TARGET 071219

So Man Can Fly

The targeted event:

First Flight
First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wing tip. Photo by John T. Daniels of the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station, using Orville's tripod-mounted camera.

Most people think that Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first to build and fly an aircraft. They were not. They were the first to invent aircraft controls that made mechanical fixed wing flight possible. Even their U.S. patent (#821,393) does not claim airplanes in general, but rather claims airplanes that are controlled by what were later termed "ailerons".

The brothers' fundamental breakthrough was their invention of "three axis-control," which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium. This method became standard on fixed wing aircraft of all kinds. From the beginning of their aeronautical work, they focused on unlocking the secrets of control to conquer "the flying problem," rather than developing more powerful engines as some other experimenters did.

They actually built a wind tunnel to test their models and produced better aeronautical data, enabling them to design and build wings and propellers more effective than any before.

They gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their bicycle shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. Their work with bicycles in particular influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice.

Because they were not the first to build and fly an airplane, their status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties. Much controversy persists over the many competing claims of early aviators.

On December 17, 1903, they made four flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The best flight covered 852 feet (48 feet less than the distance between end zones on a football field) in 59 seconds (about twice the time it takes a football player to run it.) It was the first heavier-than-air, powered aircraft to make a sustained, controlled flight with a pilot aboard.

They used their proven canard biplane configuration which was rooted in their initial 1899 kite design. Key to the Flyer's success was its three-axis control system, which featured a moveable rudder for side-to-side control (Yaw), an elevator for up/down (pitch) control, and wing-warping for lateral balance (roll). The right wing was four inches longer than the left to compensate for the engine being mounted to the right of the pilot. The wings were rigged with a slight droop to reduce the effects of crosswinds. The plane is now on permanent display in the Smithsonean, in Washington, D.C., a gift of the Estate of Orville Wright.

The Tasked Present location

Wright Memorial
Photo: Jones Aerofoil
"This is the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The memorial doubles as a lighthouse which you can see at its top. The picture was taken from a camera on a kite string."

Another photo taken by Jones Aerofoil: "Overhead view of the Wright Brothers sculpture I took last year. This sculpture doubles as a playground for kids and is a reenactment of the historical day in 1903 when man first flew in a powered heavier than air, craft. This view is with the Wright Airplane coming toward you (you are looking at it's front) just as it lifts from the launch rail.
Feedback Map