On December 17, 1903, on the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the dream of powered flight became reality.

With this frail machine, Orville and Wilbur Wright became the first to achieve controlled, sustained flight in a powered heavier-than-air aircraft by flying 120 feet in 12 seconds. Beginning with Octave Chanute’s Progress in Flying Machines in the 1890s, the brothers studied and analyzed existing data. They invented the science and became the first practitioners of aeronautical engineering. Orville is seen here, lying in pilot’s position, flying our replica. He is lying with his hips in a cradle, by which he controls the shape of the airplane’s control surfaces, a technique known as wing warping. When he moves, the trailing (rear) edges of the wings will bend, like a bird’s wings, to allow the plane to bank. The canard in front controls the pitch of the plane in the same manner a rear elevator does on today’s planes. The twin vertical rudders are at the rear of the plane.

Orville piloted the first flight into a 27 mph headwind, moving forward at approximately 5 mph, for an actual airspeed of 32 mph. Their original airplane is now in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The airplane in our collection is a replica of the 1903 flyer, constructed in the Museum’s workshop by staff and volunteers from plans made from the National Air and Space Museum’s original 1903 Wright Flyer.

Specifications: Span 40 ft. 4 in., length 21 ft., weight 605 lbs. without pilot; engine 12 hp Wright four-cylinder horizontal in-line water-cooled; speed 31 mph.

Accession no. 1997S01

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