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Wright 1903 Flyer
Wright 1903 Flyer
68k JPEG
Smithsonian Institution
photograph #98-15005
First Successful Airplane
Date of Milestone:
December 17, 1903
Wright 1903 Flyer
Orville Wright
Aircraft Location:
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, Milestones of Flight Gallery

On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the 1903 Wright Flyer became the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard. It flew forward without losing speed and landed at a point as high as that from which it started.

With Orville Wright as pilot, the airplane took off from a launching rail and flew for 12 seconds and a distance of 37 meters (120 feet). The airplane was flown three more times that day, with Orville and his brother Wilbur alternating as pilot. The longest flight, with Wilbur at the controls, was 260 meters (852 feet) and lasted 59 seconds.

The Flyer, designed and built by the Wright brothers, was one step in a broad experimental program that began in 1899 with their first kite and concluded in 1905, when they built the first truly practical airplane. The basic problems of mechanical flight, lift, propulsion, and control were solved in the Wright design.

Wright 1903 Flyer
Wright 1903 Flyer
93k GIF
Smithsonian Photo #79-759 by D. Penland

First flight
December 17, 1903
First Flight
216k GIF -- 49k JPEG
NASM Archives photo #A26767B-2

Design Features:

The 1903 Wright Flyer was constructed of spruce and ash covered with muslin. The framework "floated" within fabric pockets sewn inside, making the muslin covering an integral part of the structure. This ingenious feature made the aircraft light, strong, and flexible. The 1903 Flyer was powered by a simple four-cylinder engine of the Wrights' own design.

To fly the airplane, the pilot lay prone with his head forward, his left hand operating the elevator control. Lateral control was achieved by warping the wing tips in opposite directions via wires attached to a hip cradle mounted on the lower wing. The pilot shifted his hips from side to side to operate the mechanism, which also moved the rudder.

Wingspan: 12.3 m (40 ft 4 in)
Length: 6.4 m (21 ft)
Height: 2.8 m (9 ft 3 in)
Weight, empty: 274 kg (605 lb)
Engine: Gasoline, 12 hp
Manufacturer: Wilbur and Orville Wright, Dayton, Ohio, 1903