Orville lent the
plane to the Science Museum at South Kensington, near London, England,
with the understanding that it would stay there permanently unless he
made a written request for its return. Finally, in 1942, the dispute
with the Smithsonian was settled to Orville’s satisfaction, and the next
year he wrote a request to the Science Museum for the return of the
airplane to this country when it could be safely shipped after World War
II ended.

After Orville Wright’s death, on January 30, 1948, his executors
deposited the original 1903 airplane in the National Air Museum. It was
formally placed on exhibition on December 17, 1948, in Washington, D.C.,
the 45th anniversary of the first flights. The priceless original
airplane now occupies the highest place of honor among other interesting
aeronautical exhibits.

                        _The National Memorial_

On March 2, 1927, the Congress authorized the establishment of Kill
Devil Hills Monument National Memorial to commemorate the Wrights’
achievement of the first successful flight of a man-carrying,
power-driven, heavier-than-air machine. The area was transferred from
the War Department to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the
Interior, on August 10, 1933, and on December 1, 1953, the name was
changed to Wright Brothers National Memorial. The memorial contains
about 425 acres. It embraces the actual site of the first four flights
and the sites of most of the glider experiments.

                          _Guide to the Area_


The visitor center represents the focal point in the interpretation of
the area. In addition to an extensive series of modern museum exhibits
telling the story of the memorial, the center also houses an information
desk, where literature is available, and the administrative offices of
the memorial. From the exhibition rooms, there is a sweeping panoramic
view of the reconstructed Wright brothers’ 1903 camp, the first flight
grounds where markers designate the take-off and landing points of the
first flights, and the Wright memorial shaft atop Kill Devil Hill.


About 100 yards southwest of the visitor center stand two wooden
structures built by the National Park Service in 1953 on the 50th
anniversary of the first flight. They are reconstructions of the Wright
brothers’ 1903 living quarters and hangar based on historical research
and photographs of the originals. The furnishings within the living
quarters are of the 1902-3 period, and are almost exact duplications of
those used by the Wrights.


Less than 100 feet west of the camp is a 10-ton granite memorial boulder
placed by the National Aeronautic Association in 1928 on the 25th
anniversary of the first flight. The boulder marks the take-off point of
the first flight and of the three additional flights made December 17,
1903. A reconstruction of the original single-rail starting track is
placed at the north and south sides of the boulder. Four numbered
markers north of the boulder designate landing points of the powered
flights made on December 17, 1903.


About a quarter of a mile south of the visitor center lies Kill Devil
Hill, used by the Wrights for gliding experiments during the period
1900-1903. The north slope of this hill was also used for the
unsuccessful attempt at flight on December 14, 1903. Before the Wright
memorial shaft was erected, conservation work was begun in 1929 on the
massive 26-acre dune of shifting yellow sand to anchor the 91-foot-high
dune by seeding it with special grasses adapted to sandy soil.


Atop Kill Devil Hill stands the striking Wright memorial shaft, a
triangular pylon 60 feet high, made of gray granite from Mount Airy,
N.C. Construction was begun February 4, 1931, and the shaft was
dedicated November 19, 1932. Its sides ornamented with outspread wings
in bas-relief, the pylon gives to the eye the impression of a gigantic
bird about to take off into space. Stairs lead to the top of the shaft
and an observation platform which offers a good view of the surrounding
country—magnificent dunes, the Atlantic Ocean, Albemarle Sound, and even
West Hill, a quarter of a mile west of the shaft, in the direction of
the sound. West Hill, the sand dune which was the scene of many of the
Wrights’ gliding experiments in 1901-3, was stabilized by the National
Park Service in 1934 to preserve the historic site.

    [Illustration: Aircraft over the Wright memorial shaft.]


Wright Brothers National Memorial is administered by the National Park
Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. A superintendent, whose
address is Kill Devil Hills, N.C., is in immediate charge.


_Aileron_—A control surface set into or near the trailing edge of an
      airplane wing, extending, when in the wing, toward the tip and
      usually within the contour of the wing, and used to control the
      longitudinal axis of an airplane.

_Airborne_—Of an airplane or other winged craft: Supported entirely by
      aerodynamic forces, flying.

_Airfoil_—A surface or body, as a wing, propeller blade, rudder, or the
      like, especially designed to obtain a reaction, as lift or thrust,
      from the air through which it moves.

_Angle of attack_—The acute angle between the chord of an airfoil, and a
      line representing the undisturbed relative airflow. Any other
      acute angle between two reference lines designating the cant of an
      airfoil relative to oncoming air.

