History of Aviation

Wilbur and Orville Wright

Wilbur and Orville Wright were two American brothers who were born in the mid 19th century. They were the first people to fly a powered aircraft. The brothers grew up in Ohio and ran several businesses before opening a shop where they sold, mended, and built bicycles.

In August 1896 they read about the death of Otto Lilienthal in a flying accident. This reawakened the brothers' childhood interest in flight. They set about reading books about bird flight and making plans to build aircraft. They were the first people to build kites controlled by wing warping. Wing warping bends the wing and changes the way the air flows over it. This enables the aircraft to change direction and height.

By 1902 the Wright brothers had built a glider which flew up to a height of 183m. After that, they decided it was the right time to build their aeroplane. To give them open the space they needed the brothers moved to Kitty Hawk, a fishing village with miles of empty sand dunes. It is here that the brothers could carry out their work. They made a propeller and built their own engine which they tested in a small wind tunnel.

Orville Wright, watched by Wilbur Wright, pilots the Flyer in its first flight on 17th December, 1903
Orville Wright, watched by Wilbur Wright, pilots
the Flyer in its first flight on 17th December, 1903

On 17th December 1903 the Wright brothers were ready to test their first aeroplane, Flyer1. The aeroplane had two propellers which turned in opposite directions to keep the aircraft stable. Wilbur flew the plane to a height of 260m. The plane was later damaged by strong winds and never flew again.

Orville and Wilbur Wright photographed their early flights. However, some of their rivals still refused to believe that they had made the first powered flight ever. The brothers continued to build aeroplanes. In October 1905, Flyer 3 stayed in the air for 38 minutes. Three years later the Wright Model A, a more powerful two seater aeroplane reached a speed of 44 mph. Wilbur took the machine to France and set a new record of over 2 hours in the air at an altitude of 110m.

Wilbur died in 1912 but Orville lived long enough to see the first jet aeroplanes. He died in 1948.

Anne Jakins (February, 2004)