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The Wright Brothers

Wilbur and Orville

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First Men to Make

Sustained Powered Flight

Born Millville, Indiana

April 16,1867—May 30,1912

Born Dayton., Ohio

August 19, 1871—January 30, 1948


From an early age, both Wilbur and Orville Wright demonstrated keen inventive mechanical abilities far beyond boyhood interests, culminating in the formation of the Wright Bicycle Company in 1892, a successful bicycle manufacturing and repair business. Although their formal education ended with graduation from high school, they became in the course of a few short years self taught engineers and renowned for their original thinking in matters of science.

In 1894, their interest in flying was inspired by the gliding flights of the German pioneer Lilienthal and they studied all that was known on the subject at that time. It was Orville who noted that soaring birds maintained lateral control of flight by flexing the tips of their wings and in following this concept in their own machines, solved a vital control element ignored by earlier experimentors. Beginning with a biplane kite in 1899, they embarked on what was to become a laborious and often discouraging journey to success. Having vowed to follow a careful scientific approach to flight, they built first a practical wind tunnel, tested more than 200 wing shapes and sizes and decided to construct and test fly a series of gliders before attempting powered flight. In 1901 and 1902, having selected the sand dunes of Kill Devil Hill near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina because of its constant winds and soft sand to cushion accidents, they flew a series of gliders. Through these experiences they taught themselves to fly, control flight altitudes, and develop the parameters for their powered machines.

Ultimate success did not come readily, as their few years experimentation required them to develop literally a new science. Having solved the problems of basic structure, wing shape, and control of flight altitude, they began early in 1903 the development of their own lightweight engine and suitable propellers—both major achievements as neither then existed.

It was on a cold cloudy day, December 17, 1903 at Kill Devil Hill at approximately 10:35 a.m. the Wright Brothers became the first men in history to make sustained, controlled, powered flight. The first of four flights on that historic day was made by Orville for a distance of 120 feet. The fourth flight, by Wilbur, went 852 feet. These two brothers, working as a close knit team, had in a few years achieved what the greatest minds in science had been unable to accomplish.  Listen to a clip describing his flight here

After returning to their home in Dayton, they continued to experiment, develop, and fly…largely ignored by the world. The press refused to believe man had flown. Ironically, it was in France they were finally recognized as the inventors of flight.

Acclaim and financial success followed and in 1909, the U.S. Army bought the first Wright airplane. Other pioneers, in both the United States and England were inspired by their achievements and the aerospace industry as the giant we know it today, had begun. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912—Orville continued to be active in the aeronautical field as an engineer and consultant until his death in 1948.

To them alone belongs the credit—and the honor—for giving the world the aero technology which changed the course of history as no other. They have given mankind a great and vital commercial air transportation system, the aerospace industry, and air power for defense. Their dedication in adversity serves as an inspiration to all mankind.

Invested 1965 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984

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Updated: March 21, 2005