_Aspect ratio_—The ratio between the span of an airfoil and its chord.

_Camber_—The curve of an airfoil section from the leading edge to the
      trailing edge. Camber is usually expressed as the distance from
      the chord line to the upper or lower surface of an airfoil.

_Center-of-pressure travel_—The movement, or the amount of movement, of
      the center of pressure along a chord of an airfoil as the latter
      is inclined through its normal angles of attack.

_Chord_—An assumed straight-line tangent to the lower surface of an
      airfoil section at two points, or a straight line between the
      leading and trailing edges of an airfoil section, or between the
      ends of the mean line of an airfoil section; the distance between
      the leading and trailing edges of an airfoil section.

_Drag_—A resistant force exerted in a direction opposite to the
      direction of motion and parallel to the relative gas or air

_Dynamic lift_—The lift given an airplane by the aerodynamic force
      produced from an adequately designed airfoil.

_Glider_—A fixed-wing aircraft having no power plant and constructed so
      as to glide and soar.

_Gliding_—The art, science, and activity of moving through the air in a

_Heavier-than-air aircraft_—Any aircraft weighing more than the air it

_Lift_—That component of the total aerodynamic forces acting on an
      airfoil or on an entire aircraft or winged missile, perpendicular
      to the relative wind, and exerted, normally, in an upward
      direction opposing the pull of gravity.

_Lighter-than-air aircraft_—An aircraft that rises and is supported in
      air by virtue of a contained gas weighing less than the air
      displaced by the gas.

_Nose dive_—A steep dive by, or in, an aircraft.

_Power plant_—The complete engine or engines in an aircraft, together
      with propeller or propellers (if any), accessories, fuel and oil
      tanks and lines, etc.

_Powered aircraft_—An aircraft having one or more engines, as
      distinguished from a glider.

_Tailspin_—A spin, so named in reference to the characteristic spiral
      action of the tail when the airplane is in a spin.

_Warp_—To change the shape of something, especially an airplane’s wing,
      by twisting. To give lift or drop to a wing by twisting it at the

_Wind tunnel_—A chamber through which air is forced at controlled
      velocities, up to several thousand miles an hour, and in which
      airfoils, airplanes, missiles, scale models of airplanes, or other
      objects are mounted in order to observe and study the airflow
      about such objects, as well as the aerodynamic effects upon them.

_Wingspan_—The span of a wing, measured or taken between the tips or
      outermost extremities of either a single-piece wing or a wing that
      is separated by other aircraft components.

_Wing-warping_—The action of warping a wing, or a control system for
      warping the wings at will.

_Yaw_—An angular displacement or motion to the left or right about the
      vertical axis of an airplane.

                   _Suggestions for Further Reading_

Gibbs-Smith, C. H., _A History of Flying_. Frederick A. Praeger, New
      York, 1954.

Kelly, Fred C. (Ed.), _Miracle at Kitty Hawk, the Letters of Wilbur and
      Orville Wright_. Farrar, Straus and Young, New York 1951.

Kelly, Fred C., _The Wright Brothers_. (A Biography Authorized by
      Orville Wright.) Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1943.

McFarland, Marvin W. (Ed.), _The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright,
      including the Chanute-Wright Letters and other Papers of Octave
      Chanute_. 2 vols., McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York, 1953.

            U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1963 OF—710-606

                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                       HISTORICAL HANDBOOK SERIES

 (Price has of National Park Service Publications may be obtained from
         the Superintendent of Documents, Washington 25, D.C.)

  Aztec Ruins
  Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefields
  Custer Battlefield
  Custis-Lee Mansion, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
  Fort Laramie
  Fort McHenry
  Fort Necessity
  Fort Pulaski
  Fort Raleigh
  Fort Sumter
  Fort Union
  George Washington Birthplace
  Guilford Courthouse
  Hopewell Village
  Jamestown, Virginia
  Kings Mountain
  The Lincoln Museum and the House Where Lincoln Died
  Manassas (Bull Run)
  Montezuma Castle
  Morristown, A Military Capital of the Revolution
  Petersburg Battlefields
  Richmond Battlefields
  Scotts Bluff
  Statue of Liberty
  Vanderbilt Mansion
  Wright Brothers

    [Illustration: Sketch of the Wright’s 1901 wind tunnel.]

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Corrected a few palpable typographical errors.

—Transcribed some text from illustrations, for the sake of the text

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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