First Flight of the "Wright Flyer"
The world changed at 10:35 AM, on December 17, 1903 on the north side of Kill Devil Hill, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was at that moment that the Wright Brother’s "Wright Flyer", with Orville Wright at the controls, lifted off in sustained, controlled flight. This first heavier-than-air flight traveled a mere one hundred twenty feet, and lasted only twelve seconds. Until that moment, men had only dreamed of flying.
The dream of flight goes back to the dawn of recorded history. Greek legends describe a winged horse, Pegasus, which carried Bellerophon into battle against a monster. Another Greek myth describes Dedalus and Icarus making wings of wax and feathers, and flying from Crete to Naples. The scheme worked, but Icarus flew too close to the sun, and his wax melted, and he fell into the ocean, and to his death.
Beyond Greek mythology, Man’s attempts at flight go back thousands of years. Around 400 BC Chinese successfully built the first kites. While these early kites were unmanned, they did result in critical learning about aerodynamics of flight.
For several hundred years men tried in vain to fly like birds. People made wings out of wood and canvass, strapped them on, and tried to fly. The results were often disastrous as human muscles do not have the strength needed to fly, given the weight of the human body.
Perhaps Man’s first successful "flight" was on November 21, 1783. The French brothers Joseph Michel and Jacques Montgolfier developed a hot air balloon made out of silk. They successfully launched the balloon with two people onboard, and the balloon gained an altitude of over 5,000 feet and traveled over a mile.
From 1800 to the 1850’s efforts focused on gliders. Many of these early gliders were successful, but the gliders had to be launched from a high spot, and they would simply glide to the ground.
Efforts in the 1890’s began to focus on powered flight. These earliest attempts at powered flight were hampered by the power to weight ratio of the engines of the day. The engines were heavy, and did not generate much power.
Foremost among those working on powered flight were Orville and Wilbur Wright. In 1903, they built the Wright Flyer. They carved their own propeller, and made their own custom engine . . . designed to maximize output power, and minimize weight.
On December 17, 1903, in a frigid wind gusting to 27 miles an hour, the Wrights took to the air in their powered Flyer. While the flights were short, and did not gain much altitude (about 10 feet), they showed that heavier than air flight was possible, and the world has never looked back.
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